The main aim of this blog is to interpret the Christian Order in the light of current affairs, philosophy, literature and the arts -- and vice versa. So it's about ideas. Social, political and religious comment. Links, notes on people, places, events, books, movies etc. And mainly a place where I can post half-baked ideas in the hope that other people, or the passing of time, will help me to bake them.
31 December 2007
End of the year
See you next year.
29 December 2007
Benazir Bhutto -- martyr for democracy or crook?
It is sad that she was killed as she was. But a martyr for democracy?
clipped from www.counterpunch.org
I have to start off
I am disgusted
This woman was liable to be arrested at any moment by Interpol
28 December 2007
If you are doing any kind of research, askSam is one of the best tools for keeping your notes and documents in order. It's a freeform text database that lets you find anything you put into it, and also allows you to have fixed fields for sorting.
I started using it when I persuaded the university departments I was working in to use it for journal abstracts and a terminology database. I'd read reviews of it in computer magazines, and it sounded as though it would be one of the best tools for the job. It was.
Back then it was the DOS version.
It was easy to get started using it -- you simply tossed information in and it would fish it out again. But to get the best out of it required quite a lot of learning, and to learn to use it I tried it out on different kinds of applications -- making notes from books, genealogical research, keeping track of correspondence, keeping a log of various activities. For all of these things, it worked very well.
Back then we also used the XyWrite word processor, and XyWrite's formatting was done using codes similar to HTML markup, so it was easy to produce askSam reports that were fully-formatted XyWrite documents. Reports could be imported into e-mail for sharing information. It worked just as well for exporting data to web pages.
For a long time I resisted the Windows version, but the new version has several features that older ones did not. One of them is the ability to import, link to and attach documents. So you can use it to keep track of word processor documents, PDF files and the like. It handles MS Word documents, pdf files (text only) and RTF files as well. It is somewhat limited in not handling Open Office files, for example, though those can be exported to rtf of pdf format.
If you do any kind of research, especially in the humanities, and want to keep your research notes in order, I definitely recommend askSam. I've found it useful for genealogy research, theological research and articles (keeping notes for my MTh dissertation and DTh thesis) and much more.
If this sounds like the sort of program you could use, you can read more about it (and download a 30-day trial version) at the askSam web site.
27 December 2007
The real origins of Christmas
Adventus evidently feels the same way as I do about them, and writes:
If you wade through that (as you should, if you want to know something verifiable about history), you reach this conclusion:Some years ago I had the job of marking some student assignments on this very topic. The assignment was part of a missiology course at the University of South Africa. It had not been set by me, so I had to read everything on the reading list to make sure I knew where the students would be coming from. Most of the reading was articles in various respectable (peer-reviewed) theological journals. I was rather surprised to see how many unsubstantiated assertions there were in these articles, and decided to do a bit of research on my own and tried to find out when Christians began to observe the Feast of the Nativity of Christ from contemporary sources, and why they did so. And what struck me was the remarkable absence of contemporary sources.The present writer in inclined to think that, be the origin of the feast in East or West, and though the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christian feast there too.
Some of the assertions were based on wild assumptions and speculations made by 19th century scholars. Or, more often, some historian had made a tentative hypothesis, and those who cited him did so as if it had become and absolute certainty.
Eventually, in marking the assignment, I found that most of it was urging the students to use their sources critically. It appeared that many missiologists are given to speculation, and are not familiar with church history, or even secular history. And church historians are very often not aware of the missiological implications of the matter they deal with. In the matter of Christmas, many of the assertions are based on huge anachronisms, which even an elementary knowledge of history would enable people to see through.
Anyway, Adventus also seems to have got sick of these muddled speculations and has taken some pains to set the record straight, or at least straighter. It's worth reading.
26 December 2007
Catching up on the blogroll and tying threads together
A couple of weeks ago there was a storm that knocked out our phone lines for a couple of days -- a cable struck by lightning or something. No sooner had that come back than we lost web access -- run out of bandwidth again, halfway through the month! No I don't do YouTube and podcasts, so it must be someone else in the family -- perhaps my son downloading updates to his graphics program, which he's using to draw fleas.
Then it comes back, and then it's off again. Telkom has a thing that lets you buy extra bandwidth now, but it doesn't seem to work. There's a problem, they apparently didn't like my credit card, so I report the problem but there's no feedback. They simply don't reply. Later my wife tries with her credit card, and that works, so we are back on the web, but for how long I don't know.
So I try to catch up with blogs I read -- starting first by checking on visitors to my blogs who have either left comments, or who have left a record of having visited through MyBlogLog. Then I go on to my blogroll, and so eventually discover several others who have been blogging on similar topics to me, so here is some of the catchup, and linking similar threads together. Some of them have been on my other blog, Khanya, which I use for afternoon and evening blogging, since Blogger works only in the morning. If it were afternoon now, I'd be blogging this on Khanya too, but since it's before noon, I'll use Blogger while it's working.
Christian responses to witchcraft and sorceryThis is a topic that has long been of interest to me, and I recently blogged about it on my Khanya blog, noting an apparent difference between Christian responses in Southern and Eastern Africa, and those in Western and Central Africa, notably in Nigeria and the DRC. And this seems to be spreading to the Western world as well, through the African disapora.
In my catchup, first through MyBlogLog and then through my blogroll, I discovered that some of my blogging friends have also been blogging on this topic:
- Yvonne Aburrow (Nemeton) in Save the witch children
- Phil Wyman in Square No More: The Children of Pentecostal Theology and Square No More: Persecution of "Child Witches" in Kinshasa
We've also been discussing it in the AIC mailing list. One things that strikes me about all this is that it seems to point to a significant divergence between Pentecostal and Neopentecostal theology, and between the attitude of Zionist and other "Spirit-type" African independent churches (AICs) on the one hand, and Neopentecostal AICs on the other.
