31 January 2008

US Primaries 2008 -- a Republicrat will be elected

Here's a clear illustration of what many of us have long suspected. Nearly all the US presidential hopefuls in either of the two main parties are right-wing authoritarians. The only ones who aren't -- Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel -- don't stand a chance of being elected.

US Primaries 2008:
When examining the chart it is important to note that although most of the candidates seem quite different, in substance they occupy a relatively restricted area within the universal political spectrum. Democracies with a system of proportional representation give expression to a wider range of political views. While Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are depicted on the extreme left in an American context, they would simply be mainstream social democrats within the wider political landscape of Europe. Similarly, Hillary Clinton is popularly perceived as a leftist in the United States while in any other western democracy her record is that of a moderate conservative.

US Primaries Chart 2008

As Jonty Driver, erstwhile president of the National Union of South African Students, said when B.J. Vorster, then Minister of Justice in South Africa, called him a "leftist", "There is no shame in being called a leftist by such a prominent rightist."

Should heads roll over power crisis?

The Times - Article: Regret for blackouts:
Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica conceded today that the country’s electricity crisis constitutes “a national emergency” and urged South Africans to work together to overcome it.

Opening a special joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, she expressed “sincere regret” for the power crisis.

But in an unfinished sentence, she appeared to criticise the call for heads to roll, saying there were some people who want to “crucify, crucify, crucify”...

Independent Democrats MP Lance Greyling pointed out that Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge was fired from her post as deputy minister of health for making one unauthorised trip abroad, but that no one had been sacked for bringing the economy to its knees.

There is a sense in which heads have already rolled -- at the ANC conference last December, where many members of the cabinet were not re-elected to the ANC's national executive committee, and no doubt this will also be reflected in the party list for the next general election.

But Lance Greyling of the ID makes a point that deserves further consideration. Where heads have rolled in the past, it has looked like an excuse, or misuse of power for personal rivalries and cronyism. Even the sacking of Jacob Zuma had more than a whiff of an excuse to get rid of a rival.

But heads rolling is not enough. We don't need scapegoats: we need solutions. The government didn't build power stations apparently believing that private enterprise would do so. Private enterprise hasn't done so, so the government better do it. Oh yes, and stop Coega. The jobs lost through power cuts will far exceed the number of jobs created by Coega.

30 January 2008

The typewriter is dead: long live the typewriter

Somewhere at the back of a cupboard is an Olympia typewriter I bought more than 30 years ago. With the electricity supply being as erratic as it is, perhaps I'd better get it out and dust it off.

Maybe others will be doing the same in offices around the country.
However, it was always predicted that the mechanical typewriters would outlive electric and electronic typewriters (both of which went out of circulation with the advent of printers).
Even in this age of supercomputers, 12,000 typewriters are being manufactured and sold annually.

Its obituary was written a couple of years ago, and you will generally find the old ones being used in police stations, courts, government offices, or being put up for sale on eBay.

Yet, in this age of computers and supercomputers, 12,000 typewriters are still being manufactured and sold annually in India.

Godrej — one of the only two manufacturers left in the world (the other being Olympia), and the sole manufacturer of typewriters in India — expects manual typewriters to live for another 3-5 years before they fade into history.

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Neopagan discussions of Christianity

A few months ago a group of Christian bloggers had a synchroblog on Christian-Neopagan relations, and now a similar thing seems to be happening spontaneously among Neopagans. MetaPagan:
It must be something in the aether...Discussions of Christianity are breaking out on Pagan blogs everywhere.

It's odd, but whenever I post anything related to the subject of Christianity at my own blog, the number of hits and comments--from Pagans--goes way up. Maybe I'm not the only person to have noticed this, because over the last few days, numerous members of the Pagan/Heathen blogosphere have posted entries on the topic of Christo-Paganism and related topics. Some bloggers are concerned, some are puzzled, and some are embracing at least some Christian concepts, if not Christianity, per se.

Generally speaking, a Blog Carnival or a Synchro-blog event, like the Brighid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading described below, is planned in advance. This one, however, seems to be just happening.

Visit Metapagan to see the links to some of the posts.

29 January 2008

Back in touch

Yesterday afternoon our phone started working again after being broken for five days. At least this time Telkom sent an SMS twice a day to say that they were working on the problem.

Now I have a mountain of e-mail to catch up with. The advantage was that I was able to get some work done with a morning uninterrupted by phone calls.

23 January 2008

Solar robots to show the way

Nothing like a crisis to concentrate the mind!

Business Day - News Worth Knowing:
IN AN effort to help alleviate the effects of power cuts, the Central Energy Fund (CEF) announced yesterday that it had committed R40m to a drive to install solar-powered traffic lights at critical intersections in major centres around SA.

“This is an urgent intervention to alleviate the chaos on our roads that results from power outages, and which is impacting negatively on the economy of our country whenever there is load-shedding,” CEF CE Mputumi Damane said.

No, this is not proactive planning, but it does show that reactive planning can be creative, and at least it's looking for solutions rather than scapegoats.

My wife left work too early yesterday to hear the traffic reports on the radio, and spent 45 minutes getting through the tangle at the Church Street/Duncan Street robots in Hatfield yesterday. Solar powered robots could at least mitigate some of the effects of the Eskom crisis.

22 January 2008

Notions of a white or black culture in SA are pure bollocks

Fred Khumalo at The Times: Notions of a white or black culture in SA are pure bollocks
Now let’s get to the issue of culture: black as well as white. Moving, as I do, in circles that include black and white people, I have not been able to ascertain the existence of a white or a black culture as such.

What I have been able to discern are individuals from various racial backgrounds, possibly saddled with the socialisation process from whence they come . Eugene Terre Blanche is white, but so is Nadine Gordimer. Do they have a culture that binds them? I doubt it.

Well said, Fred!

What goes to make up our culture? Our parents and extended family, our friends, our education, religion (or lack of it) and a general life experience. South Africa is, whether we like it or not, a multicultural society. I've noticed that there are some who talk as if "multiculturalism" were a bad thing, but the only way to avoid it is to go back to apartheid, and that is a failed ideology.

The theory of apartheid was based on the concept of "own affairs", and one of the goals of the apartheid education system was to inculcate "love of one's own".

The question is, what is "one's own"?

According to the apartheid theorists "one's own" was based on skin colour. You had more in common with people of the same skin colour than with those of different skin colour. The problem was, it simply isn't true, as Fred Khumalo points out. Nadine Gordimer has very little in common with Eugene Terre'blanche. And interaction with people of different cultures changes one's own culture. We interact with people from many different cultural groups, and they overlap in different ways, and we feel closer to some than to others. The more common experiences we share with people, the closer we feel to them.

Many years ago, when I went to study in Britain, I wasn't prepared for the culture shock I experienced. English was my first language. In school and while growing up I had read books published in Britain, and about British people -- novels, poems, and plays. I felt that these were part of my culture, and so it was quite a shock, when I actually got to Britain, to find that the pictures in my head when I read the books did not correspond at all to the reality. There was so much that seemed utterly alien.

