30 June 2012

What's trending on Twitter?

This morning I noticed that the "trending" box on Twitter had changed, and was now "tailored" for me, and these were, preseumably according to whatever algorithm they are using, the trends that I would be interested in watching:

Most of those meant nothing to me, so I changed it back to "South Africa, Johannesburg", which is what it was before.


I wonder what the difference is.

The one "tailored" for me lacks #RASA but includes Bar9, neither of which mean anything to me. I have heard of Tom Cruise, but have little interest in him, and have heard of MNet, but have little interest in that either.

Perhaps I'm just too out of touch with popular culture, even when its especially "tailored" for me.

Am I missing anything important?

28 June 2012

Blog and browser popularity

A couple of months ago I read in a news report that Chrome had overtaken Firefox and Internet Explorer as the most popular web browser. Not among readers of this blog, it hasn't!

Here are the latest stats for web page browsers used to view this blog:

A couple of months ago I also noticed a surprising increase in the number of readers of this blog apparently coming from Ukraine.

I thought that there might have been one or two posts that appealed to Ukrainian readers, but no, the trend has continued.



At first I thought it might be because I sometimes blog about the Orthodox Church, and there are Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and Russia, but I actually blog far more about the Orthodox Church on my other blog, Khanya, which had only five Ukrainian reader in the last month -- there were many more from other countries with substantial numbers of Orthodox Christians, such as Greece, Bulgaria. Serbia and Russia.

Visitors to Khanya blog for 30 days ending 2012-06-28


I haven't seen any comments from anyone from Ukraine to say why they like reading this blog rather than the other.

Or perhaps Blogger's statistics are just screwed up.

27 June 2012

Ridiculous beliefs

I came across this when someone retweeted it on Twitter, with the comment "Ridiculous beliefs".

I agree.

The problem is, though, that I cannot recall ever meeting anyone who actually believes that.

Can you call something a "belief" if no one believes it?

If any member of the Orthodox Church said they believed such things, they would, sooner or later, be told that they were heretical. The whole thing is heretical, and every single clause is heretical.

The Roman Catholic Church, I should think, would have a similar reaction. I don't know if they still have the Inquisition, but they'd revive it pretty quickly if lots of people started saying that they believed that stuff.

Protestants?

Well, it's a bit harder to say with Protestants , because there are so many different varieties of Protestantism that it is conceivable that there is some sect, somewhere out there, that might believe one or more of those things. But, as I said, I haven't actually met anyone who believes them.

But, in one sense, that would be beside the point. It's obviously a caricature, and it's not meant to represent any beliefs that anyone actually holds.

So what is it meant to represent?

What is it supposed to communicate, about what, and to whom?

Perhaps we could try to deconstruct it.

Here are some of my attempts at deconstruction. If anyone can come up with other ideas, please add them in the comments.

1. My first thought is that it is a piece of "feel good" propaganda by militant atheists for militant atheists. By caricaturing Christian beliefs, and presenting them as ridiculous, they can feel smug and superior when comparing themselves with Christians. So it enables them to feel good about themselves. Some may be aware that it is a caricature, others may not, but that doesn't matter much, because the main point is to feel superior.

2. The second one is a little more sinister. This is that it is propaganda by by militant atheists for ordinary don't care atheists, for agnostics, for anyone who is not a Christian, and who is ignorant about Christianity, with the aim of getting them to reject Christianity because they reject a caricature. It is possibly calculated to stir up hatred for Christians. In other words, it is a caricature verging on "hate speech".

But in deconstructing it, we need to go a bit deeper than that.

Where did the caricature come from? What is its source?

A friend of mine, now a retired Anglican bishop, once wrote the following about Christian mission:
The Church exists for mission, not merely by words, but by representing Christ. Its work is not to convert, that is the Holy Spirit's work; ours is to preach (Mark 16:15). `Think not of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.' We bear witness, whether they hear or whether they forbear' (Ezekiel 2:5 etc.). Our task, and it is quite sufficient to keep us going without bothering about the consequences, is to make sure that if people reject Christ, they reject Christ and not a caricature of him, and if they accept him, that they accept Christ and not a caricature. If they reject, we remember that Christ got the same treatment - in fact half our problem is that we require something better than the success of Christ. We are not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) - we are not to try to `fix up' people's salvation against their will; `to try to force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea which did not appeal to it'. This is the way we seek Christ's success. The Church is not to be like a mighty army, pressing on regardless; it is more like a bloody doormat - a phrase which could even fit the Master of the Church himself, for it is only by the cross and precious blood of Christ that we are what we are, and he himself is the way on which we must tramp and maybe wipe our boots as we come to the Father (John 14:6). This is the kind of Saviour we represent.

And I suggest that in many ways the caricature has come from Christians themselves, from Christians who have done some of the things suggested in the paragraph I quoted -- tried to fix up people's salvation against their will, tried to make the living word of God into a mere idea, tried to present a caricature of Christ rather than Christ himself.

And that is in fact the original sin, because it goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve presented a caricature of God to the snake.

