30 August 2010

The Inklings: Williams and transformation

For some Christians, "witness" is an active verb, and so "witnessing" is an activity that they engage in, and expect others to engage in, and it often ends up0 as a kind of "in your face" proselytising. In the following story, however, I think we come closer to the true meaning of "witness". The Inklings: Williams and transformation:
W. H. Auden worked with Charles Williams on a collection of Poetry he edited for Oxford University Press. Many years after first meeting Williams, he would recall that interview in surprising terms and mark it as one of the events that led him to embrace the Christian faith:

'For the first time in my life, [I] felt myself in the presence of personal sanctity... I had met many good people before who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings but in the presence of this man... I did not feel ashamed. I felt transformed into a person who was incapable of doing or thinking anything base or unloving (I later discovered that he had had a similar effect on many other people.)'

From Auden's testimony "witnessing" can be more effective if it is a mode of being than a mode of soing or talking.

29 August 2010

The end of the earth: book review

End of the EarthEnd of the Earth by Peter Matthiessen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peter Matthiessen writes about two journeys to Antarctica, one from Tierra del Fuego in South America to the shore of the Antarctic Peninula west of the Weddell Sea, and the second from Tasmania to the Ross Sea, almost on the other side of the continent.

On both occasions he travelled on Russian ships, which, because of the economic situation in Russia, no longer ply the northern coast of Russia, but find tourist trips at the other end of the world more profitable.

Matthiesen describes not just the journeys, but the history of the places they visit, most of which have no permanent human inhabitants. He describes the wild life (most of the passengers of the ships are keen bird watchers), and the highlight of the second trip, the Emperor Penguin, the only bird species on earth that never lives on land, and breeds on the ice shelf.

I would probably not have given the book a second glance if it had not been going cheap at a sale, and two things made me buy it. Last year I went to a gathering at African Enterprise in Pietermaritzburg, where Michael Cassidy showed slides of a trip to Antarctica that had been a 70th birthday present. He had followed more or less the route of Matthiessen's first trip from Tierra del Fuego, and having seen the pictures I was quite interested to read about it. A second reason that I had read and enjoyed a couple of other books by Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard and At play in the fields of the Lord.

I thought this would be a book that I might dip into, and read a few interesting parts of, but as I read I became quite absorbed in it. It is more than just a travelogue, but it is also the story of our planet.

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28 August 2010

Learning styles

I've come across a couple of interesting (to me, at any rate) quizzes on learning styles - hat-tip to my blogging friend Richard Fairhead at God-Word-Think: Learning styles:
Why is a Sunday church meeting so screwy to me? I have been looking at learning styles and done a couple of inventories:

Unlike Richard, I don't relate them to Sunday church meetings, because I don't regard those meetings as primarly educational. I don't go to church to learn things, or to be entertained, but to worship. But there are educational gatherings and events, and so it is quite interesting to know this stuff.

For the first, mine says:

      Results for: Steve Hayes


ACT X REF
11 9 7 5 3 1 1 3 5 7 9 11
<-- -->

SEN X INT
11 9 7 5 3 1 1 3 5 7 9 11
<-- -->

VIS X VRB
11 9 7 5 3 1 1 3 5 7 9 11
<-- -->

SEQ X GLO
11 9 7 5 3 1 1 3 5 7 9 11
<-- -->


  • If your score on a scale is 1-3, you are fairly well balanced on the two dimensions of that scale.
  • If your score on a scale is 5-7, you have a moderate preference for one dimension of the scale and will learn more easily in a teaching environment which favors that dimension.
  • If your score on a scale is 9-11, you have a very strong preference for one dimension of the scale. You may have real difficulty learning in an environment which does not support that preference.
The scales are:

ACTIVE AND REFLECTIVE LEARNERS

  • Active learners tend to retain and understand information best by doing something active with it--discussing or applying it or explaining it to others. Reflective learners prefer to think about it quietly first.
  • "Let's try it out and see how it works" is an active learner's phrase; "Let's think it through first" is the reflective learner's response.
  • Active learners tend to like group work more than reflective learners, who prefer working alone.
  • Sitting through lectures without getting to do anything physical but take notes is hard for both learning types, but particularly hard for active learners.
SENSING AND INTUITIVE LEARNERS

  • Sensing learners tend to like learning facts, intuitive learners often prefer discovering possibilities and relationships.
  • Sensors often like solving problems by well-established methods and dislike complications and surprises; intuitors like innovation and dislike repetition. Sensors are more likely than intuitors to resent being tested on material that has not been explicitly covered in class.
  • Sensors tend to be patient with details and good at memorizing facts and doing hands-on (laboratory) work; intuitors may be better at grasping new concepts and are often more comfortable than sensors with abstractions and mathematical formulations.
  • Sensors tend to be more practical and careful than intuitors; intuitors tend to work faster and to be more innovative than sensors.
  • Sensors don't like courses that have no apparent connection to the real world; intuitors don't like "plug-and-chug" courses that involve a lot of memorization and routine calculations.
VISUAL AND VERBAL LEARNERS

Visual learners remember best what they see--pictures, diagrams, flow charts, time lines, films, and demonstrations. Verbal learners get more out of words--written and spoken explanations. Everyone learns more when information is presented both visually and verbally.

