31 December 2009

The decade with no name

So we come to the end of the decade with no name. We had the Twenties, the Thirties, the Forties, up to the Nineties. We have the habit of characterising each of these ten-year periods by its major events, its tastes and trends in art, literature, music and fashion. But for the decade following the Nineties, no one can agree on a name.

This way of perceiving time is so ingrained that many people celebrated the turn of the century and the millennium a year early. The 31st December 1999 was the end of the 1990s, but not the end of the 20th century, and the first decade of the 21st century will only end in a year's time.

But it is how we perceive decades, because of the easy way of naming them. Many historians see the 19th century as being bracketed by the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War, beginning in 1815 and ending in 1914. It was a century of relative peace, in the sense that such wars as there were were relatively localised. Not that there was much peace in southern Africa, which was the scene of many of those local wars. Several of the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars were fought then, and the Anglo-Zulu War, and the first and second Anglo-Boer Wars, to name a few.

Most of the 20th-century wars, however, were fought elsewhere. The closest that the First World War came to South Africa was Namibia, then known as German South West Africa.

Over the last decade I've managed to put most of my journal on computer, and so one of the things I do most mornings is to look to see what I was doing this day 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago, and finally 25 years ago, the midpoint between 50 years ago and the present. So I look back and see what I was doing at the end of the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s. '90s and '00s. Perhaps we should call the last the zeroes.

Twenty years ago I noted the end of the annus mirabilis, 1989, when democracy was breaking out all over. Dictators fell in many countries: Egon Krenz (remember him?), Nicolae Ceausescu, and P.W. Botha. The euphoria of that year was rather spoilt by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the Wars of the Yugoslav succession that followed. The decade of the zeroes saw wars of aggression provoked by the USA and Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq. On balance it hasn't been a good one.

In South Africa the fall of P.W. Botha was followed by the advent of democracy in 1994, but we haven't done much with it in the last 10 years. Instead of a concerted effort to undo the ravages of apartheid, politicians have been more concerned with jockeying for position, grabbing the spoils of office, and slagging off their rivals. Well, that, at least, is the impression one gets from the media, and it has to be tempered with the knowledge that there is nothing the media enjoy more than a big fight. Perhaps there has been something good going on behind the scenes that they aren't telling us about, but it seems more likely that there is not much to tell. Before the 1994 election the ANC produced a blueprint for a Reconstruction and Development Programme, but within a year they had abandoned it. Twenty years ago some of the biggest problems in the country were education, health and policing, and since then there has been little or no improvement in any of them.

Let's hope the next decade will be better. Anyone got a name for it?

One thing I have noticed is that most people seem to call the years of the past decade by the thousands -- "two-thousand" to "two-thousand-and-nine". But 2010 is called "twenty ten".

Perhaps 2010 will prove to be an annus mirabilis too, in which South Africa not only hosts the World Cup, but wins it. But I'm not holding my breath.

28 December 2009

Swiss minaret ban has consequences

Religious intolerance breeds more religious intolerance. Terry Cowan blogs about one of the consequences of the recent Swiss referendum where it weas decided to ban construction of new minarets. Notes from a Common-place Book:
It seems a group of Muslims confronted the priest at a Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey. The three men threatened the priest with death unless the church's bell tower was demolished within the week, this in retaliation for the Swiss action. The priest, Fr. Yusuf, did notify the authorities, but added 'It is my job to protect the church, so I will stand here and leave it in God’s hands.”

27 December 2009

The weird world of Twitter followers

Today I got a message: Business World (Business_World1) is now following your tweets on Twitter. As if that were not enough I have been informed that Funglia Koeswanto (Love_mny) and entrepreneur (entrepreneur336) are now following my tweets on Twitter.

I wonder what interest such people can possibly have in what I am doing right now, since if I see keywords like "entrepreneurship", "marketing" or "business" associated with blogs or other on line stuff I avoid them if at all possible. Those words trigger great aversion in me, and I know that blogs etc described by such keywords are unlikely to be of interest to me. So why do people like this want to follow me on Twitter?

It's weird.

26 December 2009

The Second Day of Christmas

It's 5:30 am on the second Day of Christmas, and I've been up since 3:15 am, with the dogs, or one of them, barking, but our street lights are not working, so I can't see what he is barking at. But it disturbs me, so I can't do much constructive at this quiet hour.

In the Orthodox Church the second day of Christmas is the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, and we remember her whose womb was more spacious than the heavens, and contained the Uncontainable One. In our diocese most parishes celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian Calendar, but a couple of parishes that follow Slavic traditions are still in the fast, and will be celebrating "Old Christmas" on 7 January Gregorian.

On 23 December I met Prof Germanos Marani of the Gregorian University in Rome, who came with a proposal for a missiological symposium, and I spent the whole day discussing it with him (there's more about this on my other blog, for those who are interested). On Christmas Eve he joined us for the Vigil Service at the Church of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, Johannesburg. We had Great Compline followed by Matins. Though our choir director was conscious of many mistakes, I don't think many other people noticed them, and it was very pleasant.

On Christmas morning I took a couple of families from the Klipfontein View congregation we were involved with last year to the Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas. They had been part of the Tembisa congregation, and we used to take them to the services there, but the priest who is now in charge there doesn't have a big enough car to take them. Someone sometimes gives them a lift to St Thomas's Serbian Church in Sunninghill, but the services there are all in Slavonic or Serbian, so it was nice for them to have an English service for a change. There were several other visitors, including old parishioners who have moved away, like the Kilner family, now living in England, but who came home to visit family for Christmas. A new visitor was Reader John Burnett, originally from the USA, but who has been working in East Africa, and who has now come to work in our diocese. I've been in contact with him by e-mail before, and through reading his blog, and look forward to getting to know him and possibly working with him.

We came home and had Christmas dinner -- roast turkey, gem squash, cauliflour cheese and roast potatoes -- a nice way to break the fast.

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord,
as we sing of this present mystery:
the wall which divided God from man has been destroyed;
the flaming sword withdraws from Eden’s gate;
the Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life;
and I, who had been cast out through my disobedience,
now feast on the delights of Paradise:
for today the Father’s perfect Image,
marked with the stamp of His eternity,
has taken the form of a servant.
Without undergoing change He is born from an unwedded mother;
He was true God, and He remains the same,
but through His love for mankind,
He has become what He never was: true man.
Come, O faithful, let us cry to Him:
“O God, born of the Virgin, have mercy on us!”

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

23 December 2009

Court: Microsoft violated patent; can't sell Word - Updates - Fresnobee.com

Court: Microsoft violated patent; can't sell Word - Updates - Fresnobee.com:
SEATTLE -- A federal appeals court ordered Microsoft Corp. to stop selling its Word program in January and pay a Canadian software company $290 million for violating a patent, upholding the judgment of a lower court.

But people looking to buy Word or Microsoft's Office package in the U.S. won't have to go without the software. Microsoft said Tuesday it expects that new versions of the product, with the computer code in question removed, will be ready for sale when the injunction begins on Jan. 11.

Oh well, there's always Open Office.

19 December 2009

Rock-solid nebulous hot air

Hat-tip to Father David MacGregor of Contact Online Weblog: Ugandan Church faces totalitarian liberal activism. for pointing to this piece of rhetorical gobbledegook.

Anglican Mainstream: Ugandan Church faces totalitarian liberal activism.:
Chris Sugden Evangelicals Now Janaury 2010

The pressure on the Church of Uganda to respond to legislation that will be placed before the Ugandan Parliament on homosexual behaviour is not restricted to Uganda. This issue is affecting other democratic nations in Africa and Asia."

Anyone who knows anything about the English language will know that "liberal" and "totalitarian" are about as far removed from each other in meaning as they can possibly be. It is impossible for anything, including activism, to be simultaneously liberal and totalitarian. It is no more possible than it is for something to be simultaneously wet and dry, or hot and cold, solid and liquid. The only place where you will find liberal totalitarians is skiing the slow-clad slopes of Sahara mountains in midsummer, or sunbathing on the sand-dunes of Siberia in mid-winter.

If you want people to pay attention to what you have to say, avoid such over-the-top rhetoric.