I say "seems to point" because there does not seem to have been enough research on this topic. It's something that needs urgent attention from African and Pentecostal theology researchersbecause people are dying, and so far the reasons are mostly based on guesswork.
For me there are at least three big questions, probably more:
- What is the reason for the apparent differences between Eastern and Southern Africa and Western and Central Africa?
- What is the difference between Pentecostal/Zionist theology on the one hand, and Neopentecostal theology on the other?
- What is the link between Neopentecostal theology and Neoliberalism? How far have Neopentecostals bought into the Neoliberal ideology, and is Neopentecostalism simply a contextualisation of the gospel in a Neoliberal worldview (thinking of economic liberalism rather than political liberalism here).
The Golden CompassBefore the film The Golden Compass (based on Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights) was released, there was an SMS campaign by some people in South Africa urging people to boycott the film. I blogged about this at The Golden compass -- to boycott or not to boycott. When the film was released I went to see it, and enjoyed it, but found it rather over-simplified. But once again, I've discovered some of my blogging friends had written far better reviews than I could:
- Yvonne Aburrow at Northern Lights
- Iambic Admonit at Golden Compass review
25 December 2007
Iambic Admonit: review of "The Golden Compass"
Now, let’s move to the next phase of discussion: The Golden Compass as a film adaptation of the book.
This is definitely one of the most satisfying book-to-movie adaptations I have seen. There was a lot of plot streamlining, some character merging, and a good deal of simplification that happened in the transition process. However, these simplifications are necessary in order to adapt a novel of 350 pages into a 2 hour movie. I would have been happy had the filmmakers decided to go the Lord-of-the-Rings-three-plus-hour-epic route. The book deserved it. But I’m happy that there were no shocking plot changes (like in Frankenstein--the 1931 version, which I saw recently) or character destructions (like Faramir) or ridiculous additions (like the atrocious riding the ice scene in LWW!) or pervasive alterations of tone and emphasis (like in the beautiful new Pride & Prejudice). I have only two criticisms.
Well worth reading.
24 December 2007
Computer illiteracy rife among British civil servants
The mind boggles at such a level of computer illiteracy -- have the civil servants in so many different government departments and agencies not learned of the need to make backups of important data?
clipped from news.sky.com
Notes about 160,000 children were reportedly lost by London's City Hackney Primary Care Trust after a computer disc failed to arrive at its destination.
The losses were disclosed as police continued to hunt for two HM Revenue & Customs computer discs containing the details of 25m child benefit claimants.
I remarked on this in some genealogy newsgroups, expressing concern about various records used by genealogists and family historians, and the danger of their being lost as well. Some said that the records were not actually lost, but that it was just copies of the records that had been mislaid. But if that is so, it is the British news media that are being irresponsible, in deliberately trying to create the wrong impression. Journalists have been using computers to file stories for the last 30-40 years. I cannot believe that there is any journalist in Britain working for a major newspaper or broadcaster who does not know what "lost data" means.
But there were also reports that officials were calling on those who had applied for driving tests to contact the officials concerned to remake their appointments -- why would they be asked to do that if the data concerning their appointments had not indeed been lost?
So is it the civil servants who are computer illiterate, or the journalists, or both?
18 December 2007
Reconciliation and forgiveness
It has always been one of the more frightening ironies of Afrikaner life that people like my father, who with Smuts and Botha had fought and actually suffered in the war, could forgive and begin anew, whereas others, alive today, who were never in the heart of the conflict, can still find it so hard to forgive an injury that was not even done to them, and how can there be any real beginning without forgiveness?That passage struck me at the time, and I commented on it in my journal when I first read the book, on 4 June 1966
I noticed something similar in my experience with War Crimes officers, who had neither suffered internment under the Japanese, nor even fought against them. They were more revengeful and bitter about our treatment and our suffering in prison than we were ourselves.
I have so often noticed that the suffering which is most difficult, if not impossible to forgive, is unreal, imagined suffering. There is no power on earth like imagination, and the worst, most obstinate grievances are imagined ones.
This seems to touch on the core of a rather big question of human behaviour, One is that we so often find it easier to forgive those who injure us than those who injure others; and this imagination business. Reading about life in Nazi Germany conjures up all sorts of horrors, but they are imaginary horrors, I have never experienced them. In South Africa there are probably the same horrors, but one gets used to them. This is why so many people emphatically deny that South Africa is a police state, because it does not fit their mental image of a police state. But Germans probably felt the same 30 years ago.That is one reason I am sceptical about demands that people should apologise today for deeds committed by other people in generations past, such as, for example, the demand by Anglican bishops that Tony Blair should apologise for the slave trade.
I seem to recollect Trevor Huddleston in his book Naught for your comfort saying how much harder it was to forgive things done to other people, because one can only imagine how they feel. And John Aitchison, questioning the value of Liberal Party rural meetings, because you know that you go to encourage them in the face of SB intimidation, but by going you only encourage the SB to step up their campaign of intimidation. But it is a selfish martyrdom attitude -- a sort of "I alone can bear the suffering" kick. But they too must bear their share of suffering -- we are not the ones to deny it to them. It is their privilege as members of God's kingdom.
It is so also among the Jews. The ones who keep harping on the Nazi concentration camps are not the ones who suffered there, but those whose relatives did. In a way this is the root of altruism -- a willingness to suffer for others. But it can also be selfish and self-glorifying.
