27 March 2015

Row about Rhodes

Over the last few days I've seen a lot of comments on Twitter and elsewhere about the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Cape Town university, and some students demanding its removal.

Removing statues seems to be quite a popular activity, at least in some circles.

At one point a couple of friends and I contemplated the possibility of starting a campaign for the removal of the Ideomeneo sculpture at Unisa. Unlike the Rhodes statue, it was abstract, represented nothing, and was quite inoffensive.The aim of the campaign would have been satirical, to demonstrate that so many of the things that the university administration got into a tizz about (in the late 1980s) were quite trivial.

Nothing came of that, but the Taliban were much more serious about the destruction of Buddha statues in Afghanistan, which they accomplished expeditiously by using them for artillery practice, ignoring the protests of people all over the world.

When US troops invaded Iraq in 2003 they lost no time in toppling  a statue of Saddam Hussein, as a publicly staged media event.

And more recently ISIL is clearly sufficiently well-supplied with munitions to destroy ancient buildings and monuments of no strategic value, but perhaps of symbolic value in trying to erase history.

And if we go back a few years, there was a song:

One early morning in the year of '66
A bunch of Irish laddies was knocking up some tricks
They thought old Admiral Nelson had overstayed his time
So they helped him on his way with some sticks of gelignite.

Up went Nelson in old Dublin
Up went Nelson in old Dublin
All along O'Connell Street the stones and rubble flew
As up went Nelson and his pillar too.

So it seems to be quite a popular activity.

One exception that stands out is Zimbabwe, where there was a similar demand for the removal of Cecil Rhodes's grave. Robert Mugabe blocks Cecil John Rhodes exhumation - Telegraph:
Godfrey Mahachi, one of the country's foremost archaeologists picked by Mr Mugabe to be the director of Zimbabwe's National Museums and Monuments, said the grave was an important reminder of the country's colonialist past which could not be airbrushed out. The self-chosen burial place of Oxford-educated mining magnate and pioneer Rhodes in 1902, it still attracts thousands of visitors each year, bringing much-needed tourism revenue to the area. "The call for the removal of the grave is not new but our view is that it is part of national history and heritage and therefore it should not be tampered with," Mr Mahachi told the Zim Diaspora news website.
So it seems that there are widely differing views on this.

Since I have an interest in history, I tend to agree with the views of Godfrey Mahashi -- one cannot airbrush out the past, and when you do, it is all too easy to forget and repeat the mistakes of the past. As one person tweeted, in response to demands of students that the statue be removed, its removal would do nothing, absolutely nothing, to improve the education of those students. It has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with "transformation", just as our fantasy campaign for the removal of Ideomeneo would have done nothing to facilitate the transformation of Unisa. Removal of some of the dead wood among the teaching staff would have done far more to achieve that, but instead Unisa chose to remove whistle-blowers who pointed out what was wrong with the teaching material.

Cecil Rhodes was an excellent example of a businessman who became a politician in order to further his own business interests. And his statue can serve as a reminder of that very thing. He made his money out of diamond mines, and when he became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony he secured a monopoly for his company. Let us look at his statue and remember.

What should be removed is not the statue but the businessmen of our own day who go into politics to further their own business interests. Rhodes is dead, and can do no more harm. But his successors do harm every day.

Reviving this blog

When Blogger introduced a new user-hostile blog editor, I moved this blog to a WordPress site here: Notes from Underground.

But now WordPress has introduced an even more user-hostile editor (which they call "an improved user expeience"). But it is very difficult to compose blog posts on that experience, and the only thing I experience is frustration, so I'm moving it back here, at least until Wordpress provides a proper editor instead of an unpleasant experiece.

One of the worst things about the Blogger editor is the loss of functionality, especially in posting pictures. It used to be possible to position pictures left, right or centre, but now one has to fiddle with the HTML code to do it, but even that is better that trying to edit stuff on the new WordPress experience.

02 January 2013

Blogger's new user-hostile interface and other atrocities

I din't think I would post again on this blog at this site, since I moved it to here.The main reason for moving was the new user-hostile user interface and reduced graphics functionality.

But now something else has cropped up. I still have a family history blog on Blogger, which I still use occasionally. And they invited me to link the blog to Google+. To do so, however, I would have to merge my Blogger profile with my Google+ one. And, like most of the other changes, there would be a corresponding loss of functionality.

You see, on the existing Blogger profile, there is a field for entering things you are interested in. On the Google+ profile there isn't.

Why is that important?

