29 April 2009

BBC: Swine flu virus dropped from plane?

Just heard a BBC TV report that the "ground zero" of the recent swine flu outbreak had been pinpointed.

This implies that the virus was dropped into the area by plane -- something that several conspiracy theorists have suggested.

Is the BBC really confirming these rumours, or is it just another instance of journalists not understanding the meanings of words like "ground zero" and "epicentre"?

We're all gonna die! Swine flu is coming!

Are you worried about swine flu?

Or are you more worried about the media hype about it?

28 April 2009

For everything there is a season

For everything there is a season, a time to blog and a time to tweet, a time to vote and a time to count votes. A season to visit friends and a season to delete friends.

Holy Week is over, Bright Week is over, the elections are over, and Summer is over.

We're well into autumn, when things are usually harvested or something. Well the leaves from the mulberry tree need raking, at any rate. We did'nt get a single mulberry from it. The dogs and the birds got most of them, and the rest were trampled underfoot.

Then there are blogs, and blogging friends, and blogging non-friends, and blogging wannabe friends and blogging don't-wanna-be friends. The tall, the hamfisted, the pompous and the good-looking.

There are the people who are following me on MyBlogLog, and have made me their friend on Blog Catalog, but who have never visited any of my blogs. They don't seem to be interested in any of the things I'm interested in, but still want to be my "friends".

But there are also the real friends, though sometimes the links are tenuous or broken.

There are the ones like Cobus and Reggie who are now invisible, and whose blogs are inaccessible from MyBlogLog. Please log in and link your blogs, and don't play hard-to-find!The ones like Miss Eagle and Stephen who have new blogs, but haven't linked them, and whose old blogs are not to be found. And those like DaveMac, whose blogs have never linked.

There is Spookyrach, whose Friday cemetery blogging provides the humorous and the macabre, though not necessarily in that order. One of my great blogging ambitions is to have spookyrach visit and leave a comment one one of my blogs.

And there are those whose blogs are linked, but whose log-ins have expired, so they don't show up in the MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog widgets, so I never know if they've visited my blogs, or if they just find them too boring or too disgusting to visit. Like Tauratinzwe for example. Perhaps Oxonian, Roger and Arthur also fall into that category -- their blogs are still there and are linked, but they don't have the widgets on their blogs, and they don't show up as having visited mine.

And there are the ones who have visited fairly regularly, and have sometimes left comments. I'd like to thank them for that. I can't remember them all so apologies if I've left anyone else, but there is Dion, and Jenny, and Bruce (all Methodists), and PriestlyGoth and Crushed by Ingsoc and James and Jams and Matt.

Twittering is OK, but it's not the same as blogging.

And real friends are those one meets on more interactive forums, like those for discussing missiology, or religion, or the books of the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and friends) or just anything under the sun.

25 April 2009

After the ball(ot) is over

Our fourth democratic elections have come and gone. Most of the votes have been counted and it is clear that the ANC will form the national government for the fourth term running, and will control the government of eight of the nine provinces.

There are no great surprises there, so what’s to write about?

Some people have asked me what I thought of the elections and how i feel about the results, and what will happen next. So even though I’m not a great political fundi, and nowadays don’t take much interest in politics until there’s an election, since they asked, and for myself to refer to later, I’m jotting down a few thoughts.

There's a rather sentimental Victorian song, After the ball is over.

After the ball is over, after the break of morn,
After the dancers' leaving, after the stars are gone,
Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all—
Many the hopes that have vanished after the ball.

The ANC had a ball after the ballot in the library gardens in Johannesburg, and some of the hopes of opposition parties had vanished.

That the ANC won the election was no surprise -- it has increased its majority at every election since 1994 -- but this time its majority was reduced in every province but one, the exception being KwaZulu-Natal.

There was also far more interest in this election than in the 2004 one. One reason for that may be that floor-crossing has been abolished. For the last few years, because of a weakness in the constitution, members of parliament were allowed to switch parties in mid-term without losing their seats in parliament, which made a mockery of elections. In effect the voters elected parliament for 18 months, and thereafter the politicians elected themselves. This led to cynicism among the youth, especially. Our sons refused to vote in 2004, but floor crossing has been abolished, and they did vote this time.