The same applies, of course, to recent conflicts in the Balkans, which still have repercussions today in the demand for independence for Kosovo. One of the best comments on that is at Notes from a Common-place Book: Remember the Balkans?. Perhaps the Balkans need a Day of Reconciliation.
There is another entry from my journal, though this time more recent, from an Orthodox mission conference in Athens on 6 May 2000:
The next speaker was Dr Tarek Mitri of the Patriarchate of Antioch, who spoke on Orthodoxy and other religions. He said that the many conspiratorial interpretations of the role of other religions blur the role of Orthodoxy.It is not ancient hatreds that cause war: it is war that causes ancient hatreds. And we can overcome ancient hatreds by forgiveness and reconciliation.
These interpretations were based on the conservatism of survival, and aggravated fears of seeing Orthodoxy marginalised. Globalisation meant that there was pressure for uniformity. National government structures are less able to make decisions. Orthodoxy and Eastern culture are regarded as archaisms in the West -- there is talk of "ancestral hatred", but it is not "ancestral hatred" that is the cause of war, it is war that is the cause of "ancestral hatred". If the past does not meet the needs of the present, another past can be constructed. The more people look alike, the
more they wish to preserve their differences, and the smaller the differences, the more important they become. We are caught between the voices of homogenisation and those who advocate religion as a marker of nationalism and ethnic identity.
He suggested some preliminaries for a theological consideration of these things:
(1) respect for other religions;
(2) listen and learn;
(3) give thanks for manifestations of the Logos in other religious traditions;
(4) Pray over insurmountable differences.
The mystery of the Trinity as the answer for those who think that the Father has no Son, and those who think that the Son inevitably kills the Father. Orthodox Christians and Muslims need to seek ways of preventing the use of religious symbols in support of conflicts. Human rights: despite emphasis on their universality, they can be applied selectively. Human rights abuses are emphasised when the victims are members of our own communities, but ignored when others are victims. The contemporary discourse about religion drawing bloody borders between people is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which Orthodox Christians must resist.
17 December 2007
The ANC conference
That puts it in a nutshell, I think.
Yesterday caught Thabo Mbeki's address on the radio. Not the whole two hours, but just the last half hour or so. He spoke of the movement losing its moral compass, of people who joined the ANC for personal gain and motives very different from its original ethos. Judging from the applause, he was scratching where it itches, for somo people anyway.
I don't usually listen to politicians' speeches on radio or TV -- they are usually too boring and filled with platitudes. But Mbeki spoke well. At least he has vision. One might not agree with everything in his vision, but at least he has one. But Zuma, as the TV reporter said, has style but no substance.
13 December 2007
The Santa boycott
First it was the Deon Maas/Satanism affair: (see Notes from underground: Christian responses to "Satanism" and journalists who write about it). Then it was the film The Golden Compass. Now, in this month's Synchroblog, Matt Stone comments about Christmas in a pluralist society, and the demand for a politically correct Christmas, where he says:
To my way of thinking what we should be aiming for, as a democratic and pluralistic society, is not a blanding out of religious distinctiveness, but rather for the mutual respect of religious distinctiveness. I may not agree with everything Jewish or Pagan tradition stands for, or Hindu or Buddhist or Atheist for that matter, but I can surely give non-Christians space to express what they find meaningful in life in their own way. I see nothing in the New Testament that would justify compulsion.
But by the same token I feel no compulsion to water down my own tradition either, and I expect the same courtesy and respect I show to others to be returned to me.
And that reminded me of the Santa boycott, which had a huge influence on the way in which I see and celebrate Christmas.
No, not that Santa.
It was this one -- the South African National Tuberculosis Association.
It was a long time ago, when I was still at school, about 1958, I think.
Santa was (and still is) an NGO, and one of the ways that it raised funds was by selling Christmas stamps. These could be bought at post offices, and they urged people to buy them and put them on Christmas cards that they sent out. This would not only raise funds for Santa, but also publicise the work of the organisation. Its work is needed more than ever today, because TB is on the increase, as Aids weakens people's resistance to the disease.
In about 1958 their Christmas stamp showed the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus, and the Dutch Reformed Church called for a boycott of the stamps, because they depicted the Virgin Mary with a halo.
Back in those days there were no cell phones, and so one couldn't call for boycotts by SMS, so it was done by press release instead. The Afrikaans press dutifully plugged it, and the sales of Christmas stamps dropped. And, as happens today, the English press commented on how bigoted and narrow-minded it all was.
My own response at the time was to react against it.
I resolved never to buy Christmas cards that did not show a nativity scene, preferably one showing the Virgin Mary with a halo. And I began, self-consciously and deliberately, to write "Christmass" with the double-s spelling.
The people who then called for a boycott of Christmass stamps were the same elements of society who have more recently been calling for a boycott of Deon Maas and The Golden Compass, and in that respect little has changed. But as Matt Stone points out in his blog, they have now been joined by other elements.
There was a reaction from other quarters as well.
The following year the Catholic Church brought out its own Christmass stamps, with the slogan "Put Christ back into Christmas", and sold them at Catholic Churches after their services. And many Anglicans I knew also went along and bought them.
Santa, on the principle of once bitten is not twice bitten, capitualted just as Beeld did in the Deon Maas affair, and produced entirely secular Christmas stamps the following year. I don't know whether Dutch Reformed Church members started buying them again, but by then many Catholics and Anglicans were buying the "Put Christ back into Christmas" stamps instead.
