Economics, Literature and Scepticism

Powered by Blogger.

About Me

My photo
I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Responses – Why my Frustrations with Malan and other Random things

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, November 16, 2006 | Category: | 2 comments

I’ve had all kinds of responses to my recent post on Rian Malan. It grew from a discussion that Seraj and I had on the original Malan article published in the Guardian over a month or so now the contents of which I found deeply offensive. This was strange for me – I don’t normally get offended that easily. What terrified me was how narrowly and blatantly ‘black-white’ culture Malan saw the world. It immediately made me ponder my own relationship with ‘black/white’, ‘culture’, etc. It also made me wonder about the necessary conditions for me to remain in South Africa vs. me leaving South Africa. That is something that warrants an entire post on its own, this post is more about what I’ve been thinking and doing and some of what fed into the Rian Malan article.

This is something which has been topical for me of late. I recently joined and am participating in a group called ‘un/common’ (name was my idea). The group burgeoned from individuals in Diversity Studies who wanted to take transformation, diversity, etc and talk to people about it. The then did a ‘protest’ (more a ‘we’ll wear challenging t-shirts and see who comes to talk to us’) on Jammie Steps. I spoke to them and started becoming involved. We discuss transformation, affirmative action, understanding diversity, the point being to talk about all of these things frankly and honestly, even if others find your opinions offensive. This is necessary in our young (and it is really young) democracy in order for us to be able to empathise with one another and for us to create an understanding that there are a myriad shades to how we share similar beliefs. The t-shirt that I wore to the next ‘protest’ had the following written on it: ‘oppress(or)ed’

This has all been in the light of another controversial issue in South Africa - the development of the Civil Unions Bill. The bill passed on Tuesday. It will constitute an act separate to the Marriage Act to provide anyone who wishes it with a Civil Union, be they a same sex couple or a heterosexual couple. However, the Marriage Act still exists in which it is only possible for heterosexual couples to be married. This is a very odd state of affairs. Religious interest groups and traditional leaders (such as The Reverend Napier, Kenneth Moshoe and several others) have all spoken out against the Civil Union Bill. Rights activists on the other hand are up in arms that there is, once more, a ‘separate but equal’ nature to some of South Africa’s laws. There isn’t true equality.

I tend to side with the rights activists in having beliefs around equality – however I acknowledge that the right to religious expression is also important. The question therefore is which right is more important – we all know that discrimination in any shape or form is unconstitutional. So what that means then is that we need to adopt policy which does not discriminate. Which narrows the question – to what extent can one individuals right be impinged upon for another’s right to be upheld? Sho! That’s a difficult one. There is so much taboo around homosexuality, so much of what I call ‘religious noise’ (i.e. some religionists say one thing, another group says another – it becomes quite confusing to find consensus) that it is difficult for us to say anything unilateral around this. Listening to SAFm this morning (yes that is a bit grandpa I admit), they were discussing this topic. The one thing which I think was incredibly important and which the host Nikiwe kept on bringing up was ‘How does it affect you personally?’ This question would give us some measure. If I am a religious person in a specific location and some random homosexual couple gets married somewhere, how does that affect me? Does it affect me at all if none of my friends are homosexual?

This question tries to give some measure of the actual instrumental difference it would make to a religious person, which is why I like it. In my mind it is something that seriously needs to be asked of many individuals. How does it affect you?

Simon Halliday: It affects me because I have homosexual friends. I really want them to be happy and happiness in many peoples’ lives is rooted in having a family. Hence, I want them to be able to have families, which is dramatically a function of marriage either under common law or under the auspices of some traditional or religious body. On a more personal level I want to have the pleasuring of seeing my children play with their children. I want us (my homosexual friends and I) to share experiences and joys in a non-discriminatory environment. The Civil Union Bill affects me directly.

Ok. Um… I need to work on my dissertation now and on Admin for ECO2003P Summer Term (I am now convening the course with Justine in a supervisory capacity). The above isn’t terribly well argued, but it was meant more as a sharing of perspective more than anything else.

For those of you who are interested, I sent the previous post I wrote to the Cape Argus. They printed the ‘Comment’ by Rian Malan so I am hoping that they print my letter. If not, I will send it to the M&G. I hate to say it but, to some extent, the aluta does continua.

(Incidentally, Bob Herbert (NY Times) wrote today on Civil Rights in the US – commenting on the documentary ‘Eyes on the Prize’ (1987 recently re-released). The film presents various images of the bigotry and hatred towards black people in the US and the struggle that individuals went through for equal rights. I sincerely hope that this level of struggle is not necessary to win the rights of sexual expression).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Rian Malan

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, November 15, 2006 | Category: | 1 comments

Recently I have become more and more aware of Rian Malan's position in the media. He has often been a 'voice' of a white perspective, but what irritates me is that some believe he is the white perspective and should be accepted as such – those who support him and detract from him alike. I do not support Rian Malan, nor what he has written of late for either The Guardian in the UK, or The Cape Argus locally.

A few problems arise in the argument that Malan sets out in his most recent contribution from the Argus. He asserts that meritocratic values of excellence and effort will offer just rewards to those black people who pursue them. I contest that Malan has obviously not come into any contact with any of a) the mathematical models on the flawed nature of meritocracy or b) the sociological theories of social networks and network effects, else he would have a far more nuanced understanding of what the ideas of 'meritocracy' and what he labels as victimhood and entitlement mean.

So firstly, on meritocracy, there have been numerous researchers in the social sciences who have tried to understand whether a meritocratic system will work. Hypothetically, in a world where everyone has access to the same resources, monetary or otherwise, then meritocracy will simply be rewarding those with genetically preprogrammed ability. Because, if everything else is held completely equal then the only manifest differences could be genetic ones. This then begs the question of why we think it is morally and ethically responsible for us to benefit those individuals (i.e. pay them more) who are randomly allocated better genes than the rest of the population, but that is another question entirely.

However, this is a dream world. In fact it is a world which is so far departed from our own that most agree that mathematically and exponentially a world in which meritocracy is the mechanism by which individuals attain scholarships, acceptance to educational institutions and such is a world in which the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. As exemplars of this we can use the growing inequality in both the US and the UK over the past fifteen years. One of the few ways in which we can alter a world in which there is systematic inequality is through the implementation of interventions which can bootstrap individuals up from positions where they need not be, or in which they were placed by institutions such as apartheid. These institutions include land reform, include affirmative action and include the promotion of institutions that facilitate hard work and reward excellence in communities where these may not have been extant.