God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden but one. And the snake asks what God said, and Eve said that God had told them not to eat from that tree, but also not to touch it. That is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. An ogre God sounds more impressive than the true God. And right up till now there have been Christians who have presented an ogre God.

I was once at a church youth group where an evangelist was speaking. At the time there were some popular bumper stickers on cars that had a picture of a smiley face, and the legend, "Smile, God loves you."

The evangelist denounced these in no uncertain terms.

"That's wrong," he said. "God doesn't love you, he is very angry with you because you're a sinner. He was so angry that he killed His Son."

That was presenting an ogre God, a caricature. And one doesn't have to take the caricature a whole lot further to get to the statement, in the picture above, "I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself."

So I would say that if atheists want to reject Christ, then it is better that they reject Christ rather than that they reject a caricature of him, or even accept a caricature of him.

But it is much more important that Christians should not present a caricature in the first place.

25 June 2012

Weird requests for blog guest posts

Over the last few weeks I've been inundated with weird requests from people offering to write guest posts on my blogs. The following is typical of these requests:
I'm getting in touch with you because I'm interested in writing an article
for your blog. I came across your blog post khanya.wordpress.com while
writing for a website on hospitality management - specifically the field's
trend towards sustainability design. During my research, I've found that
incorporating green aspects to hotels, restaurants, and other service
industries has not only contributed to a healthier planet but in some
cases increased revenues.

Please let me know if you'd be interested in an article about both the
design and/or business aspects of sustainable design. Thanks, and I look
forward to hearing from you soon.
To begin with I just deleted them, but then they started sending me reminders, and asking for my response.

So I replied to a couple of these reminders, and asked for a sample of their proposed guest posts, and there was no response to that at all.

Has any one else been getting these offers?

Why would people offer to write a guest post, then remind you of the offer, and then when you take them up on the offer and ask to see the guest post, just not respond?

Are these people who have so much time on their hands that they have nothing better to do than waste other people's time be generating needless correspondence?

Or are they just harvesting e-mail addresses for the purpose of spamming? If that's the case, it seems a lot of trouble to go to -- to insert the name of the blog and all.

Or is it some kind of hidden scam, like the messages I used to get a year or so ago inviting me to a conference in some US city and in Dakar, Senegal?

After getting several of those, I tried to find more about what it was about by sending enquiries asking for further information about these conferences, but none was forthcoming. I assume that the conferences were all bogus, but I wonder why someone would go to the bother of sending out invitations to bogus conferences. They don't seem to be looking for any kind of response, because they never respond to the responses.

Another similar thing seemed to come from one persistent guy who called himself or herself Laure Norman. He said he had important information for me. Eventually I asked what the important information was, and the reply was that the important information was that there was important information. In the end I set up my e-mail program to simply bounce back anything received from that source, and I now see that my ISP (whose addresses this "Laure Norman" impersonated) is now marking it as spam at the server, so it never reaches me.

What puzzles me about all this, though, is what's in it for the people who do it. They're not asking for money, so there is no obvious scam involved. Does it give them some kind of satisfaction to waste other people's time and bandwidth?

24 June 2012

Luddite theology

Last week I was at the Joint Conference of academic societies in the field of Religion and Theology, and I was struck by the almost complete absence of comment on the conference in social media, or in other electronic forums.

Only last year one of those learned societies, the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS) held its annual congress in Pretoria, and there was a continual stream of tweets on Twitter with the #SAMS2011 hashtag. WiFi was available at the venue (a local church hall) to facilitate this, and there was even a screen set up to show the Twitter stream as it was occurring.

This year, in a far bigger conference, with 16 different societies participating, held on a university campus, there was almost no electronic sharing with those unable to attend. Though there was a good WiFi network available on the campus, conference participants were not given access to it, even though the conference was very expensive to attend. So the most we could manage during the conference was the occasional tweet from a cell phone, and the occasional picture on Facebook (and I still haven't managed to work out how to make the cell phone do these tricks, so I was never sure what was posted or not). But as far as I could see only three people tweeted using the #JCRT2012 hashtag, and one of those tweets was simply a remark that I seemed to be the only one tweeting on the conference.

Does this indicate that academics in the field of religion and theology have gone off the use of digital technology, and that SAMS 2011 was merely a flash in the pan, an incongruous exception?

There were digital projectors in all the venues where papers were presented, but I didn't use one for my paper because I didn't know beforehand what provision would be made for that, and in many cases when they were used they were distracting, as there was much fiddling with the equipment, and sometimes the wrong slide was shown, with interruptions while the right one was found, and where the equipment was used it was often only to show the text of the paper anyway.

While the lack of WiFi can be blamed on the organisers of the conference, I'm not sure that the blame lies entirely with them. If there was access, would anyone have used it?