One of the things I am interested in is missiology. So if I go to my profile and click on any of my interests, say missiology, it will show me other bloggers who are interested in missiology. And in that case, I might also find their blogs interesting. It is a good way of finding blogs to follow.

But now they want me to abandon that took by substituting my Google+ profile for my blogger one. Thanks, but no thanks.

So if you want to read this blog in future, click here Notes from underground

And since moving it to there, I've disabled comments on this blog. That's because abandoned blogs are a spammers' paradise, and they think they can leave spam comments to their heart's content. 
But the main reason for changing was the new user-hostile interface.

A few months ago Blogger switched me to the new user-hostile interface, which I struggled with for a while, but then found a way of getting the old user-friendly one back.

Now they've gone and switched me again, and hidden or removed all the things that made Blogger easy to use.

Let's see if the new new one is better than the old new one.

No, it isn't. I didn't want Jolly John's ugly mug in the middle of the page, I wanted it on the left, with the text wrapping around it to the right. But it seems that that functionality has been lost.

Yes, it is possible to do it with a lot more time-consuming finicky editing of the HTML code, but why should that be necessary? Why did they take away the simple and easy-to-use interface that got me to sign up for Blogger in the first place, and replace it with a slow and clumsy one? 

20 September 2012

This blog has moved

This blog has moved to http://ondermynende.wordpress.com/

The foisting of the new user-hostile Blogger interface on users was the last straw. 

In addition, it seems that a lot of the old functionality has been lost. Wordpress was always better for posting graphics than Blogger, but now it seems that the graphics capabilities of Blogger have been reduced still further, so it doesn't seem to be worth continuing.

You'll find most of the posts and comments at the new site, so if you had a link to this blog and want to continue it, please change it to the new one:


I started this blog towards the end of 2005, when Blogger was much easier to use than LiveJournal, though I still occasionally post stuff at LiveJournal.

Then when they began messing around with Blogger on a previous occasion a lot of people moved to WordPress, and I started another blog on WordPress, just to be on the safe side. It was called Khanya, and it has now become my main blog, as it gets about twice as many readers as this one.

For many years I postyed to both blogs, depending on the requirements of the post, and the relative strengths of Blogger and Wordpress -- each one had its own strengths and weaknesses.

But the latest changes are just too much, and it doesn't seem to be worth continuing.

I'll leave this blog here for as long as Blogger is willing to host it, because there are links from other blogs and web sites, and I'd prefer not to break them. Broken links are one of the annoying things about the web, and I don't want to add to them.

But I won't be adding any new posts here.

19 September 2012

Overdone stuff on Facebook

On Facebook recently there seems to be a proliferation of pictures to illustrate sayings, slogans or cliches.

It tends to be the opposite of the "Occupy" movement -- 99% are bad or meaningless, and a waste of bandwidth. The words themselves aren't worth much, but on the principle that "a picture is worth a thousand words" people seem to try to give the impression that something is meaningful when it is actually meaningless by wrapping it up in pictures.

Now perhaps this is all a matter of personal taste. I've occasionally "shared" a picture that I thought was true or witty, and some people have then liked my "status" (status? as in married or single? HIV positive or negative? Employed, unemployed or retired? Refugee? Asylum seeker?).

Here are some of the sillier ones I've seen recently.

The only message I get from this one is that atheists are just as self-deluded as the rest of humanity. Whoever produced this conveniently ignores (and obviously wants to persuade other people to ignore), things like the Butovo Massacre.

And then there is this one.

At one level, the message is much the same as the previous picture, but in a sense it is worse.

The sentiment expressed is true enough, and I have no problem with that. The problem is not with what is said, but rather with what is not said, because the implication is that those, like the person pictured, to whom the saying is attributed, who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of national pride and imperial hegemony will, of course, bring a true and lasting peace.

Bah, humbug!

Like the first picture, it tells you half the story, and tries to get you to ignore the other half.

The next one, however, is the worst of the lot.

The one of Hillary Clinton shows something she said and shows a picture of the one who said it.

But in this one, the words don't matter, because I'm pretty sure the silly-looking git in the purple jacket and bow tie never said it at all. I've seen his face on Facebook dozens of times, with all kinds of opinions attributed to him, some of them utterly contradictory.

At least with Hillary Clinton you know who she is, and you know that she is part of a government in whose name have been done many of the things that she ascribes to the name of religion.

But who is the bloke with the purple jacket and the bow tie? And does he actually know what opinions have been ascribed to him by countless thousands of Facebook posters? They are so contradictory that he can't possibly agree with them all. And why should his supposed endorsement make the sentiment expressed any more acceptable?