After a few months in England I read a novel by Richard Hughes, A high wind in Jamaica. It was about children of English parents brought up in Jamaica, and I wrote in my diary:
But one thing clicked, and is very true to my own experience. The children are captured by pirates, and then are rescued, and eventually get to England.
The children's bewilderment lasted. London was not what they had expected, but it was even more astounding. From time to time, however, they would realise how this or that chimed in with something they had been told, though not at all with the idea the telling had conjured up. On these occasions they must have felt something as St Matthew must have felt when, after recording some trivial incident, he adds 'That it may be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet so-and-so.'
And it suddenly clicked, like a blinding flash. I know exactly how St Matthew must have felt. This afternoon, passing along on the bus a little way out of Oxford, after reading about the Jamaican vegetation, I looked out of the window and contemplated the English variety. I suddenly, for the first time since I have been in England, realised that this vegetable entity at the side of the road was a hedge! It was something I had read about in books, accepted without understanding. A hedge is a neatly trimmed row of bushes that goes round a garden, in my conception, in the image conjured up by the telling. I just could not associate it with this untidy alien thing along the side of the road -- a hedge!
And soon after that I read Laurens van der Post's book Venture to the interior, and found myself repelled by his European outlook. Even though he had been born and brought up in Africa, he thought of himself as a European, and approached Africa (in this case Malawi) as a European might. I had never been to Malawi, but I felt that van der Post's approach to it was alien. And I became aware of my Africanness. There were many cultural differences between me and my fellow-South Africans of different races, religions and cultural backgrounds, but we grew up under the same sky, and I had more in common with them than I did with any of the English people I met in my first six months in England.

I worked for London Transport, driving buses, based at Brixton Garage, where about a third of the bus crews were English, a third Irish and a third West Indian. They all spoke English, but when they talked among themselves I couldn't understand a word they said.

Thirty years later I went to Kenya to do some research for my thesis and spent a couple of weeks at the Orthodox Theological Seminary on the outskirts of Nairobi.

There were students there from many different parts of Africa, and I found the cultural interactions fascinating. The West African students gravitated to me with their complaints. They were suffering from culture shock, and I could sympathise, remembering my own experience in Britain 30 years before. I think they thought that I, coming from southern Africa, would find East African culture as alien as they did. But I didn't. I found East African culture similar in many ways to Southern Africa.

On one occasion we went to the funeral of a priest's father, and the funeral service was conducted under a tarpaulin erected outside the house, and the priest's father was buried by the cattle kraal. It seemed just like funerals I had attended in rural Zululand and I felt right at home. Though there were some differences, they were minor, and not alienating. And the feast afterwards was very similar, and also similar to a visit I had made a few months before to a Russian dacha.

On another occasion we went to a service in a rural church, which had been built by the congregation, with wattle and daub walls and a corrugated iron roof. Again, it was very similar to rural Zululand, as was the lunch afterwards, which the West African students refused to eat, very rudely, I thought. That stuck me as un-African. They lacked ubuntu. Even if the food is unfamiliar, rejecting hospitality like that is a no-no in African culture. At least that's what I thought.

Of course one of the biggest things in culture shock is food. In Kenya, the staple was ugali, boiled mealie meal, which was somewhere in between phuthu and bogobe -- the last two being different South African versions of the same thing. West African food, it appears, is entirely different.

In Zululand there was a convent of Anglican nuns, and an English sister came to join them. They followed the same rule, wore the same habits. Language was a difficulty, but the English sister could cope with that. What the English sister found most difficult to cope with was seeing fresh milk being brought into the convent, and no one being allowed to drink it until it had gone sour.

At the seminary in Nairobi they had Ugandan food twice a week, and I found that almost as difficult to cope with as the West African students did -- stewed bananas and peanut butter wasn't my idea of real food, and I think even the Kenyan students found it offputting.

On the whole I was quite surprised at how much at home I felt. But there were cultural differences. I was quite surprised that Kenyans seemed able to utter words like "Bantu" and "tribe" without embarrassment.

In South Africa the Church Unity Commission had once produced ecumenical baptism certificates, that could be used by all the denominations that participated in the CUC. Anglican clergy in Zululand refused to buy them or use them, because they had the word "Bantu" on them -- one of the CUC denominations being the Bantu Presbyterian Church, which was printed at the bottom in small type in a list of denominations that recognised the certificates.

There were some South Africans, of course, who did not share my embarrassment at the use of words like "Bantu" and "tribe", and there were some for whom "Bantu" was for a long time the epitome of political correctness. But then I didn't share their culture. They were not "my own".

Dealing with the electricity crisis "proactively"

Politicians really need to be more careful what they say.

Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC is reported as saying that we need to deal with the electricity crisis "proactively". It is far too late for that. It should have been dealt with proactively 10 years ago. Any action taken now is simply reactive.

The Times - Article
South Africa’s electricity crisis was debated at length at the African National Congress’s three-day lekgotla which closed in Midrand on Sunday, said the party’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

The ANC would be looking into a number of interventions, he said.

'Rather than being in a state of panic [we should] deal with the issue proactively because it is actually positive that the country is growing to the extent that we actually exhaust the energy capacity,' he said.

Instead of viewing the problem as an energy crisis, it should be seen as an indication that more efficient energy consumption was needed.

To be proactive means to anticipate, and the crisis we face now is the result of a failure to anticipate.

For more than 10 years Eskom has channelled its infrastructure development into expanding the distribution network. That in itself should have led planners to anticipate increased demand by planning to build new power stations or at least bring mothballed ones back on line. Johannesburg City Council used to sell power to Eskom from its Kelvin power station.

Whether the problem was caused by the failure of Eskom to plan, or by political pressure from the government (as Cosatu claims), the fact remains that the problem is already here and it is much too late to be proactive about it, and the use of weasel words by politicians won't solve the problem.

The only way we can deal with the crisis at this late stage is reactively, not proactively.

But there are different ways of dealing with problems reactively too.

One of the dangers of reacting to problems after they have occurred is that it is easier to look for a scapegoat than a solution.

An extreme example of that is the reaction of the commuters who set fire to trains, and now face a non-existent train service because the trains are ashes.

Such reactions are counter-productive.

But the same attitude is apparent in many comments in blogs on the topic, where some have demanded that Eskom planners be flogged and similar things.

Some have suggested that Eskom be sued for losses suffered as a result of the power cuts, and that would be about as effective in solving the problem as burning trains. It would mean that instead of spending money on increasing generating capacity, Eskom would be paying lawyers to defend lawsuits. And the people who would pay for that would be consumers who would have to pay higher prices.

Burning trains and suing Eskom show the futility of looking for a scapegoat rather than a solution.

21 January 2008

Electricity not being exported, says Eskom

Eskom says that electricity is not being exported to neighbouring countries when there is no surplus.

But isn't it a bit late for President Thabo Mbeki to be meeting with Eskom management to ascertain the extent of the problem? According to Cosatu, it was President Thabo Mbeki himself who opposed Eskom's plans to expand its generating capacity.
clipped from www.iol.co.za
Eskom has stopped supplying electricity to neighbouring countries amid the dire shortage in South Africa, it said on Sunday.

The power company only sold electricity when it had a surplus, said spokesperson Sipho Neke.

Of the electricity generated by Eskom, 95 percent is used locally. The rest is exported to Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The country's electricity crisis was debated at length during the African National Congress's three-day meeting, which closed in Midrand on Sunday, said the party's secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

President Thabo Mbeki will meet this week with Eskom management to ascertain the extent of the problem and the company's remedial plans.