A more significant reason for greater interest was a split in the ruling party, the ANC, and the formation of a new opposition party, COPE, the Congress of the People Party, mainly from disaffected ANC members who were pushed aside when Jacob Zuma was elected as president of the ANC in 2007. There was considerable resentment in the ANC of Thabo Mbeki’s top-down leadership style, and Jacob Zuma was supported by a variety of interest groups, perhaps initially because it was felt that he had been unfairly victimised by Mbeki. Those who left, however, were not simply motivated by sour grapes. Jacob Zuma had been accused of corruption when he was deputy president, but instead of taking the matter to court to clear his name spent a lot of time and money and energy trying to avoid appearing in court at all. The leader of the ANC youth league, Julius Malema, for one, was proclaiming, in effect, “We want Zuma, corrupt or not”. COPE, perhaps to emphasise the contrast, brought in a former head of the Methodist Church, Mvume Dandala, perhaps because he could be presented to voters as Mr Clean.

So this is what happened:

With 400 seats in parliament, a party needs 0,25% of the vote for each MP.

Two of the smaller parties that have been represented in parliament since 1994 seem to have been wiped out in this election: Azapo and the PAC. The former represented the Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s, whose best-known exponent was Steve Biko, murdered by the security police in 1977. The PAC (Pan-African Congress) tried to keep alive the Africanist vision of the 1950s and 1960s. Its logo shows light streaming to Africa from Ghana, the first British colony in Africa to become independent in 1957. There was a vision of a postcolonial United States of Africa. The PAC tried to keep the Africanist vision alive, but the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki stole their thunder with his vision of an African Renaissance, and their only young and dynamic MP, Patricia de Lille, sick of the dithering and squabbling among the leaders, broke away to form the Independent Democrats, which did quite well, for a new party, in the 2004 elections, but saw its electoral support halved in 2009.

So we come to the Independent Democrats.

I voted for them in 2004, mainly because I thought it was a good idea to have Patricia de Lille in parliament. And I think there were quite a lot who voted ID for the same reason. De Lille asked awkward questions of ministers, and kept them on their toes. If there was a whiff of corruption, she would be on to it, trying to lay bare the truth. Unfortunately she was not able to attract other leaders of the same quality of herself to her party. It was, and remains, basically a one-woman party. Some of the elected leaders were opportunists, who disappeared through the floor-crossing windows when offered suitable inducements by other parties.

Then along came COPE, and stole most of the ID's thunder. Its policies were not identical, but were close enough to attract many of the same people. As I pointed out in another blog post, I did one of those quizzes to see which party’s policies came closest to my thinking, and the ID and COPE tied for first place, so I voted for both - the ID nationally, and COPE at the provincial level.

The opposition party that did best in the elections, and indeed better than last time around, is the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Like the ID, it is now led by a woman, Helen Zille, who has apparently done a good job as mayor of Cape Town, and gathered a lot of support that way, especially in the Western Cape, some at the expense of the ID. Its family tree goes back to 1959, the same year that the PAC started, when a group of MPs broke away from the (white) parliamentary opposition party, the United Party, to form the Progressive Party, which was one of the distant ancestors of the DA of today, and it has tended to pass on one rather undesirable gene to its offspring. The Progressive Party and its successors never saw themselves as an alternative government, but as an alternative opposition. They raised opposition not merely to a fine art, but to an obsession. The rivalry between them and the United Party was far fiercer than that between them and the ruling National Party. They would induce a few “young Turks” from the UP to join them, and each time this happened they changed their name, to the Progressive Reform Party, then the Progressive Federal Party, and each time they moved a bit further to the right, since the people they were absorbing were further to the right than they themselves were. Eventually the United Party disappeared, and the Democratic Party was born. In the 1994 elections the previous ruling party, the National Party, became the official opposition, and the Democratic Party, led by Tony Leon, set their sights an replacing them as the official opposition, and so set out to make itself the party of the white right. They contested the 1999 elections with slogans like “Fight back” (against what? democracy?). Well, they were the opposition weren’t they? In their view the function of the opposition is to oppose everything that the government does, good or bad. So not for them the constructive opposition of Patricia de Lille, opposing the bad, but supporting the good, and offering suggestions for improvement. The DA opposed for the sake of opposing. Eventually they absorbed the rump of the National Party, but a lot of them couldn’t take it and went on to join the ANC.

It looks as though the DA has mellowed a little since Helen Zille replaced Tony Leon as leader (what is it about politicians called Tony? Leon, Blair or Yengeni, they all seem to go wrong). But when we drove to the polling station to vote on Wednesday we were faced with posters saying “Stop Zuma”, so it looks as though they are still up to their old tricks. I’d rather know what they are for than what they are against. And I’d rather know what they are against than who they are against.

At one municipal election a few years ago I was met at the polling station by two burly gentlemen sporting rosettes, who escorted me, one on either side, to the polling station, each telling me that his party was the only one that could “stop the ANC”. One was from the DA and the other from the Freedom Front +. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways, otherwise I would have asked what it was they wanted to stop the ANC doing, and why they automatically assumed that I would want to stop it too. What they did not tell me was how they would run the city better than the ANC had been doing, so I went in and cast my two votes, the proportional one for the ANC, and the local ward one for the only candidate who did not seem to be affiliated with any political party.