Which brings me to the second point, that of social networks. Values such as being hard-working, promoting excellence and such are non-randomly distributed through a population – you'll generally notice that they are more prevalent in those populations at the top of the income distribution. People then make the comment 'Look! People are rewarded for hard work and excellence!' Yes they are, but equally in a family that promotes hard work and excellence, in a community that does so, there are far greater possibilities that these communities, these families will promote individuals who have these values relative to communities that have far fewer numbers of these individuals relative to the total population of the community or family. One of the things that we therefore need to do is to ensure that these sociological and psychological factors become ubiquitous social factors, rather than values of the elite.

However, commentators like Malan seem to refuse to see these kinds of options. They believe that individuals are 'victims of entitlement'. I don't find this surprising, it requires economic, educational and social upliftment to alter attitudes that are prevalent in a community or social environment. These attitudes include cronyism, nepotism, corruption and graft. For communities and individuals that have struggled to eat, suddenly having a wealth of options for income and resources access can be overwhelming. Note, I am not saying that this is right, nor that it is acceptable, rather that a blasé acceptance of the idea that 'these blacks need to change their attitude' is the equivalent of barking up the wrong tree – it is rather one branch of a much larger and more potent intervention one combined with land, social, educational and economic reform.

Research is being performed in the United States by individuals such as Roland Fryer and Glenn Loury. Glenn Loury is an interesting character. He's an African-American gentlemen who was the poster boy of the Republican anti-affirmative action movement. However, he subsequently changed his views. What changed for him was the mathematics of it – he's a social scientist, an economist, looking at phenomena such as affirmative action. What he realised, and what he and Roland Fryer have written about, is the fact that affirmative action is necessary in order for social and economic reform. It is necessary to bring those who were unable to access education into institutions where they have access to education, to social factors (such as a work ethic), to institutions of behaviour and social outlook which may not be prevalent in their own communities. Moreover, this needs to be done at an early age. However, in a second best world (such as the ones in which we live, both here in SA and in the US), it is often necessary to create second best solutions such as temporary affirmative action at the level of employment, at the level of tertiary education – concurrent with interventions at primary schools, with land reform and with access to property outside of the ghettos and townships.

Rian Malan may now respond to me saying that I live in a La La Land of immense proportions, but what needs to be understood regardless is that government has immense power to intervene in society. It needs to do so effectively and efficiently. Yes, the Department of Home Affairs is neither of these, but if we promote some of the above-mentioned factors, then it should improve soon. Moreover, if we only ran with ideas that Malan mentions not much would happen – incentives need to be put in place, policy needs to be effective. The social grant system, specifically the Old Age Pension, has so many benefits to the poor and uneducated individuals in our country (who form up approximately 75% of South Africa's unemployed). We cannot drop these systems and leave the poor and uneducated to die in poverty. Malan's world of puritanical virtue is a short-sighted one, and cannot evidently work.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Amy and Si

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, October 05, 2006 | Category: | 1 comments

As Kate demanded - a picture of Amy and I. Here we were at dinner with my Dad last week in Camps Bay. She hadn't met him before. It was a load of fun. When you can, ask Amy about 'The Midlands'. Posted by Picasa

Poetic Processes

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

The promised poetry of recent times. Covers some random things from funny to my focusing on a theme I currently have in mind (to do with, but not determined by Cape Town streets).


The sound 17.08.06


You are the sound of the sun's rays

as they strike me, my face

as they filter through me

as they resound in me

you have never been loud

the sun does not know

how to be loud

it shines

and you alight on me


you are that sun drawn sound

which no one but me hears

not because I will it

nor because I am different

but because every part of me

can't help but hear

each part of you

you are the sound as my face burns

as the heat of me flashes free

as we explode

as we give the sun sound


Fly 18.08.06

having spent hours

trying to find

its reflection

in a glass of milk

turns to black coffee

to see broken wings

the floating grains

its refractors

perplexed it

sees itself cut

and quartered

yet still living

the confusion

not my hands

is the reason

for its recess


Commercial Flight Monday 6.15am 21.08.06


The outside of my window

is dew-streaked glass

on lightening land

through its pane

the blocks of mined ground

are a scattered jigsaw.

These surfaces of Jo'burg

that are the burnt ochre

of deeper earths

were brought forth

by powered will

by past dominion.

Now, the scorched grounds

of disused mines

the dirt silver waters

are as much the city's

tarmacked roads,

its abandoned homes.

Aboard, I am tired.

The plane is too loud.

I am due in Cape Town.


Lexicon 02.09.06


the word 'sorry'

the word 'no'

the word 'change'

don't mean what they mean

on the rubbish ridden streets

of Jo'burg or Cape Town

the blood-mapped eyes of a man say more

than cupped hands

than cardboard signs

than black bags

that dangle from tired fingers

waiting for my trash

(he stands in this whirlwind

of bright blessings

but its dance of scattered scraps

don't carry change)


Lace 03.09.06


in lace or silk I imagine you

some similar cloth over you

holed satin the spaces

of your skin uncovered

lace dappled leaf dappled

sunlight on your skin me dappled

my fingerprints over each space

my palms and fingers

their lace-cloth over you

both imagined and beneath

both of us entangled

enlaced enclothed


We Made Videos 03.09.06


You my sister wanted me to kiss you

as you slept. I was Prince Charming

and you moved and spoke

a lot for Sleeping Beauty.

You awoke with abundant joy

when I deigned to move my lips

close enough, ever those distances

that weren’t crossed, aren’t crossed.

If I kissed you now on video

it would be easier, I am more skilled

you’d want it less, maybe your sleep

would be sleep, we wouldn’t be crowned.


A Vagina’s Monologue 04.09.06


the noise of the word Clitoris Clatters around

& so does its companion in revolution the Orgasm

now men lick for hours at the altar of My Flesh

attending anticipating the glorious big ‘O’

(not a sigh not a sound but the intimate resound

of Elle and Cosmo in his media wrenched mind)

I’m equally in awe of the sights and sounds

in Service to the (always singular) Penis

(but that’s required less revolution

& more momentary devotion)


Storytime 18.09.06


Daddy, you were happy

reading to me

I was buried in

the nooks of you

small, blonde me

big, brown-haired you

and you hoarse

from laughter at

Moonface, mice clanging.