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20 January 2008

Another one of those US presidential quz thingies

Each one gives different results, I suppose because they word their questions differently.

On this one Ron Paul dropped from the top three to a long way down.

83% Dennis Kucinich
79% Mike Gravel
67% Chris Dodd
67% John Edwards
65% Barack Obama
63% Hillary Clinton
62% Joe Biden
58% Bill Richardson
48% Ron Paul
44% John McCain
35% Mike Huckabee
32% Mitt Romney
29% Rudy Giuliani
25% Fred Thompson
22% Tom Tancredo

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

Hat tip to Mad Hare: 2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz:
i don't recommend trivializing the electoral process, but if this meme gets folks interested in really checking out the field of candidates, that's all to the good.

Here are my results to the '2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz'. Told you i was a flaming liberal!

I wonder if anyone will produce a similar quiz for South African parties in next year's elections. Of course with proportional representation one could not do it with candidates, only with parties, and even that doesn't count for much with the crosstitutes, who can take away your vote and give it to another party.

19 January 2008

Load-shedding a human right violation: SAHRC

It looks as though there may soon be an independent investigation into Eskom:

IOL: Load-shedding a human right violation: SAHRC:
Eskom must give answers about the ongoing electricity crisis, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Friday.

In a statement, the SAHRC said it and the Public Protector could soon work together in an investigation to establish why Eskom had instituted power cuts to the extent it had recently.

Earlier this week, Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana sent a letter to Eskom saying he was considering investigating the power cuts because they were having a devastating effect on service delivery by government.

Eskom certainly needs to be investigated, but I'm not sure that the Human Rights Commission is the best body to do it. The way the Eskom crisis affects our constitutional rights is just one aspect of its managerial incompetence, and the other aspects need investigation too. Rather than doing its own investigation, the Human Rights Commission should throw its weight behind calls for a wider investigation, and prepare evidence to present to such an investigation.

Lots of people are blogging about the power cuts, and the Mail and Guardian is even running a special feature on Who do you blame? Unfortunately people seem to be more concerned with finding a scapegoat than a solution.

Obviously there has been poor planning on Eskom's part. One of the things an investigation would need to determine would be whether that was the fault of Eskom's planners, or whether it was the fault of top management, who failed to heed the advice of the planners. Eskom has obviously invested a lot in distribution infrastructure over the last 10-15 years, but equally obviously their generation capacity has failed to keep up.

For such incompetence heads must roll. But that is not enough. To solve the problem means that incompetent managers must be replaced by competent ones, and not merely other incompetent ones.

An investigation would also need to take account of political pressure.

Was the Eskom management under political pressure to make electricity available to as many people as possible so that all new investment in infrastructure was channelled into distribution, and not enough into generating capacity?

As I have travelled around rural areas over the last few years, I've seen many small communities that now have electricity, which did not have a few years ago. I found this encouraging evidence that the new South Africa was working. Ordinary people did not just have a right to have a say in the election of their government once every five years sor so, but their quality of life was improving. Perhaps it was, in part, a fulfilment of the ANC's election promise of "a better life for all". I didn't then suspect that failure to plan for adequate generation capacity would render such advances illusory.

The warning sign was the Coega aluminium smelter proposal. That was certainly not planned to benefit the poor or the "previously disadvantaged". That was calculated to benefit the previously and currently advantaged fat cats of Alcan:
Alcan has secured a long-term supply agreement with South-African energy firm, ESKOM Holdings Limited, for the purchase of up to 1355 MVA of electricity for the proposed 720kt greenfield COEGA aluminum smelter project, which will have a total estimated cost of US$2.7 billion. The agreement provides for a 25-year supply, set to begin in 2010.

"Alcan is engaged in successfully developing some of the most attractive smelter projects for primary aluminum production in the world, including this potential smelter in South Africa, all characterized by secure, competitively priced, long-term energy supplies, and leveraged by our world leading technology," said Dick Evans, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alcan Inc.

Think about those "competitively-priced long-term energy supplies" for a moment. Where are they going to come from? And who is going to pay for them?

Most of South Africa's electricity supply comes from coal-fired power stations, and many of them are situated in "Kragveld" -- Western Mpumalanga, where the power stations have been built at coal mines. Most of these power stations are now fairly old, and cause unnecessary pollution, which causes acid rain, which in turn damages crops and buildings and poisons fish in rivers. Coal is a fossil fuel, and therefore not a renewable energy source. What is used for smelting aluminium tomorrow will not be available for lighting, heating or cooking the day after tomorrow. When it's gone, it's gone.

When I learned geography at school, one of the things we learned was that smelting aluminium consumes huge amounts of electricity, and that was why it was cheaper to build aluminium smelters in places where cheap electricity was available, and transport the ore to there. And that is why Alcan is in Canada, because Canada has lots of water and lots of mountains which makes for cheap hydroelectricity. And hydro-electricity, unlike electricity from coal, is non-polluting and is a renewable resource.

Why, then, does Alcan now want to build a smelter in South Africa, where electricity is produced from coal, which is less efficient and normally more expensive?

Because they've been promised a subsisdy, that's why.

And who is going to pay the subsidy?

Why, you and me and all the "previously disadvantaged" who have just been connected to the electricity supply, of course. We will pay more money for less electricity, because you can bet your last cent that Alcan's load is one that will not be shed.

So yes, Eskom's poor planning does have quite a lot to do with human rights, but it also has to do with the environment, and a lot more besides. And perhaps the terms of reference of an investigating commission should be broad enough to ask why Canadian hydro-electricity has suddenly become too expensive for Alcan.

We have been told that the Coega aluminum smelter scheme will "create jobs" -- but balance that with all the jobs that will be lost because of lost productivity caused by load-shedding, when shops and offices and factories close down because there is no electricity, and people sit for hours in traffic jams because robots aren't working. Will the jobs created by the Coega scheme compensate for that?

18 January 2008

Psychedelic Christian Worship -- thecages

Psychedelic Christian Worship -- thecages: "But it blows my mind that this state, an explosion of the mind, is what these albums emphasise of the worship experience. What’s important here is not the presence of God, but the worshiper’s own glowing mind."

This post interested me for two reasons.

One was the title, "psychedelic Christian worship". That interested me because nearly 40 years ago I was fired by the then Anglican Bishop of Natal, Vernon Inman, for my part in organising what was described as a "psychedelic service" in St Columba's Anglican Church in Greenwood Park, Durban.

The second reason was that it highlighted the widely divergent meanings of the word "worship" among Christians of different backgrounds and traditions.

I suppose I first became aware of the divergence when I visited one of those new hypermarket consumer churches that have now become so common, Christian City at Elandsfontein near Germiston. After a period of rather loud singing the cheerleader said, "Now THAT'S worship!" And I wondered , "What's worship"? It didn't strike me as particularly worshipful. It was just loud singing with an even louder accompaniment.

And the post quoted above in thecages puts a finger on this changed meaning: What’s important here is not the presence of God, but the worshiper’s own glowing mind.

And this meaning has to be taken into account when adherents of hypermarket churches use terms like "worship leader" or "worship service" or "time of worship". The last one gives the clue, because it exposes the underlying assumption that if there is a "time of worship" there is also a time of non-worship.