SEQUENTIAL AND GLOBAL LEARNERS

  • Sequential learners tend to gain understanding in linear steps, with each step following logically from the previous one. Global learners tend to learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, and then suddenly "getting it."
  • Sequential learners tend to follow logical stepwise paths in finding solutions; global learners may be able to solve complex problems quickly or put things together in novel ways once they have grasped the big picture, but they may have difficulty explaining how they did it.
The ones that seem to be most pronounced in me are the Intuitive and Global styles, which I suppose goes along with being INTP on the Myers-Briggs scale.

What gives me most pause for thought about this, though, is that when I've marked student assignments in the past, I probably have had a bias towards the Intuitive/Global students, and tended to give them higher marks than the Sensing and Sequential learners. How much is that my bias, or perhaps a bias that the subject (Missiology) requires? Perhaps I have a sub-conscious feeling that the Sensing and Sequential learners should be learning to make tables or something.

And for the other quiz, my result was

Memletic Learning Styles Graph:


25 August 2010

Mere Ideology: The politicisation of C.S. Lewis

I recently read a couple of articles that appear to me to be attempts to co-opt C.S. Lewis for the cause of American Libertarianism.

C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 1:
In comparison to contemporary 'progressive' Christians such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren, who clamor for the foolish and disastrous notion of achieving 'social justice' through gigantic government powers, was Lewis just ignorant or naive about modern realities, or was he aiming at a deeper and more significant purpose? (See Robert Higgs's book refuting the 'progressive' myth in American history, Crisis and Leviathan, and his book on the disastrous 'progressive' state since 1930, Depression, War, and Cold War; see also Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.'s The Decline of American Liberalism and The Civilian and the Military, and Jonathan Bean's Race and Liberty in America.) In this article, I only begin to touch on some of Lewis's many writings pertaining to the subject of liberty and Christian teachings because any truly adequate examination would warrant at least an entire book.


Hat-tip to C S Lewis on economic and social liberty - National Hobbits, Narnia & Spirituality | Examiner.com.

Though the authors of both these articles acknowledge that C.S. Lewis was decidedly non-political, he was also, and I would say even more decidedly non-ideological. Yet both authors seem to want to co-opt Lewis to support an ideology.

What gives me that impression is the use of the word "statism", which I associate with the decidely anti-Christian ideology of Ayn Rand. I know she didn't invent the term, but she used it and her followers used it to give it a particular meaning, so it has become an ideologically loaded term.

Not that I like "statism". It also speaks to me of the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin, which elevated the state to the highest value.

I suppose as a political (but not economic or theological) liberal I could make a case for C.S. Lewis being a liberal, and supporting a liberal view of society. When he says things like:

I am a democrat... I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretentions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt (Lewis 1966:81).

It was sentiments like that that led me to sign up as a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party when I was a student, and to reject the ideology of the ruling party -- Christian Nationalism -- as evil and anti-Christian. When Lewis says "I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others" that decided the case for Liberalism back then, because the Liberal Party was the only legal political party that advocated a policy of "one man, one vote". Even the Progressive Party (whose descendants, the Democratic Alliance, like to claim to be heirs of South African liberalism) believed that one group of men, the rich and the educated, were good enough make decisions on behalf of others.

And Lewis goes on to say
Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they never in fact take place except by a particular technique. That technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly disciplined group of people; the terror and secret police follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the dangerous prestige of the Cause. Hence, in whatever direction the change is made, it is for me damned by its modus operandi. The worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety. The character in 'That hideous strength' whom the Professor never mentions is Miss Hardcastle, the chief of the secret police. She is the common factor in all revolutions; and, as she says, you won't get anyone to do her job well unless they get some kick out of it (Lewis 1966:82).

And in the fascist South Africa of the 1960s the Security Police (Veiligheidspolisie) were literally the "safety police".

Lewis may have been non-political, but it is clear from the above that he was not just non-ideological, but anti-ideological, and I'm pretty sure he would have rejected ideologies like Randism or American Libertarianism just as strongly as he rejected Hitlerism and Stalinism. Ideologies, of course, have codes of political correctness, and American Libertarians make it very clear indeed what views and attitudes they regard as politically incorrect, and we have been given a list of people whose views must be regarded as politically incorrect: Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren.

I know nothing of Tony Campolo, but I've read some of the writings of some of the others, and I've not noticed a great love of totalitarianism or theocracy in what they write. Missing from the list, however, is Rousas John Rushdoony, who advocated something like the theocracy that Lewis thought the worst of all possible forms of government.