I've already posted my contribution for this month's synchroblog on Redeeming the season on my other blog, and tried to avoid the culture wars, and simply describe what the season means to Orthodox Christians, reckoning that most of the other synchrobloggers would not be familiar with that
But many of the other synchrobloggers did blog, directly or indirectly, about the culture wars, and Matt Stone's contribution reminded me of this episode in the past, so I thought I'd have a second bite at the cherry and blog about it here.
And the work of Santa is still needed.
11 December 2007
The Golden Compass
One of the problems of films made from fantasy books is whether one should see them in case the film does not live up to the book. I did not see the films of Lord of the rings because I did not want the film to interfere with the pictures in my head when I read the book. I had no such problem with, for example, the Harry Potter films. Though I haven't seen them, I'd be quite happy to see the Narnia films. But not Lord of the rings.
But The Golden Compass was for the most part OK. It generally stuck fairly closely to the book. Other people who have seen it said that the bits with the armoured bears were the best, and I have to agree, and in fact those were better than the book. The armoured bears were something I liked least about the book, but worked better on film.
The beginning and the end, however, were cut short.
Perhaps the end of Northern Lights will be tagged on to the beginning of next one (The subtle knife) if it is made.
But the beginning was cut so short as to be confusing. The explanation that it was not taking place in our world, but in one of many possible parallel universes was OK, but the explanation of Dust at the beginning was a bit of a spoiler. Not that it should make much difference, though. One of the things that hooks the reader is that "Dust" is something of a mystery, and one goes on reading to find out more about it, and one of the disappointments is that Pullman never really explains it.
The emphasis on the aletheiometer and the explanation of it as a "golden compass" of the title of the film also seems to oversimplify the plot in the film. Perhaps that is inevitable in the transfer from book to film, but when the plot was a bit tjhin in the first place it seems a pity to oversimplify it further.
10 December 2007
Pies, tarts and Synchroblog
One of the things that comes up in the discussion is the difference between pies and tarts. To me the distinction is that a pie always has a pastry crust on top, whereas a tart does not. In America, it seems, the difference has something to do with size. So we have milk tart (which is a kind of custard tart, or a jam tart, and quiche is a variety of tart. But mince pies are pies, even if made of fruit mince rather than flesh meat.
South Africans do sometimes confuse them, though, especially those for whom English is a second language. A lawyer friend once told me of a judge, who, in sentencing a recently-convicted accused, said "He had a finger in every tart in town."
Sweet Violet also mentioned turkeys, which she said were not part of South African Christmas celebrations. My memory is different, but perhaps because I grew up on a smallholding in Sunningdale, just outside Johannesburg, where we had chickens, ducks and turkeys. We always had turkey for Christmas (and sometimes sold them to our customers for that purpose).
In recent years years, however, turkeys have been more difficult to find. I attribute this to the Rainbow chicken boom of the 1960s, when traditional poultry farms were replaced by battery hens, initially near Camperdown, Natal, but later all over the country. Turkeys didn't fit the pattern, and demand was seasonal, so it was probably uneconomic to raise turkeys.
One could still get turkeys in supermarkets, though, but they were imported from America. I had visions of all the supermarkets in the USA bundling up their unsold turkeys on the day after Thanksgiving, and airfreighting them to Pick 'n Pay in time for Christmas. They came wrapped in plastic, and the label proclaimed them as "self-basting", which made me wonder what kind of sinister genetic modifications had been carried out on them!
Talking about Christmas reminds me of this month's Synchroblog, with the theme Redeeming the season. As Phil Wyman writes:
Redeeming the Season is the Topic for this month's SynchroBlog. Now there are a variety of seasons being celebrated at the end of each year from Christmas to Hannukah to Eid al-Adha and Muharram, from the Winter Solstice to Kwanzaa and Yule. Some people celebrate none of these seasonal holydays, and do so for good reason. Below is a variety of responses to the subject of redeeming the season. From the discipline of simplicity, to uninhibited celebration, to refraining from celebrating, to celebrating another's holyday for the purpose of identificational evangelism the subject is explored.
This is a kind of anniversary synchroblog, the first one having been held in December 2006, at the instigation of Phil Wyman and John Smulo, when a group of us blogged on the theme of "Syncretism.
This month's synchroblog is on the theme of "Redeeming the season", and here are the links to the posts:
Swords into Plowshares at Sonja Andrew's Calacirian
Fanning the Flickering Flame of Advent at Paul Walker's Out of the Cocoon
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Eager Longing at Elizaphanian
The Battle Rages at Bryan Riley's Charis Shalom
Secularizing Christmas at JohnSmulo.com
There's Something About Mary at Hello Said Jenelle
Geocentric Versus Anthropocentric Holydays at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Celebrating Christmas in a Pluralistic Society at Matt Stone's Journeys in Between
The Ghost of Christmas Past at Erin Word's Decompressing Faith
Redeeming the season -- season of redemption by Steve Hayes
Remembering the Incarnation at Alan Knox' The Assembling of the Church
A Biblical Response to a Secular Christmas by Glenn Ansley's Bad Theology
Happy Life Day at The Agent B Files
What's So Bad About Christmas? at Julie Clawson's One Hand Clapping
08 December 2007
Facebook - caution or conspiracy?
Then Anja Merret blogged about it, pointing out that the terms of service implied that you virtually relinquished copyright to anything you posted on Facebook, so that if, for example, a professional photographer posted some of their work on Facebook, Facebook could use it for advertising, selling or anything else. Several commentators said or implied that Anja Merret was succumbing to conspiracy theories and that the threat to privacy on social networking sites like Facebook was overrated, but it seems that Syria takes these threats seriously, and has banned Facebook, seeing it as too vulnerable to Israeli espionage.