Abstracts of all the papers being read were made available to conference participants beforehand, and I thought that that might be an opportunity of sharing what was being said and what was happening with those unable to attend. I posted a few of the abstracts in some electronic forums in the hope that they might elicit some comments or questions, but the response was zero. Perhaps that is an indication that academics in the field of religion and theology are technological luddites, and are simply not interested in using electronic media to communicate, or perhaps it was because they thought that the quality of the papers, as reflected in the abstracts, was so poor that they weren't worth reading, much less commenting on. I posted several abstracts in the missiological forum, since missiology is my field, but I also posted some in the general religion forum, the new religious movements forum, and the African Independent Churches forum. There didn't seem to be any responses in any of them.

I don't think Twitter is the best medium for commenting on or sharing what is happening at an academic conference. I think live blogging is better, as it can give more idea of the content, but without WiFi live blogging is not an option, and so we had to make do with Twitter, but it seems that most people didn't even use that.

I wonder if anyone will even read this!

I suggest that the next joint conference (in three years' time) take the form of a bosberaad, where the venue will be cheaper, with no electricity, and people can read their papers by the light of paraffin lamps.

13 June 2012

Western Media-Appointed Good Guys Strike Again

In the civil war going on in Syria, the Western media have appointed the rebels against the Assad regime as the good guys, and woe to those who disagree with their judgement. Among those who disagree are probably most of the Christians in Syria, who fear what will happen to them if the rebels take over.

The appointment of the good guys by the western media is not merely a wrong opinion, they seem to have got the facts wrong as well. Western intervention in Libya's civil war last year did not bring good results, and the same thing seems to be happening in Syria as well.

The Pittsford Perennialist: Western Media-Appointed Good Guys Strike Again:
If you were paying attention you would not be surprised about these "attacks on the people of Tawargha [that] are so severe that the United Nations has labeled them 'war crimes'" — After Libya's War, Acts Of Vengeance.

Now, if the official "bad guys" had been accused of this, this "one more fact about the town that was destroyed" would not have been buried at the end of the article: "In this overwhelmingly Arab nation, most of Tawargha's population was black." No, if the actors were reversed, that bit would be front and center, and the phrase "ethnic cleansing" would have rightly been used in the headline.

Not that the Assad regime are the good guys. But while it is desirable to get rid of a bad government, it is better to replace it with something better rather than something worse.

As my blogging friend The Pittsford Perennialist also points out
Likewise, news that "the infamous Houla massacre in Syria, which the US and NATO hoped would be the casus belli for their planned invasion, was in fact carried out by rebel forces" should come of no surprise — Implosion of The Houla Massacre Story — Is Anyone Paying Attention?

For the other side of the story, see Syrian Christians fear Islamist rule if Assad goes.

Russian Church Opposes Syrian Intervention - NYTimes.com:
It is clear by now that Russia’s government has dug in against outside intervention in Syria, its longtime partner and last firm foothold in the Middle East. Less well known is the position taken by the Russian Orthodox Church, which fears that Christian minorities, many of them Orthodox, will be swept away by a wave of Islamic fundamentalism unleashed by the Arab Spring.

In his warnings, Patriarch Kirill I invokes Bolshevik persecution still fresh in the Russian imagination, writing of “the carcasses of defiled churches still remaining in our country.”
The western media have criticised the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church for their non-interventionist approach, and accuse them of sitting idly by and failing to act to "stop the killing". But the question is, who is doing the killing?

In Syria, as in Libya, the killing has been, and is being done by both sides. What is needed is not military intervention, but peacemaking intervention.

The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine

The Sweet Smelling JasmineThe Sweet Smelling Jasmine by Jenny Hobbs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A middle-aged suburban housewife, trapped in a marriage that has lost its lustre, meets a friend she had known as a teenager in a sugar mill town on the Natal coast, where she had gone to stay with her sister and brother-in-law after her father had died. Her friend has become a writer, and encourages her to write the story of the long-ago summer when they first met, which had begun with new friendships, her first love, and yet ended in horror, violence and death. Though the book is full of ordinary people, living ordinary lives, it is also an enthralling story about growing up in the 1950s, with teenage fears and anxieties, joys and embarassments.



View all my reviews

06 June 2012

Six pictures worth 60000 words

I came across this little cartoon strip on Facebook, and "shared" it there, but I think it deserves more than that. It's about black-white relations in the USA, but is in many ways just as applicable to South Africa.



And it reminds me of an American trade union song I learnt many years ago (sung to the tune of The battle hymn of the republic also known as John Brown's body)

It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the factories, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving mid the wonders we have made
But union makes us strong.

Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
Solidarity for ever!
The union makes us strong.

Viva Vavi!

03 June 2012

Slavish morality

One sometimes sees interesting things juxtapossed on Twitter, which also illustrates the limits of Twitter as a medium (or must we call it a media nowadays)?

On my Twitter stream this morning were the following:

"Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy." (Bible)

followed shortly afterwards by:

The church uses sophisticated propaganda techniques in order to implant a slavish morality in the hearts of the populace.

Reggie's tweet is presumably an example of the church using sophisticated propaganda techniques (ie Twitter) to implant a slavish morality in the hearts of the populace.

I presume that an unslavish morality would take a more proper √úbermensch tone, since I believe it was Nietzsche who came up with the term and described Christianity as a religion suitable only for slaves.




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