I giggled easily.

Daddy, you don't laugh

as much when I read

to you across this table

tucked in strutted seats

scrawny children aren't funny

neither are people living

in pipes in dry dongas.

But I'm hoarse too.

small, grey-blonde you

big, brown-haired me


the language of the desert is wind 25.09.06


wind whirled dust's track

wind deepened desert's dark

wind wept water's wrack

wind makes my story stark

dark-light striated sand

ripples on desert's flesh

discarded snake skin

wind hurled you off

desert dust driven back

to desert's depths

undark always light

in moon stars sun bright

long time left till

when water will weep

weary of the wanting

from undrenched desert

wind called dust back

wind calmed sand's stirring

wind sharpened desert's desires

wind tells me untold stories

Robot Tango 04.10.06


The dashboard of my car

is self-consciously garish,

colourful, kitsch.

inhabited by the covers of

this and last month's Big Issue

It is the bed for far too many

beaded flowers that I've

been given as gifts, for a donation.

If I need jokes, my car houses

as large a collection as I'll ever need.

Yet every single stop that I make

at equally kitsch traffic lights

or stupidly colourful stop streets

I am asked if I want another issue

(that I already have)

or maybe my girlfriend would like

her own flowers

(as if she hasn't taken liberties with mine)

or another set of jokes,

(when three are already displayed)

Approaching robots has become

a tango of stop, go, go to evade

sellers who won't let me alone.


Rained Hard 04.10.06


I know it's rained hard

when there's copper silt

at the bottom of Klipper Road

if I am walking by the canal

there's more leaves, bark,

branches than trash in the water

there'll still be at least one

glass bottle, Bells or Jack Daniels,

taking its sweet, sedate time

to Rosebank Station, also messy

in the way rain dents old paint

that longs after lost whiteness

if I've time, I'll stop, pick up

the bottle, gather silt, store

it in the bottle and stopper it.

It's in this way, in the raucous

heights of summer, that I can

rest and recall hard winter rain.


What's been happening, reading and such

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

I realized that it has been some time since I last posted anything. Consequently, I suppose that a massive update is required by the World At Large, those amies internationales who crave the input of the goings on in Simon’s life. Or at least gross approximations thereof.

Well, I am in the happy and relatively uncomplicated and longest standing relationship of my life (read relationship as girlfriend boyfriend thing). Amy Miller and I have broken the back of my 3 (or so) month curse and hit the 4 month mark on September 23rd. Which means that this Saturday we’ve been going out for 4 ½ Months! (No! What? Shock/Horror! Depredation!). It really is great, we’re both tend somewhat to intellectual narcissism, but not so much that we can’t laugh at ourselves, or each other. We are also both hopeless romantics, making random plans for touring Europe and ‘being’ with one another. Oh no… Not Simon too. It had to happen at some point and she’s a keeper.

Enough of that MASSIVE part of my life. What else have I been doing? Well… Reading is one of the things with which I keep myself occupied. So books:

David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten and Number9Dream are the books of his that I have recently read. I have also just bought, and will read soon, Black Swan Green. Mitchell’s command of language and of the interchange between narratives is extraordinary. I haven’t enjoyed reading someone as much in a very, very long time. He has rocketed his way up to my personal Top 5.

Michael Chabon: I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay earlier this year, which is the book for which he won the Pulitzer. I have more recently read The Final Solution, not at all about the Holocaust, but rather about an ex-police investigator, who remains nameless throughout the entire novel. He is an 89 year old man, in Britain in 1944. You realize later who he ‘could’ be. But I won’t tell you. Go and read it, it is a very short little novella about 120 pages or so and it is a really fun and dynamic read. I am currently reading another of his books: Wonder Boys. It was made into a film with Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst if I accurately recall. To chant the customary ‘the book is better’ would be boring, but it is.

Toni Morrison: I read her Beloved recently and have ordered Song of Solomon. I found it very challenging reading Beloved. I didn’t follow the narrative that well and I didn’t grasp some of her characters or her modes of communication that well either. Nevertheless, the book is masterfully written and, despite my inability to relate to some of it, it recounts a very haunting and dynamic period in America’s history.

Don De Lillo: I have been trying to get hold of a number of his books recently, namely Americana and Underworld. Being unable to do so, I got hold of Libra which is a re-history of Lee Harvey Oswald and his assassination of JFK. It does so in a complex and challenging way – as the reader you can’t help but have paradoxical empathy and detestation for Oswald. Moreover, the people who surround him: his mother, people linked to US intelligence agencies, and so forth, make the narrative run in weird and fitful ways, making it both difficult to read, but also driving you on to read more. Cool stuff.

Mary Watson: I read her collection of linked short stories called Moss. I liked some of them, others I found quite boring. Nevertheless, she commands a new and original South Africa voice. I was quite pleased to read the book and impressed with what she wrote and how she wrote it. I look forward to seeing a novel, or something equally palpable from her.

Mike Nicol and Joanne Hitchens: Their co-authored Cape Town based crime novel Out To Score was a lot of fun and a really good change for me. I am so accustomed to reading ‘literary’ novels, that writing this slightly more commercial minded text was a load of fun. It pursues the lives of two Capetonian PIs pursuing independent cases, which end up being linked (as they would). I’d seriously recommend this as a cool SA read. It’s racy and captures much of CT and SA life well. Some really well-conjured images of the city.

Rayda Jacobs: I read My Father’s Orchid and I was incredibly disappointed. Here is this ‘award-winning’ author, who, I was told, delves into the political and social factors involved in Moslem/Cape Malay-Christian Capetonian/SA living. What I got instead was a dialogue driven soap opera, the characters of which were either Christian or Moslem ‘so-called coloured’. A bit of race and religion politics, but mostly a crap soap opera. I wouldn’t bother.

Etienne van Heerden: I tried my desperate best with the English translation of The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, but I got bored. Not my cup of tea. Picturesquely written, with beautiful sentences and marvelous characters, but just not my kind of story.

Koos Kombuis: His Secret Diary of God is a very comedic and not too challenging discussion of religion, the role of God, ‘big names’ in politics, psychology, etc and basically about having a bit of fun with beliefs. A fun and really easy read.