When Facebook started, it became popular because it did one thing, and did it well. It was a tool for students in tertiary educational institutions to keep in touch with their friends. The first time I tried to join it I wasn't allowed. Retired staff members of such institutions simply weren't eligible.
Then Facebook opened to the general public. It had some uses, but it also had some severe shortcomings. One of the shortcomings was the idea of "networks", which worked fine when it was limited to academic institutions -- one could limit a group discussion forum to members of a particular institution, for example. But when it was opened to the general public, the concept needed to be rethought, and it hasn't been. If, for example, one wants to have a group for the South Africa network, members of the Pretoria network can't join it The Pretoria network should be part of the South Africa network, the smaller being part of the large, but on Facebook it isn't.
Some people got carried away by Facebook. Some members of the rec.arts.books newsgroup on Usenet migrated to a Facebook group called "The prancing half-wits", which deprived the newsgroup of some of its best contributors, and made much of their discussion inaccessible. As a medium newsgroups are far better for interactive communication than web forums (even though they were originally intended for one-to-many communication rather than many-to-many), because navigating to the forum on Facebook is a much more complicated process, and there are too many distractions along the way. I check newsgroups at least once a day, but the Facebook forums I look at once in six months, if that often.
But the rot really set in when Facebook allowed third-party applications.
This diffused things too much, and instead of making it easier to keep in touch, made it more difficult. For example, there are several apps for recording books you have read. The result is that you may have several bookloving friends, each using a different app. Instead of keeping in touch, you are separated. But they will all invite you to join their app, so if you do, you would have to enter each book you read six times. I gave up. I'd rather use Bibliophil or LibraryThing for that. Their approach is to do one thing and do it well, rather than Facebook's clumsy and cumbersome "one size fits all".
Others are also jumping on to the social networking bandwagon. Plaxo, which was a synchronised address book tool, has expanded into a social network, and may do it better than Facebook, though their interface is a bit slow. But if there are too many social networks, things are likely to become just as diffused as when there are too many books applications on one of them. I still prefer Tribe.net, though it didn't take off like Facebook.
And for interactive communications, mailing lists and newsgroups still remain more effective than web forums, whether hosted by Facebook or anyone else. Even blogs are better in some ways for that. It's much easier to find what people have posted on blogs than to find what they have posted in Facebook forums.
05 December 2007
Green Hannukia campaign sparks ire
I wonder if that will spread to Orthodox Churches, which burn large numbers of candles at every service.
But the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from those is probably infinitesimal compared with what is emitted in cremations. Save the environment -- close the crematoria!
clipped from www.jpost.com
Blogger: now mornings only
If one posts after noon, the time of the post reverts to 12 hours earlier. If you have already posted a blog entry in the morning, the afternoon post appears after it, out of order.
For a while it was possible to correct this manually, for example by clicking on "Post Options" and entering the time as, say 18:15 instead of 06:15, but now if one does that it says one must enter the time as hh:mm. Never mind that 18:15 IS hh:mm -- one simply cannot get the correct time stamp on a blog posting, so afternoon posts appear out of order in the blog, and also don't show up on blog aggregators.
Yet another reason to switch to WordPress, I suppose.
03 December 2007
Chavez loses Venezuelan reform referendum
One hopes that Chavez does not follow Mugabe's example.
clipped from www.presstv.ir
Books to read before you die
clipped from books.guardian.co.uk
according to Britain's librarians, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird is the book that everyone should read.
The Pulitzer prize-winning classic has topped a World Book Day poll conducted by the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), in which librarians around the country were asked the question, "Which book should every adult read before they die?"
To Kill a Mocking Bird heads an odd triumvirate at the top of the librarians' list: it is followed by the Bible and, in third place, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The ones I've read are:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
1984 by George Orwell
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn
Started but did not finish:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
All Quite [sic] on the Western Front by E M Remarque
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Tess of the D'urbevilles by Thomas Hardy
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Middlemarch by George Eliot
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
I also disagree with some of the librarians' choices - here's a quick off-the top of my head fiction list, without thinking about all the books I've read:
The place of the lion Williams, Charles.
The weirdstone of Brisingamen Garner, Alan.
The greater trumps Williams, Charles.
The moon of Gomrath Garner, Alan.
Lord of the Rings Tolkien, J.R.R.
War in heaven Williams, Charles.
The Dharma bums Kerouac, Jack.
The time traveler's wife Niffenegger, Audrey.
Asta's book Vine, Barbara.
Gulliver's travels Swift, Jonathan.
The hobbit Tolkien, J.R.R.
Piece of my heart Robinson, Peter.
Cat's cradle Vonnegut, Kurt.
Corn dolls Lennon, Patrick.
Harry Potter and the philosopher's stone Rowling, J.K.
Descent into Hell Williams, Charles.
The Eyre affair fforde, Jasper.
The echo Walters, Minette.
Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter and the half-blood prince Rowling, J.K.
All Hallows' Eve Williams, Charles.
Northanger Abbey Austen, Jane.
A high wind in Jamaica Hughes, Richard.
The nine tailors Sayers, Dorothy L.
Brideshead revisited Waugh, Evelyn.
Heartsease Dickinson, Peter.
Lost in a good book fforde, Jasper.
The talisman King, Stephen & Straub, Peter.
Those are just books I like, and not necessarily ones I think everyone should read before they die (the Harry Piotter ones, for example), and there are others I like that are not on the list.
Among children's books, for example, I think Alan Garner is far, far better than His dark materials, and would add his Elidor to the list as well.
The master and Margarita, The poisonwood Bible, and The curious incident of the dog in the night time are ones I've read and enjoyed, but I wouldn't say everyone should read them before they die.