I say nothing about the sentiment itself -- in this case the content is unimportant. It's just a question of why this guy's endorsement is thought to be important. It's about as silly as those old advertisements in the 1940s and 1950s that showed an actor in a white coat endorsing a particular brand of toothpaste.

On the other hand, I did think that this one was funny, and probably would not have worked so well without the pictures.

Which just goes to show that it's probably all a matter of taste, after all.

15 September 2012

Dog with a problem

Val was moving bricks from one side of our ruin to the other, but our dog Samwise kept making things difficult by trying to bite the wheelbarrow wheel.

Then he dropped his ball into the wheelbarrow.

"There it is, throw it for me."

Val ignored it and kept loading the bricks, and Samwise got more and more agitated as his ball disappeared under a pile of bricks.

Eventually Samwise could take it no more, and started moving the bricks to retrieve his ball. Once he had it, he retired to a safe distance and looked repoachfully at those who would not throw his ball, but hid it under brioks.

10 September 2012

Postponing the inevitable

I see the message about the new Blogger interface has been reduced from months to mere days. How dreadful!

The old Blogger interface will be removed in the coming days.

We've made many improvements to the new Blogger interface. Learn more

You can upgrade to the new interface at any time.

I did try the new interface, and found it much harder to use, much less versatile. So I went back to the old one. So I'm not switching to the new one until I have to.

Aftermath - book review

Aftermath (Inspector Banks, #12)Aftermath by Peter Robinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book began pretty well, and I thought it was one of Peter Robinson's best. Perhaps that was because i had not read one for a long time, or had read too many Scandinavian whodunits in between. It felt real and believable.

It's more of a police procedural than a whodunit, since you have a fair idea of who did it in the first chapter. It's more a matter of gathering evidence and tying up loose ends, and the story does not lose interest.

It's only in the last couple of chapters that the story seems to come unpicked, with a kind of deus ex machina ending. If the ending had been better, I would have given it four stars, but it felt as though the author had lost interest at that point and just wanted to finish it off quickly.

View all my reviews

06 September 2012

Does Facebook's targeted advertising work?

We are told that Facebook uses our profile information to show us ads that are most likely to be interesting to us. How Facebook Ads Work - Social Ads Tool:
You are what you Like

Facebook Ads are targeted according to your Facebook Profile information: Your age, location, education, relationship status, interests like favorite movies, music and much more are available to advertisers that can access to aggregate data and reach the right audience for their ads.

Depending on their goals and the product that they are advertising, advertisers can set a targeting filter to select which group of people will see their ad. This makes it possible to focus on or target the people most likely to be interested in the product, amongst the 500 million worldwide Facebook users.

Having read that in several places, I expected that the ads that I saw on Facebook might, just possibly, be suited to the kind of demographic group I'm in. But this is what showed up...

Scuba diving, at my age? Living inland?

Shy women? I'm married.

Little black bottle coloured green? What's to like?

Looking for a partner? If I were single or divorced and 25 years younger, I might be, but given who I am, this is way off target.

The BBC recently decided to see how effective this was: BBC Finds Badly Targeted Facebook Ads Don’t Work. No Kidding. | TechCrunch:
the BBC tested out Facebook advertising by running a campaign for the Facebook page of a fictitious small business called VirtualBagel. The investigation was headlined “Facebook ‘likes’ and adverts’ value doubted”. During the week over 3,000 people Liked the ads even though the company doesn’t exist and simply shows you a picture of a bagel. The ‘investigation’ is partly a reminder that Facebook still has issues with fake profiles and Astroturfing, but is also a simple re-stating of the fact that you get what you pay for and if you put up a dumb ad targeted too widely you’ll waste your money.

And there are all those advertisers who ask you to "like" their ads or their produces. Perhaps that means you will see more of their ads, but even more important is that "like" means "Please send me spam".

Is Bravenet going the way of Geocities?

Bravenet, a public web hosting site, appears to be set to follow Geocities into oblivion.

Someone asked me for a reference to an academic article I had written and put on the web, but on trying to find it, found a message to say that the site had "expired". As he quipped, it "gave up the ghost in the machine."

I checked, and yes, our web site at http://hayesfam.bravehost.com had indeed disappeared. There was a note saying that one could contact "technical support", but there is in fact absolutely no way to contact "technical support". Though the Bravenet company is still taking money for websites, and still apparently offering new free web sites, technical support is non-existent, and it seems that many other web sites they had hosted have also "expired".

I started my first web page on Geocities back in 1986, and gradually added material, mainly academic and other articles, but then Geocities was taken over by Yahoo, which was the kiss of death for it. It gradually deteriorated and became increasingly unreliable. When it disappeared for two months in 2006, I transferred most of the material on it to Bravenet.