The "psychedelic service" at Greenwood Park was a somewhat different thing. It was planned by an ecumenical youth group linked to the Christian Institute, some of whom were members of the parish of Greenwood Park. After firing me the Anglican Bishop of Natal preached in the church the following Sunday, and told the congregation that their church had been "profaned" by what we had done.

What had we done?

As I wrote in my journal for 1 June 1969:
The service started a bit late, because we did not want to start before everyone was in. Martin Goulding and Geoff Moorgas then played "Lead kindly light" as a violin and cello duet, sitting in the vestry, while the church was in darkness. Then I shouted "let there be light" and played "Doctor Do-good" by the Electric Prunes at full volume while Sue Abbott at the back of the church flashed the lights on and off in time to the beat. Then we had lessons and hymns alternating - Genesis 1, the creation and separation of light and darkness, and then sang "Thou whose almighty word". Then another reading "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light" and we sang "Oh freedom". Then another lesson, from John's gospel "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it", and we sang "We shall overcome". And then from 1 Peter, "... a holy nation, a royal priesthood, led out of darkness into his marvellous light" and then Revelation 21 and 22 - the new Jerusalem, where there is no need for sun or moon, because Christ himself is the light of his people, and sang "Lights above, celestial Salem". Then we had the offering, and passed round a collection plate filled with half cents and asked people to take some, saying that it was to remind us that we could give nothing to God, because everything we gave to him we first received from him.

Dick Usher read a litany while Martin Goulding projected slides showing light sources. Then Colin Butler, dressed as a night watchman in army greatcoat and Basotho hat, sitting in front of a brazier, about to begin his soliloquy about being all alone in the darkness when the band cut in and all sang "This little light of mine", while members of the congregation came up and lit tapers or sparklers. Then we began singing "Lord of the dance", but after three verses Geoff stopped it and said "Come on everybody, don't just sit there, stand up and sing it with everything you've got." Now they all stood up and sang it, better this time, with Roy Holden and Mervin Josie clapping from the back of the church. We sang it through a couple more times and then stopped. Nobody moved.

I asked "Do you want to sing it again?" "Yes" they all shouted. So we sang it several more times, and this time people moved out of their pews and moved round the church, dancing and singing, until everyone moved out, except for Mitch Lewis, one of the churchwardens, and some aunties at the back. Eventually they all danced out into the street, and it ended there, with people still holding lighted tapers, and all happy and smiling and excited. I have never seen such happy and smiling people coming out of church before.

Howard Trumbull shouted "Alleluia! Praise the Lord! It was great", and several other people came and said similar things to us. I went back into to the church to try and get things straightened out, and then Mitch Lewis and Tom Abrahams, the churchwardens, asked me to go to the Vestry and said they didn't want to do another service next week because many people had been offended by this one. I doubted very much that many people had been offended, because most of them looked so happy, but said if that was the case, probably the best thing to do would be to arrange a meeting later in the week and try to sort it out, and we could explain what we had been trying to do. Dick Usher was supposed to have come to the morning service to explain to the congregation what was going to happen in the evening, but he had overslept, and I apologized to them for that. Afterwards we went to have tea in the crypt and discussed it with some of the parishioners who were anti. One of them said he thought church services should be quiet, and this one was too loud - after all, Jesus never raised his voice. Martin Goulding muttered that he just overturned a few tables when he wanted to emphasize a point. Later we went to Geoff's house, but Dick Usher and Sue Abbott didn't come. Sue was in tears, having been attacked by a subdeacon called Dennis Pennington, who, I gather, is the big wheel of the parish. We thought that the service was great. Geoff said he had had doubts about it before, but the proof of the pudding was in the eating, and it made very good eating indeed.

It wasn't really "psychedelic", though in those days anything with bright colours, loud music and flashing lights was often called "psychedelic". It was also ironic that within a few years the hymn Lord of the dance, which the Bishop of Natal had described as "blasphemy and profanity" became one of the most popular hymns sung at school assemblies in the UK.

Why did we do it?

I can't speak for the others who took part in the planning and leading of the service, but were several things that had influenced me:

  • An experimental drama festival at Durham University in June 1968
  • Reading the works of Marshall McLuhan
  • A seminar on Orthodox worship for non-Orthodox theological students held at Bossey, Switzerland in April 1968, followed by Holy Week and Easter services at St Sergius in Paris
  • Talking to Walter Hollenweger about liturgy and worship at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva
For me it was an attempt to make worship more "holistic". Western Protestant worship at that time seemed to me to be too didactic and primarily verbal. Anglican services compiled at the time of the Reformation (and largely still in use) had been designed with the primary purpose of edification.

The drama festival at Durham (where I was then studying) attracted people from all over Britain, and several of them had been influenced by Marshall McLuhan, with his idea of "the medium is the message". While attending the seminar on Orthodox theology and worship at Bossey, a friend and I had taken the train to Geneva to talk to Walter Hollenweger, then on the staff of the World Council of Churches. He said that if we wanted to learn about liturgy, we should look at journalists.

And Orthodox worship seemed more holistic, and not entirely verbal. The Holy Week and Easter services made a deep impression on my, especially the way that words and actions were integrated, for example in the Easter kiss followed by the reading of the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom.

So in this so-called "psychedelic service" we were striving for something that would be more symbolic, and less verbally didactic, something more holistic, involving all the senses.

Looking back on it now, I see that we were still quite a long way off the mark. Whatever it was, it still was not really worship. It was more like theatre, and still didactic. The aim of it ultimately boiled down to giving the congregation a learning experience, even if it was a multimedia experience rather than a purely verbal harangue. In that sense, it was still directed at altering the minds of the congregation rather than worshipping God. We were didactic, in that we were trying to teach the congregation about worship, rather than actually worshipping.

The week after the "psychedelic" service most of the Anglicans in our group, annoyed at the reaction of the Bishop of Natal, went to the Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church. The priest welcomed us publicly. He had read all about the controversy in the newspapers, and was sympathetic.

But it still took me a few more years to realise that real worship was liturgy, the work (or service) of the people. It was not primarily theatre, and nor was it primarily didactic. Worship was not to be directed at the minds of the congregation, but at God.

16 January 2008

Postcolonial Christianity in Africa

I've recently heard quite a number of people (well, read on their blogs rather than "heard") saying that they are "post colonial Christians". Actually I think I recall Brian McLaren saying something about post-colonial Christianity when he visited Pretoria last year too.

My difficulty is in trying to work out what this "Post-colonial Christianity" that people talk about actually is. What do people mean when they talk about "postcolonial Christianity"? This is one of those blog posts where I toss in a lot of half-baked ideas in the hope that other people will help me to bake them -- and especially those people who regard themselves as "postcolonial Christians" -- what is it that makes them such, other than pure chronology?

One of the things that I found helpful was a blog post by Julie Clawson, at One hand clapping, on Cultural Imperialism, Contextualization, and Postcolonial Missions. What she described is a good example of what postcolonial mission is most decidedly NOT, which can help to clarify one's thinking on the topic, except that it is from an American rather than an African point of view.