I'd put the Alice books by Lewis Carroll above The master and Margarita. I'd certainly recommend that missiologists should read The poisonwood Bible, but there are other much better books for general readers.
Hat-tip to Iambic Admonit for the link. And you will find some more suggestions there, including another list, of which I've read 29.
02 December 2007
CIA overthrowing democracy in Venezuela?
I'd sympathise with Chavez but for one thing -- he publicly supported Mugabe, and many of his sympathizers also publicly support Mugabe. And anyone who knows what is going on in Zimbabwe and supports Mugabe is no friend of democracy.
clipped from www.democracynow.org
In Venezuela, tens of thousands of protesters marched through Caracas Thursday to oppose constitutional changes proposed by President Chavez that come to a vote on Sunday. Citing a confidential memo, the Venezuelan government is claiming the CIA is fomenting unrest to challenge the referendum.
It actually mentions the fact that the US strategy is what they call a “pincer operation.”
to try to undermine the electoral process, the vote itself, and then secondly, once the vote goes through, if they are not able to stop the vote, is to engage in a massive campaign calling fraud and rejecting the outcome that comes from the election
what they seem to have on their agenda is to try to seize either a territorial base or an institutional base around which to rally discontented citizens and call on the military—and it particularly mentions the National Guard—to rally in overthrowing the referendum outcome and the government. So this does include a section on a military uprising.
01 December 2007
Entities in the land of echoes
One thing I found strange and rather off-putting, however, was that the author kept referring to the ghost as an "entity". It seemed an odd sort of word to use in the context of the story. Apart from its use by database fundis, I've only seen "entity" used with such frequency in American atheist polemics. I wonder if "entity" has a meaning in American English that it doesn't have elsewhere.
One of the things I found interesting about the book, however, was that the plot revolves around possession by an ancestral spirit, the Navajo term for which is chindi.
At the moment I'm busy editing a book that deals with similar phenomena in Zimbabwe, where Shona-speaking people are often troubled by ngozi spirits. These are angry or vengeful spirits with a grudge, and could include the spirit of a murdered person, the spirit of a servant who was not paid, or the spirit of a relative who had been wronged, such as a mother who had been wronged by her children or a husband or wife who died unhappy.
This is not confined to Zimbabwe, however. A few months ago a woman I know told me of her half-sister and her daughter who were murdered by burglars who broke into their house. A few weeks later one of the murderers confessed to her, saying he could not sleep because the spirit of the murdered woman was haunting him, and she went to the police and the four murderers were arrested.
The parallels go even further, however. The book is a study of Christian healing ministries in Zimbabwe. One Christian healer in particular uses methods very similar to those of traditional (pagan) healers, and also very similar to those described in Land of echoes. This is the method of reverse possession, where the healer allows herself to become possessed by the spirit that is afflicting the victim, and the victim's family then engage in dialogue with the spirit (now inhabiting the healer). When the healer "returns" from this state, she offers prayers, but has to be told what happened while she was under the influence of the ngozi spirit.
While many Christian healers, especially those in African independent churches, have ways of dealing with the various kinds of evil spirits that people in local cultures believe in, very few seem to adopt this method of dealing with them.
I won't say too much about Hecht's novel, as I don't want to include spoilers for those who haven't read it. I found it improved towards the end. At the beginning, apart from the strange and frequent use of "entity", I was also put off by something that had annoyed me about The da Vinci code -- supposed experts who seemed remarkably ignorant of their own supposed field of expertise. In this case it was a parapsychologist who seemed to be ignorant of the phenomenon of "possession". But once those hurdles were over, it was quite an interesting story.
I'd be interested in knowing of any other instances of Christian healing ministries dealing with the same phenomenon, and how they deal with it.
28 November 2007
Dorothy Day's anarcho-Catholicism:the way of love
clipped from www.speroforum.com
Dorothy Day - a radical pacifist who had been a member of the I.W.W., met Leon Trotsky, had an abortion, and raised a daughter as a divorced single mother - may be the next American canonized a saint in the Catholic Church.
November 29th marks the anniversary of the passing of Dorothy Day, the foundress of the Catholic Worker Movement.
In 1933, she founded the Catholic Worker movement with the itinerant French illegal immigrant Peter Maurin, a sort of modern Holy Fool in the mode of Saint Francis of Assisi.
However politically heterodox Dorothy Day was, she was always religiously orthodox, saying, "When it comes to labor and politics, I am inclined to be sympathetic to the left, but when it comes to the Catholic Church, then I am far to the right."
The author of this article on Dorothy Day has his own blog The Western Confucian, where you can also leave comments.
26 November 2007
US imperialism has created the worst of all worlds
clipped from timesonline.co.uk
Fraudulent Google searches
Notes from underground: Urban legend: government to replace
|12 Nov 2007 by laiiwjmi |
bGovernment/b employees demand more bholidays/b and higher pay. When the Danish bgovernment/b intervened in spring 1998 to end the major private sector industrial b/bLink to Queensland bGovernment/b (www.qld.gov.au) b/b Public ...
btyu.mevent.org - http://btyu.mevent.org/
and a few others like it. That is not a blog similar to mine, but it has nicked the title of a post I wrote in my blog (Notes from underground: Urban legend: government to replace Christian public holidays), though the content is nothing like it.
Entering "Notes from underground: Urban legend: government to replace" into Google blog search produces some interesting results -- a long list of bogus blog sites.
Should one report this to Google, as it seems fraudulent, to say the least?
23 November 2007
Easy Rider through Western Transvaal dorps
But as with the previous post, it brings back memories.