I agree with David Theroux and Mark Sommer to some extent, when they say that not all human problems can be solved by politics. But their silence on the ways in which they think they can be solved leaves me wondering whether they perhaps think that it is better that they not be solved at all. Christian attempts to solve all problems by politics do not work too well, as Will D. Campbell and James Y. Holloway point out in their book Up to our steeples in politics. As they say, what is wrong with us that can be solved by politics is not all that is wrong with us.

But we in the Church persist: we are still hopeful that though all these means we can build a kingdom in which all things will be set right between man and man (and occasionally between man and God), refusing to recognize that these means are an attempt to build a kingdom by our guidelines and blueprints, by our sociology and politics, not by what God's reconciliation has already done for the world in Christ. In this book we are trying to confess that the goals of the contemporary Church - that is to say, the Church of St John's by the Gas Station, the Christian College, the denominational and interdenominational seminary - the goals of these Christian communities are blasphemous. The reconciliation the Church is seeking to accomplish today by these subterfuges has already been wrought. The brotherhood - the "one blood" of Acts 17, 26 - that the Church makes its goal today is already a fact. And because this is so, that very fact judges our goals and our efforts to achieve brotherhood by social action as blasphemous, as trying to be God. Instead of witnessing to Christ, the social action of the Church lends support to the totalitarianism of the wars and political systems of the 20th century. By its social action, the Church permits and encourages the State and culture to define all issues and rules and fields of battle. The Church then tries to do what the State, without the Church's support, has already decided to do: to "solve" all human problems by politics. And this is specifically the political messianism of contemporary totalitarianism and of Revelation 13. "Politics" by definition can only "adjust" and "rearrange." It cannot - as politics - "solve" anything. But the Church's social action encourages the very movements in the contemporary political processes which are moving us straightaway into 20th-century totalitarianism (Campbell & Holloway 1970:2).

But the way American Libertarians talk, it sounds as though while they reject the attempt to solve all problems by politiccs, the propose instead to solve them all by economics, and specifically by American big business, whose interests must take precedence over everything else.

And I doubt very much that C.S. Lewis would have supported that notion. The nearest equivalent to Ayn Rand's heroes -- Dagny Taggart, John Galt and Howard Roark -- in C.S. Lewis's novels is Dick Devine, and Lewis gives him an altogether different treatment. The Sackville-Bagginses could also be said to represent the "entrepreneurial spirit", which probably needs to be exorcised rather than encouraged.

A few weeks ago my blogging friend Matt Stone posted this ikon on his blog, asking "What is it saying theologically and politically?"

My response was that what it is saying theologically and politically is that political power and authority are to be exercised subject to Christ, and not sought for their own sake. The task of those in authority is to make the earthly kingdom an image of the heavenly one in righteousness and justice.

And I think that C.S. Lewis had somewhat similar notions, when he made Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy kings and queens of Narnia to promote justice and righteousness. And when their successors in Prince Caspian abused their power, they returned to Narnia to put things right. Mark Sommer in his article extols freedom and social liberty, but despises social justice. Yet in The Silver Chair Jill Pole discovers at her school (a libertarian institution, if ever there was one) that liberty without justice is a recipe for misery.

We cannot solve all problems though politics because what is wrong with us that can be solved by politics is not all that is wrong with us. It is a bit like the relation between law and grace. Law can restrain us from evil, but it cannot make us good. Justice is not love. The most that can be said is that it is a kind of congealed love. Law and politics cannot make men love one another, but they can restrain the effects of their lack of love, and that is justice.

As for trying to trying to solve problems by economics, let the Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev have the last word:

The Origin of Russian Communism (Ann Arbor Paperbacks)The Origin of Russian Communism by Nikolai Berdyaev

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quote: It was the industrialist capitalist period which subjected man to the power of economics and money, and it does not become its adepts to teach communists the evangelical truth that man does not live by bread alone. The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbours, for everybody, is a spiritual and religious question. Man does not live by bread alone, but he does live by bread and there should be bread for all. Society should be so organized that there is bread for all, and then it is that the spiritual question will present itself before men in all its depth. It is not permissible to base a struggle for spiritual interests and for a spiritual renaissance on the fact that for a considerable part of humanity bread will not be guaranteed. Such cynicism as this justly evokes an atheistic reaction and the denial of spirit. Christians ought to be permeated with a sense of the religious importance of the elementary needs of men, the vast masses of men, and not to despise these needs from the point of view of an exalted spirituality.



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-----
Notes and References
Campbell, Will D. Holloway, James Y. 1970. Up to our steeples in politics. New York: Paulist.
Lewis, C.S. 1966. Of other worlds: essays and stories. London:Geoffrey Bles.

24 August 2010

Congestion charge?

Going Nowhere: Traffic Jam Enters Ninth Day - Yahoo! News UK:
Hundreds of trucks heading for Beijing on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway have been at a standstill because of roadworks in the capital.

Small traffic accidents or broken-down cars are aggravating the congestion which started on August 14.

But those affected have been taking the disruption in their stride.

Drivers have been playing chess or cards, with some joking 'concerts should be held at each congested area every weekend, to alleviate drivers' homesickness'.

