25 March 2009

Who governs South Africa?

The furore over the refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama and the subsequent cancellation of a peace conference being held in association with the World Cup raises some other questions.

President Kgalema Motlanthe's fatuous statement that the reason was that they did not want the Dalai Lama upstaging the World Cup must really take the prize for stupidity. If anything was calculated to draw unfavourable attention it was the refusal of a visa. If the Dalai Lama had come, he would have spoken some nice peaceful sentiments at the conference, there would have been a few photo ops, and he would have gone home. Refusing a visa produces ten times the publicity, most of it negative. After all, anyone thinking of organisaing an international conference in South Africa will now think twice about it. If speakers and participants can be arbitrarily refused visas at the last minute for such utterly flimsy reasons, it would be safer to organise conferences somewhere else.

But there's more to it than that, and more than meets the eye.

A little snippet on SAFM radio this morning said that the ANC had nothing to do with the governrment's decision to refuse the visa.

And then, from the horse's mouth, Barbara Hogan, the Minister of Health, said that the government's decision to refuse the visa was a disgrace.

Now isn't the ANC the ruling party? Isn't Barbara Hogan, as Minister of Health, a member of the ANC and a member of the government? It's not as if she's a backbencher in parliament, she's a member of the cabinet.

So if the "government" that took the decision to exclude the Dalai Lama is not the ANC government, and doesn't include members of the cabinet, then just who is the "government"?

Have we been taken over by aliens?

Perhaps aliens from a certain large country in the Far East.

As someone else said on the radio, the traditional informal South African greeting will now become obligatory for all occasions, all protocols observed:

Howzit, my China.

24 March 2009

Outcry over Dalai Lama visa refusal

Sowetan - News:
The government has been widely condemned for refusing to allow Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to attend a 2010 World Cup peace conference in Johannesburg on Friday.

Nobel peace laureate and former president FW de Klerk and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu have both said they would boycott the event in solidarity with the Dalai Lama.

The president's excuse that the reason for South Africa refusing the visa was that it did not want 'to remove the world's attention' from the 2010 Soccer World Cup preparations is not merely lame, but a gross abuse of executive power, and is probably unconstitutional.

We are rapidly regressing to the bad old days of the Vorster regime, when, for example, Basil d'Oliveira was refused a visa to play cricket in South Africa with the MCC cricket team in 1968. That led to South Africa being isolated from world cricket for 25 years. Perhaps we need another 25 years of isolation from world soccer, since it seems we still haven't learnt the lesson.

Our constitution is supposed to guarantee freedom of religion, and I hope someone challenges this in the constitutional court.

It is sad to see that the ANC, which fought for 70 years to liberate us from oppression, has now fully internalised the image of the oppressor, as Paolo Freire puts it, and is coming more and more closely to resemble the pigs in George Orwell's Animal farm. Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo must be turning in their graves.

22 March 2009

Roman Pope speaks on African witchcraft and witch hunts

The Roman Pope, Benedict XVI, recently visited Angola, and expressed concern about the witch hunts that are taking place in some African countries.

Pope Calls for Conversion From Witchcraft in Africa - washingtonpost.com:
The pope began his day addressing Catholic clergymen and nuns, telling them to be missionaries to those Angolans 'living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers.'

In Africa, some churchgoing Catholics also follow traditional animist religions and consult medicine men and diviners who are denounced by the church.

People accused of sorcery or of being possessed by evil powers sometimes are killed by fearful mobs.

The article is somewhad skimpy, and doesn't report on what means, if any, Pope Benedict suggested should be used to deal with the problem, but it is good to know that there is concern about it at the highest levels in the Roman Catholic Church, which is probably the biggest single Christian body in Africa.