I read a couple of Fantasy/Sci-fi books in between, but nothing ground-breaking. I am seriously looking forward to reading the new Robin Hobb book though. Should be good.

Other than that? Hmm… I’ve been lecturing. I went away briefly with Al, Rich and Amy to Plett. We chilled, walked on the beach, played Trivial Pursuit, ate Pizza, made flapjacks, chilled some more. It was a load of fun!

I’ll try to think of other interesting morsels to feed to you, but right now I can’t think of anything. I’ll be putting some poetry up soon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Philosophy of Fiction and Art

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, August 10, 2006 | Category: | 3 comments

I attended a seminar today by a Professor from Temple University in the US. The seminar was on whether Art (capital A) can convey knowledge. The arguments centrally revolve around aesthetics and epistemology, i.e the accepted modes of interpreting these kinds of questions.

[An aside: I had a concern from the outset that the question we were interrogating is itself constructed and fallacious. The reasons for this are multiple. Firstly, there seems to be an ordinal approach to Science, Art and various other disciplines. This stems from the early dispute between poets and philosophers in the Greek tradition where Art was above Philosophy (i.e. Aristotle more important than Plato – shock horror). From these philosophically different ideas came the disciplines of ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, etc. In contemporary society the issue is whether Art is on a lower rung than Science in terms of a socially acceptable and useful discipline. The argument to say that Art provides knowledge is to try to get it higher on the social ladder so that it can be legitimate relative to Science. My personal feeling is that, regardless of the practicalities, this is a constructed and historically determined dichotomy, rather than an extant one with considerations of which we need to take cognizance. What this means is that putting Science and Art on a social hierarchy in the first place is irrelevant and fallacious. They are dramatically different disciplines and trying to compare particle physics with poetry can lead to some fairly problematic ideas. I concede that in monetary terms, or governmental budget allocations, the difference and the hierarchy are considered, but this does not mean that the hierarchy itself should exist. I also concede that my argument here is not at all useful in terms of policy making, because for that we need (by virtue of the economizing problem) to allocate resources for society to be operating optimally.]

Back to the seminar. Noel Carroll presented his paper and basically sat there reading to us from the paper. In that way I didn't feel that it was that professional, nevertheless the content was interesting. Quite thankfully, his voice was also not soporific regardless of the US twang. So yes, the arguments against Art conveying knowledge are to do with the following:

1) Common Denominator

2) Expertise

3) Banality

4) Evidence

The common denominator argument comes down to an idea that form is the only common denominator that is shared by all Art. This would then mean that if we are to gain knowledge from art then said knowledge would have to be from some cognition relative to the form itself. Moreover, if all art does not convey knowledge through its form, this would then mean that it should not be incumbent on any art to attempt to convey knowledge. This is an aesthetic argument. The refutation of this is based on the idea that it is inherently essentialist, it conveys some kind of necessary condition in certain circumstances, but it does not mean that if there is some sui generis form then we cannot gain knowledge from such. Moreover, the knowledge that we gain need not be formally provided for us in fiction (specifically from NC, of realist fiction). What this means is that we can gain knowledge of social phenomena and social realities from art and from the milieux in which art is presented. Essentialism is flawed.

In terms of expertise, the idea is that artists are trained in the specific skills needed supposedly to create art. As such a visual artist is taught perspective, a poet prosody and forth. We should not then expect such artists to be able to offer valid critiques of society, they do not have expert knowledge in that area and hence their presentations or representations are unlikely to impart knowledgeable information or processes of cognition to the reader of such art. If you are unsure of this then think of a different argument, we do not expect a lawyer to be presenting works containing good perspective to their client who is asking about a divorce – they have not been trained as such. To a large extent this argument is valid, it is also more of an epistemic argument than an aesthetic as the prior argument is. It should also be noted that I agree with this argument to a large extent, both in terms of the training necessary to be an artist and the training necessary to comment on social phenomena. Both require specific training and should be viewed as areas of expertise. This does not mean that an artist cannot gain knowledge, nor that a lawyer cannot draw a good piece with perspective. What it does mean is that in many, more naïve, cases there will be situations in which people present inferior knowledge. However, this does not mean that Art and Artists irrelevantly present knowledgeable portrayals of events. As an artist gains knowledge and expertise in specific areas then they can present knowledgeable portrayals of such (back to the whole thing on social realities being presented by realist authors).

It should be noted that the above also relates to the banality and the evidence arguments. In terms of banality, many truisms are found from reading literary works. These can be found in, say Death of A Salesman where we can say that the truism is that 'looks and being well-liked aren't everything'. Or, if we were interrogating Pride and Prejudice the truism could be 'don't rush into things'. As much as these truisms are banal, and as much as the knowledge of them is required beforehand in order to interpret them from the text that one reads, there is more to the story. The counter-argument is that as much as these pieces do offer said truisms, in reality they offer a nuanced and particular view of specific characters, social realities and a vehicle through which we can begin to understand certain contexts of action. Death of A Salesman isn't only about the truism I presented earlier, it is also about familial relationships, the problems of consumerism, the idea of a nuclear family, father-son relationships, suicide and so much more. Attempting to dismiss the entire play as a 'banality' is missing the point of the other psychological and socially informative knowledge that it can confer.

Lastly, in terms of the evidence debate, we see several situations worthy of consideration. Firstly, we know that fiction, and in most circumstances Art, does not attempt to present specific evidence to support some thesis which the piece itself may be progressing. However, these days, specifically in fiction, pieces of evidence, and by inference, evidence based knowledge, is presented through referencing, research discussions and on occasion footnoting. Apart from the usefulness of these, the question is whether this idea of 'evidence' is a necessary bar by which to measure fiction in the first place as well as the knowledge that it can confer. Fiction's virtue is that it can convey knowledge to the reader through a process of personal corroboration of events that take place in a fictitious setting. I know that what happens in a specific realist novel is not (by any stretch of the imagination) factually real, but I can glean knowledge of a location, of people and of psychological phenomena through reading such a work. The question that we then ask is at what level we want to set the bar for evidence to be a criteria for the gaining of knowledge from a work. We know that in scientific work it is absolutely necessary to reference, produce experiments, etc. Does Art, do fiction and visual art, require the same from us as 'readers' of such in order for us to accept that there is knowledge to be gained from them?