All the roadworks around here that had been put on hold for the duration of the World Cup have now been resumed, and lane closures have increased journey times considerably, but we haven't seen anything like that.

21 August 2010

Zombie DNA can cause muscular dystrophy

Just when you thought it was safe to take the tin cans from under your bed legs, along comes this story. Only it isn't quite what the headline makes it seem.

Zombie DNA Can Cause Muscular Dystrophy | Vanity Fair:
Here is something new and terrifying to worry about: zombie DNA. According to The New York Times, dead “junk” genes, basically thought to be dormant and harmless, are capable of becoming reanimated somehow and causing muscular dystrophy.

We have lots of dead genes left over from the process of evolution; the Times likens them to “broken and useless junk” in an attic. But some of the genes can apparently come back from the dead and cause facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD, which causes muscles in the shoulders and face to become progressively weaker. In some people, having fewer than 10 repeated copies of one particular dead gene causes FSHD—no one with more than 10 copies of the gene gets the disease.

It's not quite things that go bump in the night, but it's bad enough.

20 August 2010

The time of my life

Up at 5:25. I borrowed my son Jethro's bakkie and went out to get a new battery for the Subaru, and had to pay R900.00 for it, though they said they would give me R114.00 back if I brought in the old one. When I were a lad you could buy a whole car for that. My first "real" car was an 8-year-old Peugeot 403 station wagon, which I bought in Durban in 1969 and paid R300 for it. I sold it 3 years later to a witchdoctor for R60, and in the mean time it had taken me to Namibia and back a few times.

Then I went to Brooklyn Mall, to the Exclusive Books sale, where they have reduced the prices still further. I had hoped to get a copy of and the hippos were boiled in their tanks by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughes, but they seemed to have been all sold out, which quite surprised me, as the last time we were there they had about 8-10 copies and I wondered who in Pretoria might buy them. But I found a book on the peace movement, to commemorate 50 years of the peace sign. So in the end the books I bought were:
  • Leland, John. 2007. Why Kerouac matters: the lessons of On the Road.
  • Matthiessen, Peter. 2003. End of the earth: voyages to Antarctica.
  • Miles, Barry. 2008. Peace: 50 years of protest 1958-2008.
And they cost R70.00, but if they had not been on sale they would probably have cost almost as much as the battery.

I got home and looked at the books. I blogged about the peace symbol on the anniversary, at Peace symbol – 50 years on | Khanya, and the book, though a bit coffee-tableish, was a good reminder of a history that coincided with my own life. In 1958, the year the peace symbol was first used to protest nuclear disarmament, I was still at school. The "peace symbol" was then primarily used in protests against nuclear weapons, and it was only some years later, with growing American involvement in Vietnam, that it became a general peace sign. In 1961 I joined the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, and I'm now associated with the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, so the book is in a way the story of my life and times.

One of the other books, the one on Kerouac's On the road was also in a way a symbol of my life and times, though On the road was never my favourite book by Kerouac -- I much preferred his The Dharma bums. Kerouac, however, was the same age as my father-in-law, so he was a different generation. But Leland's book seems to be trying to turn On the road into a self-help book. I must be really out of touch with pop culture, because I have no interest in self-help books, nor books about misunderstood sexy teenage vegetarian vampires. I prefer my vampires evil and bloodthirsty and they are coming to kill you and steal your soul.

Then, while I was pondering these books, which provoked a lot of reminiscences, the TV started reporting on Jimmy Reid's funeral. I'd never heard of Jimmy Reid, or if I had heard of him, I couldn't remember him. He was a trade union leader in the shipbuilding industry in Scotland, and was apparently famous for leading a work-in when Edward Heath's Conservative government wanted to close down the British shipbuilding industry. They recalled two speeches he made, one on the occasion of the work-in, and another when he was made Rector of Glasgow University and said, "A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings." It was hailed by the New York Times as the greatest speech since Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

I found it strangely moving, and also linked to my life and times in a way. I went to the UK in January 1966 to study at St Chad's College, Durham. I left in a hurry, because a Detective Sergeant van den Heever phoned me at 4 pm and said he wanted come and see me. I was about to leave for work, and said I'd have to see him in the morning. But then I consulted friends and decided it would be wiser to leave for the UK right away, so left at 10:00 pm and drove through the night to Beit Bridge. My mother told me that her cousin Willie Hannan was a Scottish MP, and might be able to help me get advice on finding a job and getting residence permits and the like.

I drove to Bulawayo, and got a plane to Salisbury (now Harare) and from the airport phoned more cousins. It was just after UDI in Rhodesia, and the Rhodesian cousins did not have a good word for cousin Willie, and portrayed him as a wild-eyed socialist revolutionary, betraying his own kith and kin in Rhodesia and all the rest of the Rhodesian rhetoric.