That's not to say that others have not been concerned about it in the past, but many past responses have been ineffectual. The modernist response has been quite common among Christian churches -- to assert, in the face of witchcraft beliefs and fear of evil spirits, that such things don't exist at all, and that modern and enlightened people don't believe in such primitive nonsense. Faced with that kind of response from the church leaders, people who fear witches and evil spirits conclude that the church is not equipped to cope with such problems, and so they resort to those who do claim to be competent to deal with them -- diviners and medicine men, the so-called "witchdoctors".

If Pope Benedict is urging church leaders to take the fears of such people seriously, and to help them to overcome them rather than despising them as primitive superstitions from the vantage point of a superior Enlightenment worldview, then that is to be welcomed.

But there is also the problem of some neopentecostal groups who, according to some reports, are actually fanning those fears into a flame, and thereby encouraging witch hunts and pointing the finger of suspicion even at children. That should be a matter of concern to all Christians in the continent.


I've just found a link to the full text of Pope Benedict's address here.

I believe this is a very important document for the Christian Church in Africa.

21 March 2009


Today is the equinox, and Human Rights Day, 49 years since the Sharpeville massacre.

I wanted to do a screen capture for my world time program, because today is the day when the day and night lines are closest to vertical. Next week they'll look quite different.

The leaves are beginning to turn. Is it autumn or winter? The geographers' winter, but our autumn.

The line on the map, and the line opn the ground -- photo taken about 6:00 pm on the N1 highway through Centurion going towards Johannesburg. The construction is for the Gautrain, the new express train service that will be crossing the highway at that point.

20 March 2009

Moral regeneration redux

A friend recently wrote to me that he is in a quandary to know which party to vote for in next month's general election that is:

  1. not corrupt
  2. not filled with monsters from the past
  3. not a joke
And I have to admit that I am in the same position.

COPE (the Congress of the People Party) in an apparently shrewd move, picked Mvume Dandala as their presidential candidate. A Methodist minister, and not a career politician, was perhaps a good choice to fight an anti-corruption campaign, but then they blew it by also choosing Allan Boesak. Of course the Pan African Congress (PAC) also chose a prominent Methodist minister, Stanley Mokhoba, in 1999, and still not no more than 1% of the vote.

In the 1990s, after the fall of Bolshevism, public opinion polls showed that in Russia the Church was the most trusted institution in society - above business, the army, politicians, academics. One resuly of this was that politicians were always looking for photo ops with church leaders, in the hope that some of the magic pixie dust would fall on them.

But when I was applying for a job at London Transport when I went to England as a student, and the only people I knew in England were clergy, they said that clergy were not acceptable as references. Anyone else but not clergy. Clergy, of course, as just as much sinners as anyone else, but in this case they were regarded as somehow more corrupt and even less truthful. So putting clergy as the public face of a political movement to show that it is honest can backfire.

A fellow-blogger and Methodist minister Dion Forster is involved in a new initiative to encourage ethical behaviour in all politicians, business people, civil servants and others, Unashamedly Ethical:
Unashamedly Ethical is a broad based, independent, initiative to promote ethics, values, and clean living among business and individuals. It challenges people to make a personal pledge to ethical living, and challenge others to do the same. In doing so we can turn the tide on corruption and poverty.
Now that could be a good idea, but I think some people are just too wedded to greed for it to make that much difference.

A pledge is a good thing. It is a good thing to encourage people to follow ethical values, and to agree to do so publicly. But perhaps something more is needed. Perhaps someone needs to record unethical behaviour as well. There are radio ads about not trying to bribe police officers, but how effective are they when police officers themselves solicit bribes?

Many years ago there was a court case when a Newcastle busnessman tried to bribe a traffic cop to quash a ticket. The traffic cop took the bribe, but the busnessman still had to go to court and pay his traffic fine, and he sued the traffic officer. The judge in that case threw it out of court, but not before making remarks about the unbelievable moral turpitude of both the plaintiff and the defendant. The trouble is that that kind of moral turpitude is now so commonplace as to be almost unremarkable.

