31 December 2008

Congo church massacre: witnesses

Though the death toll and the destructiveness has been comparable, the conflict going on on the borders of Uganda, Sudan and the DRC has had far less media coverage than the comparable conflict of Israel and Gaza. This tends to confirm the "clash of civilizations thesis of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, who died last week.

The Times - Congo church massacre: witnesses:
Attackers hacked to death scores of people who sought refuge at a Catholic church in remote eastern Congo the day after Christmas, officials and witnesses said on Monday, and the Ugandan army and a rebel group accused each other of carrying out the massacre.

Survivors and witnesses said the killings occurred close to Congo’s border with Sudan, near to where the armies of those two countries and Uganda began an offensive this month to root out the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, according to Ugandan army spokesman Capt. Chris Magezi.

A UN spokesman, Ivo Brandau, said 120 homes were set ablaze in the area and that thousands of people have fled for fear of further attacks.

The latest massacre is part of an upsurge of violence that has lasted a week. The Times - LRA rebels rampage in Congo:
Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels killed almost 200 people in a campaign in northeast Congo, a UN agency said in a report released Monday.

Since December 25, the rebels have killed 40 people in the Faradje district, 89 around Doruma and 60 in the Gurba area alone, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Professor Huntington argued that in the post-cold-war world, violent conflict would come not from ideological friction between nations, but from cultural and religious differences among the world’s major civilizations.

He identified those civilizations as Western (including the United States and Europe), Latin American, Islamic, African, Orthodox (with Russia as a core state), Hindu, Japanese, “Sinic” (including China, Korea and Vietnam) and Jewish.

While not every conflict since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s has been a conflict between civilisations, it is the inter-civilisational clashes that get the most media coverage. The Lord's Resistance Army represents a conflict within the African civilisation, even though it crosses national borders. It therefore draws less media coverage than the Israel-Palestine one in Gaza, even though the number of deaths is roughly the same.

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays everyone!

Yesterday was Old Year's Eve.
Today is New Year's Eve.
Tomorrow is New Year's Day.

That's three holidays in one week, if you observe the Gregorian Calendar.

30 December 2008

Did I meet a saint?

Some forty years ago now, I think I met a saint.

He was Peter Bridges, a first-year student at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg in 1964, from Rhodesia, where his parents apparently owned a huge ranch. He was a member of the university Anglican Society, but I did not get to know him well until he, Ken Lemmon-Warde, Bridget Bailey and I went on a weekend work camp at Springvale Mission near Ixopo where Ken Hallowes was the priest.

Peter and I worked together on stringing a fence around a vegetable garden, and that was when I got to know him as a person, and concluded that he was a saint. He seemed totally innocent, totally loving, a perfect example of genuine humility, with never a bad word to say about anything or anyone.

Soon afterwards the July vac came, and when we returned to university after the vac Peter did not. Mrs Anger, the housekeeper at the William O'Brien Hall Men's Residence, asked me about him. She said she had had a letter from his parents asking what had happened to him at university, and why he had become a religious maniac. It sounded as though they thought he was mad.

I was troubled by this, and went to ask the local parish priest and university chaplain, Fr Mervyn Sweet, about it. He said Peter had spoken to him quite a lot, and had lots of questions, and eventually made his confession. But he showed no sign of being mad.

There was no further word from him or his parents and I never discovered what subsequently happened to him, though he would now be in his 60s. But I still think that for a brief period I was privileged to be in the presence of a genuine saint.

27 December 2008

The Dictator, The Bishops, and the Trade Unionists

Church leaders have criticised the South African government for being too chicken to confront the Fuehrer of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, over his stealing of elections and his war against his own people. And Mugabe himself has taunted his neighbours, saying that none of them is brave enough to remove him.

The Times - Tutu: Threaten Mugabe with force:
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu said that the international community must use the threat of force to oust Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe from office.

Tutu told BBC radio that he hopes African Union members can be persuaded to issue Mugabe an ultimatum, threatening to intervene if he continues clings to power in the ailing nation.

Asked if Mugabe should be removed by force, Tutu said there should 'certainly be the threat of it.' He said Mugabe should also be warned that he could face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for his violent suppression of opponents.

And, from South African Catholic bishops -- The Times - Bishops blast SA for protecting Mugabe:
In a statement issued by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier , the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said Motlanthe should force Mugabe to leave office because talks aimed at forming a Zimbabwean unity government have failed.

“It is now time to isolate Mugabe completely and to remove all forms of moral, material or tacit support for him and his party. Regardless of whether he is a former ‘liberator’ or an ‘elder African statesman’, he must be forced to step down,” Napier said.

What this reveals, however, is the confusion in South African politics, especially in the ANC.

A year ago the ANC conference at Polokwane rejected Thabo Mbeki as president of the ANC, and elected Jacob Zuma instead. Zuma was supported by the trade union movement in the form of Cosatu.