Recent reading: Her fearful symmetry

I finished this book more than a week ago, but have spent so much time trying to get my computer working properly again that I haven't had time to write about it until now.

Her Fearful Symmetry Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a difficult book to review; I suspect that many people, like me, will have been influenced by Audrey Niffenegger's first book, The time traveler's wife, and by the expectations aroused by that. Comparisons are inevitable. I certainly was influenced by such expectations, and found Her fearful symmetry a little disappointing.

It's a ghost story. It's about twin daughters of twins. It's set in Highgate Cemetery in North London. The cemetery is one of the characters in the book, as much so as any of the people. It's hard to say more than that without giving away the plot.

I found it an OK read, but I was expecting and hoping for more.

View all my reviews >>

15 December 2009

Death of an old friend

This morning, in an amazing coincidence, I mentioned an old friend in a blog post on another topic, on my other blog, and as I was writing the sentence that mentioned him my cell phone beeped with a message from him, letting me know that his wife had died. He was Hiskia Uanivi, whom I had known as a student at the Paulinum, the Lutheran theological seminary in Namibia, and this is what I had written Tales from Dystopia III: Theological education in a totalitarian state: Khanya:
Two of the students, in particular, became friends of ours. One was Zephania Kameeta, who later become bishop of the Lutheran Church, and a cabinet minister after Namibia became independent; the other was Hiskia Uanivi, who later fell out with Swapo and lived in Angola under the protection of the Angolan government, returning after independence.

Hiskia came with me and another friend on a tour of South Africa at the beginning of 1971, and was amazed to see that in South Africa the grass was so green yet the cattle were so thin. Hiskia was engaged to another student, Albertina Eises, and they were married on 30 October 1971.

I was deported from Namibia three months later, and so did not see them much in their married life. Hiskia completed his studies and became a pastor in the Lutheran Church, and later left Namibia, and worked for Swapo in exile. He fell out with the Swapo leadership, however, believing that they were collaborating with the South African government. He lived in Angola under the protection of the Angolan government, and returned just before Namibia became independent, as leader of a workers revolutionary party.

A couple of years ago Hiskia and his family were in Pretoria, and came to visit us. and we saw each other for the first time in more than 30 years. Their children and ours had grown up. It was good to see them again, and I was sorry our meeting could not have been longer. I'm sure Hiskia must have fascinating stories to tell about his adventures. And it would be interesting to to have heard what Albertina did in this time, but now I'll never hear it from her.

The picture shows Albertina, Dangi, Uetu and Hiskia Uanivi, when they visited us on 4 March 2007.

And today came the news that his beloved Albertina had died. May her memory be eternal!

10 December 2009

Book Review: Doing everything with MS Access

How to Do Everything with Microsoft Office Access 2003 (How to Do Everything with) How to Do Everything with Microsoft Office Access 2003 by Virginia Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In reviewing a book on how to use a computer program, I suppose the most important point is whether it helps one to use the program effectively. There was a time when buying a computer program included a substantial user's manual, but no longer. Most programs come with rather skimpy manuals, and one often has to buy a third-party book to fill in some of the gaps.

This book is mistitled. It does not tell you how to do everything with MS Access. It tells you how to do some things, the basic things. It is a beginner's guide, and to the extent that it is that, it does it fairly successfully. It doesn't tell very much about how to use Visual Basic for Applications, which one needs to do to produce all but very simple database applications that can be used by other people. So the title is misleading.

I found it generally useful, but there was one serious flaw. It describes a sample database application for creating tables, queries and entry forms. But when it comes to reports, it works on an entirely different set of hypothetical tables, for which no samples are given in the text, and they are onyl described very sketchily -- a police database. This makes it very difficult to see how the reports work, when one cannot create the tables on which the reports should be based. This is a serious flaw, so I can't give the book more than two stars.

View all my reviews >>

09 December 2009

Frustrating computers

Computers are supposed to help us to work faster and smarter, and for the most part they do. But sometimes they go on strike, and demand attention, and this has happened to us. So for the last four days I've done little else but fiddle with computers to try to get them working again.

We seemed to be leaking bandwidth last month, so reinstalled the ZoneAlarm firewall, but that stopped our LAN working. Val's nephew helped us to sort that out, and Val had also bought the full version of ZoneAlarm on one of their special offers. But as soon as it was installed, the LAN stopped working again. Greg tried to help us sort that out too, but nothing seemed to work, so we asked for a refund, and reverted to the free version of ZoneAlarm.

Then the hard disk on my desktop computer died. For some time I've been wanting to get a bigger one, but everywhere I've been they say they no longer have EIDE drives, only SATA ones. Eventually managed to find a 500 Gig EIDE drive, and then when it was installed, it didn't work. Cable fault. Cannibalised a cable from a dead computer. Partitioning and formatting took the whole morning. Now restoration of the dying drive's backups seems likely to take the whole afternoon. And then we have to see if it works after that, and that software doesn't have to be reinstalled. That would take four weeks rather than four days.

Then, I hope I'll be able to read some e-mail and get some work done!

At least my laptop still works, and I'm typing this while waiting for the F: drive to be restored. Thank the Lord for Acronis. And after that there's the G: drive, and then there's that dicey DVD drive to be sorted out...

04 December 2009

Recent reading: two novels, one good, one not so good

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Millennium, #3) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the third book in Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy, the others being The girl with the dragon tattoo and The girl who played with fire. While there is something of a gap between the first book and the second, this one carried on right from where the second one leaves off, so if you've read the second book, don't wait too long before reading this one, because it is in effect one long book in two volumes. Leaving it too long might mean that you forget some important elements of the plot.

I also think that this one is by far the best of the three.

I won't describe it, because saying too much would probably be a spoiler for the second book if you haven't read it. I didn't learn much from it, and its nothing profound, just a good story, well told. It differs from the preceding one in that there's more police action, and a bit of courtroom drama thrown in.

The Friends of Meager Fortune The Friends of Meager Fortune by David Adams Richards

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I haven't finished this book, and I doubt that I will. My wife picked it up cheap in a book shop that sells remainders, and read it. She said that she found the style difficult, and that she had to read each sentence twice.

It's about a logging family in eastern Canada before and after the Second World War, and small town gossip and rumours.

I picked it up for bedtime reading when I was too tired to read anything more demanding and found it too demanding. I too found I was having to read every sentence twice, though I'm not sure why. The sentences are not over long, nor are they complicated in structure. But on first reading, the meaning doesn't seem to get through, and one has to read it again to see how it connects with what went before.

Maybe I'll pick it up again later, maybe not.

View all my reviews >>

03 December 2009

Are you homophobic?

I came across this quiz about "Are you homophobic?"

"Homophobic" is not a word I like very much, partly because I'm a language pedant, and believe it should mean "fear of the same", and therefore be partly the opposite of "xenophobic", which means fearing strangers.

Another reason that I don't like it is that it is often used as an insult or accusation -- it is used by bigots to accuse other people of bigotry.

But I accept that the way the word is generally used nowadays, it means to regard homosexuals with fear and loathing.

So I took the test, partly to see what the result would be, but also partly to see what the test would be. Some of these tests are themselves a manifestation of bigotry, as I mentioned above.

Here's the result:

You Are 18% Homophobic

You're open minded, tolerant, and accepting.

And you're not homophobic in the least :-)

Before reading any further, I suggest that you take the test -- first to see what the test thinks of you, and secondly to see what you think of the test.

I think that the test is fairly accurate, and measures "homophobia" as it is generally defined today, that is, the degree to which people regard homosexual people with fear and loathing.

So what do I mean when I say that the word "homophobic" is sometimes used by bigots to accuse other people of bigotry?

This is also related to being a language pedant, but it is about things that are rather more important than the etymology of "homophobic".

People sometimes ask "Is homosexuality a sin?"

And my answer is "No".

Homosexuality is a sexual orientation, as people say nowadays. Sexual orientation means what people find sexually attractive. People are homosexual if they find people of the same sex sexually attractive. From the point of view of Christian morality, finding people sexually attractive, whether they are of the same or the opposite sex, is not a sin. What is a sin is to allow that to develop into lust, and possibly sexual activity with another person. What is sinful is not homosexuality, but fornication and adultery.