A step forward, and what actually got me thinking more seriously about this, was reading The Cambridge history of Christianity. Volume 9: World Christianities c.1914-c.2000. Actually the title is a bit misleading -- the book is quite specifically about Western Christianity and its offshoots, but still, this is what it says about postcolonial Africa:
Autocratic regimes prevailed until the end of the 1980s when a combination of forces led to their demise. The collapse of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War deprived states of Western or Eastern benefactors and of legitimating models of communist dictatorship. Moreover, events in Eastern Europe inspired a revived and resurgent civil society to challenge near bankrupt regimes. A 'second democratic revolution' ensued as more than half of sub-Saharan African states made political reforms and moved toward multi-party democracy. In this revolution the churches played a leading role. Sadly, however, the political transformation begun at the end of the 1980s was shortlived. In a new world dominated by America the new regimes had to embrace neo-liberal economics of trade liberalisation, privatisation and diminished state provision in the form of structural adjustment programmes ordained by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. While such policies benefited a minority of African businessmen working for international companies, they stifled local enterprise, boosted unemployment, and led to new levels of poverty, crime and violence. Worse still, many of the newly elected leaders of multi- party regimes were 'born-again' politicians from the previous generation of politicians. Their conversions to democracy proved to be superficial and they were barely distinguishable from their predecessors. Soon they learnt how to stay in power by dividing opposition parties and manipulating elections and constitutions while satisfying international pressure. Their governments became de facto one- party regimes. Thus from the mid-1990s Africa's churches have been involved in a third democratic revolution. This revolution is against 'presidential third-termism' -- the tendency of leaders to cling to office. It is a struggle for incorrupt 'transparency' and the development of electoral institutions, and a struggle for a democratic political culture. Only through such a revolution can African states begin to reconnect with the needs and aspirations of their citizens (McLeod 2006:405).
We have seen attempts at the 'third democratic revolution' in Kenya, where it was stifled, and at the December ANC congress, where the levers of power in the ANC were prised from the clutches of those who had hitherto held them. What is the role of postcolonial Christians in all that?

Five years ago we had SACLA II, the Southern African Christian Leadership Assembly, but where did it get us? We were supposed to face up to the "giants" that threatened our society, which included unemployment, poverty, crime and violence. But there seemed to be a reluctance to face up to the giants behind the giants -- America, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, structural adjustment programmes and the ideology of neoliberalism that they have been peddling to African governments. My recollection of SACLA II was that some American came round and gave out free copies of a rather kitschy book called The prayer of Jabez, which seemed to be a good example of what Karl Marx described as "the opium of the people."

So what IS postcolonial Christianity? And what is it going to do about the "giants"? And what will happen when Jacob Zuma and umshini wakhe doesn't turn out to be the kind of saviour that people are apparently hoping for?

14 January 2008

Blessed are the foolish -- foolish are the blessed

The foolishness of God is wiser than men, the weakness of God is stronger than men... For God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong (I Cor 1:25, 27).

In this chapter of the New Testament we come across one of the most countercultural aspects of Christianity. The original Greek says that the moron of God is wiser than men. For the world, for "mainstream" culture, "moron" is an insult, something undesirable. No one in their right mind wants to be moron. But St Paul turns worldly values on their head.

What the world despised, Christians regard as badges of honour. One of the taunts that the world often uses is "loser" (though, ironically, many of those who use it often spell it "looser"). But Christians follow a loser. As St Paul is at pains to point out, there is nothing that looks more like a loser than Christ crucified. For that reason, any Christian who uses the word "loser" as a taunt for others has quite simply forgotten who his Lord is.

The Beatitudes, too, show how the Christian faith turns the values of the world upside down. "Blessed are the meek", but for the world, "Blessed are the pushy, for they shall get what they want".

In recent years there has been a tendency for some to overlook this aspect of the Christian faith. There are some Christian groups that unashamedly appeal to the opposite tendency, going so far as to call their churches Winners Chapel, to give but one example.

In the Orthodox Church, perhaps as a reminder from God that we should not be seduced into that kind of worldly thinking, there is a whole class of saints called "Fools for Christ" (in Greek, sali, in Russian, yurodivi). Sali is one of the words that means "blessed"; and it is also the origin of the English word "silly". The sali are blessed fools, silly fools.

In our age, "moron" is a term of abuse, as are similar terms like "loser", "cretin" and others. In a more faith-filled age (which the secularists might call "credulous and superstitious"), however, these were often terms of awe and respect. "Cretin" is derived from the French word "chretienne", meaning a Christian. An important part of being Christian is remembering that God chose the weak and foolish things of the world, and indeed chose to become weak and foolish himself, as unconvincing in appearance as the crucified.

The calling to be a holy fool is often found within monasticsm, which is itself a call to a countercultural life. The monk renounces much that the world regards as valuable -- riches, fame and power. Yet even within monastic society, power struggles can make themselves felt, and in such a situation the holy fool can call the community back to its original vision and purpose.

One of the most revered of the holy fools is St Basil of Moscow. St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, with its fantastic domes, is an international symbol of the city. It was built, not to honour St Basil, but in honour of a victory by Tsar Ivan the Terrible over the Tatars. Basil denounced the Tsar for his bloodthirsty battles and oppressive rule as he wandered half-naked around the Kremlin, but when he died he was buried in the Cathedral, and the people went to his tomb there to seek his prayers, and eventually it became known as St Basil's Cathdral. Jim and Nancy Forest have written a good description of St Basil and other fools for Christ.

Many of the holy fools have appeared mentally unbalanced, But Leon Bloy, a French writer, when asked about this, replied:
Balance? The devil take it! He has indeed taken it long ago! I am a Christian who accepts the full consequences of my Christianity. What happened at the Fall? The entire world, you understand, with everything in it, lost its balance. Why on earth should I be the one to keep mine? The world and mankind were balanced as long as they were held fast in the arms of the Absolute. What the average man means by balance is the most dangerous one-sidedness into which a man can fall... the renunciation of his heavenly birthright for the pottage of this sinful world (see Pilgrims of the Absolute).

The theme is also found in such things as the Fool card of the Tarot, but I have already blogged about that in more detail in Notes from underground: On Tarot Cards and also at Notes from underground: Morehead's Musings: Symbolic Countercultures and Rituals of Opposition, so I will not say much more about that aspect of it here.

There has been some discussion about whether the fools for Christ were really mad, or were only simulating madness, to teach a lesson. Probably it was a little of both, and some were more mad than others.

John Saward, in his book Perfect fools makes a couple of interesting points. One is that the holy fools flourished in periods when the Church was comfortable and at ease. They were quite rare in times when the church was being persecuted. It seems that God called more people to holy folly in periods when the Church was in danger of being overwhelmed by respectability.

The second point is that fewer fools for Christ were recognised by the Church in the modern era. After the Enlightenment, there were far fewer fools for Christ canonised in the Orthodox Church. Perhaps this was because of modernity, which Peter the Great sought to impose on the Russian Orthodox Church by suppressing the patriarchate and controlling the Holy Synod through a Procurator appointed by himself. Whatever the reason, one of the very few fools for Christ recognised from this period in Russia was St Xenia of St Petersburg.

Perhaps one reason for this is the emaphasis modernity placed, especially in the Enlightenment period, on the importance of humnan reason. People may have had a greater horror of madness, or even the appearance of madness. Losing one's reason was no joke. And again, perhaps postmodernity opens the way for the fool for Christ again.

Some, though not all of the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyes and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz

In parts of that, one can see echoes of the lives of fools for Christ, but perhaps more important, it reflects a society that might be more open to the message of the fools for Christ.