Cosatu had been at odds with Mbeki over several issues, including Zimbabwe. A Cosatu fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe was turned away by Mugabe's government. Cosatu's natural ally in Zimbabwe is Tsvangirai's MDC, which has its support primarily among the urban workers and the Zimbabwean trade unions. Yet the ANC government in South Africa does not seem to have changed its policy towards Zimbabwe since Mbeki's departure, which seems to indicate that Zuma has drawn Cosatu's teeth, and the trade union movement in South Africa is now Zuma's lap dog.

Whether the South African government should threaten to use force to remove Mugabe is a moot point. The record of other violent attempts at regime change over the last few years is not good. The Nato war on Yugoslavia and the US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq have done nothing to improve things, and instead have made things worse. As someone pointed out, it is not ancient hatreds that cause wars, it is wars that cause ancient hatreds.

But the South African government has failed even to voice criticism of Mugabe's stealing of elections and abuse of power. According to election observers, they were under pressure to declare elections free and fair when they knew they were not. And now Cosatu seems to have been coopted into the power structure too. Only the church leaders are left to speak out.

26 December 2008

Christmas eggs

You'll probably find lots written on the web about Easter eggs, but Christmas eggs are just as important. For Orthodox Christians the Nativity Fast begins on 15 November, and lasts until Christmas Eve. That means no meat, no eggs or dairy, and on most days no fish, wine or oil as well.

And now that the Nativity Fast is over and the Festive Season has begun, one of the things we have is Christmas eggs. And so we went to the Dros for steak, egg and chips. We sometimes go to the Dros just before or just after the main fasts, like the Nativity Fast or on Meatfare Sunday (carnival) that precedes Great Lent.

Dros is a restaurant chain (franchise), which probably falls into the category of Stuff White People Like. Actually, it's more likely to be Stuff Model-Cs Like. It's very bourgeois, very middle-class. But it's a good place to go if the main reason for going is to eat meat, because they do meat and do it well. And so we go there 2-3 times a year for their steak, egg and chips and related dishes. Christmas eggs (and Easter eggs, too, for that matter) taste best fried.

Today being Boxing Day, or the Day of Goodwill as it is now called, and the middle of a long weekend, the restaurant was almost empty.

The pictures show the Dros in Hatfield, Pretoria, but if you've seen one, you've seen them all. They are all designed with the same architecture, and the food tastes much the same in all of them. And it is a cut above MacDonalds.

23 December 2008

How lekker is local?

There's been some discussion in the South African blogosphere about the merits of local versus overseas hosting.

For example this blog is hosted at the blogspot server, which I believe is in the USA, and so the argument goes that South African readers have to get it from overseas, and ultimately we have to pay for international bandwidth in foreign currency. So the argument runs that local is lekker, and one should use local hosts for blogs.

But for the last couple of days Amatomu, the best-known South African blog aggregator, which I assume is locally hosted, has epitomised the World Wide Wait, and waiting for pages to appear is more boring than watching the proverbial drying paint.

Another disadvantage with local hosting, for blogs, at any rate, is that individual blogs are swallowed up by the host. If you check Amatomu, blogs hosted by overseas servers are listed individually, and not as coming from Blogspot, or Wordpress or whatever. But the local ones are not listed individually; all posts are shown as coming from "Blat - to utter without thinking" or "Thought leader" or whatever the host is. So local isn't really so lekker.

22 December 2008

Changing language

I feel pretty,
Oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty, and witty and gay,
And I pity
Any girl who isn’t me today.

Back in the early 1960s that song, from the musical West Side Story, was quite popular.It was played on the radio, and people hummed and sang it a lot.

It was especially popular among my gay friends at the time, and they sang it with, um, gay abandon, as a pun.

Now, however, the double entendre has been lost. I don't think anyone nowadays would write a song using "gay" in that sense; it would probably be misunderstood by most of those who heard it, and could no longer be used as a pun.

I bought a second-hand copy of Chaucer's poems recently and have been reading them, a few pages at a time, and that got me thinking about how language changes. One of the difficulties of reading Chaucer, of course is the spelling. Even familiar words are sometimes hard to recognise because of the unfamiliar spelling. The meaning of unfamiliar words can sometimes be worked out from the context, but at other times I have to resort to the footnotes.

I have no difficulty in reading books published 100 years ago. Books published in the middle of the 19th century present few difficulties, apart from occasional allusions to features of contemporary culture that are unknown today. One phrase still puzzles me from that period. Newpaper reports and death announcements often referred to "interesting children". "Daisy Smith, an interesting child, was accidentally drowned at a family picnic last week." If anyone knows what "interesting child" meant to the writers of such reports, please let me know.

Early 19th-century literature presents few problems. Much of Jane Austen and William Hazlitt's writing looks as if it could have been written today.

Mid-eighteenth=century literature is quite easy to understand, though there are turns of phrase and elements of style that look unfamiliar. Boswell, in his Life of Dr Johnson uses "that" followed by a comma as we use "which" today. Dr Johnson, of course, compiled the dictionary that did much to standardise English spelling, and that is what makes literature in subsequent periods easier for us to read.