There’s one other party I’ve occasionally considered voting for, but never have, which also lost support heavily in this election. That is the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). My biggest gripe with them is that they claim to have a monopoly of Christian principles, when some of their principles don’t seem all that Christian to me. What really clinched it, though, was that in previous elections, just when I was thinking of voting for them, the ACDP would send me a bundle of right-wing propaganda written by one Ed Cain. Ed Cain used to publish far right political propaganda, some of it subsidised by the former Department of Information (remember Muldergate?) aimed at the Christian market. He could publish radically different theological views without a qualm, side-by side, and didn’t care how theologically inconsistent they were, as long as they promoted a consistently right-wing political point of view.

The other parties are composed of sinful men and one expects to find human failings among them. Until Christ comes again, human politics will be tainted by human sinfulness. But when a party has the hubris to claim that its equally tainted principles and organisation have somehow had an immaculate conception, even when they are (like Ed Cain’s) the most ungodly of the lot, that’s when I look elsewhere on the ballot paper.

And there are two parties that I was never tempted to vote for, both regional. One is the United Democratic Movement of Bantu Holomisa. The quiz I did actually placed it second, tied with the DA. But Bantu Holomisa once staged a coup in Transkei, and I’ll never be tempted to vote for a politician who has tried to bypass voting and seize power. They lost most of their support to COPE, I should think, and that’s probably a good thing. The other is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which was started as a cultural movement, but Gatsha Buthelezi (as he was then known) turned it into a rival to the ANC when he was snubbed by the ANC. It seemed like a silly and unnecessary quarrel, and provided a lever for PW Botha’s “third force” to try to destabilise the first democratic elections. Hundreds of people died as a result. And now that the ANC has a Zulu leader, people in KwaZulu-Natal are switching their votes to the ANC, because they can see that the propaganda that painted the ANC as “anti-Zulu” was grossly exaggerated, or simply false.

So that’s my take on the election. A view of one voter out of about 17 million, and if you asked all of them you’d probably get 17 million different views, so it doesn’t really count for much. Now my political interest has dropped. There was a time, years ago, when I was more politically active, because then we were indeed fighting an ungodly government, founded on ungodly principles. But those political goals were achieved, in 1994. And on Wednesday, standing in the queue to vote autumn sunshine in the school yard, seeing the big thorn trees with their heavy seed pods, seeing the people of South Africa, black and white, moving slowly forward to vote, that was my political goal achieved. If someone tries to take that away from us, as has happened in Zimbabwe, then I might become a political acvtivist again. But one of the advantages of democracy is that one can, within limits, leave politics to the politicians.

But, if I’m still alive in 2014, maybe I’ll look back on it and see what I missed, and what I thought would happen, but didn’t.

So what do I think will happen? How important is it to “stop Zuma” as the DA exhorted us?

I have my doubts about whether Zuma will ever get to start. I don’t find him impressive as a political leader, that’s why I didn’t vote for him. He doesn’t strike me as a person with visionary leadership. He’s basically a shrewd politician who’s good at getting himself elected. What he does when he’s elected is a different matter. And the people who agreed to support him at Polokwane in 2007 -- they’re all hoping for different things from him. I doubt he’ll be able to deliver everything that they are expecting. But if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll concentrate on getting competent people who can improve service delivery for the millions who voted for him, and if he succeeds, he may stand a chance of being reelected in 2014.

But the ANC is still the ANC. It’s a popular organisation, and a lot of people in it still take seriously the slogan “the people shall govern”. Thabo Mbeki forgot that, and they kicked him out. And if they kicked Mbeki out, they can kick Zuma out too.

See also Cori's Blog: Why I would still vote ID.

23 April 2009

UK: European Court Rebuke Over Indefinite Detention | Human Rights Watch

It's worse than I thought. It took six years for South Africa to become a fully-fledged police state, from the appointment of B.J. Vorster as Minister of Justice in 1961 to the passing of the Terrorism Act of 1967 (since repealed) which provided for indefinite detention without trial.

Britain seems top have done it in four, since Tony Blair asked for 90-day detention.

In fact I thought that Britain had not even reached the 90-day mark yet, and that Gordon Brown had only managed to push it up to 48 days. Hat-tip to Big Blue Meanie for this news.

UK: European Court Rebuke Over Indefinite Detention | Human Rights Watch:
The ruling today by the European Court of Human Rights on the United Kingdom's detention policy for foreign terrorism suspects confirms that indefinite detention violates basic rights, Human Rights Watch said.