When I got to London I made contact with cousin Willie, who was MP for Girvan, in Glasgow. He was terribly respectable, and anything less like a wild-eyed revolutionary I could not imagine. My mother had also told me that Willie's father had been jailed as a conscientious objector during the First World War, not because he was a pacifist, but because he was a socialist and regarded it as an imperialist-capitalist war. I regarded any conscientious objector as something of a hero, and so I asked cousin Willie about it, but he was clearly embarrassed, and said that at the time the police came for his father he was just a child, and they didn't understand it, and that things were different in those days. He was, in my view, what we then called a "square", altogether respectable. But he was a very nice bloke, and kind hearted, and was all in favour of peace, though he believed peace could be achieved by international cooperation and friendship, primarily in things like the European Union. He had no opinion about Rhodesia at all, other than being mildly unhappy about all the unpleasantness over it, and wanted to know what I thought of it, though I had spent less than 24 hours there on my way to the UK.

But he probably knew Jimmy Reid, and probably thought of him as a wild-eyed socialist revolutionary.

16 August 2010

Spring is on its way

Since the World Cup in June and July ("feel it--it is cold!") the weather has warmed up considerably, and now the camellias in our garden are blooming. Spring is in the air, and it feels as though winter is past, though past experience makes me think that there could be a couple more cold snaps before it's gone completely.


Unfortunately the flowers in direct sunlight seem to wither and drop almost as soon as they have opened.



And I'd heard about the birds and the bees, but no one told me about the ants!

15 August 2010

Illegal aliens

In September there is to be a synchroblog on Christians and the immigration issue, and here's a foretaste, so you can start thinking about it in advance.

Teflon Christians, Refugees and an Invitation to a Christ-like Humanity | Peter's Progress:
Let me introduce you to “Warren” (not his real name). Warren has a wife and three children. Before coming here he helped bury a friend’s wife, who had died of cholera (and was eight months pregnant). Warren slept outside for three weeks near Musina. The first day in Polokwane he approached me because he had heard that the Anglican Church helps refugees.

I said we weren’t much use, but we could give him some food. I know that people sleep down by the train station or the taxi rank and pointed him in the right direction. Warren arrived the next day having been mugged and stripped of everything except his trousers and shirt. Luckily he’d put his asylum papers (legal documents) in his pants.

“Chris” and “Fred” teamed up with Warren the next night and slept at a local garage, because it is well lit. The three of them fear the police. When they walk around town or wait on the side of the road for work, they get harassed or moved on. They’ve heard stories of our police tearing up asylum papers so they can be deported back across the border as illegals.
And its not only the police who are xenophobic, as the mob violence of a couple of years ago should remind us.

If you'd like to participate in the synchroblog, which is on 8 September 2010, there's more information at Synchroblogging Is Back | Grace Rules Weblog.

13 August 2010

Things that are being automated that probably shouldn't be

Computers can save a lot of time by automating reptitive and boring tasks, but there are some things that are being automated that probably shouldn't be.

Journalism is one of them, as this article notes -- hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace

5 Things That Are Being Automated That Probably Shouldn't Be | Cracked.com:
Statsheet wants to create a program to write entire sports blogs from basically scanning box scores, blogs that readers will think are written by a human. This article includes a sample. These automated blogs might someday be read by an algorithm like Infonic's or Reuters' which scans and analyzes hundreds of news articles a day to tell you what people think of different companies (in Infonic's case) or athletes, or political issues, or anything you don't want to read about yourself.

And just this morning I came across something that illustraded the downside of this. I have my blogs linked a a blog aggregator called Amatomu, and when I update them a message comes on the screen saying "Your feed has been updated". Google targets its ads according to the content of the post, and so down the right hand side of the page was a column of ads, all dutifully picking up the key word and telling me about the scientific feeding of farm animals.

On the other hand, I recently discovered something of the sort that seems to have a plus side. That is Twitter daily newspapers. It gathers the content from the Twitterers you are following, and presents them in the form of a daily newspaper. If there are URLs mentioned in the tweets, it often goes to them and displays the pictures. What it means is that I can go there once a day, and see the most important stuff about the people I am following on Twitter, quite nicely presented. And you can see the Steve Hayes dauily paper here: http://paper.li/hayesstw.

What's more, you can also create such "daily papers" based on hashtags. I've done that with one in my field of interest, which is missiology. You can see that here: http://paper.li/tag/missiology.

So automation seems to work quite well, as far as I can see, though I'm still not sure if it's picked up all the tweets of the people I'm following.

12 August 2010

SA Blog Awards 2010


SA Blog Awards - Home:
The 2010 SA Blog Awards is scheduled for its annual process of nominations and voting this year are as follows:

* Nominations Phase:2nd August 2010 to 27th August 2010
* Voting Phase: 1st September to 17th September 2010
* Winners announced on 25 September 2010 at the annual awards ceremony provisionally at the One & Only hotel, Cape Town.

If you know any good South African blogs that you would like to nominate for the award, you can nominate them here.

I must confess that I have a problem with this, as most of the South African blogs I like don't really fit into any of the categories provided. The organisers provide an exceedingly narrow range of categories, which exclude the vast majority of the blogs I read. There are no categories for art, literature, religion, culture, society and so on. Yet another example of the ignoring of the humanities in "mainstream" culture.