A century earlier, Pepys's diary and the writings of Jonathan Swift can be understood, though there are more obscure allusions, and turns of phrase that wouldn't be understood today. Some modern editions have updated spelling, to make them easier to read. The Book of common prayer dates from this period too.

Go back half a century, and you have the King James Bible, though it too is often published with updated spellings. Until about the 1950s or so it was familiar to most English-speaking people, and perhaps helped to keep older versions of English alive for many. Even if they were not part of people's active vocabulary, there were many things that people understood. Though the language was archaic, even for the time, it often made more sense to 20th-century readers than the contemporary writing of Shakespeare.

Reading backward in time is one thing, but reading forward is another.

Most of the words used by Hazlitt, for example, are part of English today, and so we can read Hazlitt without difficulty. But what would Hazlitt have made of 21st-century English?

I wonder, too, how long the backward compatibility (would Hazlitt have understood that?) of English will last. After 300 years the Book of Common Prayer has been abandoned, along with the King James Bible, and the Coverdale psalms in the BCP were a century older. And now many words are being removed from dictionaries. As one could speak of a "pre-Johnson era", perhaps we are entering a post-Johnson era.

Jonathan at Thicket and Thorp drew my attention to this article, which describes how many words have been removed from a children's dictionary:

Some of the words removed: mistletoe, goblin, altar, bishop, monastery, monk, psalm, saint, sin, duchess, duke, decade, heron, kingfisher, lark, ox, oyster, thrush, weasel, apricot, ash, county, cowslip, fern, hazelnut, primrose, sheaf, walnut, willow.

And some included: Blog, voicemail, attachment, database, cut and paste, celebrity, creep, citizenship, EU, brainy, boisterous, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, biodegradable, dyslexic, food chain, trapezium, alliteration, curriculum, classify, block graph.

And to think that we read nursery rhymes to our children about "One old Oxford ox opening oysters"!

The point of a dictionary, or at least one of the points, is that one can find the meanings of unfamiliar words that one comes across for the first time. Many of the words removed have to do with the countryside and rural life, which children brought up in cities might want to look up if they read about them in books. But today's harmless drudges seem to think that they should not be allowed to.

Which reminds me... a word that seems to enter the vocabulary of children within the first couple of weeks of starting school for the first time is "allowed". Perhaps that should be compulsory.

18 December 2008

Urban legends about Christmas

Recently someone posted a few items about Christmas on an interfaith discussion forum. The problem was that each item began with or contained statements about Christmas that were manifestly untrue.

Here's one:

Oh, no -- more hysteria over Christmas from Bill O'Reilly, joined now by Gretchen Carlson, the blinkered bigot host of some other Fox program. The dialog is hilariously stupid. Billo blows it early, claiming that Christmas marks "the birth of Jesus Christ, which is what the holiday is based on", which is simply not true (Source: Pharyngula).

Now I don't know who Bill O'Reilly or Gretchen Carlson are, but claiming that the statement that Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ is "untrue" (and implying that it is "hysteria") is, well, untrue.

That's like saying that it is untrue to say that your birthday party commemorates the anniversary of your birth (and hysterical to boot).

As we approach Christmas, urban legends about Christmas proliferate, but that has to be the most ridiculous one I've seen yet.

Here's another, from the same poster:

Early in its history, the Catholic Church proclaimed December 25th as Christmas. Several centuries later Pope Gregory corrected the calendar. 12 days were displaced from the Julian calendar. What had been December 25 was now January 6. The Eastern Church refused to go aloing with the calendar change and continued to observe Christmas on the OLD December 25 which was now January 6 in the West. The Western Church still wanted to give some sort of holiness to the original December 25 so they proclaimed it a new holiday, Epiphany. Thus were born the 12 days of Christmas.

He doesn't give a source for that one. Unlike the first one, it doesn't make glaring errors of logic. But it strings together a series of historical "facts", most of which are wrong, or have wrong inferences drawn from them, or both.

So what really happened?

Until about the 4th century, Christians celebrated the birth of Christ along with his baptism on 6 January (as the Armenians still do today).

Some time in early 4th century a separate commemoration of the birth of Christ began to be observed on 25 December, probably beginning in Rome. It spread throughout the Christian world (with the exception of Armenia, as noted above).

When the Gregorian calendar was first introduced in the 16th century it was 10 days ahead of the Julian Calendar. The gap grows by a day a century, except when the end of century year is divisible by 400 -- so it did not increase in 1600 and 2000. The gap is now 13 days, and in the 22nd century it will be 14 days.

This means that "Old Christmas" (which is still kept by some Orthodox Churches) is on Gregorian 7 January, not 6 January. In the Old (Julian) Calendar Theophany (Epiphany) is on 19 January Gregorian.

So the story, as posted, gets the whole thing backwards. But that is typical of the urban legends about Christmas.