As the Unashamedly Ethical web site says,

... people are tired of the injustice, abuse and lack of accountability we see all around us. People are constantly being challenged to change and to go public with their values and beliefs so that their peers and constituencies can hold them accountable.

But when foreigners are arrested and threatened with deportation by officials who threaten to destroy the papers that show they are here legally unless they get a bribe, it is often easier to pay the bribe. Thaking pledges are all very well, and can be good PR for business organisations, civil servants and politicians. It's what happens when they break their pledge that might make the difference.

19 March 2009

Gothic novels

I've been in bed with flu for a couple of days, and have been reading a couple of Gothic novels.

I've read a few previously, most notably C. Maturin's Melmoth the wanderer, which I read mainly because I once lived in Melmoth, and was curious about the origin of the name (yes, I know it was named after Sir Melmoth Osborn, British Resident of Zululand after the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, but where did he get his name from?)

And then of course there are the books of H.P. Lovecraft, which are a sort of 20th-century revival or continuation of the genre. I began reading those after Irving Hexham of the religious studies department of the University of Calgary, once remarked on a discussion forum for new religious movements that there was in fact an H.P. Lovecraft cult -- that there were people who believed that the mysterious grimoire that the wrote about, the Necronomicon really existed and was locked away in a secret vault of the Miskatonic University.

And I've also read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which is a parody of the genre, and one would really need to be familiar with the genre to fully appreciate it.

So I've just read Horace Walpole's The castle of Otranto and William Beckford's Vathek. And I was quite pleasantly surprised; they were much better than I expected.

They didn't, like Lovecraft and his inferior imitators, try to induce shudders in the reader by piling on strange adjectives like "eldrich". They also weren't nihilist like Lovecraft, but were quite moral. From reading about Gothic novels I had got the impression that they were filled with Protestant English horrors about the unnatural life of monks and nuns and the wicked things they get up to (there's plenty of that in Melmoth), but in both these novels holy men (both Roman Catholic and Muslim) are treated as deserving respect. And the common thread that runs though them both is the abuse of power by unjust rulers, who eventually fall under divine judgement.

That was something I didn't quite expect from 18th-century Enlightenment authors.

Oh well, Frankenstein is next on the list, and I'm also reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

15 March 2009

The Morality of Water Privatisation

The Morality of Water Privatisation -- Anthony Bosco’s Weblog:
The growing global phenomenon of water privatisation is an issue which has far-reaching political, economic and social implications. It is becoming of increasing concern in the early years of the 21st-century due to the ever-expanding influence of multinational corporations whose primary objective is to secure as much of the world’s capital for the financial gain of their shareholders.

Is fresh air next?

First they pollute it and make it unbreathable, then they'll sell it back to you.

11 March 2009

My Twitter moshpit

Hat-tip to Haggiso of the Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe.

Get your twitter mosaic here.

And also thanks to Haggiso (Colin Campbell), comes this: A Blog is Your Home. Twitter is Happy Hour. And How You Can Make Friends With Authors. | The Talent Buzz:
To build relationships online, you need a blog and you need a Twitter account.

A blog is like your home. It’s where you talk about things that interest you. It’s where people can learn more about you. And it’s how people keep up to date with what’s new in your life.

If your blog is home, Twitter is like happy hour. Imagine walking into a bar and seeing a room full of people. Everyone is standing in groups of three or four people, chatting back and forth. Now imagine that you have a remote control that can pause all of those conversations. That’s what Twitter does. Twitter allows you to dive in and out of each one of those small conversations. You can jump in, share your perspective, and build a relationship with someone new… all without going through that awkward process of introducing yourself.

Traditional social networks are for maintaining relationships. Blogs and Twitter are for building new ones.

But neither blogs nor Twitter can compare with the good old-fashioned discussion forum. The mailing list is like a dinner party. You can discuss anythinbg and everything with people around the world in Worldchat.