They could at least have provided a "none of the above" category, or a "general/misc" category, but I suppose that's the problem of running an event with commercial sponsorship -- the categories are determined by what interests the sponsors rather than by what interests bloggers and blog readers.

11 August 2010

Why Washington hates Hugo Chavez

Mike Whitney: Kill Hugo?:
Chavez's policies have reduced ignorance, poverty, and injustice. The list goes on and on. Venezuelans are more engaged in the political process than anytime in the nation's history. That scares Washington. US elites don't want well-informed, empowered people participating in the political process. They believe that task should be left to the venal politicians chosen by corporate bosses and top-hat banksters. That's why Chavez has to go. He's given people hope for a better life.

Hat-tip to Neil Clark: Why Washington hates Hugo Chavez.

I take this praise of Chavez with a fairly large pinche of salt, just as I do the Washington spin on him. Yes, Washington and the US media have tried to portray him as the bad guy, without much evidence. But I'm a bit sceptical about these attempts to portray him as an altogether good guy. I suspect that, like most politicians, he is a mixture of good and bad, though in his case the good may outweigh the bad.

The main reason for my scepticism about Chavez's goodness is that he has been reported as thinking that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is one of the good guys. Anyone who thinks that has severely impaired political judgement, and if that is his view, then there is surely some truth in the bad vibes about him emanating from Washington.

If this is true of Chavez

Chavez's policies have reduced ignorance, poverty, and injustice. The list goes on and on. Venezuelans are more engaged in the political process than anytime in the nation's history. That scares Washington. US elites don't want well-informed, empowered people participating in the political process. They believe that task should be left to the venal politicians chosen by corporate bosses and top-hat banksters. That's why Chavez has to go. He's given people hope for a better life.

... then the opposite is true of Mugabe.

Mugabe's policies have increased ignorance, poverty, and injustice. The list goes on and on. Zimbabweans are more victimised in the political process than at any time in the nation's history, even under Smith. That's why Mugabe has to go. He's given people no hope for a better life.

It used to be said that one good thing that could be said of Mussolini was that he made the trains run on time. I doubt that Mugabe has accomplished even that. If Chavez supports a dictator like Mugabe there must be something seriously wrong with Chavez.

What's the similarity between politicians and a bunch of bananas? They're all yellow, they hang together, and there's not a straight one among them.

10 August 2010

Three-score and five years ago two-thirds of Japan's Catholics were annihilated

The Holy City of Nagasaki | Spero News:
At 11:02 AM, two-thirds of Japan's Catholics were annihilated. On that day that will live in infamy, more Japanese Christians were slaughtered than had been martyred in four centuries of brutal persecution.

Hat-tip to The Western Confucian: Three Score and Five Years Ago Today.

09 August 2010

The Terrorism Quiz

How much do you know about terrorism and terrorists?

Since 1967 at least, when the Terrorism Act was passed by the South African parliament, I've known that at least nine times out of every ten times the word is used it is used for disinformation rather than information, so whenever I've seen it in print since then it has made my bullshit detectors very twitchy.

But I was still surprised to discover how little I knew about it and how much disinformation I had absorbed, in spite of being on by guard against it. Take the Terrorism Quiz to check your own knowledge.

Hat-tip to Clarissa, who posted this excerpt Clarissa's Blog: The Terrorism Quiz:
1. Who made the following statement? “To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom.”

5. How many suicide bombings had Iraq experienced before the 2003 US invasion?

13. True or False: The majority of terrorists come from the lower classes.

17. True or False: The religion of Islam is an important cause of terrorism.

One thing that I did know, though, or rather guessed, is that in the majority of cases the primary motive for terrorism is revenge, at least in the case of individuals. The majority of individuals who opt for terrorist methods do so because they have a close friend or relative who has suffered violence or injustice at someone else's hands, and they take revenge.

08 August 2010

Recent reading: The bone garden

The Bone GardenThe Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I quite like books that have a mystery in the past that has repercussions in the present; Robert Goddard is probably one of the better-known current exponents of that genre. This one is Tess Gerritsen's attempt to write a novel like that, where a recently-divoced woman, Julia Hamill, buys an old house, and finds a skeleton buried in the garden.

The previous occupant of the house had died, leaving a great accumulation of papers, and, instead of tossing them out, her relatives had passed them on to another member of the family who became interested in piecing together the family history, going back to Boston in the 1830s, where a hospital is suffering from an epidemic of child-bed fever and serial murders.

Tess Gerritsen, the blurb tells us, is a medical doctor and so familiar with the autopsies and emergency rooms she describes in her novels, particularly those featuring her usual protagonist Dr Maura Isles, who makes a cameo appearance in this one. But therein lies an anachronism, or at least what feels to me to be an anachronism. At least in the beginning, I found myself wondering if nurses were really as professional as they are portrayed in the book back in the 1830s? And did hospitals really have "emergency rooms" back in those days, and would people be tossing around modern buzzwords like "modalities"?