And here's a third one, also from the same poster (no source quoted):

Christmas has a difficult history. Until recently, Christmas was not a major celebration. When the Protestants had their reformation, Christmas came under attack, specifically in England. It was called a Catholic holiday and many employers would fire their workers if they did not show up for work on December 25.

I suppose that one depends on what you think "recently" means. For Christians, Christmas has been a major celebration for at least 1000 years, and probably a lot longer than that.

In the Orthodox Church the Nativity of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Christmas for short) is preceded by a 40-day fast. The only other feast preceded by a fast of that length is Pascha. That makes it major.

Now I'm sure the poster (who isn't a Christian) was not being malicious when he posted these in the discussion forum. He maybe thought that with Christmas approaching they were timely and had interesting information. The problem is that most of the information was wrong. I suggested that he might do better to post information about festivals of his own religion, where he could be more discerning to check that the information was accurate before posting it.

But I give these three examples of a common phenomenon, especially at this time of year. The urban legends about Christmas are often spread by the media, and people pick them up by the way. The recipes columns of the newspaper will publish a page of traditional Christmas recipes, and the writer of the column, who may know something about cookery, but little or nothing about the history of religious festivals, might preface it with a couple of half-digested paragraphs compiled from an encyclopaedia article or two. And so these weird and wonderful urban legends about Christmas (and other things) spread.

So here's a tip for any journalist who has been told by their editor to produce a column on Christmas and its origin, and the folk customs associated with it, and their origin. The book to read is The stations of the sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain by Ronald Hutton. Even if you aren't in Britain, Hutton's book will do for the English-speaking world. Hutton is a careful and competent historian, and knows what he's talking about.

There also the stories one also sees around Christmas time to the effect that Christmas was "originally" Yuletide, which was celebrated at about the same time. This too is an urban legend, and a moment's thought will show how ridiculous it is.

It's a bit like saying that the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March was "originally" Greek independence day, and that that was why the date was chosen.

The fact is that there are only 365 days in a year, and that if you look at a particular day when a religious or other group has a particular celebration, you will probably find another group that celebrates something else on the same day. It may be that two groups that have different celebrations on the same day may encounter each other, and each may borrow some aspects of the other group's celebration. This doesn't necessarily mean that the meaning changes.

Among Orthodox Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar, for example, the following are commemorated on the same day:

  • St Andrew, Archbishop of Crete (712)
  • St Martha, mother of St Simeon Stylites the Younger (554)
  • St Andrew Rublev, Iconographer (c 1447)
  • Burial of St Andrew, Prince of Bogoliubsk (1174)
  • St Finbar, Abbot of Innis Doimlile (6th)
  • St Andrew the Russian of Cairo (1174)
  • St Donatus of Libya, Bishop
  • Martyrs Theodotus and Theodota at Caesarea in Cappadocia (108)
The day is 4 July.

This does not mean that all those commemorations are derived from US independence day.

16 December 2008

What's wrong with power sharing in Zimbabwe?

Ever since the disputed results of the last Zimbabwean elections, South Africa and other countries have been trying to broker a power-sharing agreement between the major parties, ZANU-PF and the MDC. The impasse has been caused because ex-President Robert Mugabe refuses to become ex, and has become El Caudillo; Der Führer of Zimbabwe.

Why is it that the South African government, and other concerned countries in the region, think that the solution to the problems caused by this putsch is a power-sharing agreement between winners and losers of the election?

In one way, it can seem a very African solution to the problem. In the idealised African worldview of ubuntu, consensus is deemed better than competion. Politics should not be a zero-sum game, with winners and losers, but rather a win-win solution should be sought, in which everyone can be kept happy.

One of the best examples of this is South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. Though the ANC won a majority in the election, it did not rule alone, but formed a government of national unity with its most bitter rivals, the National Party and the IFP. The Democratic Party, though it would have been welcome to join, preferred to stay out, partly because it had no sympathy with the African idea of consensus, and preferred to be self-consciously Western, and espouse confrontation to cooperation. It saw itself as the Opposition with a capital O, and saw its task as to Oppose everything the government did, good or bad.

Under National Party rule, South African government had been as authoritarian as that of Zimbabwe under Mugabe, yet the ANC still agreed to form a Government of National Unity with their former enemies, so why should a similar solution not work in Zimbabwe today?

The difference is that in the 1990s the National Party leaders were becoming increasingly aware that their policies had failed and were politically bankrupt. Though a former foreign minister, Eric Louw, had declared that they would fight to retain power till the blood rose to the horses' bits, his successor, Pik Botha, said he wasn't prepared to die to keep "whites only" signs in the lifts. Mugabe's mindset is far closer to that of Eric Louw than to that of Pik Botha. Under F.W. de Klerk the National Party thought it would be better to lose power than to destroy the country in trying to retain it. Mugabe's thinking is precisely the opposite.