And as a Christian, I believe that if I perform such acts, or even dwell on lustful thoughts, whether about people of the opposite sex or the same sex, those are sins that I must confess.

There are lots of people who fornicate or commit adultery, with people of the same sex or the opposite sex. Should I shun such people and avoid them socially? Should I refuse to work with such people because they are sinners? No, because I am a sinner too.

And why should we regard it as necessary to shun someone who commits adultery with someone of the same sex, but not those who commit adultery with someone of the opposite sex?

If I am to shun and avoid anyone for being a sinner, then I must first of all shun and avoid myself. Orthodox Christians pray frequently during Lent, "Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother."

We are not to engage in the relatively undemanding activity of confessing other people's sins. Nor are we to excuse our own sins as minor, and regard those of others as much more serious. Again, as Orthodox Christians we pray before receiving the holy communion, "I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first".

Jesus did not shun notorious sinners, and was criticised for failing to do so. He met socially with social outcasts like Zacchaeus, and if he, who was sinless, could do that, how can I, who am the first of sinners, refuse to do so on account of my supposed moral superiority?

One of the questions in the quiz concerned same-sex marriage. I believe that such a thing is ontologically impossible, but I won't go into that here. I've dealt with that in some detail in another blog post on the theology of Christian marriage.

But I will say that that concerns same-sex marriage, or homosexual marriage. People often talk loosely of "gay marriage", but that is not the same thing at all. There is nothing that I know to prevent gay people from marrying, and some have. It might even be possible for two gay people to marry each other. They might need to think about it carefully, and consider the difficulties that there might be in such a relationship. As a limerick puts it:

There was a young queer of Khartoum
who took a lesbian up to his room
they argued all night
over who had the right
to do what, and with what, and to whom.

But marriage is never plain sailing all the time, and even marriages when both parties are heterosexual often end in divorce.

Another question about words and meanings is raised by the term "gay lifestyle" which some people bandy about.

It's a strange term, because I doubt very much that there is such a thing as a "gay lifestyle" any more than there is such a thing as a "heterosexual lifestyle". Gay people can have as wide a variety of interests and engage in as wide a range of activities as heterosexual people. Some gay people are promiscious, and some are not, just as some heterosexual people are promiscuous and some are not. Some gay people are celibate and some are not, just as some heterosexual people are celibate and some are not.

There is, however, one exception to this.

There are gay subcultures, and among these subcultures, there is something that could be called a "gay lifestyle", but it is important to realise that only a small minority of gay people identify with such subcultures or participate in their activities.

There was a time when homosexual activity was illegal in South Africa, as it was in many other countries. And in those days there was a gay subculture, which had the rather romantic aura of a persecuted minority. It had its own argot, and even the word "gay" was not known to people outside the subculture, probably not even to homosexual people outside the subculture. What drew them together was not just the fact of being gay but the fact of being persecuted, and they had that in common with the communist and liberal and black nationalist subcultures of those days.

Some (not all) members of the gay subcultures were actvists, and they wanted the laws against homosexual activity repealed. And under our democratic constitution those laws have been repealed, and it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation, though I'm not sure that that provision of the constitution is as fully observed as it might be, nevertheless, it is there and can be appealed to.

One of the main arguments for the repeal of the laws against homosexual activity was that the law should not concern itself with what was done by consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms, and eventually those laws were repealed, as they have been in many other countries.

But some "gay activists" went further.

There was an Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, Timothy Bavin, who after some years left and became Bishop of Portsmouth. He was unmarried, and a group of gay activists decided that he was gay, and began a campaign of actively persecuting him and demanding that he "come out".

I have no idea whether he was gay or not, but from what I do know of him, he believed that he was called by God to celibacy, and he was abused by a group of "gay activists" who were little more than fascist bullies.

And it seems to be somewhat dishonest to say on the one hand that one's sexual orientation is one's own business and that what one does in one's own bedroom is not the concern of the law and anyone else, and then to go flaunting one's sexual orientation in "gay pride" parades, and demand that other people flaunt theirs by "coming out", and persecuting them if they do not. There is homophobic bigotry, and there is gay activist bigotry, but the so-called "gay lifestyle" is characteristic of only a small minority of gay people. It is the bigots and fascist bullies, on both sides, who make the most noise.


This post has been linked to the Synchroblog for October 2010: Same-sex marriage synchroblog | Khanya. Click on the link to see the other posts in the synchroblog.

02 December 2009

Swiss ban mosque minarets

Swiss ban mosque minarets in surprise vote:
Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets on Sunday, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers in a surprise vote that put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population.

Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic. Business groups said the decision hurt Switzerland’s international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there.

When I read the first paragraph I thought it was rather sad that the Swiss should be seen to be suppressing religious freedom like that.

But when I read the second paragraph I was even more saddened by the hypocrisy of it all.

Perhaps the Muslim groups who objected should have a look at the restrictions on building and repairing Christian churches in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and do something about those before complaining about the restrictions of others.

Sauce, goose, gander and all that.

As for the response of the business groups, well, it reminded me of Tom Lehrer's saying, "Christmas, with its spirit of giving, reminds us of what we all most deeply and sincerely believe in. I refer, of course, to money."

01 December 2009

You might be an American Evangelical if...

You might be an American Evangelical if:

10. T-shirts with Christian catch-phrases are a part of your evangelism strategy.

9. Your car is equipped with the ever-popular license plate frame that reads, "In case of rapture, the car is yours!"

8. You're convinced Jesus was a Republican.

7. Tim LaHaye's Left Behind book series is gospel truth.

6. Your favorite authors are Stormie Omartian and Joel Osteen.

5. Anyone who disagrees with you has taken the wide path.

4. You're convinced Sarah Palin has a bright future as a political candidate.

3. Your notion of God's purpose for your life happens to correspond nicely with upper middle-class suburban life.

2. You can't fit anymore music on your ipod because it's full of songs by John Tesh and Michael W. Smith.

1. You feel this post is alienating and abrasive, and your first inclination is to unsubscribe from this blog.

With acknowledgements to Christians in Context: from orthodoxy to orthopraxy.: Top Ten Marks of a Mainline Evangelical.

28 November 2009

Thoughts on blogging on a blogiversary

Today is the fourth anniversary of the starting of this blog, which prompts thoughts about blogging generally.

This wasn't my first blog. I started an online diary back at the beginning of the millennium, but it seemed a bit clunky, so don't write much there any more.

Then I was invited to LiveJournal by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, and it was a combination of an online journal and a social networking site. I still use it for personal things. But there were two problems with it: first, while it was fairly easy to network with other people on LiveJournal, it wasn't so easy to link to people outside that circle -- one can't use widgets like MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog for social blogrolling, and while it is possible to have a blogroll of sorts, it has to be created laboriously by hand. The second problem is that unless one pays extra for a subscription, photos and graphics have to be hosted on a third-party site. I still have my LiveJournal, but my posts there often link to posts on my other blogs.

Then, four years ago, we got a broadband connection, which made web surfing more affordable, and also something that one could do at any time of the day or night, without waiting for times when phone rates were cheaper. So I discovered Blogger, and that it was useful for quick and easy blog posts. It seemed like a good tool for bouncing ideas off other people and things like that. So I started this blog.

About six months later, Google, having taken over Blogger, began messing with it and lots of features that I had liked stopped working. I liked the "Blog this" feature, where one could grab a bit of text from a web site or another blog, and make some quick comments on it. It stopped working for about a year. The problems of that period caused a mass migration of bloggers from Blogger to WordPress and other blog platforms.

At one point, when many Blogger features had not worked for six months or more, I too started a WordPress blog, to be ready to jump ship if necessary. I still have it, and it's called Khanya, and I still use it. For some reason that I've never been able to fathom, it seems to attract twice as many readers as this one.

I use the two interchangeably, sometimes writing a post on one, sometimes on the other. Which one I choose depends mainly on which features of the blogging platform seem easier for the purpose at the time. WordPress makes it easier to enter pictures with captions, for example, so if I want to post more than one or two pictures linked to a narrative, I post them there rather than here. But widgets like the MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog ones seem to work much better in Blogger than in WordPress. I like to know who has visited my blogs, because that is a reminder to me to go and look at theirs.