The court ruled that the previous detention policy violated the European Convention on Human Rights. A and Others v. the United Kingdom concerned 11 foreign citizens who were held in indefinite detention for varying periods of time between December 2001 and March 2005 under Part IV of the 2001 Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

'The court has reaffirmed unequivocally the fundamental rights to protection from arbitrary detention and to a fair hearing,' said Judith Sunderland, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. 'The principles at stake can't be sacrificed even in the name of counterterrorism.'

Congratulations, Gordon Brown, for turning Britain into a fascist state. That's quite something to go down in history for, even though the British media choose to call fascism "the moral high ground".

See also The last Straw man.

22 April 2009

General Election 2009

We just got back from voting at the Nellie Swart Laerskool in Queenswood, Pretoria, and we were in the queue for nearly 2 hours, from 8:15 till about 11:10. The queue was much longer than last time around, and by the time we left it was just as long as when we went in, indicating that there is more interest in the election than in 2004.

In part that may be because of the rumours that floor-crossing has been dropped. In 2004 neither of our sons bothered to vote, and gave floor crossing as the reason. They saw no point in voting for a party if its MPs were able to switch to another party 18 months after the election. Generally in 2004 the youth seemed fairly apathetic. One of our sons, who works in a bookshop, says that in 2004 only one of his colleagues was thinking of voting, whereas this time only one was thinking of not voting.

As we edged slowly forward we chatted to people before and behind us in the queue. A woman in front of us said she was planning to buy, not bake, a cake to celebrate voting. A man behind us said he was glad it was not too hot, so we did not have to queue in the hot sun. It was in fact a very pl;easant cool autumn day.

It was also quite something to reflect that this was our fourth democratic election. For most of my life i wondered whether I would ever see the day when we had a democratic election, and now I've seen four of them. Of course a bunch of idiots can be, and usually are elected. But they are our idiots We voted for them.

21 April 2009

Politics: the middle-class vote

Here's an interesting web site showing which political parties people support in tomorrow's election. In order to register one needs to have either web access or a cell phone, and probably to be a reader of the Sunday Times.

It's probably a good indication of the middle-class vote, and it will be interesting to see how the proportions differ in the actual voting tomorrow.

I expect that the proportion for COPE and the Democratic Alliance will remain much the same, and that therefore COPE may be expected to replace the DA as the official opposition, since both are primarily middle class parties, and so the figures in the poll probably reflect the proportion of their support.

I expect the proportion of votes for the ANC and the Independent Democrats to be higher than indicated in these figures, since they probably have more support among the poor and marginalised.

20 April 2009

HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic:| Theology and Sexuality

HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic: Theology and Sexuality:
As churches, non-profits, and governments look for solutions to end the African AIDS pandemic, abstinence has provided a seemingly quick and easy answer that is thought to carry moral weight. Yet abstinence, as it is preached and practiced, is often an immoral option because it does not first consider the full agency of women. In asking why abstinence has been so readily embraced as a response to the African pandemic, assumptions of black sexuality must be brought into question. The tendency to focus on sexual morality rather than on the economic, gender, and social inequalities that cause the spread of AIDS must also be questioned. Through employing a postcolonial critique of abstinence, I argue that when abstinence as morality and abstinence as prevention collapse into one another, there is no space for women to find agency in abstinence. Instead, abstinence must be defined as “space” rather than “prohibition” in order for it to contribute to human flourishing.

Hat-tip to Priestly Goth Blog: paper presentation on AIDS preventiong in Africa for the link.

Unfortunately, just as

so much communication about AIDS in Africa even that which attempts to offer treatment as well as programs of prevention follow colonial patterns of cultural imperialism and that even the language of AIDS is language imposed from others and not taken up from with in African cultural and linguistic matrices

so the pricing of the article follows colonial patterns of cultural imperialism and places it beyond the reach of any but the rich -- the cost of a single article being higher than that of a very substantial hard-cover book, so that most people in Africa who probably ought to read it will be unable to afford it.

But Larry Kamphausen provides more information about the paper than can be read in the abstract, and also describes some of the discussion that follows the reading of it, so if you are interested in the topic of HIV/Aids prevention in Africa, his blog post at Priestly Goth Blog: paper presentation on AIDS preventiong in Africa is worth a read.

Politics, politics, politics

After the busyness of Holy Week and Pascha, there's a bit of time to notice the political turmoil in the country as we prepare for a general election this week.

The newspapers are saying that the problem in this country is that we only have Mickey Mouse opposition parties. That's true, of course, but now we have a Mickey Mouse governing party as well. They all come up with vacuous or silly slogans. There's no wit in them, nothing to stir enthusiasm, nothing to inspire confidence.