The irony is that the ANC government in South Africa is not all that wedded to the African idea of consensus leadership and power sharing. The ANC conference at Polokwane a year ago was definitely a winner-takes-all affair.

A question that is often asked is what could the South African government do about the situation in Zimbabwe. And one answer is that it could do what the ANC, when it was in opposition, often asked other countries to do about the National Party regime in South Africa: at the very least, recognise the human rights abuses for what they are and denounce them as such. Instead, it instructed South African election observers in Zimbabwe to declare elections free and fair when they weren't.[1]

At the government level, those who have been most vigorous in denouncing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe have been western countries, like the US and the UK. Mugabe has dismissed such criticisms as imperialist fabrications. He would not be able to dismiss such criticisms so easily if they came from neighbouring countries in Africa, but it is those countries that have been reluctant to criticise except in the mildest possible way.

The fact is that the longer Mugabe stays in power, the less there will be to salvage from the wreckage when he finally does go.

[1] On 1 March 2004 the South African Council of Churches arranged a meeting of South African church leaders to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe. Three church leaders from Zimbabwe gave a briefing on what was happening in that country. The questions they were asked were all to the point as was the discussion that followed. Among those who attended the meeting were some who had been observers at the previous elections in Zimbabwe, and they said that with hindsight they regretted that they had been persuaded, against their better judgement, to sign a statement declaring that those elections were free and fair.

15 December 2008

Happiness is ...

I've been tagged with another meme, well an award actually, but I'm not sure what it's being awarded for.

It's the "tree of Happiness" award, and I've been tagged by Aquila ka Hecate.

First, the rules of the award:

• Link to the person who gave the award to you.
• Post the rules on your blog.
• List six things that make you happy.
• Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
• Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog
• Let the person who awarded you know when your entry is up.

Six things that make me happy, or perhaps that have made me happy in the past.

  1. Riding a horse over the veld on a cool misty overcast day and having hand licked by my dog
  2. The kindness of friends, those I love.
  3. The kindness of strangers.
  4. Mozart's 39th symphony.
  5. Good company and conversation.
  6. Pascha, and St John Chrysostom's homily on the same.
As for who to tag, well, there's Bruce Alderman, NFM, James Higham, Crushed by Ingsoc, Omnash, and Bishop Alan.

14 December 2008

Zimbabwe's descent into chaos

One of the things that held up a power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe was Mugabe's insistence that he alone control the police and the army -- he wasn't sharing that power with anyone.

But as the situation deteriorates, one wonders just how much control he has. When there is no longer any money to pay the police and the army, will they resort to using their weapons to earn their living as marauding bands, stealing from the civilian population at gunpoint?

The Times - Zimbabwe military has become a brigand army for hire:
According to the Guardian newspaper: “Zimbabwean air force helicopters swept over the hundreds of fleeing illegal diamond miners and mowed down dozens with machine-gun fire.

“After that the police arrived and unleashed the dogs that tore into the diggers, killing some and mutilating others.

“The police fired tear gas to drive the miners out of their shallow tunnels and shot them down as they emerged.”

This is a description of one incident and there have been several similar shootings over the past month.

And one wonders what kind of democracy it is when the loser of an election gets to share power with the winner, with the loser determining what share the winner gets. As Chairman Mao is reputed to have said, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. That may be true, especially in places like Zimbabwe, but it is not democracy.

13 December 2008

De Menezes inquest verdict criticises police

Jean Charles de Menezes jury condemns police - Times Online:
The Scotland Yard anti-terrorist operation that led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was subjected to withering condemnation yesterday by an inquest jury.

In one of the most important public examinations of police conduct, the jurors found the testimony of the officers who shot the young Brazilian to be unreliable and concluded that Metropolitan Police commanders failed their frontline colleagues.

Mr de Menezes, 27, an electrician, was shot seven times in the head by specialist firearms officers who mistook him for a suicide bomber about to blow up a London Tube train.

It sort of restores one's faith in British justice - but I still wonder why the coroner told the jury that they could not say the killing was unlawful.

What will happen in Athens?

Christ and culture

A very interesting post by Fr Gregory Jensen Koinonia: Orthodox Christian Faith in the Public Square:
Having spent more than a little time with the recent sociological studies that examine the attitudes of Orthodox Christians, I can confirm that for a significant percentage—and in some cases, a majority—of Orthodox Christians draw their understanding of morality not from Holy Tradition but popular American culture.

As with our brothers and sisters in western Christian traditions, many, even most, Orthodox Christians too 'have uncritically accepted the dichotomy between public and private, between fact and value, between knowledge and meaning.' For all that we might imagine that we are preserving Hellenism or the 'other worldliness' of monastic life, we live lives structured on the same 'dichotomies [that] are deeply entrenched in American religion and culture and are closely associated with what is often described, and frequently decried, as American individualism.'

12 December 2008

Greece, Zimbabwe and South Africa

On 6 December 2008 a Greek policeman shot a teenager in Athens.