Blogger seems to have settled down now, and most of the features are working again, so perhaps I'll carry on blogging here for another four years, if it's still around then. And thanks to everyone who has commented over the last four years, and linked to posts, and helped in the sharing of thoughts and ideas.

25 November 2009

The deterrent effect of capital punishment

From The West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser. Friday 20th July, 1849

EFFECT OF EXECUTION - A correspondent informs us that JOHN VANSTONE and WILLIAM LEE, were executed at Bodmin on the 1st of September, 1802, for burglary; the daughter of one of them saw her father executed and immediately afterwards went into the town and stole a loaf of bread.

22 November 2009

After the rain

As usual we went to church in Mamelodi this morning, for the Hours and Readers Service (Obednitsa), and sang "Many Years" to old Mary Nthite, whose name day it was yesterday.

The sun was shining brightly after the wet and cloudy weather of the last few days, with fluffy white cumulus clouds, and even the old and rather rundown shopping centre looked quite attractive.

On the way home, in East Lynne, we passed a stretch limo that indicates that World Cup fever is beginning to bite.

But it seems that our national team will be nowhere near ready. But we've still got a few months to get the national anthem right, however, after the fiasco at a rugby match in France last week. We lost that match, too.

21 November 2009

Rain and renovations

I went down to the post office today, to collect a parcel someone had sent me. It took a while to open it, as they were busy mopping the floor. There had been a flood, with all the rain we've had lately.

They are also busy renovating the exterior. It was done about 20 years ago -- actually the entire interior was rebuilt, and modernised, and they just kept the facade -- they had to do that, as it is a historical monument, and part of Church Square in the centre of Pretoria. Back then they renovated the facade too, but it was built of sandstone, which doesn't weather very well, and it took only about 10 years for the repairs to wash off. So now it looks as though they are preparing to do so again, but this time they will replace the sandstone with more durable granite. Here it was, ready to be put in.

I hope it lasts longer than 20 years this time!

17 November 2009

Jesus loves money

Notes from a Common-place Book: "Jesus loved money too!":
Hanna Rosin looks for connections between the recent housing crisis and the 'prosperity gospel' in Did Christianity Cause the Crash? The short answer to her question is, of course, 'No, Christianity didn't.'

Approximately 50 of America's 260 largest churches are prosperity-gospel churches. And 66% of all Pentecostals and 43% of 'other Christians' believe that 'wealth will be granted to the faithful.' Clearly, these American believers were, and remain, a receptive market to what the bankers were selling. Rosin looks in particular at Pastor Fernando Garay and his Casa del Padre, a largely Latino prosperity-gospel church in Charlottesville, Virginia. This group is representative of the larger phenomenon, 'the shift in the American conception of divine providence and its relationship to wealth.'

Many years ago, in my teens, I had just joined an Anglican parish in Johannesburg. I also encountered an Anglican monk, Brother Roger of the Community of the Resurrection, who lent me books by Beat Generation authors like Jack Kerouac, and extolled Francis of Assisi and his embrace of holy poverty.

Then we got a new priest in the parish who came along with a new gospel of "Jesus loves money". He said so, in those very words. "Jesus is watching you put your money in". My mother said it made Jesus sound creepy, like Judas Iscariot, standing behind a pillar, spying. "Success appeals to those who love success," said the Rector, "and all men do." Therefore, the church must look like a big success, to attract the rich and successful. Another priest, however, was saying at that time "We don't want to look like a failure, and just for that reason we are one."

And I read in one of the books that Brother Roger lent me

Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to
offer are not valued at a high price in our society... It is not the poverty of
the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

That tended to innoculate me against the "prosperity gospel", which surged into South Africa about ten years later, and looked to me a lot like idolatry -- wooing the bitch goddess Success.

But so all-pervasive has its message become that many people seem to think that it is Christianity.

In the early 1970s I visited a Pentecostal church a few times. The minister announced to the congregation his vision of a "Christian Centre", and asked them to pray that it would become a reality. I thought he was talking about some kind of evangelistic outreach. Their congregation used to have an annual evangelistic effort, where they would set up a tent and have evangelistic services, believing that the unchurched would feel more comfortable coming to a tent than to a church building. Perhaps they did. He made his plans for a Christian Centre sound something like this, not a church, but a kind of community centre for outreach, possibly interdenominational. What happened, though, was that he bought an old theatre, but far from being a Christian community centre, it was actually the start of a brand-new denomination, where he preached the prosperity gospel. His vision was in fact of a Neopentecostal megachurch. Once he had it, he left his Pentecostal denomination and started his own, with prosperity preaching high on the agenda.

Around the same time, in the early 1970s, "contextualisation" was the theological buzz-word du jour. And contextualisation went along with the prosperity gospel pretty well, because the prosperity gospel came in a bright new packaging to contextualise the gospel for yuppies, just in time for the secular prosperity gospel and Mammon worship of the Reagan-Thatcher years. The gospel of the Market, wedded to the bitch goddess success, a marriage made in... um, heaven?

12 November 2009

Pedant's corner: soldiers and troops

Grammar-cop alert.

This is a soldier:

This is a troop:

Got it? Good.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace.

Actually it's a little bit more complex than that.

Troops are usually mounted, and a member of a troop is usually called a "trooper", which is equivalent to a "private" in the infantry and a "gunner" in the artillery.

So it would be more accurate to say that THIS is a troop:

My great grandfather, Richard Wyatt Vause, was a lieutenant in the Natal Native Horse in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, and he had 50 men in his troop. As he wrote in his diary after the Battle of Isandlwana

Fortunately the Zulus were repulsed at Rorke's Drift and did not get as far as Helpmekaar. I lost 30 men and 10 wounded, so have not many left of my original 50.

Coming up next in the milspeak alerts: deploy.

11 November 2009

Commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall

Of all the activities to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, this one seems the most appropriate.

Palestinians tear down chunk of wall - Yahoo! News:
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) – Palestinians tore down a chunk of Israel's West Bank separation barrier on Monday in a protest staged to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall came down.

A truck was used to pull down the wall section to the cheers of an estimated 150 Palestinian activists and foreign supporters near the Qalandia refugee camp just outside Ramallah.

Israeli troops used teargas and stun grenades in a brief clash with stone-throwing Palestinians who then dispersed.

'Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and marks the first day of a week of resistance to the apartheid wall in Palestine and around the globe,' the Stop the Wall campaign said in a statement.

And if all the speeches abouty what a good thing it was that the old one fell were applied to the new on that has arisen in the mean time, they might be less of a waste of breath.

10 November 2009

Blogging blind

With the death of Amatomu and Technorati, I feel a great lack in the blogosphere.

Both seem to have died from the same cause -- someone decided to tinker with them to make "improvements", and broke whatever was working before. There's a lot of truth in the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Amatomu used to be a fairly good guide to South African blogs. You could see who was blogging about what, and the latest posts in various categories. It also gave fairly interesting statistics on one's own blog, showing which posts got the most readers and things like that.

Now I suddenly find that there are blogs that I used to follow fairly regularly that I haven't looked at for a month or more, because Amatomu is dead. It appears that the Mail & Guardian, which used to run it, has pulled out, and are looking to sell it or give it away.

Technorati was good for topical searches. I used to use it to see who was blogging on a certain topic, and to see what they said. I liked to do that when I was planning to write a blog post on a topic, and if I found that other bloggers had already said interesting things on the topic, i could link to there posts as well. But now it's as though one is blogging blind, not knowing who else is writing on the topic, and whether anyone has some interesting angles one hadn't thought of.

I suppose that has now been taken over by Google blog search, because when one goes to Technorati for the last few weeks all one gets is messages like

Welcome to the new Technorati.com! The page requested was not found. It's possible you reached this page because we forgot to update a link on the previous version of our site. We have recorded this event and will be doing our best to repair any broken links.

Well the links have been broken for so long that there is no longer any hope thatr they will be repaired.