Anyway, I just thought that I would present some of these interpretations of mine as a point of interest. Some of the arguments interest me, others are arb. I often laugh at how young artists attempts to make sweeping statements about world poverty, trade, Karl Marx and the like without any specific knowledge about them. Ho hum. Life goes on. Comment if you feel the interest bubble within you, don't if you don't.

Inside and Out

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

Reading Jeremy Cronin's Poetry is a perilous affair for me. Of the three times that I have tried to get into the collection Inside and Out I have ended up crying all three times. I'm am not at all far into the collection, which makes it even more frustrating I suppose. Frustrating in a good way though – such that it reminds me why I read and write poetry (rather than, of necessity, fiction). I can also link my weeping to certain poems - “overhead is mesh”, 'Walking on Air', 'Motho ke Motho ka batho babang (A Person is a Person because of other People)', and 'Death Row'. I also have a habit of trying to read poetry out loud these days, even when I am just reading to myself. Sometimes, if amongst others, this elicits some strange reactions from people, but it elicits even more of a response from me often.

Poetry is so intrinsically about the words, about the way we express ourselves in language. The poetry listed above is all from Cronin's collection Inside (a note: Inside and Out collects some poetry from that portfolio as well as others). The poems were written during his imprisonment, consequent to his arrest in 1976 under the Terrorism Act.

I recently had the privilege to hear him read some of his more contemporary work. He read along with Ingrid de Kok and Antjie Krog. He read one poem, a fairly lengthy affair all about Cape Town, the creole and hybrid nature of it, a saxophonist's left shoulder and various other things. His reading was energetic and infused with a wish to communicate everything that this poem meant to him, to convey some idea of the significance of this guy's left shoulder and everything that surrounded it (emotion, context, area, politics). Reading his other work, the watching of that performance (because he really did perform rather than read) has gained more significance. I waited a long time afterwards to shake his hand and thank him. I did not think he would want to converse (there were several other people there who were more significant to him than I who were present). His face was genuine and his smile was encapsulating and just so physically expressive. Anyway, I wrote the poem below the other day after reading “overhead is mesh” (it is in quotation marks rather than inverted commas because of the poem being genuinely untitled) and 'Walking on Air'.

Reading J.C. 04.08.06

I cried today

reading

Jeremy Cronin


and


though I'd

like to read 'the man'

(physical smiling man)


I read 'the poetry'

(physical smiling

maybe sometimes)


I wondered what

I'd have thought of

mesh


(my hands look

dappled)?


could I have stood

on two bricks only

for three day-nights?


(i have terrible knees,

could I knuip?)


I know I worry:

the concepts

(un)productive labour


regardless, while reading

I cried and it made me

both jealous and inspired.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Private Schools and Weak Ties

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, August 03, 2006 | Category: | 2 comments

One of the main thrusts of my thesis is towards an idea, attributable to Mark Granovetter (1973), called ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’. The idea here is that if you take an individual and the people to whom they are connected, friends and family constitute strong ties and acquaintances constitute weak ties. To give a brief review of the idea, if I have a strong tie to an individual, it is likely that we have similar friends, tastes, motives, etc – we belong to what is called a Gemeinschaft or community which has similar mores and values. The thing is that this can constrain me as an individual if I want to tap into social resources, if I have specific resources it is quite likely that others to whom I have strong ties, or who are in my Gemeinschaft, will have access to similar resources. What this then implies is that if I have weak ties that connect me to other social contexts, or other Gemeinschaften, I can then tap into other social resources.

While reading a later paper of Granovetter’s, a 1983 review of the decade of work after his seminal work in ’73, he narrows his idea, stating that it is not only weak ties that are important, but weak ties that bridge social groups – basically giving further emphasis to the original idea he had. Moreover, what he and others have subsequently showed is that education often plays a role in providing one with the bridging weak ties necessary for things such as labour market participation (finding a new job through a weak tie), or other such activities. In addition to this idea on education level was one about wealth level – those at higher wealth levels seem to have more bridging weak ties than those at lower wealth levels.

This got me to thinking about schooling, specifically schools like Bishops – private schools with the rumoured ‘Old Boys Clubs’ that provide for individuals in the school. My intuition is that schools like Bishops not only provide individuals with strong ties in their friendship groups, but they also provide tacit weak ties to people who aren’t even acquaintances. What this means is that even if you have not met someone, because of a shared experience (i.e. having attended Bishops, or other such schools) you share a bridge weak tie with that individual. This then means that social mobility for these kinds of individuals can be much swifter and much easier than it is for others who don’t have this kind of historic resource. Not only do you garner more actual acquaintances who can act as bridge weak ties, you collect others who you do not even know.

This is not to say that the strong ties that one cultivates at school are not going to be useful in fact, in a wealthy environment, Granovetter asserts that institutions such as private clubs, elite schools and such will be created by the upper classes in order to facilitate the growth of such strong ties. There are additional reasons for this to do with class sociology and frequency of interaction, etc. But what made more of an impact to me was the possibility of the exploitation of bridging weak ties that could exist because of these institutions’ existence.

The one word that comes into my head is ‘Gnarly’ (like a tree). Anyway, the random thoughts that one has while working on a dissertation hey?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Moving, the World

Posted by Simon Halliday | Tuesday, August 01, 2006 | Category: | 1 comments

Just so you all know, I have moved! I now stay in digs with my longstanding friend Seraj. Our digs is called Castle Pebble on account of it being the cottage at the bottom of the property of the house Castle Rock. It’s in Constantia, very close to the top gate of Kirstenbosch Gardens – in fact I am looking forward to frittering away many of the hours of summer in the Gardens. I have taken my laptop to work there previously and my proximity now can only facilitate further enjoyment of the idyllic setting that it provides.

The move itself was chaotic. It was all really on account of the attempted hijacking (née armed robbery) at my old digs. Although it is sad to leave that place, it is also a dramatic relief. I was often paranoid driving into the parking bay, the play of the shadows often seemed to me to replicate the form of a person. I am told that such replaying is a fairly typical example of post-crime stress, or simply PTSD. Ah well… it is occasionally reassuring to be a textbook case and to follow some of the textbook patterns (for example it is good and ‘purging’ to discuss these kinds of things on an open forum such as this).