A subsequent demonstration turned violent, and cars and shops were burnt.

There's a good summary of events on Wikipedia.

I can't help wondering what might happen if Zimbabwean youth responded like Greek youth -- or like South African youth in 1976.

In Greece, similar action by youth in 1974 resulted in the restoration of democracy. Two years alter, South African youth responded in a similar fashion, but it took nearly 20 years, and many more deaths, before democracy was established.

One result of the Greek action in 1974 was that the youth were honoured. There is a public holiday, Polytechniou, to commemorate the Polytechnic students who died, just as we have Youth Day in South Africa to commemorate the young people who died in June 16 1976 and the following weeks.

Another result, according to my daughter, who is a student in Athens, is that since 1974 the police have not been allowed to enter universities. This makes it easier for students to manufacture Molotov cocktails and the like, and it's quite common to see burnt-out vehicles on campus.

I suspect, however, that if Zimbabwean youth tried the same thing, the police would not arrest the policemen who killed young people, but would reward them, and there would be many more deaths.

After 1976, many South African young people went abroad for military training, and returned to fight back.

Many Zimbabwean youth, faced with a similar situation of police repression and brutality, also leave the country, but I'm not aware of any of them forming a liberation army to go home and fight back. That's probably just as well -- the Democratic Republic of Congo as dozens of "liberation" armies, most of which are fighting to be in a position to oppress others. A lot of Zimbabwe's present troubles stem from the misguided attempt of the Zimbabwean government to support one of them by sending troops to the Congo to support one of the factions there.

Are there any lessons in all this for Zimbabwean youth?

11 December 2008

Will the real socialists please stand up

During the recent US elections, there were all kinds of stories flying around the internet from Americans to the effect that Barack Obama was a "socialist", which made it clear that a lot of people simply don't have a clue about what "socialism" actually means.

Hat-tip to the Western Confucian for this piece from a real socialist explaining what it's all about.

Where Are All The Socialists? Here, There and Everywhere | CommonDreams.org:
Socialism shares one thing in common with religion; there are many denominations and sects and they all claim to hold some higher truth. I don't claim to hold a higher truth. I do have a perspective on socialism, and that is, of course, open to disagreement.

Not all socialists are Marxists or atheists. Norman Thomas, the leader of the party in the 1930s and '40s, was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Socialists do not believe nationalization of an industry, government buying stocks in banks or the subsides to auto makers makes the country socialist.

09 December 2008

Superior scribbler? Who? Me?

Bishop Alan has kindly tagged me for the Superior Scribbler's Award, and notes that
the superior graphics, catchy red border, and unsolicited nature of the Superior Scribbler Award has subverted my anarcho-syndicalist tendencies and won my heart to this improbable enterprise. This is a free cascading tag chain of affirmation cooked up by The Scholastic Scribe. Melissa B (profile picture Left) teaches high school journalism, (Mel B? Shome mishtake?).

Melissa’s blog emanates from the legendary ghetto of Haight-Ashbury, so getting this gong feels, in itself, like a thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat at Alice’s restaurant, even without a real VW Microbus, let alone Implements of Dee-struction. The catchy logo comes complete with a quotation from Herbert Gould, elder statesman of the Beat Generation.

And, having similar anarcho-syndicalist tendencies myself, I found it equally hard to resist, even though I have to admit that the nearest I ever got to be a hippy was being a superannuated wannabe Beatnik.

Bishop Alan’s Blog:
In spite of this tagging exercise’s hippy-dippy SF roots, there are rules:
  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

All that remains, then, is to nominate “five most deserving Bloggy Friends,” or the tag chain fails... So, I suggest, in no particular order, because that would involve envelopes, the following five off my feed list (their latest is always posted in the right hand column)...

So, I nominate, tag, and harass the following, most of whom you will find listed in the blogroll(s) in the sidebar on the right as well:

  • Jonathan Allen, whose blog Thicket and thorp has interesting posts on a variety of topics that I find interesting, such as language, culture, theology and the like.
  • And perhaps, with my anarcho-syndicalist tendencies, I will be excused for nominating a blogging syndicate that produces The land of unlikeness, a thoughtful blog that produces much interesting stuff on the boundaries of theology, philosophy and literature
  • Fr Stephen's Glory to God for all things deals with similar subject matter, but with a somewhat different emphasis and selection, and always says something worth reading
  • John's Notes from a commonplace book -- travel, literature, history, theology, a lot of it in places that my wife's British Israelite great grand uncle would have called "the prophetic earth"
  • Andii Bowsher's Nouslife -- more of the same stuff, which happens to be the stuff I like: theology, culture, society, language and all the rest

08 December 2008

Cholera stretches Limpopo resources

The Times - Cholera stretching SA to breaking point:
MORE than 40 new cholera infections — half of them further than 100km from the disease’s South African epicentre, Musina — have prompted Limpopo health authorities to ask that outbreak sites be declared emergency areas.