I suppose Amatomu is the victim of a common problem in the IT industry -- people who have a good idea and implement it where they are working, and then move on to somewhere else, leaving the Mail & Guardian (in this case) stuck with a service that no one else really knows how to maintain. I rather hope that the community option comes off, and that the original authors may see fit to revive it.

08 November 2009

Saving the Soul of Secularism

Recently someone sent me, quite unsolicited, a link to this article Saving the Soul of Secularism:
Since February 2003, millions in the U.S. and around the world have participated in marches, rallies and varied protests, making a bold, ethical stand against U.S. military aggression. Citizens have engaged in persistent resistance to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S troops.

While numerous humanists have and continue to be actively involved in the anti-war movement many others are too narrowly focused on issues such as church-state separation and promoting science education.

The time has come for humanists to actively assert that they are as committed to peace and ending U.S. militarism as they are to the separation of church and state. If we can see the threat to freedom posed by the mixture of church and state, we must see the threat to freedom posed by militarism.

The very legitimacy of secularism and freethought is at stake. Humanists, atheists, and assorted freethinkers along with the organizations that represent them: the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Secular Student Alliance, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Center for Inquiry, among others, should join anti-war/peace organizations in calling for a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy away from neo-liberal imperialism and militarism.

This strikes me as very strange.

I can understand why humanists, who believe that human beings have intrinsic value, might see militarism as a threat to human freedom and therefore a bad thing.

What I find difficult to understand is the logic of urging atheists to support such a cause. I can see no logical connection between atheism and a response to militarism (or to pacifism, for that matter). There is nothing about atheism that makes it desirable that atheists should join anti-war or peace organisations. There is also nothing about atheism that makes it undesirable. Atheism, as atheism, is surely quite neutral in regard to such moral imperatives.

Why should an atheist, by virtue of being an atheist, believe that neoliberal imperialism is a bad thing? Some atheists have clearly believed that it is quite a good thing.

It is possibile to say, as Marx and Lenin did, that it is incumbent on a communist to be an atheist. But the reverse is not true. It is not incumbent on an atheist to be a communist. An atheist can just as easily be a neoliberal imperialist.

This seems to be "fluffy bunny" secularism, as some of my (neo) pagan friends would say. They seem to be getting carried away by moralism.

06 November 2009

ANC Thatcherism: Pretoria refuse collection resumes after two week strike

SABCNews - Main Feature > Top Stories:
Refuse collection is finally under way in Pretoria after waste removal workers, employed on a contract basis by the Tshwane Metro Council went on a two-week-long strike. The workers were demanding overtime payments for September, which the council paid to them last Friday.

Although the strike is over, rubbish is still overflowing in certain parts of the city including at two garden refuse sites in Rooihuiskraal and Dorandia. The council's Dikeledi Phiri says a 'damage control' schedule has been devised to fix the problem as soon as possible. It is unclear if Pretoria residents will be billed for services not rendered over the two-week period.

Just in time, too. If it had gone on for another week I'd have been collecting old tyres to burn in Soutpansberg Road, which seems to be the standard method of complaining about poor service delivery nowadays.

This episode illustrates some of the problems of the Thatcherist mania for privatisation, which is still with is nearly 20 years after Margaret Thatcher resigned.

Rubbish removal is one of the core services of the monicipality. It is not something that should be contracted out to others, and the ANC-controlled Tshwane City Council should know better.

Rubbish removal should be done by by municipal workers using municipally-owned vehicles. If the municipality contracts it out, then they are simply abdicating their responsibility. If they really think that it should be done by private enterprise, then let each household make its own contract with a rubbish-removal service provider of its choice, and let us live with the consequences (cheap fly-by-night operators dumping it at the roadside when no one is looking). And then let the municipal rates be reduced accordingly.

Why is it better that this service should be done by the municipality, at least in larger towns (when we lived in Melmoth, in Zululand, population about 2000, the rubbish was put in plastic bags and collected by a tractor pulling a trailer)? In the big towns we have wheelie bins, which need specially equipped compactor lorries to collect. If a private firm were to tender for this, for say three years, they would have to have a lot of capital to equip themselves to begin with. And if their tender was not renewed, they would stand to lose a lot of capital, unless they sold it to the next operator. And, what is more, the workers for the firm that lost the tender bid would also stand to lose their jobs, and probably end up having to resort to crime for a living. To make such a system work more smoothly, it would need a lot more lubrication than a fully-owned municipal undertaking. The lubrication would probably take the form of greasing the palms of municipal officials and such things.

It would be better for the municipality to trun the operation, with a stable work force who had at least a modicum of job security, a pension and a medical aid, which contract workers don't get. And then we wonder why we have such a high crime rate.

05 November 2009

Central Methodist Church could face closure

Central Methodist Church could face closure - Mail & Guardian Online:
Johannesburg's Central Methodist Church, which houses over 3 000 Zimbabwean refugees, could face closure after a visit by the Gauteng legislature's health and social development portfolio committee early on Friday morning.

'We will make a recommendation to close the church after witnessing the horror that we saw this morning,' said committee chairperson Molebatsi Bopape.

'If I could have it my way, I would close it down today.'

Quite how they plan to "close" the church is not clear. There might be a slight problem with the constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.

But the fact is that Bishop Paul Verryn has been asking the provincial and municipal authorities for years now to do something to help homeless refugees, and they have done nothing concrete. The church opening its door to homeless refugees is "horror" -- but what then is the attitude of provincial and municipal authorities, who would prefer them to sleep in shop doorways?

And all credit to the South African Council of Churches, who have not only supported their member church, the Methodist Church of South Africa, but have, in a clear and lucid statement reminded national, provincial and local government of their responsibilities. Reggie: SACC Media Statement on the situation at Central Methodist Church:
It is well known that the living conditions of the refugees at the CMC are poor and often appalling. No one wants to live in an over-crowded situation where there is no privacy, few sanitation facilities, etc. People are not living in these conditions out of choice. They are not living there because Bishop Paul Verryn and the staff at CMC have invited and encouraged them to live there. Nor is this the reason for Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF) camping at the CMC. The people have moved into CMC because it responded to a humanitarian crisis – to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government responded. It is the calling of the church to provide care and refuge to the destitute and the vulnerable.

While it is easy to turn CMC into a villain in this scenario, SACC warns against jumping to that conclusion. The primary villain, if there is one, first and foremost are such governments as that of Zimbabwe and of those African countries whose nationals live at the church. Within South Africa the primary villain is government; and not the Central Methodist Church.

For far too long the South African government has turned a blind eye to Robert Mugabe's autocratic and kleptocratic fascist distatorship, which is why millions of Zimbabweans have voted with their feet and fled to neighbouring countries to seek refuge. They are here, in part, because the South African government coddled and cossetted and pampered their oppressor, and doesn't even want to acknowledge their existence because to do so would expose the unpalatable truth that Zimbabwe under Mugabe is a fascist dictatorship.

Ms Bopape, your government helped to create this situation, and the Methodist Church just responded to it. If you regard it with "horror", then the best long-term solution is to help make the homeland of the refugees habitable again, instead of turning a blind eye to the repression and gross violations of human rights that are taking place there. And until Zimbabwe becomes habitable again, do something about helping the homeless refugees now.

Reggie Nel quotes the SACC statement in full on his blog, and it is well worth reading.

Want to do something about it? Sign this petition for a start.

Letter to an alien spammer

Someone calling themselves oxsumms
of dwpyuwvbdbfq.com/
giving the e-mail address of datakt@glfrag.com

Attempted to post the follow spam comment on my blog this morning.
qzwsPE ntrdcanlqxxc, [url=http://qadfozdfvdvs.com/]qadfozdfvdvs[/url],
I usually delete about 4-5 such spam comments each week, identical in form, though using different combinations of nonsense letters and nonsene URLs.

I'm just curious about why these are being posted? What's in it for you? What reward is there for such futile and meaningless activity?

I suppose it is just possible that somewhere in a galaxy far far away there is a language in which "qzwsPE ntrdcanlqxxc" means "Enlarge your nine penises", but what mere earthling could be expected to understand it, much less be tempted by the offer?