Otherwise, like everyone I have been thinking on Israel and Lebanon, the wonders of Western-Middle Eastern politics, world power, Condi Rice, the UN, sovereignty, the Geneva Convention, poverty, economics, war. All of these are tied up.

Anyway, I was sent a mail by a friend of mine in protest to the war in Lebanon. It contained photos of the innocent victims. I wrote the following poem as a result of one of the photographs. You can read it beneath this message.

Anyway, I love you my dear friends. Peace.

Si

Danny the Champion of the World1

children should not be

held up by their feet

like dead pheasants

photographs

can sear us so

a man was holding

a boy by his feet

having picked him

from the wreckage

of a bombed truck

his skin was ashed

his navel clean

his hair hanging

my seared brain

is ashen now

my hair hangs

wet as I cry

I did not know him

I knew Danny: my memory

of fat pheasants, shot well.


1In reference to the children's story by Roald Dahl.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hospitals in review

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, July 21, 2006 | Category: | 2 comments

So, the hospital experience is improving. I spent about three hours with my brother yesterday, chatting, sitting with and reading to him. I had brought The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with me for him to read, he had had the somewhat ominous and overly deep Iron John sitting on the side table when I went to see him the day prior.


I started reading to him. Not only was it nourishing for him to have someone just there, and for him to hear a voice, but the humour of the story and its poignancy right from the outset are nourishing. It was difficult for him to laugh because of his headache, about which we laughed afterwards. Again, actions intersect with memories. It brought back all the memories I have of reading to him when he was much younger when we lived in Green Point. We would lie on his bed with his Noddy light on (very different in tone and structure to those at the hospital) and I would read to him from books that he liked. One of the first things that we would read were my comic annuals – books my Dad had given me called Beano and a few others about Dennis the Menace (the originial British one, not the later US one) and his friends. It graduated to things like horror stories and others. James always loved the Goosebumps series of books. When I was younger (I read to him since I was in Primary School) I always enjoyed reading, I loved putting on voices, the play of it with him. Equally, although in a more nuanced fashion I would hope, I did that yesterday. I felt echoed of my ability, I had to slip into a space where I would be comfortable enjoying the reading while being in the context of what he was going through with being in hospital. All round it was a much more positive experience than my first visit, he looked much better, he communicated fine. I am going to go through to see him later. There is a chance he will be able to come home this weekend.


What is funny for me though is how I realise that our friendship, not just simply a filial connection, had its beginnings in those moments of my reading to him. Not only would we read and relate to characters we'd talk about what happened. I had this trick I could pull with his Noddy Light where I could switch it off with my elbow and make it look like it was doing it by itself “Magic!”. He loved this trick and for a while it was a ritual part of my reading to him. It is these nuances in brotherhood that have drawn us so close, both as a function of history and as a commonality of those things that stimulate and entertain us now. Which is why I think it was even more difficult for me to see him on the hospital bed. He was confounded somewhat when he realised how concerned, Mum, Steve and I were for him. He said he was getting better and that was that. The thing is, for all of us we are so involved in finding solutions to things, to be able to take worthy action that a situation in which we cannot do so is strange and disempowering. But we have to get over that too, so don't read too much into it.


Anyway, below is a poem I started to write on Wednesday after seeing him for the first time. It is a work in progress, but we'll see where it goes.


Morphine 19.07.06


A needle clogged with blood

creates an entrance into

your bloodstream


but clogging cannot stop

the dosing, it cannot

arrest the opiates


slowly entering and removing

you, us thinking it is

doing good


one: they take the part that feels

pain, stopping the story

it can tell


two: they take the soul from

your eyes: windows are not meant

to be bloodshot


three: you stop moving as you do:

the scratches and nervousness for

which you need nerves


and on that bed with its needles

and tubes, richly clad in blue, you

are no longer you


you stopped; it was difficult for me

to touch someone I didn't know,

you were that far away

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's Official: I Hate Hospitals

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, July 19, 2006 | Category: | 1 comments

Ok, so another update. My brother, James, went into hospital yesterday with Meningitis. We found out late yesterday, after he'd had a lumbar puncture and the works that it (very thankfully) isn't Bacterial and is most likely Viral. It could be Tic-bite Fever related Meningitis because he was bitten by a tick while on a walk in the Tsitsikamma forest last week. If you know James and want to contact him, then mail me and I'll send you his phone number – he has it with him and can receive messages. I went to visit him this morning.

So back to me hating hospitals. Foucault wrote on hospitals, schools and prisons, how the spaces are similar and how we treat the institutions themselves. In each of the above the architecture is similar, the spaces and the hierarchies work similarly, as people entering into these spaces we don uniforms to differentiate between those 'of' the space and those 'not of' the space. In the hospital, James is not James, he is Mr Harris supervised by Dr Frost in room 5 bed B. He wears a light blue standard-issue hospital overall. An indication that it is him is that he wears his checked boxers.

I get the feeling that as a way of dealing with patients in general it is easier for doctors if the patients are no longer individuals, but rather some abstraction of the individual. It makes it easier to deal with their possible death. Doesn't require genius level-intellect to think that I know. What reinforces this for me is that someone I know who has completed the full six years of medicine and is doing their year of work is thinking about leaving medicine, apart from the trauma of AIDS scares from random pin-prick issues, the ridiculously long hours (sometimes 35 hours of being 'ready'), there is the issue of the distance issue with patients. I have not discussed this that much with this person, but in a space where you both need to relate to the patient, but immediately be distant from them the psychological strain must be massive.

So, not only are patients not who they are in hospitals, but it is quite possible that for doctors to remain in hospitals they have to distance themselves from themselves. This space of 'the hospital' is filled with abstractions of people. Where do the real people go? I don't know.

What made it even stranger for me in the last few minutes of my visit this morning was seeing James trying to pull the duvet off of himself. He gets really hot, and with his fever he has been even hotter. He couldn't pull the duvet off of himself because of the drip in his arm, his eyes were uncharacteristically blood-shot and red-rimmed. James wasn't James. He asked me to help him. I took the duvet off of the corners of the bed and laid it at his feet while he inserted himself under the sheet. I told him I loved him. Visiting hours were over and I had to leave.