Subscribe to worldchat

Powered by us.groups.yahoo.com

Worldchat is for general chat, but you'll find some other more specialised forums listed in the sidebar of this blog. Blogs are a one-to-many medium, but these are many-to-many.

08 March 2009

Synchroblog for International Women's Day

Today, 8 March, is International Women's Day, and it has captured the imagination of a group of Christians, many of them in the USA, enough to inspire them to have a to mark the occasion. So people who participated have blogged on women of the Bible, or Christian women in history.

Here are links to some of the blog posts that are already up, and you should find more links at the end of each post to follow them.
I had never paid much attention to International Women's Day before, partly because we have a national Women's Day on 9th August, which is a public holiday. So I looked up Internatonal Women's Day, and discovered a little about its history. It seems that is very much a socialist festival, and I found it quite interesting that many of the women who are participating in this synchroblog are Americans of evangelical Christian background. According to the news media, American evangelicals are almost synonymous with the "religious right", and so the very fact of this synchroblog breaks stereotypes, not only about women, but also about the "religious right" and the American aversion to "".

I thought the easiest way to write it was to look up saints commemorated on 8 March, and to blog about any women saints commemorated on that day. It turned out that it was the first Sunday in Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and so it seemed logical to write about St Theodora the Iconodule, who established the practice of observing the First Sunday of Lent in this way -- a shrewd move, because it has probably protected the Orthodox Church from to this day.

07 March 2009

Health hazard in flu vaccine?

It has been reported that some batches of flu vaccine have been contaminated by live avian flu virus (H5N1):

The Czech company Biotest near from Prague got from Austria a testing batch of the new flu vaccine for 2009 from the american company Baxter. In february they have found that the vaccine was contaminated by the H5N1 - Avian flu virus, which is on the list of the possible biological weapons and is one of the most dangerous biological agents on the Earth - with more than 60% death rate [4]. All the testing animals in Biotest were subsequently destroyed and all the workers in the company were put in quarantine. Luckily nobody contracted the disease. Subsequently the same problem of the Baxter vaccines contamination with H5N1 was found in the laboratories in Slovenia, Austria and Germany, which confirms that the source of the contagion was in fact the Baxter vaccine, which could be very probable, because Baxter is one of the companies, which are developing the vaccines against H5N1.

This has led some to suggest that it is a deliberate attempt to create a pandemic. That sounds more like a conspiracy theory, and most of these reports, except possiblt the original Czech ones, seem to emanate from conspiracy theory factories.

But I've managed to survive every winter of my life so far without resorting to flu vaccines, in spite of my Medical Aid sending out letters recommending them, and I think this year will be no exception.

06 March 2009

Tweetfeeds and missiology

I've just added a widget from Tweetfeeds that displays Twitter tweets on missiology, and you can also see the links on my Missiology Tweetfeeds page.

It seems to be quite a useful gadget for filtering tweets on particular subjects.

The result looks something like this, only smaller in the sidebar:

04 March 2009

Recalling interesting children

I've been puzzled by two terms recently -- "recall" and "interesting children".

Recall, in the sense of calling to mind, or remembering, is well known. So is the idea of recalling someone to duty.

But a couple of years ago the news media began referring to a "recall referendum" for President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

That suggested that he had ceased to be president some time ago, and now was being recalled to duty as president, something similar to what happened to Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, until she was assassinated, so she didn't return to office.

But no, President Chavez wasn't returning to duty, since he was already there. The "recall" referendum actually meant just the opposite from what one would expect. It was not to recall him to duty as president, but actually to kick him out. In the event, he wasn't kicked out, but stayed there.

But since then the talking heads on South African TV and radio have begun talking about the "recall" of the late President Thabo Mbeki. I haven't heard anyone saying that Tony Blair was "recalled" as British prime minister, but perhaps that is not far off.

This came up for discussion in the alt.usage.english newsgroup, where people began discussing words that mean opposite things in American English and other varieties of English.