This post is part of a synchroblog on God's calling and choice of what is weak and foolish. Here are links to the other Synchroblog contributions on this topic:

Transformation in education -- or the lack of it

For the last fifteen years or more there has been talk of the need for "transformation" in education. One of the things that was done was to introduce "Outcomes-based Education" (OBE). And what was the outcome?

Mary Metcalfe, former Gauteng MEC for Education, and now head of the Education Department at Wits university writes The Times - Article:
Every year on average for the past four years, of the learners who reached matric, only 17% achieved the standard necessary to proceed to university. A third failed matric

TEN years is a short time in education. It takes four years to train a teacher, seven years to pass through primary education, and many years for changes in curriculum intention to take firm root in classrooms. It may be that the annual matric media circus has focused our attention narrowly on the expectation that for this nation of “miracles” there might be a quick-fix solution after the ravages of apartheid education; that our exceptionalism will mean that because we wish it, “next year” will be better. The hard reality is that we are not making the progress we need in the two most critical dimensions of education performance: quality and equity.

Part of the problem is the resistance of educational institutions to transformation, or for transformation that is too narrowly defined, and inadequately measured.

The biggest tertiary education institution in South Africa is the University of South Africva (Unisa). In the 1990s there were about 30000 school teachers registered there as students at any one time, hoping to improve their qualifications. When I began working in the Editorial Department at Unisa in 1986 I was told horror stories about the Faculty of Education by my colleagues. One was of a translator, translating a study guide from Afrikaans to English. She went to see the lecturer, and said she was unable to translate some of the text because she could not understand it. And the lecturer said, "You don't have to understand it, you just have to translate it."

I thought this was an apocryphal story, an exaggeration for the sake of effect, until I was editing a study guide for Fundamental Pedagogics 101. After labouring through the first chapter I went to the lecturer to try to clarify some problems with the text, and showed her the text as I had edited it. She got very angry: "Who crossed this out?" "I did." "Why?" "I couldn't understand it." "You're not supposed to understand it. This is specialised stuff".

Bear in mind that this was a 101 course, and many students who would be taking it would have come straight from school. If I, having two degrees, could not understand it, how could a school leaver be expected to? The story I had heard was not apocryphal, it was perfectly true, and it goes a long way to explain the malaise in education in South Africa today. It begins with the way that many teachers were trained in the apartheid years, and, because of the failure of transformation, for many years afterwards as well.

Unisa needed to be transformed from a Broederbond institution into one that could do something to improve education for the whole country. People in the Education Faculty kept talking about the need not to "lower standards", but there was no danger of that: their standards were as low as they could possibly get. There was only one way they could go, and that was up. The trouble was that most of the lecturers had themselves been trained in the pseudo-scientific discipline of "Fundamental Pedagogics", and were incapable of transforming anything.

One lecturer finally came to the realisation that "Fundamental Pedagogics" was no longer politically correct, as it had been under the apartheid regime. So what did he do? What was his effort at transformation? When his study guide needed to be revised (Unisa demanded revision of study materials every three years) he simply went through the text with a word processor and used the search and replace function to replace every instance of "fundamental pedagogics" with "philosophy of education". Hey Presto! His study guide was now "transformed" and politically correct in the new South Africa. Never mind that he had not read through the text to see the effect of his changes -- that in many places he had used the word "pedagogical" to refer to the "pedagogics" that had now by word magic become "philosophy", so that it made even less sense than before. But that didn't matter. The students did not have to understand it, they just had to learn it.

Much of the activity of the Education Faculty at Unisa was devoted to devising complicated terminology for ordinary things, to make it sound more "scientific", on the principle of "bullshit baffles brains". "History of Adult Education", for example, was called "Temporal Andragogics", which, quite apart from being bullshit, was also sexist, since it referred only to adult male education.

What Stanislav Andreski said of his own discipline (sociology) applies equally here too:
Sometimes the verbal substitutions masquerading as contributions to knowledge are so inept and gross that it is difficult to believe that the authors really think they are revealing new truths (which must be the case), and that they are not laughing up their sleeves at the gullibility of their audience. One of the crassest examples of such delusions is the recent vogue for the letter 'n', chosen to deputize for the common word 'need' because of its status-bestowing properties stemming from its frequent appearance in mathematical formulae. So by scribbling the letter 'n' all over their pages some people have succeeded in surrounding their platitudes with the aura of the exact sciences in their own eyes, as well as those of their readers who might have seen some books on mathematics without being able to understand them (Andreski Social sciences as sorcery 1972:63).

The attraction of jargon and obfuscating convolutions can be fully explained by the normal striving of humans for emoluments and prestige at the least cost to themselves, the cost in question consisting of the mental effort and danger of
'sticking one's neck out' or 'putting one's foot in it'. In addition to eliminating such risks, as well as the need to learn much, nebulous verbosity opens a road to the most prestigious academic posts to people of small intelligence whose limitations would stand naked if they had to state what they have to say clearly and succinctly (Andreski Social sciences as sorcery 1972:82).

Eventually the head of the Editorial Department could take it no more, and he said that the Editorial Department would refuse to accept any more study material from the Faculty of Education for editing and translation unless the quality improved, as it was defrauding students, getting them to pay fees for worthless study material. He was warned that disciplinary action would be taken against him. I went with him to see Mary Metcalfe, who was then Gauteng MEC for Education. There wasn't much she could do, but at least she could be aware of the extent of the problem. Ten years later, she's still in it up to her neck, and I wish her luck with it. She needs it, South Africa needs it.

The Broederbond rallied round, and the head of the Editorial Department at Unisa was fired. This was in 1996, in the "new" South Africa. He was fired for wanting genuine transformation, and not a farce. He was fired for wanting to raise standards in education, not merely in Unisa, but in the country.

Don't get me wrong. Unisa has produced a lot of good courses. In the Editorial Department we were the last line of defence in the way of quality control, and we saw both the good and the bad. Some was good, some was very good. But the output of the Faculty of Education was very, very bad.

Before ending this rant, perhaps one more story. A few months after the sacking of the head of department an education study guide came up for review. It had been available for three years, so needed to be revised. It was exceptional; it was clear, well-written and useful. I spoke to my colleague who had worked on it the first time round. She said the lecturer had been cooperative, and they had worked hard on it together. I spent a couple of weeks trying to improve it further, and found it a pleasure to work with a text that actually had something to say rather than the usual meaningless platitudes wrapped up in obfuscating language.

A couple of weeks later we got a complaint from the university administration. Why had we wasted so much time and resources revising that course, when all the stock of original study guides were sitting in the despatch department untouched, because not a single student had registered for the course!

Oh the irony of it! The Education Faculty produced one decent course among dozens of bad ones, and no students registered for it.

13 January 2008

What people read on blogs

Amatomu, South Africa's answer to Technorati (and much better than Technorati) provides statistics to show which blog posts are most popular, and some of the results are unexpected, to say the least.

By far the most popular post on this blog over the last 30 days is Books to read before you die. Admittedly it's a fairly recent one, but it seems to attract ten times as many readers as the next most popular one, on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Very few readers leave comments, though.