Obviously Tess Gerritsen has done some research into her subject -- to the extent of giving one of her minor villains, a resurrectionist, the name of Burke, which immediately calls to mind the real life (or should that rather be "real death"?) activities of the notorious Burke & Hare.

It improved a bit as it went on, and I found myself at least interested enough to want to see what happened at the end, but Robert Goddard she isn't. So two stars then. I've read plenty of worse books, but also plenty of better ones.

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06 August 2010

New Statesman - Blair must be arrested

New Statesman - Blair must be arrested:
Now consider the Proceeds of Crime Act. Blair conspired in and executed an unprovoked war of aggression against a defenceless country, of a kind the Nuremberg judges in 1946 described as the 'paramount war crime'. This has caused, according to scholarly studies, the deaths of more than a million people, a figure that exceeds the Fordham University estimate of deaths in the Rwandan genocide.

In addition, four million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes and a majority of children have descended into malnutrition and trauma. Cancer rates near the cities of Fallujah, Najaf and Basra (the latter 'liberated' by the British) are now higher than those at Hiroshima. 'UK forces used about 1.9 metric tonnes of depleted uranium ammunition in the Iraq war in 2003,' the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, told parliament on 22 July. A range of toxic 'anti-personnel' weapons, such as cluster bombs, was employed by British and US forces.

Hat-tip to Neil Clark: who notes
Let’s just hope that when Blair is finally in the dock, he doesn’t come up against a judge like Judge Griffith-Jones.'Started an illegal war which led to the deaths of 1m people'? 'Took part in the illegal bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as well?'
Well, you have a rather respectable background and you're not a lower-class yobbo so I'll only give you three months in jail.'

In May 1999 someone set off nail bombs in various places in London, and Tony Blair went on record as denouncing this as "barbaric". And at the same time there were news reports that Father Milivoje Ciric, who left a special service in his church to help victims of a Nato bombing, has been decapitated by a follow-up blast. This is a typical terrorist tactic -- set off a bomb, and when a crowd gathers to help the injured, kill even more people with a second blast. You can read about the incident here, and see pictures here.

The nail bombs, of course, were barbaric. They were designed to cause the maximum injuries. But Natos cluster bombs were designed to do exactly the same thing, only far more efficiently. Look at the pictures, and see Tony Blair's handiwork. Yes, it is truly barbaric.

As the playwright Harold Pinter noted on his web site, quoting the Socialist Review, www.haroldpinter.org - Serbia and Kosovo:
When the bomb went off in Old Compton Street, Mr Blair described it as a barbaric act. When cluster bombs go off in Serbian marketplaces, cutting children into pieces, we are told that such an act is being taken on behalf of 'civilisation against barbarism'. Mr Blair is clearly having a wonderful time. But if Britain remains America's poodle, she is now a vicious and demented poodle. The Nato action is in breach of its own charter and outside all recognised parameters of international law. Nato is destroying the infrastructure of a sovereign state, murdering hundreds of civilians, creating widespread misery and desolation, and doing immeasurable damage to the environment.

Barbaric? Yes. But as the prophet Nathan said to King David, "Thou art the man." (I Sam 12).

But there is one crucial difference, for it is recorded that King David repented, but Tony Blair has not.

05 August 2010

US President Barack Obama related to all US presidents but one

7th-Grader: Obama, Most US Presidents Related - Central Coast News Story - KSBW The Central Coast:
SALINAS, Calif. -- A seventh-grader and her 80-year-old grandfather are allegedly the first people to discover that President Barack Obama is related to all other U.S. presidents except one.

BridgeAnne d'Avignon, who attends Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville, traced that Obama, and all other U.S. presidents except Martin Van Buren, are related to John 'Lackland' Plantagenet, a king of England and signer of the Magna Carta.

Hat-tip to Father Milovan.

02 August 2010

Sunday papers

For a long time now the only newspapers we buy regularly are the Sunday papers, which we get on the way home from church. We've usually bought the Sunday Independent, which bills itself on its web site as "South Africa's quality Sunday newspaper. Coverage of news, opinion, business, marketing and books with a comprehensive sports section and strong focus on ..."

But as we drive down Tsamaya Avenue in Mamelodi every lamppost has a newspaper placard, plugging the latest story. Most of them are of the "sex, soccer and celebs" type, but occasionally there is a story that seems interesting in an offbeat kind of way. The Sun, for example, is big on zombies, and one of its best headlines was "Zombie stole my soap". So sometimes if we see an interesting headline we buy one of the other papers, in addition to the Sunday Independent.

One that we seemed to be buying more and more was City Press.

Finally, yesterday, we just bought the City Press, which from now on will be our default Sunday paper in place of the Sunday Independent. Why? Because City Press seems to have surpassed the Sunday Independent as South Africa's quality paper. The only paper that was better was The Weekendser, which folded several months ago.

Why the switch? What has changed?