The new cases of the water- borne disease were reported at the weekend. Twenty-one new cases were reported in remote areas along the Limpopo River, where thousands of Zimbabweans illegally cross into South Africa. Officials fear the outbreak will become unmanageable if there is no emergency intervention.

It has taken a long time for Zimbabwe's infrastructure to collapse to this extent. The collapse has now reached, or passed, the point that Albania had reached ten years ago. And the South African government continues prop up the mad dictator who is destroying his country and his people.

Five years ago a group of Johannesburg church leaders criticised the state of human rights in Zimbabwe after hearing stories from Zimbabwean refugees, and were castigated by Frank Chikane and Cedric Mayson (two clergy advisers of the ANC government), for doing so, and likened to George Bush. At the same time Bishop Desmond Tutu made a much stronger statement, which was reported in the newspapers, but did not have much effect, since he was retired. But it was the kind of statement that the South African government could have made, but did not. The ANC could see through Ronald Reagan's "constructive engagement" approach to P.W. Botha's human rights abuses in South Africa in the 1980s, but 20 years later it had fallen into the same trap in the way it approached Mugabe's human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Whether speaking out more strongly against Mugabe's human rights abuses would have made a concrete difference is a moot point, but the "constructive engagement" policy certainly achieved nothing, and the cholera epidemic is just one consequence of that.

07 December 2008

Synchroblog on light and dark

Phil Wyman has issued a reminder that we are doing the next SynchroBlog this coming
Wednesday on the theme of "Light and Dark as Motifs of Spirituality."

Posts should be up by December 10th (the evening of the 9th is always a good time for North Americans to post, since the rest of the world is ahead)

How to get Involved

E-mail Phil Wyman with an affirmative letting him know that you are participating.

Also as soon as you have your blog posted send him the direct link to the post, and we will get you hooked up.

How to get the most out of it

Phil will send out list of links, and they can be added to the bottom of your own post. By having the list on your site, you ensure that you are networked together with all your fellow Synchies, and people who are following the synchroblog can just surf from one post to the next. As they finish reading one post they just click the next one on the list.

So, let Phil know if you are in, and send him your title and direct URL as soon as possible. Some won't know their URL until the day of posting, but that's cool, as long as you let Phil know that you are in, and let him have have your blog URL ahead of time.

This synchroblog also marks the beginning of the third year of synchroblogging.

Here are links to some of the posts already up:

04 December 2008

Recent reading

Mankell, Henning. 2003. The man who smiled. London:
After being on sick leave for a year Inspector Kurt
Wallander decides to resign from the police force, but
then a lawyer he knows appeoaches him for help in
investigating the death of his father, who died in a car
crash, which had the police had ruled accidental. When
the lawyer is murdered a few days later, Wallander takes
on the case. .

Hutton, Ronald. 2001. The triumph of the moon: a history of
modern pagan witchcraft.
Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
The first part deals with cultural currents in Britain
that led to the establishment of pagan witchcraft as a
new religious movement, and the second half is a history
of the movement itself, beginning with Gerald Gardner. .

Huxley, Aldous. 1932. Antic hay. New York: The
Modern Library.
Theodore Gumbril decides to throw up his job as a
schoolmaster to make money out of patent trousers with
inflatable seats. He meets Casimir Lypiatt, an
unsuccessful artist, and has dinner with his friends,
Pasteur Mercaptan, Shearwater, Coleman. They go out for
coffee and see Mrs Viveash, with whom most of them have
been in love at one time or another. Lypiatt is insulted
when Gumbril offers him the job of designing advertising
posters for his trousers, and contemplates suicide. .

Hutton, Ronald. 1987. The Restoration: a political and
religious history of England and Wales 1658-1667.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
After the death of Oliver Cromwell Britain was
effectively run by a military junta. Richard Cromwell
tried to have a new parliament, but the army replaced it
with the old purged one, soon nicknamed the "rump". But
the army was not paid, and grew restive, and the country
could not afford it. Monck brought his army down from
Scotland, and a new parliament was elected, which then
voted for the restoration of Charles II. After an
initial period of reconciliation a Cavalier Parliament
was elected, which took a hard line with republicans and
religious dissenters. Charles II lost the confidence of
many for his adultery, and also for his foolishness in
pursuing an unnecessary and ruinous war against the
Dutch. .

Rankin, Ian. 2006 [1993] Witch hunt. London: Orion.
A terrorist known as the Witch is known to have entered
Britain, and MI5 agent Michael Barclay is asked to work
with retired agent Dominic Elder, who is called back
into service, to try to find her. .

Woolf, Virginia. 1965. A writer's diary: being extracts from
the diary of Virginia Woolf.
London: Hogarth.
Extracts from Virginia Woolf's diaries, selected by her
husband Leonard Woolf. The extracts deal with her
reading and writing, and describe the progress of her
novels and other works in the period from 1919 to 1941,
when she died. Why is it that I often find diaries and
biographies of writers so much more interesting than the
books they write? Certainly the case with V. Woolf. I
tried reading her "Jacob's room", but gave up after a
few chapters. .