There was a headline in one Sunday newspaper that Cosatu felt aggrieved that its alliance partner, the ANC, was not considering Cosatu candidates for top posts in party lists. Well, what did they expect? They supported an opportunist candidate to lead the ANC, one who was quite clearly trying to be all things to all men in order to gain support. Newspaper columnists try to point out that an election should not be a popularity context, but that is what our politicians have turned it into.

They tell us that this or that ANC luminary is joining the breakeaway Congress of the People Party (COPE), or not, or thinking about it, or thinking about returning to the ANC. The problem is that if all the competent people in the ANC leave and join COPE, the ANC is in all probability going to be the government after the election, so having the competent people leave it for the opposition is likely to be a mixed blessing.

The Democratic Alliance looks slightly better under Helen Zille than under Tony Leon. It's no longer trying quite so hard to be the party of the white right. The problem is, having set out to, and largely succeeded, in attracting the support of the white right, if they are no longer trying to attract that support, they might find it evaporates, and drifts to the Freedom Front Plus (plus what, one wonders?). But as in Tony Leon's day, some of the DA's campaign slogans are an insult to the intelligence of the voters. There is the same old mantra of stopping the ANC from getting a 2/3 majority, but under our electoral system a vote for any opposition party could contribute towards that.

A Sunday newspaper published a specimen ballot sheet. There are 26 parties contesting the election (trimmed by the Independent Electoral Commission from 114). But half of them I have never heard of, and have no idea of their history, leaders and policies. If the media won't inform us, who will? Otherwise, how can we make an informed choice?

The political leaders in this week's election are the most uninspiring bunch ever. Where are the Mandelas, the Sisulus, the Tambos, the Helen Suzmans? It must surely be the most apathy-inducing election in our history. And yet it is very important to get out there and vote. Vote for someone, anyone. I've been informed that floor-crossing has now been abolished, and so one's vote will count again. But how many people know that?

Dion Forster posts A call to prayer and guidance for casting your vote in the South African Elections - 22 April 2009. A Critical Juncture!:
Please could I encourage every South African, and every Christian (and person of all other faiths) in South Africa to take seriously their responsibility to see that our nation makes the right choice at this juncture of our history!

17 April 2009

Good Friday 2009

We worship Thy passion O Christ
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

Yesterday (Holy Thursday) we set off for the Vesperal Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas Church in Brixton, which began at 9:00 am, but the N1 freeway was clogged solid. We trying to take an alternative route to by-pass the obstruction, but traffic on other routes was just as bad, and eventually we gave up and came home.

We tried again for the evening service, Matins of Holy Friday sung by anticipation, and made it that time. We had three deacons to share the reading of the 12 Gospel accounts of the passion.

During the singing of the following hymn a cross is brought out by the priest and placed in the centre of the church.

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree
The King of Angels is decked with a crown of thorns
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped with the purple of mockery
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails
The son of the virgin is pierced by a spear
We worship Thy passion O Christ
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

The members of the congregation come forward and prostrate themselves before it three times, and kiss the feet of the crucified king.

We worship Thy passion O Christ
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

15 April 2009

Gossiping the gospel, AIC mission to the West, Baptists in boots

Notes from a Common-place Book: On Pork-pie Hats, Nigerian Evangelists and Baptists in Boots - an interesting post on a variety of topics. A chance encounter while buying Sunday newspapers after church leads to "gossiping the gospel":
As I walked out, only one of the young people was still hanging about, a man/boy wearing a yellow pork-pie hat. We spoke in passing, the typical “how’s it going,” and I walked on towards my truck. He called out to me as I passed, saying “so you didn’t go to church today, either?” I stopped and turned around, because I understood what he meant, and took it as a high compliment. I was in faded jeans, although my shirt was tucked-in, which is not always the case. I gather that he assumed that I had not done the “Easter-thing” because I was not suited-up.

And on reading the papers he finds a couple of articles on what missiologists are pleased to call "contextualisation" -- an African independent church evangelising the West, and cowboy churches in Texas. The last reminds me of a song sung many years ago by Liberace, the King of Kitsch, about a Rhinestone cowboy.

I found it well worth a read, so go over to Notes from a Common-place Book: On Pork-pie Hats, Nigerian Evangelists and Baptists in Boots and read the full story.

See also Neopentecostalism in Africa, and abroad: Khanya for more on the African independent churches aspect of it.

13 April 2009

Piracy - the libertarian dream?

Since the collapse of the Somali government in the 1990s Somalia has been effectively without a government. According to what I hear American libertarians saying, this should be the fulfilment of a dream.