So what does motivate people (or extraterrestrial space aliens) to engage in such futile, meaningless and apparently unrewarding behaviour?

Enquiring minds want to know.

03 November 2009

Even unpublished authors need literary executors

It seems that even unpublished authors need literary executors these days.

The Girl in the £20m Inheritance Battle – partner of late novelist Stieg Larsson fights for share of fortune | The Guardian:
As the author of three dark and violent crime novels, Stieg Larsson was at home in a dysfunctional landscape of simmering resentments and rancourous family secrets. But the Swedish writer cannot have foreseen how, almost five years to the day after his death, the novels' success would lead to bitterness and paranoia in his own family.

And I still haven't made up my mind about whether Larsson's protagonist is a Mary Sue or not.

02 November 2009

Twenty-first century urban life

My son works at Exclus1ve Books in Menlyn Mall. They used to be Exclusive Books, but they recently changed their name to Exclus1ve Books, presumably to make it easier, or more difficult, as the case may be, to search for on the Internet.

When he's on night shift he usually cycles to work, and then when he finishes work we go to fetch him, because he doesn't have a light on his bike, and people tend to drive more dangerously at night. Last night when bringing him home I stopped for a red light and a guy who had been following me overtook and drove through at high speed. He was driving a big BMW. They, of course, are immune from accidents, because all other traffic is expected to automatically get out of the way. Anyway, that kind of thing is why my son doesn't ride his bike home when he's on night shift.

When I wait for him to finish work, here's what I see from one of the parking lots.

The blue lights in the tree seem to be intended as Christmas decorations or something; they've been there for a month already. It seems to get earlier every year. If he's late getting out of the shop I have to leave and drive around the block. They only give you 20 minutes free parking, which is one of the reasons I don't often shop there myself. There are other shopping malls that give up to 2 hours of free parking on weekdays, so i patronise those instead.

31 October 2009

Novel-Writing month

National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us again.

Three years ago I challenged people in Inklings forums to take part and try to write a novel of the same genre as Charles Williams.

That's because I like Charles Williams's novels, and though he's dead and so can't write any more, I've hoped that others would write novels in the same genre, and Inklings fans would be among the people most likely to do that.

For a while I hoped that Phil Rickman would develop into the kind of writer like Charles Williams, but the trend of his writing is now more towards conventional whodunits with a little ecclesiastical intrigue thrown in -- Ruth Rendell meets Susan Howatch. My take on his latest book is at Recent reading: To dream of the dead: Khanya

I was thinking of reissuing the challenge this year, and taking part in NaNoWriMo myself, even though inspiration has been mostly absent, and I'm still trying to revise the one I wrote three years ago in answer to my own challenge.

But I won't be able to do that this year, as something else has come up. A couple of years ago I was struck by the way in which the charismatic renewal movement had been written out of South African church history, to the extent that much of what was published was a distortion of history. I began to collect material with the idea of documenting some of the vanished and vanishing history, before everyone who remembered it was dead. Someone pointed out that a church historian had actually written something 25 years ago, but was told by colleagues that he would ruin his academic reputation if he published it. I managed to locate him, and he kindly sent me his unpublished MS, which I read, and found as gripping as a page-turner novel. But it also killed my project, because he had written the book I wanted to write. I'd simply be trying to reinvent the wheel.

But then he suggested to me that I edit it and rewrite it, to bring it up to date and add my material, and that we try to find someone who will publish it under both our names. So that will keep me out of NaNoWriMo this year.

But I still wish that someone will be moved to write something in the Charles Williams genre (which includes C.S. Lewis's That hideous strength).

If you have even the slightest urge in that direction, sign up with NaNoWriMo now and get writing!

26 October 2009

The devil in popular culture

John Morehead has an interesting article on Satan in popular American culture on this blog at Morehead's Musings: Satan and America:
W. Scott Poole, an associate professor of history at the College of Charleston. He has written a book titled Satan in America: The Devil We Know (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), and the following essay is adapted from that book. It originally appeared in The Post and Courier.

Quite a lot of the things mentioned in the article have also affected popular South Africa culture, so the article makes interesting reading. The films mentioned in the article, such as Rosemary's baby and The exorcist were also shown in South Africa, and so influenced the perception of the devil in popular culture in South Africa as well.

Back in the 1980s there was an "occult" unit of the South African Police, which dealt with "satanists", very much as perceived in American popular culture, and there were indeed some self-described satanists whose own self-understanding appeared to be shaped by the prevalent images in popular culture.

But the most striking example of the American cultural influence on South African popular culture in my experience was back in 1977, when we were in the Anglican Church in Utrecht, a small mining town in Northern Natal. In the town there was a big Dutch Reformed Church (NGK), and a small Anglican Church, and nothing else, so at the Anglican Church we had ecumenical services on Sunday evenings which were for anyone in town who wasn't white Dutch Reformed. The services were multidenominational and multicultural. There were Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Afrikaans Baptist, and many others, black, white and coloured.

One evening the Assemblies of God evangelist from Newcastle, Piet Joubert, brought a film that that been produced by American Evangelicals, called The burning hell, and this was shown to the congregation. It struck me as a crass materialistic spirituality. Val and I sat at the back and giggled the whole way through, and especially at scenes where middle-class white suburban Americans in dressing gowns were swallowed by holes in the earth in a crude re-enactment of Numbers 26:8-11. The symbolism of the book of Revelation was interpreted in crudely materialistic terms.

But at the end of the film there was an altar call and a very big response, and nearly all the black and coloured teenagers went up, many of them weeping and sobbing. The film had obviously had a profound effect on them in spite of its shortcomings. And it wasn't simply a short-lived one-off emotional response either. Some of those who had come to the church that evening for the first time returned regularly afterwards, and became active in the Anglican youth group. In this way images from American pop religious culture seemed to have considerable influence in South Africa as well.

I was in three minds about it.

First, I was repelled by the crude materialism and bad theology of the film itself. Secondly, I welcomed the enthusiasm that it engendered in the youth in Utrecht. Thirdly, I was concerned that it was entirely disconnected from the experience of other youth in the country who were being treated to the rocky rioter teargas show in Soweto and elsewhere.[1] In those days, the main sphere of demonic activity was in the implementation of the apartheid policy itself, and the white, middle-class American interpretation in the film did nothing to help the youth in Utrecht or elsewhere to understand that.

And then I compare it with Charles Stewart's study of folk theology in rural Greece, Demons and the devil, which has perhaps not been quite so strongly influenced by American popular culture. Stewart summarises his findings as follows:

The Orthodox moral world emerges as an arena in which good struggles against evil, the kingdom of heaven against the kingdom of earth. In life, humans are enjoined to embrace Christ, who assists their attainment of Christian virtues: modesty, humility, patience and love. At the same time, lack of discernment and incontinence impede the realization of these virtues and thereby conduce to sin; sin in turn places one closer to the Devil... Since the resurrection of Christ the results of this struggle have not been in doubt. So long as people affirm their faith in Christ, especially at moments of demonic assault, there is no need to fear the influence of the Devil. He exists only as an oxymoron, a powerless force.



[1] Hopkins, Pat & Grange, Helen. 2001. The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show. Cape Town: Zebra. ISBN: 1-86872-342-9

The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show was the title of a satirical theatre presentation performed by Cape Town students at the time of the 1976 Soweto uprising. The book goes inside the events and their causes, and recreates the drama and excitement of the events. The narrative is illustrated with photographs and documents, many of which have hitherto been secret, such as cabinet minutes giving explicit approval of "more deaths" through police action.

18 October 2009

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism

Ad Orientem: Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism recommends a post that addresses (from a Catholic perspective) the often blurred lines between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: Vivificat!: When Anti-Zionism Turns Into Anti-Semitism:
I start with a statement that many will find counterintuitive and is this: since Zionism is a non-religious political movement belonging to the sphere of politics according to its own founders, to oppose Zionism a priori does not make one a Judaeophobe and anti-Semite of necessity. Said in other words, in theory, it is possible to be an anti-Zionist without hating Jews as a people or as a believers of their particular religion and at the same time, there is no obstacle in principle impeding an otherwise tolerant state to oppose Zionism and to protect the civil liberties of the Jewish people in their midst.