I'm sure that part of the reason is that City Press has improved, and has higher standards of journalism. Its articles are well-written and interesting.

But also, the Sunday Independent has got worse. It's joined the "sex, soccer and celebs" brigade, though without the soccer (yes, City Press has better sports pages too). So the Sunday Independent is all sex and celebs, though with one difference. In the other papers in the genre the celebs are usually singers or film stars or models, or football players or coaches, or parasites; people like Brenda Fassie and Paris Hilton. In the Sunday Independent, however, they are politicians. The Sunday Independent is full of stories about politicians and especially who is jumping into bed with whom, literally or metaphorically. And also who is divorcing whom, matrimonially or politically.

City Press however, seems to be more focused on issues than on personalities, and that makes more interesting reading.

A selection of recent headlines from Sunday Independent:
  • Zuma's lapses
  • Gama plans legal bid to keep his job
  • Knight-West shootout row continues
  • Ousted youth league leader Masoga heading for the courts
It's all about who's up-and-coming and who's on their way out, and who's fighting tooth-and-nail (and legal injunction) to keep their position. What one does not hear is what their policies are, what their vision for the future is, and what will be lost, if anything, if they lose their jobs.

So I concluded that Sunday Independent was playing with my head. It was creating and reinforcing the perception that our political leaders have no policies and no vision at all, and all they are doing is jockeying for position to get in the front row at the feeding trough, and the best seats on the gravy train.

Now that perception may well have some truth in it, quite a lot of truth, even. But that can't be all there is. Someone must be running the country while they're fighting. After all, the World Cup stadiums got built in time, and were praised, sometimes lavishly, by foreign journalists. Apart from some glitches at Durban, people got to the matches, and there was less soccer hooliganism than there was in Germany four years ago, and better attendance at the matches. In our big cities (unlike many of those in Europe) you can drink water straight from the tap without fearing that you will catch some nasty disease.

Yes, corruption and greed and incompetence have plagued local government in some places and the water reticulation and sewerage has often not been properly maintained and developed. Two years ago we went to do research in the archives in Pietermaritzburg and the building was all over builders' rubble. I've been told that the renovations are still not done -- two contractors have been fired and it has been put out to tender a third time, and the Public Works Department apparently wants the building cleared while the job is done. But at least someone is renovating the archives. I've seen university student residences in Kenya and Albania that have been in far more urgent need of renovation, yet nothing seems to be done.

So I've got tired of reading all about the jockeying for position; I'd rather read more about the positions themselves.

The media have gone on about the spat between Mbazima Shilowa and Terror Lekota of COPE, and the wooing between Patricia de Lille of the Independent Democrats and Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance. Very few seem to mention that it was largely due to Shilowa's initiative, when he was Premier of Gauteng, that we got the Gautrain, now nearing completion. A few years ago it was dubbed by the media the "Shilowa Express", because Shilowa had the vision of an integrated transport system for Gauteng. Of course we have yet to see whether the Gautrain will do any better than the ill-fated Metroblitz of 25 years ago.

So for the time being I'll be reading City Press rather than Sunday Independent,. because I'd rather read about policies than personalities; about visions rather than vendettas; about inspiration rather than in-fighting.

PS: Yes, I know Breda Fassie is dead, but she continued to make headlines from the grave for years afterwards, and if it wasn't her it was her boyfriend Chico (what do you call a widowed boyfriend?)

01 August 2010

Recent reading: The final days

The Final DaysThe Final Days by Alex Chance

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A psychotherapist, Karen Wiley, receives anonymous notes written
by a psychopath, or a child threatened by a psychopath.

This kind of plot has almost become a genre of its own, with some authors, such as Jonathan Kellerman, seeming to specialise in it. Reading the blurb and the opening chapters of this reminded me of The Analyist by John Katzenbach, which has a very similar theme. At least in this book the protagonist does not behave quite so stupidly as the one in Katzenbach's book. Both books, however, have a motif of the hidden dangers of the Internet.

It's difficult to write about such a book without including spoilers, so perhaps it's easier to write about the genre. One of the things that strikes me about the genre is that it is assumed that there is nothing remarkable about apparently normal people living apparently normal lives to have regular appointments with psychotherapists or psychoanalysts of some kind. If these books are an accurate reflection of American society, it would seem that psychotherapy has become a kind of religion, at least among the upper middle class. In America, in such circles, it seems that people would talk about "my shrink" without the slightest twinge of embarrassment, whereas in South Africa regular visits to such a functionary would be regarded as a shameful secret.

Of course in the book the normality of life is interrupted by the actions of a psychopath, but the solution isn't to be found in psychotherapy, at least not of the paid client/therapist kind. The solution requires police work, and in the story there is plenty of that, as police professionals, semi-professionals and anateurs get involved in trying to track down the psychopath, getting in each other's way and working at cross-purposes as the body count and gruesomeness rise.

But given the existence of such a genre, this book is one of the better examples, and a good one to help pass the time on a boring plane journey.

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