The Geocities site came back, but after the hiatus I stopped maintaining it, and maintained the Bravenet site instead. Finally, a couple of years ago, Yahoo! pulled the plug on Geocities altogether. But, unlike Bravenet, they did give some warning, and some public-spirited people stepped in to rescue much of the material on Geocities.

The main problem is that, especially in the case of academic articles, there are links from other sites to those articles, and the links are now broken -- see here, for example. See also Vanishing Articles.

You can find some of our material in the following places:
One of the articles someone asked about, that was shown as "expired" was Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery. Well, you can find it on some of those sites.

Meanwhile, I'll try to transfer the material that was on Bravenet -- Bravehost -- Bravesites to another site, but that will take some time, and of course it won't fix the broken links.

04 September 2012

Diet, fasting and the environment

I've read a number of blog posts recently about eating and drinking and the environment, and this one suggests that we should drink water to save water The Green Phone Booth: Drink Water!

Well, I have to admit that in addition to drinking plain water, I also drink rather a lot of tea and coffee, though one thing I try to avoid is bottled water, unless it has some flavour added.

I've previously blogged about the strange habit of many people of drinking bottled water, which is expensive, unhealthy, and environmentally unfriendly. Quite a lot of the bottled water that is sold is just tap water anyway, so why not drink it straight from the tap?

Blogger Clarissa gives some reasons for not drinking it straight from the tap here Does Anybody Drink Tap Water? | Clarissa's Blog -- she thinks tap water tastes horrible, and she finds that in every city she has ever lived in.

I have been warned not to drink tap water in some cities -- Mosc0w and Athens come to mind -- but I've been living in Tshwane for 30 years and I don't think I've come to any harm from drinking the tap water yet. The tap water is quite safe and palatable, as it is in most South African cities.

I agree with Clarissa on one point, though. I know some people who are forever banging on about the environment, but even when they are at home they still drink bottled water.

And then, from the same source as the recommendation to drink tap water, comes this The Green Phone Booth: Four Small Changes to Make in Your Daily Life:
Eat less meat. Meat production is a major contributing factor in climate change - in fact, livestock produce as much as 18% of the planet's greenhouse gases. Meat production also uses far more water than growing plants. I'm not a vegetarian, but I have taken steps to reduce my meat consumption. Even one veggie meal every day can make a big difference, and you may even get the chance to try some new recipes while you're at it.

And one of the commenters on that recommended this Meatless Monday | one day a week, cut out meat, which appears to be a new secular fast. Orthodox Christians, of course have meatless Wednesdays and Fridays.

So if the secularists fast on Mondays, and the Christians really observe the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, perhaps meat consumption could be reduced.

But there is also a downside to this: School Districts Take on 'Meatless Mondays' to Support Healthy and Humane Eating Habits:
Schools are in a unique and powerful position to influence students' eating habits for a lifetime to come. These pioneering schools recognize that responsibility, and the many benefits Meatless Monday offers for our health, for our planet, and for animals.
In a country where "separation of church and state" is elevated to a sacred principle, why are they imposing the secular fast on Christians? Should they not be providing the option of Meatless Fridays for Christian pupils? And would it make any difference at all to the secularists if they fasted on Fridays instead of on Mondays -- other than that that would not provide them with an opportunity to stick it to the Christians? This seems to be a case of outright religious discrimination.

But some of the arguments for this need to reduce meat consumption seem a bit odd to me. Why Meatless?:
The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
I've seen other arguments that cattle farts produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, but the same would apply to any other animals on the planet, including wild animals and human beings. If we follow that line of reasoning, we should exterminate all animals, wild and tame, to save the planet -- but to save it for what?

A better argument that I have seen, and one worth considering, is from a book I read recently The long road home: book review | Khanya:
Americans now wanted to eat more meat, and it paid their farmers to feed their cereals to the livestock needed to produce that meat, rather than to human beings. For the first time in history, high meat consumption in one major country would distort agricultural output all over the world.

If you want to be environmentally friendly about meat, then insist that the meat you buy comes from grass-fed and not corn-fed/grain-fed cattle.

And one last little tip: at public events caterers have learnt to be sensitive to religious diversity and provide kosher and halaal food, but most of them have never heard of nistisimo. Perhaps they had better learn it now, and provide nistisimo food on Wednesdays and Fridays for the Christians, and on Mondays for the secularists who observe Meatless Mondays. Oh yes, and even the secularists can Google for "nistisimo recipes".