On my WordPress blog, Khanya, the current favourite post is The appearance of Jesus Christ, which was posted over 6 months ago, on 23 June 2007. It is quite a short post, which mainly makes reference to discussions that were taking place on a couple of other blogs. But again, very few people who visit it comment, so I've no idea if they've found what they're looking for.

The second most popular post on Khanya is a bit of a cheat, however. It was, like this one, wondering about what got people reading certain blog posts rather than others, and was inspired by some remarks of a blogging friend (whose blog has since closed), who was wondering much the same thing. The post is What to do on Sunday if you're bored? and I think I must have been pretty bored when I wrote it. And so must most ofl the other people who read it, since it still seems to be popular, in spite of being over four months old. Far fewer people seem to be bored on Tuesdays, though!

But apart from the "bored" posts, I still wonder what makes people read some posts rather than others, and yet the most popular ones seem to receive relatively few comments.

12 January 2008

US, Germany agree to recognize Kosovo after Serbia elections - The Boston Globe

The US and Germany, which fuelled the Wars of the Yugoslav succession in the 1990s, are planning to fan the embers to a flame again.

US, Germany agree to recognize Kosovo after Serbia elections - The Boston Globe:
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia - The United States and Germany have agreed to recognize Kosovo and get the rest of Europe to follow suit after the province declares independence following the Serbian elections next month, according to senior European Union diplomats close to negotiations over the future of Kosovo.

In a recent conversation about the future of Kosovo, EU officials said President Bush and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had agreed it was imperative to secure the stability of the western Balkans by coordinating the recognition of Kosovo after the second round of Serbian elections planned for Feb. 3.

They said Washington was aggressively pressing the EU to ensure that the recognition of Kosovo was not delayed by even a week.

Remember how it started?

As Samuel Huntington (1998:282) described it in his book The clash of civilizations:
The breakup of Yugoslavia began in 1991 when Slovenia and Croatia moved toward independence and pleaded with Western European powers for support. The response of the West was defined by Germany, and the response of Germany was in large part defined by the Catholic connection. The Bonn government
came under pressure to act from the German Catholic hierarchy, its coalition partner the Christian Social Union Party in Bavaria, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other media. The Bavarian media, in particular, played a crucial
role in developing German public sentiment for recognition. 'Bavarian TV', Flora Lewis noted, 'much weighed upon by the very conservative Bavarian government and the strong, assertive Bavarian Catholic Church which had close connections with the church in Croatia, provided the television reports for all of Germany when the war began in earnest. The coverage was very one-sided'... Germany pressured the European Union to recognise the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, and then, having secured that, pushed forward on its own to recognize them before the Union did in December 1991.

Austria and Italy promptly moved to recognize the two new states, and very quickly other Western countries, including the United States, followed. The Vatican also played a central role. The Pope declared Croatia to be the "rampart of Christianity," and rushed to extend diplomatic recognition to the two states before the European Union did. The Vatican thus became a partisan in the conflict, which had its
consequences in 1994 when the Pope planned visits to the three republics. Opposition by the Serbian Orthodox Church prevented his going to Belgrade, and Serb unwillingness to guarantee his security led to the cancellation of his visit to Sarajevo. He did go to Zagreb, however, where he honored Cardinal Alojzieje Stepinac, who was associated with the fascist Croatian regime in World War II that persecuted and slaughtered Serbs, Gypsies and Jews.

The focus then moved to Bosnia, where John Major agreed to recognise Bosnia's independence in return for German support for Britain's position on the Maastricht Treaty, thus condemning Bosnia-Herzegovina to a bloody civil war. And what was the result?

As Brendan O'Neill (Comment is free: The Bosnian connection) notes:
Far from being radicalised by the failure of the west to act, large numbers of Muslims were radicalised by western intervention in the Balkans. Their movement to Bosnia was facilitated by Washington's support for a military gateway between the Islamic world and Bosnia, and inside Bosnia they fought with a military outfit that Washington armed. They were also inspired to take up arms against the Serbs by western media depictions of the Serbs as sub-human savages who deserved 'punishment'. The mujahideen meted out such punishment, in the form of stabbings, beheadings and forced circumcisions, as well as ordinary warfare.

Many of the mujahideen who fought in Bosnia went on to become al-Qaida operatives. They learned their trade of simplistic moral fury and brutal violence on the battlefields of Bosnia, where they were enticed and inflamed to execute holy war against the Serbs by western meddling and western media coverage.

And now it's Kosovo -- deja vu all over again!

11 January 2008

Night of the living dead

With Vladimir Putin apparently being cast in the role of an evil vampire by so many, I thought that this was a good and succinct explanation:

Notes from a Common-place Book: "Vladimir Putin. His only crime, that I can see, is putting his own country's interests ahead of the Bush administration, and of course, being right about so many things he warned against in the lead-up to our invasion of Iraq."

10 January 2008

Lakota Sioux Indians declare Sovereign Nation Status

If the US government is promoting independence for Kosovo, they should have no problem in supporting this.

Straight Goods - Lakota Sioux Indians declare Sovereign Nation Status - Sioux cite UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous people to claim real estate over Five State Area in US West.:

"WASHINGTON, DC (December 20) — Lakota Sioux Indian representatives declared sovereign nation status today in Washington DC following Monday's withdrawal from all previously signed treaties with the United States Government. The withdrawal, hand delivered to Daniel Turner, Deputy Director of Public Liaison at the State Department, immediately and irrevocably ends all agreements between the Lakota Sioux Nation of Indians and the United States Government outlined in the 1851 and 1868 Treaties at Fort Laramie Wyoming.


09 January 2008

Oatmeal’s health claims reaffirmed

Back to Tiger oats!

Oatmeal’s health claims strongly reaffirmed, science shows � Biosingularity: "A new scientific review of the most current research shows the link between eating oatmeal and cholesterol reduction to be stronger than when the FDA initially approved the health claim’s appearance on food labels in 1997.

Dr. James W. Anderson, professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, co-authors “The Oatmeal-Cholesterol Connection: 10 Years Later” in the January/February 2008 issue of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine"

07 January 2008

Nothing but the truth

I recently finished reading Nothing but the truth, by Ben Turok.

Ben Turok was a member of the Communist Party and the Congress of Democrats in the 1950s, was jailed for attempted sabotage in the 1960s and went into exile, first in Tanzania and later in Britain, where he was expelled from the Communist Party.

He returned to South Africa in the 1990s after the unbanning of the ANC and other opposition groups, and after the first democratic elections in 1994 was a member of the Gauteng provincial legislature, and later a member of parliament.

Perhaps the chief value of the book, as a political memoir, is that it provides some history os struggle politics in the 1960s, which was hidden to most South Africans, since many of the people in a position to record such history were banned, and therefore not allowed to write about such things, nor was anyone allowed to read them. Apart from that, little was recorded because of the need to keep activities secret and out of the hands of the Security Police. As Turok notes, most of those who participated in the activities of the banned Community Party and Congress of Democrats are dead, and he is one of the few survivors in a position to record what happened.

Another thing I found interesting was his inside view of some of the first things that happened after the ANC came to power in 1994. This was a different situation, the era of democracy and transparency and there was no need to hide things from the Security Police. But Turok nonetheless manages to throw some light on some mysteries, such as what happened to the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). In a TV interview at a victory party when it became clear that the ANC had won the 1994 election Nelson Mandela emphasised that the RDP was not negotiable, yet within a year it had been abandoned, and the ANC had become Thatcherist.