From 1969-1972 I lived in a kind of commune in Windhoek, which we called the Community of St Simon the Zealot. We sent an occasional newsletter, called The Pink Press to friends and well-wishers, and in one of them described an international tour (to South Africa, which at that time was trying to claim South West Africa/Namibia as its own, so we described it as "international" to emphasise Namibia's separateness).
An Anglican priest friend, Tom Comber, then living in Oxford, England, wrote saying that he had enjoyed the description of doing an "Easy Rider" through the Western Transvaal dorps. I hadn't seen the film (perhaps it was banned in those days), but after hearing of it from him, I always wanted to see it. But I only got to see the film many years later, when it was shown on TV quite recently.
Those were the days of ethnic cleansing in South Africa, and we went to a place called Morsgat (Messhole), subsequently renamed Madikwe because Cosmas Desmond, who was then a Franciscan priest, reported that the people who had been moved there lacked basic necessities like food and blankets. Cosmas Desmond wrote a book, The discarded people, which drew the ethnic cleansing then taking place to the attention of a wider public. The picture shows some of us on the road to Morsgat.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my diary entry for Saturday 15 November 1969, our "Easy Rider" through the Western Transvaal:
We set out early in the morning for Morsgat, in three vehicles. Ted Goodyer, now deacon at St Martin's in the Veld, was driving the Christian Institute's combi, and Mary Davies and Richard Schaerer went with him. Shirley and John and Mark Davies went in their own car. Elizabeth Davies came with me in an Opel station wagon belonging to a woman called Amanda, but nobody knew her surname. We drove out through Blackheath, Tarlton and Magaliesberg, and at Koster stopped for tea and biscuits at the side of the road. Just beyond Swartruggens we turned off to the right along a dirt road, and about 25 miles further on we came to Morsgat.
Our plan was that the clergy in the group - being Ted, John and me, would go in to
distribute the food, while the rest waited outside. But there were a lot of houses in the process of being built, and a bloke came out of the building yard and gave every impression of expecting us. He said we were expected at the school, because that was where the doctor had gone last time. Earlier on the journey I had seen a police van go on ahead, and I suspected a trap, but the bit about the doctor sounded all right, so we went. The school building was in the shape of a U, and sure enough, the police-van was there, waiting. So I didn't go into the school, but parked under a tree outside. The policeman came up and introduced himself as Sergeant van den Berg, so we all said good morning, and John asked him in a polite conversational way where would be the best place to distribute the food. This clearly embarrassed him, as he had obviously come to be professional and nasty, and he said in his best professional and nasty voice "Have you got permits to be here?", and John said "We don't need permits, we are clergy." The sergeant was a bit taken aback by this, and took down John's name and address, and went off somewhere, and a few minutes later returned with a Plymouth Barracuda with an SB man in it.
The SB man, Loots, was a real thug type. No flies on him, he couldn't smile or be friendly if he tried. He went round demanding permits, names and addresses, and took all names and addresses, including the children's. Then he insisted that Shirley and Richard and the children must leave and go to the Swartruggens police station, so they went off with the Fuzz, while we stayed and distributed the food after consulting with a bloke who claimed to be a headman. He and a few henchmen kept order, but eventually started using whips on the crowd. When it got too chaotic, we moved into the school, and distributed from classroom windows. The distribution of the food went off all right, but the clothes were an altogether different animal. Here, the majority of the henchmen tried to keep the best for themselves, and when we went outside the combi was almost mobbed. One or two of them were concerned to see that the old people got some, but the rest just grabbed for themselves. The combi was surrounded by about fifty shouting gesticulating people, and later John said he had seen nothing to equal it for sheer greed and grabbing, except perhaps in photos he had once seen of a scramble to buy shares on the Stock Exchange.
When the combi drove off I followed it a bit later, but it had disappeared, so I drove back to Swartruggens and found Shirley and Richard and the children. We stopped at a garage to buy some cold drinks, and then went back towards Morsgat to find John and Ted. Loots passed us going in the opposite direction, and looked puzzled. We drove about 100 yards up the dirt road, and stopped for lunch under some trees, and almost as soon as we got there John and Ted arrived in the combi. We had lunch there, and on the tar road I saw Loot's car turn around. We thought he would come up to keep an eye on us, but he didn't appear. On the way back, Mary rode in the car with me. We passed the place where Loots had parked, and Shirley saw him sitting in a tree, watching us from there. It seems almost as good as the story of Sergeant Ndlovu hiding in the butcher shop at Pevensey. In the evening Jill Chisholm, a reporter from the Daily Mail, came round to hear the full story of the day's doings.
The following day we burned a lot of posters showing B.J. Vorster. It was part of an antiremovals campaign the previous year, and showed Vorster and a quote from him, saying "You must not try to take a man's home away from him." The picture shows Cos Desmond and Liz Davies throwing some of the 20000 surplus Vorsters on the fire.
When I saw the film Easy Rider I could see why Tom Comber was reminded of it. Some of the communities in the Western Transvaal are a bit like those depicted in the film. But those were not the people we encountered on our journey. Ethnic cleansing created its own peculiar society, and some of those effects linger to the present, part of the legacy of apartheid that we are still struggling to cope with.
22 November 2007
Ian Smith and Bram Fischer -- memories of a bygone era
The 11th of November 1965 was particularly memorable for me because that was the day on which I had been summoned to the chief Magistrate of Pietermaritzburg to receive an official warning under the Suppression of Communism Act.
clipped from www.guardian.co.uk
Ian Smith, Rhodesia's last white prime minister whose attempts to resist black rule dragged the country now known as Zimbabwe into isolation and civil war, died Tuesday at age 88.
Smith unilaterally declared independence from Britain on Nov. 11, 1965. He then served as the prime minister of Rhodesia from 1965 to 1979 during white minority rule.