But then Somali pirates attack shipping in the neighbourhood. Well, that's a libertarian dream too -- after all, they are only exercising their natural human right to bear arms, and what's the point of bearing arms if you don't use them for fun and profit?

What about the people who are robbed by the pirates? Well that's easy enough -- they have the right to bear arms too, so let them do so and fight it out. As one American libertarian blogger puts it: A conservative blog for peace:
A free-market solution to piracy. With the rest of the world I’m happy that Captain Phillips is free and salute the US Navy for their work. But like companies have private armies in Iraq, why not rent a private navy (seagoing security guards) for your company’s ships? (Because in a truly free society like that the state would lose power and we mustn’t have that, oh no.)

So what have we here?

It seems to me very like a hankering for the kind of society that prevailed in Western Europe after AD 476. The collapse of civil authority, the Pax Romana and rule by feudal warlords who gave themelves titles like Duke, Count, Baron etc., and of course gave themselves the right to bear arms. In fact something very similar to the state of Somalia today.

The proposal for armed security guards on ships, a private army, is, of course exactly the same solution as was adopted by the feudal warlords in Western Europe in the "Dark Ages", and by those in Somalia in the 21st century.

And how did the Somali pirates get going?

Well, in a very similar way to the private security guards on ships -- if they ever do get going. By exercising their right to bear arms, that's how.

The Mahatma X Files: K'naan sez
Already by this time, local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia have been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence clumsily overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard.

But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Parterns, and an Italian waste company called Achair Parterns, made a deal with Ali Mahdi, that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying Warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton.

In 2004, after a tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste, including "Uranium, radioactive waste, lead, Cadmium, Mercury and chemical waste." But this wasn't just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day. It was months after those initial reports that local fishermen mobilized themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia's aquatic life. Now years later, the deterring has become less noble, and the ex-fishermen with their militias have begun to develop a taste for ransom at sea. This form of piracy is now a major contributor to the Somali economy, especially in the very region that private toxic waste companies first began to [bury] our nation's death trap.

So the Somali pirates are simply following the free market solution advocated by American libertarians.

Wicked evil governments should not exceed their powers by trying to restrict good honest capitalists from dumping toxic waste. Let the people who are poisoned by it act themselves to stop it, and exact compensation from any other passing vessels trespassing on their waters. An ideal libertarian solution.

But I think libertarians like A conservative blog for peace might just possibly be missing something, somewhere.

See also SAFCEI: Somali piracy and toxic waste

11 April 2009

Is this a racist joke?

Is this a racist joke?


Click on the link above and let me know what you think.

Fifteen years ago racism was the very basis of South African society, a condition that had persisted for decades, if not centuries.

Now much of the institutionalised racism of the past has been removed (though I have my doubts about such issues as BEE (Black Elite Enrichment), and racist attitudes persist in places, we suddenly seem to be far more laid-back about such things than people in other parts of the world.

Being interested in English usage and similar things, I once remarked on a Usenet newsgroup about some things being discussed on a Facebook forum on darkie English, and people in other countries were shocked that we should use words like "darkie", which would be consdered a very bad racist insult in the US and the UK. In the US there was a huge row a few years ago because some public official used the word "niggardly", which has no racial connotations whatsoever, but apparently someone thought it did.

So are you shocked by the joke in the link, and if so, are you a South African? I suspect most South Africans might find it funny, but not malicious. Perhaps foreigners might not even understand it.

08 April 2009

Eostre: The Making of a Myth

cavalorn: Eostre: The Making of a Myth:
Last Easter and the Easter before that, and for several more Easters, a story circulated both among neopagans and those they wished to educate. It concerned the origin of the Easter Bunny. The story goes something like this:

Once, when the Goddess was late in coming, a little girl found a bird close to death from the cold and turned to Eostre for help. A rainbow bridge appreared and Eostre came, clothed in her red robe of warm, vibrant sunlight which melted the snows. Spring arrived. Because the little bird was wonded beyond repair, Eostre changed it into a snow hare who then brought rainbow eggs. As a sign of spring, Eostre instructed the little girl to watch for the snow hare to come to the woods.

The story is increasingly popular among neopagans, because it provides a solid confirmation of several important points of dogma. Christian traditions are shown to have sprung from Pagan ones; a seemingly innocuous tradition is shown to have a little-known (thus implying that it was repressed) history; and a male God took a festival over from a female Goddess, replacing a celebration of joyous renewal with one of sacrifice and death.

Urban legends about Christian celebrations like Christmas and Easter abound, though I must admit that I had not heard that one before. The rest of the article is worth reading too, though it still does not explain, to my satisfaction at any rate, the origin on the Easter bunny.