The full story of that probably has yet to be told, but the consequences of the abandonment of the RDP are still being felt today, among them the support of Cosatu for Jacob Zuma, I suspect that the consequences will be felt in South African politics for a long time to come.

06 January 2008

Time to boycott Technorati?

Are the Technorati people deliberately making their site difficult to navigate to increase advertising revenue? For the last few weeks the Technorati site has become very difficult to navigate.

I've found Technorati useful mainly when I've just blogged about something, or am thinking about blogging about something, to see what other bloggers have had to say on that topic recently. If others have already said it better than I could, I just make a short post with links to the best blog articles on the topic, and that makes it easier for me to find them again. Or if I disagree with them, then I change the way I planned to write my article to say why.

But the Technorati people have now changed their menu system, which makes the whole thing much more difficult to navigate, and I've found that I have to go outside Technorati to my own bookmarks to find what I'm looking for, or even to get back to my home page on Technorati. I've sometimes had to do a Google search to find stuff on Technorati, because the Technorati menu system is now so screwed up.

An example: one of my interests is language and usage. So I sometimes blog about these, and recently I blogged about on my other blog. One particular eggcorn, which is rapidly gaining in popularity, is .

Uising Technorati searches, one can find who is blogging about hippocracy, or about eggcorns, or which blogs mention these things in passing. If you didn't know what these words mean, Technorati has a "wtf" page, and invites people two write these. But they are now the things that are virtually impossible to find from within Technorati. I happened to write the wtf page on , but to find it, you need to do a Google search from outside Technorati itself, and even that may not work. You can search the Technorati menus for hours and never find what you are looking for. Perhaps they are doing that deliberately, as all that fruitless searching probably increases their advertising revenue.

Surely a decent navigation system is one of the first things one needs to learn about Web page design? The Technorati people can't be that inexperienced, so it's hard not to see it as a deliberate ploy. Is it perhaps time for bloggers to boycott Technorati?

05 January 2008

US presidential election -- the media have spoken

Yesterday morning when we got up the TV news channels were full of the Iowa primary in the US presidential election, and for about 10 minutes we had the impression that John Edwards had won, and had just beaten Hillary Clinton.

Then we noticed the text underneath one of the screens saying that Edwards and Clinton were running neck and neck for second place. Who was in first place? That wasn't important. For the media (all of them) the election was defined by Hillary Clinton. Everything was seen in relation to her.

Similarly, among the Republicans, Mitt Romney seemed to be the media favourite. He had apparently come second, so what was he going to do next? Only much later did we learn that Barack Obama had actually come first. The good guys -- Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel and Ron Paul, weren't mentioned. It seems to be true that the "mainstream" media are in a conspiracy to keep them out of the public eye. According to IndependentPrimary.com
ABC NEWS HAS EXCLUDED KUCINICH, GRAVEL, AND OTHERS: In an arbitrary decision that shakes our democracy to its very core, ABC News has set debate criteria that exclude Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Duncan Hunter from their Saturday debates. New Hampshire has a recent history of open debates. As a result of these
exclusions the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper has decided not to co-sponsor the debate.

FOX NEWS HAS EXCLUDED RON PAUL: Fox News has done ABC one step worse by calling it's Sunday debate a "candidate forum" to avoid setting any criteria at all. They're using this technicality to exclude Ron Paul - even though the co-sponsoring New Hampshire Republican Party issued a statement saying they want all the candidates included.

If Michael Moore is right, it's all about the Iraqi-American War:
Over 70% of Iowan Democrats voted for candidates who either never voted for the invasion of Iraq (Obama, Richardson, Kucinich) or who have since admitted their mistake (Edwards, Biden, Dodd). I can't tell you how bad I feel for Senator Clinton tonight. I don't believe she was ever really for this war. But she did -- and continued to do -- what she thought was the politically expedient thing to eventually get elected. And she was wrong. And tonight she must go to sleep wondering what would have happened if she
had voted her conscience instead of her calculator.

John Edwards was supposed to have come in third. He had been written off. He was outspent by the other front-runners six to one. But somewhere along the road he threw off the old politico hack jacket and turned into a real person, a fighter for the poor, for the uninsured, for peace. And for that, he came in a surprise second, ending up with just one less delegate than the man who was against the war from the beginning. But, as Joshua Holland of AlterNet pointed out earlier today, Edwards is still the only front-runner who will pull out all the troops and do it as quickly as
possible. His speech tonight was brilliant and moving.

I've taken more interest in the US presidential elections this time than I usually do. Yes, I knew that a war-mongering president in the White House could make things nasty for people in other parts of the world -- the cowardly Nato bombing of Yugoslavia showed us that. But a lunatic warmonger like George Bush raised it to a new level, making the world a far more dangerous place for everybody. I think a lot of people around the world are hoping that someone will be elected who is not only peaceful, but sane and peaceful.

So I hope Michael Moore is as right in his prediction as in his analysis. If his analysis is right, the mainstream media have a stake in candidates who voted for the war because of the role the media themselves played in promoting war and beating the war drums. They are unlikely to admit that the people are sick of it. And I hope he is right in his prediction that the American people are sick of war.

George W. Bush and his junta have tried to persuade Americans that people have opposed his war because they hate America and Americans. But that is not true. People can hate American foreign policy over the last 20 years without hating Americans. It's that old cliche about hate the sin and love the sinner. And people may have in the back of their minds what the Nuremberg Tribunal found: that starting a war of aggression is not just a war crime, but the war crime. The German political and military leaders in World War II were not on trial because they lost the war, but because they started it.

Bush supporters are inclined to get a bit irritated about comparisons with Nazi Germany, but some parallels are there for everyone to see: Bush's invasion of Iraq had about as much justification as Hitler's invasion of Poland. And it was supported by the "mainstream" media, whose policy of appeasement of a crazy warmonger helped to lead to the mess we see today.

03 January 2008

People burnt to death in Kenya church

This incident, one of several in widespread violence reported following Kenya's disputed election, has been reported quite widely, but this report provides details often missing in other reports.
A mob torched a church where hundreds had sought refuge Tuesday, and witnesses said dozens of people — including children — were burned alive or hacked to death with machetes in ethnic violence that followed Kenya’s disputed election.
President Mwai Kibaki, who was swiftly inaugurated for a second term Sunday after a vote that critics said was rigged, called for a meeting with his political opponents — a significant softening of tone for a man who rarely speaks to the press and who vowed to crack down on rioters.
The people killed in Eldoret, about 185 miles northwest of Nairobi, were members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.

They had fled to the Assemblies of God Church on Monday night, seeking refuge after mobs torched homes. Video from a helicopter chartered by the Red Cross showed many homes in flames and the horizon obscured by smoke. Groups of people were seen seeking sanctuary at schools and the airport, while others moved into the forest.
blog it

01 January 2008

Happy Holidays!

I will not wish everyone a "Happy New Year", as that may be offensive to some, and it is decidedly religiously insensitive and politically INcorrect.

I could, of course,
  • wish the pagans a happy Janus day.
  • The Christians a Happy Circumcision and St Basil's Day
  • And the secularists a Happy New Year

But wishing everyone a "Happy New Year" is showing religious prejudice and insensitivity.


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