Smith became premier of the British Crown Colony of Southern Rhodesia in April 1964. On Nov. 11, 1965, he issued a declaration of independence
The other day I heard a radio announcer remarking that a street named after Bram Fischer had been spelt wrongly, saying that it should have been "Braam", not "Bram". But no, he was always known as Bram Fischer. For any of the younger generation, like that announcer, and for those interested in the history of those days, here is what I wrote in my diary on that memorable day:
I went to see the magistrate, at Room 116 in the Magistrate's Court, as instructed. I knocked on the door, which had been left slightly open. A deep voice inside said "Ja". So I went in and said "More, Omie" , and the beak looked slightly puzzled, so I said, in Afrikaans, that he had said I should come and see him. He continued to look slightly puzzled, and then suddenly his face lighted up, and he said, "Are you Mr Hayes?" in English. And I said Yes. He scratched around among the pile of papers on the table and pulled out a folder, and then asked me if I understood Afrikaans. I said I did, and so he read out this rigmarole about engaging in activities which were calculated to further any of the objects of communism, with a rather apologetic expression that implied it had nothing to do with him, and that he knew nothing about it, but had merely been asked to do this by the minister. He seemed very nervous and embarrassed. When he had read it out, he gave his interpretation of what he thought it meant, and advised me not to go to any political meetings. He asked me what the badges were that I was wearing on my blazer, and I told him that one was the church badge, and he looked puzzled again. I then told him that the other was the Liberal Party badge, and once again the light dawned. "O, ek sien." That explained everything.
I went outside and met Pam Taylor in Commercial Road. She said she had been worried about me, and had come down to see what had happened. Then I went to see Pat in the party office, and told him I had been warned, and told him I would have to give up my idea of having a political holiday between the last exam and going home to Joburg. It is not worth getting banned for five years for just two weeks of political activity.
After lunch I was in my room lying in my bed doing nothing, when John Aitchison burst in, with great jubilation, saying Ian Smith had just gone mad, and made his oft-threatened UDI. This means the beginning of the end of white supremacy in Southern Africa. We went up to see Isobel, who told us that all the Rhodesians in varsity had given up swotting and gone off to town to celebrate. And some of the Zambians had done as well, which was worse. Two of them came past waving a Rhodesian flag, so we sang "God save the Queen" and "Land of hope and glory".
In the evening John and I went to see Pat, and discussed the Rhodesian situation. Then we went to Pechey's place and listened to Wilson's broadcast on Rhodesia at 11:00 pm. He announced economic sanctions, said Rhodesian passports would no longer be recognised, and said Rhodesia would be placed under direct rule of the Crown, and that Britain would not abdicate her responsibility for Rhodesia. It was quite a good speech. The rest of the news followed, with a report that Bram Fischer had been arrested. So Pechey got some booze out and we drank three toasts: to Fischer, the Queen, and Wilson. Fischer may be a communist, but anyone who can keep the SB guessing for 11 months deserves admiration, no matter what his politics are. The stalemate has broken at last now that Smith has gone off his head, and things can start moving again.
The "Pat" referred to there was Pat McKenzie, the national secretary of the Liberal Party of South Africa.
Ian Smith went on for another 15 years, and turned Rhodesia into a police state. When that came to an end there was a brief flicker of hope, but Smith's successor Robert Mugabe has turned out to be just as bad, driving millions of Zimbabweans into exile with his oppressive policies.
And Harold Wilson's successors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have been doing their best to turn Britain into a police state, as South Africa was in 1965.
The "warning" issued by the magistrate was the preliminary to a banning order, issued by the Minister of Justice (then B.J. Vorster). These banning orders were similar to the "control orders" recently introduced in Britain by the Blair/Brown regime.
The day after I received the warning the South African Prime Minister, Dr Verwoerd, spoke at a National Party meeting in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. The national and international press were there, waiting to hear what he would say about Smith and his UDI, and had to listen to a long diatribe against Sir de Villiers Graaf and the United Party, and he dismissed the whole Rhodesian UDI business in a couple of sentences, when he said smugly that South Africa didn't believe in interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries and that was a matter for Britain and Rhodesia to sort out between them.
The security police reported to the Minister of Justice that I had ignored the warning I had been given by attending the meeting -- ie that by attending the National Party meeting I was "engaging in activities that further, or are calculated to further any of the objects of communism".
I wrote my final exam on 15 November, and returned to Johannesburg, where I got a job as a bus driver with the Johannesburg Transport Department to save money for postgraduate study in the UK. On 11 January 1966 Mr Vorster signed a banning order for me. A few days later a Detective Sergeant van den Heever phoned and said he wanted to come and see me, though he did not say why. I was about to go to work to do overtime, so I told him I would go and see him the following day, between my overtime and my main shift. I suspected that he either wanted to give me a banning order or to confiscate my passport., so instead of going to work I went to ask the advice of John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits University, and decided to skip the country. We left immediately and drove to Beit Bridge where we crossed into Smith's Rhodesia, the first impression of which was notices in the immigration office saying "Please do not allow your children to scribble on the blotting pads".
We reached Bulawayo at lunch time, and had lunch with a local Anglican priest, Leslie Gready, who told stories of how the Rhodesian police used the rainwater tanks of black peasants for target practice, thus depriving them of drinking water.
Late in the afternoon I got a plane to Salisbury (now Harare), and from there to London via Rome.
Such are my memories of Ian Smith and his Rhodesia.
As for Bram Fischer, he spent most of the rest of his life in jail. Unlike Smith and Mugabe, he wasn't a racist.