Two well-known examples are "table" and "moot point". In most English speaking countries if you table a report, you present it to a committee or other deliberative body to consider and discuss. In American English, however, if you table a report, you do the opposite -- you decide not to discuss or consider it.

Similarly, a "moot point" is usually a debatable one, one that one disagrees with, but in American English it means a point that is not worth debating.

So "recall" seems to be another word like "table" -- meaning one thing in one place, and the opposite in other places.

Well, not quite, as it emerged from the discussion in alt.usage.english.

In the US, many elective offices, such as that of the president, are for a fixed term. There is no provision for presidents or governors or mayors to resign, as Tony Blair and Thabo Mbeki did. So in some cases they can have a kind of "unelection", where they can unelect certain officials -- not the president, apparently, but the governors of certain states and mayors of certain cities. And, paradoxical as it may seem, this "unelection" is called a "recall"; only instead of recalling someone to office, if there are enough votes, the person is removed from office.

So the talking heads better wise up. Thabo Mbeki was not "recalled", not even in the American sense. He felt obliged to resign, which is something different. We did not have a general election to unelect him, which is what "recall" means in the American sense.

The other term, "interesting children", is much older, and the problem with it is that nobody seems to remember what it meant.

It was found in death announcements in newspapers, especially in Ireland, about 150 years ago, where one would find things like "two interesting children died last week". Or "Emma Jane Smith, daughter of Mr John Smith, an interesting child, died last Tuesday".

It was obviously so familiar that no one saw fit to explain it, and now I can't find anyone who knows what it actually means. I've written more fully about it in my genealogy blog.

If anyone has some definite information about it, please let me know.

03 March 2009

Slumdogs Unite! - populist rage

I haven't seen the film Slumdog millionaire, but Mardon Seevey gives a good hint about why it won so many Oscars.

Op-Ed Columnist - Slumdogs Unite! - NYTimes.com:
The tsunami of populist rage coursing through America is bigger than Daschle’s overdue tax bill, bigger than John Thain’s trash can, bigger than any bailed-out C.E.O.’s bonus. It’s even bigger than the Obama phenomenon itself. It could maim the president’s best-laid plans and what remains of our economy if he doesn’t get in front of the mounting public anger.

I don't know who Daschle and Thain are, but it is not hard to imagine the kind of people they are, and to think of South African equivalents. Frank Rich goes on to say:

The public’s revulsion isn’t mindless class hatred. As Obama said on Wednesday of his fellow citizens: “We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success.” But we do know that the system has been fixed for too long. The gaping income inequality of the past decade — the top 1 percent of America’s earners received more than 20 percent of the total national income — has not been seen since the run-up to the Great Depression.

This is why “Slumdog Millionaire,” which pits a hard-working young man in Mumbai against a corrupt nexus of money and privilege, has become America’s movie of the year. As Robert Reich, the former Clinton labor secretary, wrote after Daschle’s fall, Americans “resent people who appear to be living high off a system dominated by insiders with the right connections.”

Middle-class Indians are up in arms about the film, because they say it misrepresents their country, but perhaps its popularity doesn't depend so much on how it represents India as how it represents life in general.

Christianity's long history in the margins | The Japan Times Online

An interesting article about Christianity in Japan from the Japan Times

Christianity's long history in the margins | The Japan Times Online:
Prime Minister Taro Aso may be a proclaimed Christian, but as far as the spread of the faith among the populace, it finds only a marginal presence.

Certain trappings of Christianity, however, have manifested themselves in modern Japan, particularly in terms of Christian-style weddings and the celebration of Christmas.

Though the article does not mention it, Orthodox Christianity arrived in Japan in 1861, with Fr Nikolai Kasatkin, who became the first bishop of Japan. Hewas originally a chaplain to the Russian consulate at Hakodate, and at the time of his death in 1916 the Orthodox Church numbered about 30000, but it seems to have stopped growing after his death.


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