Unfortunately Ad Orientem: Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism also says "Please leave your comments at Vivificat!", and that is something I find difficult to do, because an Orthodox perspective on the matter must differ from a Catholic perspective, and operates with different asumptions. I think the assumptions of the Vivificat! article are flawed, not merely because they are Catholic, but because they are approaching it from a different end.

In my experience (which is no doubt fairly limited) the link between Anti-Zionism and antisemitism has been made by apologists for the government of the state of Istrael, who denounce any criticism of any policy of the government of the state of Israel (such as the bombing of Lebanon in 2006) as "antisemitic".

And if that is what "antisemitism" has come to mean, then I have no hesitation is saying that I think "antisemitism" is a thoroughly good thing.

I don't believe, however, that that "antisemitism" has come to mean that, or that it ought to mean that. I believfe that those who make propaganda for the government of the state of Israel have been twisting the meanings of words.

But that is what all warmongers do. Criticism of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006 have been described as "antisemitic" (on the grounds that "anti-Zionism is anti semitism"), just as critics of the US bombing of Iraq in 2003 and of Yugoslavia in 1999 have been described as "anti-American".

The Israel apologists also accuse those who criticise any policy of the government of the state of Israel of denying Israel the right to exist, as if the right to commit mayhem is an essential part of the right to exist.

There's no arguing with such people, and I've given up trying. I do not believe that criticising the policies or actions of the government of a state means that one denies that state's right to exist, but then, I don't believe that the right to exist includes the right to commit mayhem.

We had the same kind of attitudes in South Africa back in the 1960s. People who criticised the apartheid policy of the South African government were denounced by the government and its appologists as "anti-South African". But they believed that it was not possible for South Africa to exist without apartheid. They confused the government of the state with the state itself.

So much for my experience.

But one needs to go deeper and examine the roots of Zionism, which was a form of nationalism that arose in central Europe, and partly grew out of the romnatic movement in Germany. In this sense Zionism is akin to Hellenism, the Greek nationalism that arose from much the same roots. And there were other Balkan nationalism too, and others in Eastern Europe. Zionism, Hellenism and the other Balkan nationalisms wanted to establish "homelands" in territory under the rule of multinational empires. In most cases this was the Ottoman Empire, and in some cases the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Prussian Empire, or the Russian Empire (e.g. Polish nationalism). One could even say that in South Africa Afrikaner nationalism has similar philosophical roots.

In some ways, Zionism is to Judaism as Hellenism is to Orthodoxy. Just as there are those who say "Antizionism is antisemitism", there are those who say that "Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism". And there are others who have tried to coopt religion for that kind of nationalism. The Roman Catholic Church is not exempt from this -- Croatian nationalism is not all that disssimilar from Zionism either.

I've written about this elsewhere, in an article on Nationalism, violence and reconciliation, though that link will no longer work after 26 October 2009, when Geocities closes.

16 October 2009

The heat death of the Internet

A couple of days ago I commented on entropy on the Internet, and things are getting worse. Amatomu is still broken. Technorati returns "Page not found". I'm thinking of removing their widgets/links from my blog, since they no longer serve any purpose.

And last weekend my ISP, Telkom, announced that there would be service interruptions over the weekend so that they could improve their service, and the service interruptions have continued ever since. The service seems to work for 30 seconds, and then to be off for two minutes, in a continuing cycle. Two out of three web pages I click on return the following message:

Network Timeout

The operation timed out when attempting to contact groups.yahoo.com.

The requested site did not respond to a connection request and the browser has stopped waiting for a reply.

Is it just me, or are any other Telkom subscribers experiencing similar problems?

15 October 2009

Celebrity cults

About twenty-five years ago we were driving through the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province), and had just crossed, or were just about the cross the Tropic of Capricorn (where we stopped so our American visitors could take a photo) when we saw a large handpainted sign on an old bed sheet, advertising a concert by Brenda and the Big Dudes at a community hall in some village off the main road.

That was the first time I ever heard of Brenda Fassie.

Over the years I was to hear a lot more of her, and about eight years ago, as we drove over the humps in Tsamaya Avenue, on our way to church in Mamelodi East, there was scarcely a Sunday when the Sunday newspaper placards, tied to every lamppost, did not have a headline about Brenda. If it wasn't Brenda, it was Chico (her boyfriend). And you can bet your bottom Euro that not one of the stories that these headlines referred to had anything to do with her music.

When she died five years ago we thought that we'd see headlines about some of the other topics that sell Sunday newspapers (like "Zombie ate my soap"), but no, Brenda dominated the headlines for the next two years at least. Brenda had ceased being a musician and had become a celeb, and sex, soccer and celebs is what sells Sunday newspapers.

Then when I joined Technorati there used to be a page that showed the top tags in blogs, and the top tags searched for (they no longer have that, so I won't give a link). I found it fascinating that usually at least half of them related to things I had never heard of or had no significance for me. Curiosity made me look some of them up (that was how I discovered Twitter). One that puzzled me was Paris Hilton. Why on earth were so many people blogging about a hotel? Then I discovered that Paris Hilton was a person. That raised a new question -- why would parents name their child after a hotel, even if they did own the hotel? I mean, has anyone ever named their child Tshwane Sheraton? And why would people blog about her? The answer is that she is a celeb. But she wasn't even a musician like Brenda. What makes a hotel owner's daughter a celebrity? The media, that's what.

Over the last few years I've also seen newspaper placards saying that Barbie is doing this or said this or is going to do this and is going on trial. Barbie this, Barbie that, everything about Barbie, as if everyone knows who Barbie is. Barbie? But Barbie's dead. Barbie did indeed enjoy celebrity for a time, but it wasn't fame, it was infamy. I mean, everyone knows about the Barbie trial, don't they? Apparently not the readers of the Pretoria News. Because when the Pretoria News writes about Barbie, they are referring to some lawyer, whose name isn't even Barbie. But they've turned her into a minor celeb, or tried to, because celebs sell newspapers.

So it was refreshing to read the following article, hat-tip to St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: 'A sickening misuse of the gift of life'.

Stop the sick, degrading culture of celebrity | Times Online:
Celebrity culture spreads like a stain. It engulfs even those whose fame is rooted in real achievement or real responsibility. As the empty are valued, so the valuable are emptied. They are treated as if they were as vacuous as pop idols. Scientists, artists and politicians become defined in the collective consciousness not by the serious, complex matters that they deal with or by their real achievements but, increasingly, by their sex lives, their personal traumas, their peccadillos.

If you go into religious bookshops, you can find books that warn about the dangers of "cults", but if you read the books you find they are not actually about cults at all, but just about other religious groups whose theology differs from that of the author of the book. But celebrity cults are far closer to actual cults in the sense of what the word "cult" actually means. And the high priests of the celebrity cults are journalists, and the archbishops, or artmages, or whatever you want to call them, are the accountants of the newspapers that publish the stories. But they don't actually worship at the altars of the celebrities themselves, they just lurk in the back rooms and rake in the cash. Turn the page of your newspaper, and you'll probably find a story about some religious leader who rakes in the cash. Shame!

14 October 2009

Tolerance, intolerance and zero-tolerance

There are two kinds of people: those who think that tolerance is a good thing, and those who think that the absence of tolerance is a good thing.

Zachary Christie, First Grader Suspended for Bringing Camping Utensil to School - ABC News:
Debbie Christie's son Zachary, a first-grader at Downes Elementary School in Newark, Del., was suspended for carrying a camping utensil that contained a spoon, fork, bottle opener and knife to school.

'I wasn't really trying to get in trouble,' 6-year-old Zachary said. 'I was just trying to eat lunch with it.'...

School administrators deemed Zachary to be in violation of their zero-tolerance ban on weapons, and he may have to attend the district's reform school.

Actually there are three kinds of people, and I suspect that the third type is actually the majority. They are the ones who think that speaking of "tolerance" as an absolute virtue, and speaking of "zero tolerance" as a virtue are equally nonsensical.

13 October 2009

Recent reading: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2) The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Yet another Scandiwegian whodunit!