01 September 2012

Marriage Equality

In Brazil a civil union between a male and two females had been described as "unprecedented". In Brazil perhaps, but not in the world. They need look no further than our esteemed president.

Unprecedented civil union unites Brazilian trio - CNN.com:
  • In Brazil, a notary has granted a civil union to unite a man and two women
  • The public notary who approved the status says they have the right to be a family
  • Others say it is a violation of the constitution and destroys families
  • The notary is now studying unions for another trio and for a quintet
Now that is the kind of thing I have been advocating for years.

Not that I have been advocating that particular form of ménage à trois, but rather that the state should get out of the marriage business and, if it sees the need for it, register various kinds of social and domestic partnerships without perpetuating the illusion that it somehow creates marriages or has the power to define marriage. See here Notes from underground: The State should get out of the marriage business.

I have suggested that the state can register such partnerships, whatever form they take, in the same manner as it registers births and deaths. The state should no more try to create marriages than it tries to create babies. If it treated the registration of births in the way it treats marrtiage in most countries, we would have decanting factories, as in Aldous Huxley's book Brave new world.

30 August 2012

A puzzle for international financiers

The mind boggles...

Let's face it, the Brits and Australians can't even pronounce "boerewors", so what makes British boerewors uniquely Australian?

Or is that something that only international financiers can tell you?

It reminds me of something that happened 40 years ago, back in the old South Africa.

A friend of mine was called up by the army for a military camp "somewhere on the border", to guard against all the "terrorists" who were trying to infiltrate from Zambia and points north.

And one night they were given for supper a tin of

Bull Brand Braised Steak
Specially produced by
Damara Meat Packers Ltd, Windhoek SWA
for the
Cold Storage Board of Zambia
PO Box 1915, Lusaka, Zambia

Now that was at a time that the border was being guarded against people sneaking in from Zambia, and at a time that Zambia was boycotting South African goods (and by extension goods from South West Africa), and had been doing so for years.

But I don't think it beats the uniquely Australian British boerewors.

Or is it kangaroo boerewors, with kangaroo meat being exported to Britain for turning into sausages?

I suppose that would make it uniquely Australian.

29 August 2012

The facility: book review

The FacilityThe Facility by Simon Lelic

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Kafka meets Orwell in contemporary England" says the blurb on the cover.

Well, not quite, but one can see how they arrive at the comparison. Simon Lelic simply extrapolates some trends in British society and politics into the near future, and the picture he gives is generally quite believable. All it needs is the detention-without-trial legislation that some British politicians desperately wanted, but didn't get.

Franz Kafka and George Orwell wrote about dystopian futures in which there are extreme changes in every aspect of society. Simon Lelic writes about a society that is deceptively normal.

In that respect this book more closely resembles A Dry White Season by Andre Brink. For the first 50 pages of The Facility I thought it was about a Britain that resembled South Africa c1968, after the passing of the Terrorism Act. It was a Britain transformed into Vorster's South Africa.

After the first 50 pages the plot is slightly different, and there are a few plot holes that make it fall short of Kafka, or Orwell, or Brink, but it is still a pretty good read. And scary, too. This is something that could happen, and something that some British politicians are on record as wanting to happen.

See, for example, here Notes from underground: The swing to fascism in the USA and the UK, when the British media lauded Tony Blair's attempts to turn Britain into Vorster's South Africa as "the moral high ground". And The Facility shows how very easily that could happen.

View all my reviews

24 August 2012

Is Putin's "secret weapon" going to blow up in his face?

More contrasting views from Russia and the West. According to Time the Orthodox faithful constitute Putin's new "secret weapon". Russia: Pussy Riot and Putin’s Religious Backing | World | TIME.com:
The prison sentence handed down last week against three members of Pussy Riot, a group of activists opposed to President Vladimir Putin, will restrict a lot more than the personal freedoms of the young women convicted. Judge Marina Syrova sentenced them to two years in prison for offending the faithful of the Orthodox Church by performing a crude anti-Putin song near the altar of a Moscow cathedral in February. While many were offended by the gesture, the judge’s verdict has put the state’s seal of approval on the righteous anger of one community, and that anger is proving hard to control.

But according to a Russian source something different is going down Russian Orthodox to Form Party | Russia | RIA Novosti:
Autocratic Russia and the Union of Orthodox Citizens are planning to register an “Orthodox” political party, Izvestia daily reported on Thursday.

The organization’s founders said they see Russia as a monarchy with a special role for the Russian Orthodox Church and the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia as the country’s spiritual leader.

Does that mean Putin is going to leave his own political party, and join this new one?


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