Visiting hours are an important part of the hospital structure. For us as the visitors it is even more important that we do actually visit our friends and relatives in the hospital. Part of me believes that we need to go and see them to remind them who they are, that they are not Patient X, Room Y, Bed Z, that they are themselves. I do not mean to say that everything we are is caught up in our names, but the gaps to the outside world, the visitations from others these serve as an additional way to access something which may have become distant to us – that which makes us who we are both in construct and in make-up.

All of the above thoughts had me crying in my car on my way home. I hate hospitals. I don't like seeing people I love being distant from themselves. I am sad because my brother is in pain, has been in pain, and there was not much I could physically do about it. Hence, while listening to Interpol blaring discords, I cried.

This inevitably brings me back to thinking what I can do, what are my skills, what can I or can't I do? There isn't that much research on health economics in South Africa, not enough to make a solid difference. Like many other areas there are skills deficits and massive gaps open in research. For someone like me it is possible to apply my skills to this area. One of the things for which I am thankful is that my parents have the resources to pay for James to be in hospital, to pay for him to get good care, to be in a room by himself (or at most sharing with one other if it becomes necessary). This leads to the consideration that most people in South Africa don't have health care other than that provided by government, they can't afford it, it's expensive. Moreover, the differentials between public and private supplies of health care are massive and they are distortionary. How do we solve it? Get more doctors? As we know the UCT MBChB curriculum changed towards that very purpose. I am supportive of that. How else can we support it? More research into the area? I don't know. I am continually reminded of the difficult job Thabo Mbeki and his cabinet ministers are faced with – HIV/AIDS problems, poverty, unemployment, record death rates amongst policeman because of the prevalence of crime (you don't want to live in Gauteng by the way). I am not envious of all of their position. However, I am good at research and I will do that till the cows come home. I will write, I will read, I will analyse and assess because even though I hate all of these phenomena for some irrational reason I love South Africa and my family, friends and other citizens more. I want South Africa to succeed.

This reminds me of something else I was considering recently. When I play a game of Magic, I get frustrated more when I play badly/misplay than when I have 'bad luck' so to speak. I do get frustrated when I notice that the 'luck' was also a consequence of an earlier misplay, etc. Subsequent to the hijacking I am continually cognizant of the choice that I am making in remaining in South Africa, of being in a specific space (back to philosophy of spaces). So me being in this context where I can be hijacked is both a consequence of an earlier decision and bad luck, so to speak. Relate this to Meningitis and that is almost purely luck (Ok, again decision to go on walk and not protect against Tick bites if that's the case, but hey?). Anyway, it's just something to think about. Again, I reiterate, I love you all my friends (assuming you're a friend if you are reading this). We'll chat soon.

In the Post Office

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 1 comments

The following is a story I wrote, although it's not really a story, but more like the prose-equivalent of a ditty. Please don't take it seriously. If I had a wider readership I would worry about Thom Eaton-equivalent threats of lynching, but I think that my friends have some idea of my sense of humour.

There is a way certain fat men stand, the thumbs of their ample hands planted in their pockets, as if they are unable to cross them over their midriff. Their feet root to their ground, slightly splayed in a way that would provide support for a solid weight – the way that wooden houses in bayous are held up by thin stilts – these men's legs look smaller than they should do for the comparable weight that they hold up. From the back their shorts (and they are always shorts in South Africa) kruip up into the small space between their legs as if to evade the world beyond the mass of fat with which their fabric is familiar. Tomas was such a man. Had you looked at his legs, his abdomen or torso then you would have gotten a certain indication as to his character, feet covered by strops indicating something as pertinent as we could imagine. But all of this seemed out of place when looking at Tomas's face. His face lit up in a friendly manner on almost all occasions. Again, I say almost all because today Tomas was in the Post Office of Plettenbergbaai and he did not smile as much when he was, of necessity, in the post office. At this juncture it is pertinent to note that Tomas's name should be pronounced as an Englishman would pronounce Tour-mus, although the r would not be strongly annunciated. Yes, he was an Afrikaner. He was also a boer, in the readily available translation of the word – a farmer. Agriculture, or landbou (literally building the land), was, and quite happily is, his calling.

Anyway, I get beyond myself in these arbitrary anthropological recollections. Tomas was in the Plettenbergbaai Post Office. He was here because he had received a notice telling him to pick up a long-awaited parcel from a relative in the Orange Free State (he still applied the prefix 'Orange', rather like Zimbabweans who call the country Rhodesia and their hometown Salisbury). His prodigious family had had a diaspora at the beginning of the previous century and their were tannies and ooms spread all over the country, with a large concentration of them around Bloemfontein. In fact it was Oom Petrus and Tannie Petronella (don't ask how that happened) who were sending him this very package. Yes, his was also the kind of Afrikaans family who would always prefix (again that word) family and friends with the title 'Oom' or 'Tannie', this is a strange custom not only amongst Afrikaners in South Africa. In fact many of them, subsequent to the democratisation of South Africa (ongelooflik, ek weet), were disturbed to find out that Black Africans had a similar tradition, but again I move away from the core of my tale. The package. Yes, the package.


Tomas had been waiting for some while for this package. He was certain in fact that it would have taken longer, but was quite surprised to find that the post office did not live up to his expectations and he had received the notice of the package's arrival far earlier than anticipated. (Oom Petrus had said something along the lines of 'Die nuwe kaffirpos gaan glad nie werk nie, maar ek gaan dit gewoontlik vir jou stuur.' Tomas had remained optimistic nevertheless). Seemingly, his optimism had paid off. Having queued for some time in the madness of the Wednesday morning 10am rush at the post office (for the sceptics among you this seems a prevalent phenomenon in the town of Plettenbergbaai), he was finally at the front of the queue where I could observe his behaviour with some intrigue.

Apart from the pose which he struck, as described above, he seemed to have another in which he rested his documents and his hands on the upper lip of his protruding belly while leaning back slightly to maintain his balance. I think that balance must be a very carefully learned skill once one reaches a specific threshold of weight. For example, if one suddenly gave a man who weighed in at sixty kilograms an additional eighty kilograms of mass then that man would struggle to keep himself upright, he would not have learned the apposite skills to hold himself proud, or slightly skew as Tomas was doing. Do not begrudge the proudly stout their abilities.