I had a pagan upbringing (not a NEOpagan one -- my parents were atheists/agnostics). In my childhood we had chocolate Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, so I knew about the Easter bunny before I knew about the resurrection of Christ. Easter bunnies were rabbit shaped chocolates that you ate. That was in the 1940s, before neopaganism was popular, so I very much doubt that it was based on the newer neopagan legend recounted above.

I first investigated the Eostre legend of the origin of the Christian celebration of Pascha when it was told to me, in all seriousness, by a Christian fundamentalist who had got it from a Victorian book called The two Babylons by Alexander Hislop. I latetr encountered (through BBS networks and the internet) several other Fundamentalist or conservative evangelical Christians who cited The two Babylons as the source of their beliefs about "Easter". Many years later I managed to get hold of a copy of the book, and found that though it was full of quite fanciful stuff, much of it had been quoted out of context or twisted by the Fundamentalists who wanted to show that the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ was of pagan origin. I tried to find out more about Eostre, but, like Cavalorn, I got back to the Venerable Bede and got stuck. Christian fundamentalists and neopagans alike seem to see a connection with Ishtar, but there is no historical evidence for it that I can discover.

The fact is that Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Christ, which they called Pascha, long before they encountered the English, who gave the name "Easter" to the festival because of their name for the month in which it was usually celebrated.

But when and where did people begin associating bunnies with it?

Really and historically, I mean, not according to Christian Fundamentalist or Neopagan urban legends.

07 April 2009

Cori's Blog: Zuma

Cori has some good things to say about the media circus over the National Prosecuting Authority's on-again off-again decisions on whether or not to prosecute Jacob Zuma for corruption.
Cori's Blog: Zuma:
While listening to people phoning in to thw 702 talk radio show today a few things emerged. One was the comment by an American journalist which had a few South Africans on edge. Apparently this journalist said that South Africa is now becoming Africanised and just one more African country. As South African callers stated, what else could we be becoming than Africanised (Europonised??) and are we not another African country? It's time we start being proud to be African!

And Cori goes on to point out that, in effect, having George Bush as US president for eight years made the USA just another American country. And perhaps having Tony Blair as Brit prime minister made Britain what -- just another European country? Though I don't think that when he was first elected anyone thought that Tony Blair would turn out as bad as he did. When he was first elected back in 1997 or thereabouts, he was Britain's Barack Obama, offering "change you can believe in" and all that kind of stuff.

Whether he is prosecuted or not, however, I don't think anyone can have any such illusions about Jacob Zuma (well, ANC members do, apparently). I think the NPA's decision to prosecute him was probably a put up job, and the interlude of the rape trial looked even more like a put up job, but his conduct during the rape trial doesn't give me much confidence in him as a leader either. I don't think he'll be any worse than George Bush, but I'm pretty sure he won't be any better, and if he's elected it will just go to show that South Africans can be as stupid as Americans at times.

So who to vote for in the general election?

At the moment my inclination is to vote for the Independent Democrats at the national level, because I think Patricia de Lille is a good person to have in parliament, even if in her party she is surrounded by mediocrities. And at the provincial level I may vote for the Congress of the People Party (COPE), mainly because I think Mbazima Shilowa did a fairly good job as Premier of Gauteng, and at least has some vision for the province, and wasn't just a jobsworth.

But I'm one of those floating voters, so come April 22nd I might end up voting for someone completely different. But it won't be the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance, or the African Christian Democratic Party. I'll not vote for the ANC again while Zuma's in charge, though if they get themselves a more inspiring leader I might reconsider. And it doesn't matter who's in charge of the Democratic Alliance -- after their efforts to place themselves as the party of the white right ten years ago, I'm not sure that they've really shed that baggage. And every time I would consider voting for the ACDP, someone there would send me a bunch of literature from Ed Cain, who was on the loony right, and published a newspaper that received slush funds from the infomation scandal 30 years ago, and that cured me of ever considering them again.

Well there, I've nailed my colours to the mast(s), but reserve the right to jump ship and nail them to a different one. Is that a mixed metaphor? Perhaps it's an appropriate one for a crazy mixed up election in a crazy mixed up country. But, to misquote a science fiction author whose name I have forgotten, South Africa's a crazy place. I like it.

05 April 2009

Shell in court over alleged role in Nigeria executions

Shell in court over alleged role in Nigeria executions | The Observer:
Ken Saro-Wiwa swore that one day Shell, the oil giant, would answer for his death in a court of law. Next month, 14 years after his execution, the Nigerian environmental activist's dying wish is to be fulfilled.

In a New York federal court, Shell and one of its senior executives are to face charges that in the early 1990s in Nigeria they were complicit in human rights abuses, including summary execution and torture.