Tracy, P.J. 2007. Snow blind. London: Penguin.
A couple of New York detectives are investigating the
death of two of their collegues, whose bodies are found
in a park disguised as snowmen. They travel to
Connecticut through the snow to help with a murder case
there, little realising that the solution to their own
problem is tied up with it. .

Maitland, Barry. 2000. Silvermeadow. London: Orion.
A wanted criminal is seen in a new shopping mall in
Essex, and a few days later a girl's body is found in
some rubbish that originated in the mall. Detectives
Dave Brock and Kathy Kolla are asked to look into both
cases. .

22 January 2007
Sayers, Dorothy L. 1934. The nine tailors. San
Diego: Harvest.
After a car accident Lord Peter Wimsey and his servant
Bunter are stranded in the village of Fenchurch St Paul
on New Year's eve, and he is roped in to take the place
of one of the bellringers to ring in the new year. Then,
some months later a body is discovered in the

I seem to have been reading quite a lot of books set in the 1920s and 1930s in the last couple of months -- the Albert Huxley and Dorothy Sayers novels and Virginia Woolf's diary. so I've also been reading The aspirin age, a series of essays about the period, though in the USA, while the others I have been reading were British.

02 December 2008

Moon, Jupiter, Venus

Over the last few days the Moon, Ju[piter and Venus have been appearing in the sky together. Problem is, the sky has been cloudy most of the time, so this is about the best picture I could get of them. After I took this picture my camera battery went flat, and by the time I had changed it I couldn't even see the moon through the clouds.

The Aids war is over - sort of

While there was controversy and a split in the ANC over the resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, there were few to mourn exit of his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The Times - ‘The war is over’:
AFTER years of anger, South Africa yesterday commemorated World Aids Day, confident for the first time that the government is responding effectively to the epidemic.

Mark Heywood, deputy chair of the SA National Aids Council, said: “The war is over. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be disputes and that the Treatment Action Campaign will be muted when we have issues to raise — but it means that the level of resistance that we once encountered is over...

Last month The Times reported that a study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US had found that more than 330000 lives had been lost because of the failure of Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang in the provision of HIV-Aids drugs between 2000 and 2005.

  • The Harvard report blamed the deaths on the reluctance of the Mbeki-led government to implement a feasible and timely antiretroviral treatment programme.

  • The study found that almost 35000 babies were born with HIV between 2000 and 2005 because Mbeki and his health minister had failed to make widely available the drug nevirapine, which prevents mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

  • The new Health Minister, Barbara Hogan, is taking action to turn this around.

    But the Mbeki government's failure to deal adequately with HIV/Aids has led to another health crisis:

    Al Jazeera English - Focus - South Africa's hidden epidemic:
    Once on the wane, tuberculosis is again resurgent, especially in countries facing major HIV/Aids epidemics.

    In 2006, it killed an estimated 1.7 million people, according to the UN. An estimated two million died of HIV/Aids, but for many the immediate cause was tuberculosis; TB is the number one killer for people with Aids.

    Unlike Aids, TB - once known as the white plague - is a curable disease, but proper treatment is complicated and requires at least a six-month course of antibiotics.

    However, HIV attacks the immune system, making people more susceptible to infections like TB, and as a result, there are high-levels of co-infection.

    One of the consequences of this has been the evolution of new strains of drug-resistant TB.

    This is my contribution to the Bloggers Unite on World Aids Day campaign.

    It's a day late, because yesterday was also the synchroblog on Mythical Monsters, which, though it seemed to me to be an interesting topic, only got three contributions. Anyway, better late than never, for both the Aids Day one and the mythical monsters one.

    01 December 2008

    Blogging persona

    Hat-tip to Mahud for the link to the Typealyzer site that analyses the writing on a blog and links it to the Myers-Briggs personality types.

    For this blog

    The analysis indicates that the author of http://methodius.blogspot.com is of the type:

    ISTP - The Mechanics

    The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

    The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.


    And it gives the same analysis of my LiveJournal.

    It's still in Beta, and I don't know what criteria it uses for analysing the writing, but every time I've done such tests, the result has come out as INTP -- actually just tipping the scales from INFP. So perhaps I'm writing this blog and my LiveJournal with a persona different from my usual self.


    This show what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing.

    But according to Typealyzer my Khanya blog is written by my true personality, and not a persona. Perhaps that's why it seems to be more popular with readers than this one:

    The analysis indicates that the author of http://khanya.wordpress.com is of the type:

    INTP - The Thinkers

    The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

    They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.


    Of course for many people the Myers-Briggs personality types are no more accurate than the Zodiac ones of Scoprio, Libra, Aquarius etc. So you can take it with a pinch of salt, or a whole lorry-load of salt if you prefer.


    This show what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing.

    Check with Typealyzer to see what your blog is like.


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