So he had been waiting in the queue, mostly in stance two, then having reached the front and now, standing in front of a cashier he observed stance number one. He held out his notice and his Identity Document, the picture of which held a likeness that was significantly more hirsute than the person with whom we were confronted this fine morning. Nonetheless, the assistant, a bored-looking Xhosa lady, gave it a few glances, gave him a few interrogative looks, then decided that the picture was simply of the same man at a much younger age and possibly in a better disposition (one's photos for one's ID document are often taken before one has stood in the mind-numbing and time-altering queues of the Home Affairs office, Kafkaesque one could call them, hence a dramatically different disposition – a happy Tomas – relative to the disgruntled one with which she was now presented).

Tomas's father was also one of those Afrikaners who insisted on speaking to public officials in Afrikaans and he had instilled this in Tomas. However, Tomas had realised, quite fortuitously, that doing so with this lady was probably not the method to adopt. So they both spoke in their second language, English, to try to convey information to one another. Luckily, not much was lost in their in their translations, despite the prevalence of of strange verb alterations, misplaced plurals and the like.

“Yous are wanting to be finding for me this parcel that my Oom Petrus had for wanted to be sending for me.” Tomas stated with applomb.

“Yes, seh, thet is theh case. She is in theh beck room.” She responded in kind.

(An aside: This reminds me of how I have never understood why many Nguni language speakers always seem to make all pronouns of the 'He/She/It' class into 'She'. It confounds.)

The lady took his slip, and moved towards the back room. While moving she started a loud conversation with a Xhosa man halfway across the room, I was unsure whether they were picking up from where they may have started off a moment before, or whether this was a new conversation, truth be told I had not been paying much attention to the lady or any of my surroundings other than Tomas, but it was quite characteristic. So this did not strike me as odd behaviour. The German man in the queue behind me was quite taken aback by this behaviour and asked me,

“Iz zere somesing wrong here?” His face was scrunched up in Nordic worry. (The kind of worry where it may seem as though others may be be inferior to you and you may feel dutibound, but exceedingly worried about having to correct their inefficiency – this is a fairly typical German response when spending time in Africa).

I assured him that there were no problems and that he needn't worry himself. All of this was quite customary.

Anyway, the lady spent some time in the back room then came out speaking loudly in Xhosa with her head tilted in a different direction than that which it had held for the first conversation, noting which I assumed she was talking to someone else. This was made evident by the appearance of very short, verging on dwarf-like coloured man. (Another note: I don't particularly encourage the appellations white, coloured, black, etc, but they are expedient and thus serve a purpose). He was rattling off at her in Xhosa, then switched to Afrikaans for the Tomas at the desk, over which the man was struggling to look over, which made the scene all the more comical. One often has the idea that bureacracy is a slow-moving lumbering machine and that the representatives should be equally large and slow moving, this was definitely not the case with this little man. He moved quickly, spoke quickly and much of this speedy movement seemed to be in compensation for his diminutive size. This was possibly the reason why he also spoke Afrikaans, Xhosa and then English with such force and efficacy.

“Jammer meneer, maar dit lyk asof jou package nie hier is nie.” (His wasn't suiwer Afrikaans, but rather the more efficient form of the language that seems to have sprung up subsequent to 1994 in which it is fashionable to throw in the occasional English word – to prove that you aren't too old school).

“Dus, moet ek noua bietjie rond soek en dan kan ek iets vir jou sê oor die location daarvan. Awright?”

Ja, dis ok. Maar, ek wil mos hier sit en wag. Dis a lang distance te travel om hier to kom en net weg te jaag.” (Tomas was trying his best to be equally fashionable in the face of this adversity).

Ok meneer, sit bietjie ek gaan soek...”

Tomas stood to the side of the opening, preferring to remain standing than to sit down. I imagine that for large men this may be preferable. Once they are standing it is easier for them to remain so because of the possible expenditure of energy and effort to roust themselves from their seats.

Suddenly from the back I heard something that was almost like a repeated gunshot. Kehkehkehkehkeh... it reported. It turned out to be the Xhosa lady laughing.

Sorry seh.” (loudly)

Sorry seh!” (even louder).

Maneeyah!” (actually 'Meneer')

Tomas turned around looking chastened.

We hev found yo peckege. She was in theh beck of theh beck, she is so beeg.”

Ja, goed. Dankie Juffrou. I mean, thank you Merrem.”

Again a comical scene took place. The miniature man, who turned out to be the post master, was carrying a very large box. It was so large that he could barely get his head around the side to look where he was going. In fact he bumped into the stalls a number of times and, when it was necessary for him to get the package up onto the top of the desk, it sounded as though he was engaging in a weight lifting competition. We in the queue were quite at a loss. It was one of those awkward situations where you want to help, but are entirely unsure whether you will cause more embarrassment by offering your aid or by doing nothing. Saving us all, Tomas, took a couple of seconds to register this general opinion and leaned over the desk to take the package from the little man. A strange struggle ensued where the man, unable to see Tomas trying to take the package, assumed that something was going wrong with the weight of the package and thus he spent even more effort trying to control it. Tomas then leaned even further over the desk trying to keep the package balanced and to take control of it. Once Tomas's feet left the ground we knew calamity was approaching. Luckily, the Xhosa lady noted what was happening and took control of the situation with loud.

Hayi, Boss, sjoe let go of theh peckege.”

Predictably, both men thought that they were the 'Boss' to whom she was referring. Tomas for reasons historical. The small man for those hierarchical. Thus it was that the hierarchy of the box swiftly began to squash the little man. Tomas noticed this and picked the box up with ease, now that it was no longer being held by the postmaster.

Somehow, we queue-members had been able to restrain ourselves to internal vibrations rather than outright laughter. Tomas was now happily moving away from the desk having signed the mandatory forms in triplicate.

The box, its packaging a bit torn on one side after its travails, looked as though it contained something quite exciting.

Sadly, that is where my story ends. I was lucky enough to be the next in line and I hastily procured my stamps, and sent my envoy of a postcard on its way, chuckling as I did so. I know furthermore that this recollection does not have much point, but then again, many don't. It is simply the observation of the actors that made it pleasant for me, rather than the knowledge of what was in the box. Moreover, I don't really know if the man's name was Tomas, but I thought it apt and constructed it as such. He was a charming fellow in my minimal interactions with him. As were the lady and the postmaster. Charming. For sure.