I seem to have been reading quite a lot of these recently. This on is the second of the "Millennium" trilogy, the first being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The plots include the staff of Millennium magazine, based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Unlike most of the Swedish whodunits I've read, in this one the protagonist is not a boozy middleaged divorced or divorcing police detective with health problems and in trouble with his superiors, but is Lisbeth Salander, a young female computer hacker with antisocial attitudes.

One problem for me was that just about the time I started reading the book I read a post on Jarred Harris's blog Mary Sue gets me thinking - The Musings of a Confused Man:
A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers.

Jarret linked to a site, The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test, and I had a look at it and started doing the test for my own fictional characters. They seemed very remote from being Mary Sues, and hardly any of the criteria applied to them even slightly. Perhaps that's because I've always believed what G.K. Chesterton said about fairy tales -- fairy tales are not about extraordinary people, but about extraordinary thing happening to ordinary people.

But the further I went into the test, the more it seemed to apply to Lisbeth Salander. Could she be a Mary Sue?

I have to admit that for the first 100 pages or so I was tempted to abandon the book, mainly because my wife had just finished one that I wanted to read more. But I stuck with it, and the pace picked up, especially after page 200 or so (there are 569 pages) and in the end I would say that it was a good read, though I still have mo reservations and some of the other characters.

Perhaps some of the flaws in the book can be attributed to the fact that all three books in the trilogy are being published posthumously, and so are in a semi-raw state. A good fiction editor might have pointed out some of the flaws in the characters, for the author to revise. But with the author being dead, no one really can revise them any more.

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There are a couple of things I can add to this blog post, which I won't include in my review on Good Reads -- some of the questions in the test that made me wonder whether Lisbeth Salander is a Mary Sue:

  1. On the subject of your character and his/her family...

    1. Was your character orphaned, abandoned, kicked out, or at least raised by a family/person that was not his/her own family?
    2. Was a major villain responsible for the death of the parents or guardians?
    3. Was your character responsible for the death of his/her parents/guardians?
    4. Did your character witness the death of the parents/guardians?
    5. Was he/she adopted by a cruel family or person?
    6. Ran away at any point?
    7. Raised him/herself?
    8. Lived in the streets?
    9. The very last or only survivor of anything?
    10. Adopted by another species/racial group?

    1. What about any of these?
      1. Born/raised in extreme poverty?
      2. Born/forced into slavery?
      3. Banished from anywhere?
      4. A member of a despised, outcast, and/or downtrodden race?
      5. An illegitimate child?
      6. The parent of an illegitimate child?
      7. Abused?
      8. Raped?

    1. If your character has a torment-ridden, pain-filled past, do you believe it excuses his/her actions?

    1. Does a major villain have a personal fixation/obsession with your character?
      1. For no apparent reason?
      2. Something that has to do with your character's family, and not your character him/herself?

    Those are just a few of the things that seem to me to apply to the protagonist, but it may be just me. But if you've read the book, and have the time, perhaps you'd like to compare the protagonist, and the villains, with the Mary Sue Litmus test and see what you think.

Fighting for the right to dry clothes

I was amazed to discover that many people in the USA do not have the right to dry clothes.

Debate Follows Bills to Remove Clotheslines Bans - NYTimes.com:
Like the majority of the 60 million people who now live in the country’s roughly 300,000 private communities, Ms. Saylor was forbidden to dry her laundry outside because many people viewed it as an eyesore, not unlike storing junk cars in driveways, and a marker of poverty that lowers property values.

In the last year, however, state lawmakers in Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont have overridden these local rules with legislation protecting the right to hang laundry outdoors, citing environmental concerns since clothes dryers use at least 6 percent of all household electricity consumption.

Laws that stop people from drying clothes in their own backyards is surely big government gone mad, and must be one thing that liberals and conservatives (however defined) could agree to fight. For liberals it is an issue of human rights, the freedom to dry clothes. And for conservatives it can be seen as an issue of conserving a tradition thousands of years old.

I wonder who were the petty fascists who sought to introduce it in the first place?

Hat-tip to Notes from a Common-place Book: Fight For Your Right to Dry!, who also has some pretty good things to say about this particular piece of bureaucratic idiocy.

10 October 2009

Peace prize, anyone?

I don't have much to say right now, and what little I do have to say has been said for me by Notes from a Common-place Book: That is what I am saying:
Recognizing Kosovo was madness, and Georgia paid the price for it. Trashing international law and ignoring state sovereignty when it suited us paved the way for other major powers to do the same to their weaker neighbors. The aggressive and confrontational foreign policy of at least the last ten years, including both Clinton and Bush administrations, brought about this state of affairs, and it will probably take decades to undo the damage that “humanitarian” and “well-intentioned” hawks have done to the international order.

08 October 2009

Recent reading: The return of the dancing master

The Return of the Dancing Master The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Scandinavian whodunits seem to be flooding the bookshops right now, with new authors (at least new to English-speaking readers). Henning Mankell, whose novels about detective Kurt Wallander seem to have started the trend, was one of the first to be published in English, but this book has a new protagonist and a new setting. A detective on sick leave reads that a former colleague has been murdered in a remote village that he retired to, and decides on impulse to go there to find out what happened, and finds himself drawn into the investigation.

If you like whodunits, it's worth a read.

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06 October 2009

On making poverty history

Tales of the desert fathers, as told by ORTHODIXIE ... Southern, Orthodox, Convert, Etc.:
A very rich man who lived in Alexandria prayed to God every day that the lives of the indigent be made easier. On hearing about this, Abba Makarios sent him a message: 'I would like to own all your estate.'

The man was puzzled, and sent one of his servants to ask what [Abba Makarios] would do with all that wealth.

Abba Makarios said: 'Tell your master that I would immediately answer his prayer.'

03 October 2009

Building bridges for the Gautrain

Just about every road in Gauteng is being dug up, widened or resurfaced, and if that weren't enough, a new railway line is being built between Johannesburg, Pretoria and the airport. One of the most spectacular pieces of construction is where it will cross the N1 highway at Centurion.

When the first railways were built in this part of the world about 120 years ago, President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic (ZAR) did not like Johannesburg, and so would not allow a direct rail link between Johannesburg and Pretoria, but only an indirect connection via Germiston. Now at last this is being rectified, but in the intervening 120 years most of the land in between has been built on, so the new line will be underground from central Johannesburg to Risebank, then on the surface through Midrand, and overhead through Centurion.

There is talk of it possibly being ready in time for the Soccer World Cup next year, though that will also push the cost up.

At the point where it crosses the freeway here, the freeway is also being widened from three lanes to four, though it seems unlikely that that will relieve the traffic congestion. But the road is also likely to become a toll road, and the toll will be about the same as the train fare, which will mean that only vehicles with two or more occupants will be cheaper than the train.

02 October 2009

A dark-adapted eye: book review

A Dark Adapted Eye A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Barbara Vine is a pen-name of Ruth Rendell, one of the most prolific authors of crime fiction today. Though the division is not absolute, the books she writes under her own name tend to be whodunits, and those she writes as Barbara Vine tend to be whydunits. This book fits the pattern. Right from the first page we know whodunit: Vera Hillyard was hanged for murder in 1950. Nearly forty years later a writer, Daniel Stewart, approaches people who knew Vera Hillyard as he wants to write a book, a reappraisal of the case.

The story is told by Vera's niece Faith, one of those approached by the author, as she remembers her life as a young girl visiting her aunts, and the events and tangled family relationships that eventually led to murder. The thing that strikes me most about Vine/Rendall's writing is that the characters have such depth to them, or at least those who are central to the action. In some crime novels, the plot is everything, and the characters tend to be almost incidental and one-dimensional. Here the characters are all described as seen by the narrator, and so through her own relationships with them. I find it hard to remember my own life in such detail, much less create one for someone else. Ruth Rendell manages to do it again and again.

Recommended for those who enjoy murder mysteries, with the emphasis on the mystery, rather than on the details of the murder: no descriptions of squeamish cops being nauseated at the autopsy, which seem to be almost obligatory in the current crop of crime novels.

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