The Anglo-Dutch company, if found liable, could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of pounds in damages. No multinational has ever been found guilty of human rights abuses, although two previous cases saw major claims settled outside court.

Hat-tip to The Poor Mouth: Shell in court over Saro-Wiwa execution

04 April 2009

The ANC and Desmond Tutu

Tony Jackman echoes the thoughts of many when he says Thought Leader -- Tony Jackman: Who turned JZ into Mr Min?:
Hearing the ANC attack Desmond Tutu rings with bewildering irony for any of us who lived through the eighties and the so many occasions when the same voice who now criticises this government lambasted the National Party and then premier PW Botha when they were in government.

He attacked them here and abroad. He attacked them when newspapers in this country could not report his words, his words nevertheless being reported abroad so that we could hear his ringing condemnation of apartheid and its atrocities despite the best efforts of the Nats to quieten us and block our ears and minds to the truth.

The ANC now dares to round on this great man of peace, one of the world’s greatest 20th century voices for what is right and against what is wrong.

But it should come as no surprise. Speaking the truth to power is never popular with the powerful, whether the powerful be PW Botha's National Party or Jacob Zuma's ANC.

Recently some people have been blogging about David Bosch and his book Transforming Mission (see here and here). There are a couple of things Bosch (1991:429f) had to say that are worth reading in the light of what we are seeing now

The problem seems to be that Christians tend to sacralize "the sociological forces of history that are dominant at at any particular time, regarding them as inexorable works of providence and even of redemption" (Knapp 1977:151)... Albert Nolan writes in similar vein about the struggle of the South African people against an oppressive system: "The power of the people that is manifested in the struggle is indeed the power of God... What the system is up against now is not 'flesh and blood' but the almighty power of God."

The situation is further compounded when exponents of contextualization claim a special or privileged knowledge about God's will and declare those who do not agree with them as suffering from "false consciousness". Their own clairvoyance, on the other hand, equips them with the ability to know exactly not only what God's will is, but also what will happen in the future. With reference to South Africa, for instance, Nolan (1988:144; cf 184) avers "that we can be quite sure that our future will not be oppressive and alienating". The one thing that south African's need not fear "is the kind of take-over whereby another group of people simply replaces the present rulers and maintainst the same type of system... That possibility is gone forever."

It seems that Albert Nolan (a Dominican priest) had forgotten what a Roman Catholic liberal historian had said a century or more before: All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Or, as the Psalmist says, "Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them."

Or, as Will D. Campbell and James Y. Holloway said in their book Up top our steeples in politics: What is wrong with us that can be solved by politics is not all that is wrong with us.

Nolan's comment shows why Orthodox theologians have had reservations about Western liberation theologies -- the reverse typology that they apply to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They see this as a type pointing to a greater liberation in our time, rather than the partial liberation from oppression that we see in the world as being an imperfect reflection of the liberation won by the death and resurrection of Christ (for more on this see Orthodoxy and liberation theology).

02 April 2009

The paradox of the (US) religious right

Here's a very interesting article on the American religious right.

nourishing obscurity: [the christian right] and other paradoxes:
It is said that only 40 per cent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve per cent believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. This failure to recall the specifics of Christianity may be further evidence of the nation's educational decline but it probably doesn't matter all that much in spiritual or political terms.

Here is a statistic that does matter: 75 per cent of Americans believe the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves. That is, three out of four Americans believe that this notion, at the core of American politics and culture and which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, appears in Holy Scripture. And Franklin's homily is counterbiblical.

Some may wonder why the American religious right should be of interest to anyone other than Americans. One reason, perhaps is that because of the Internet and other forms of electronic communication the views of the American religious right have been disseminated throughout the world. Before about 1990 very few people outside the USA knew what they were thinking. There were books and magazine articles by and about them, and some radio broadcasts, but though we could read the text, the sub-text was not heard. With BBS conferences, newsgroups, chat-rooms and blogs this kind of thinking was revealed for the rest of the world to see.

James Higham of the Nourishing Obscurity blog refers to it as the "Christian Right", but I refer to it as the "religious right" because, as the article reveals, there is very little that is Christian about it.

What I have noticed is that it seems to be a kind of meta-religion among many Americans. I've seen similar sentiments expressed by people who claim to be Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, "emerging" and Orthodox. Whatever their professed religion, its teaching are overridden by and subordinated to this metareligion, which, in Christian terms, must surely be seen as a kind of idolatry.

There are similar things in other parts of the world, of course. The difference is that they seem to have far less influence outside their own countries, and in some cases they have been influenced by US models.

On my bookshelf and in my "heresies" file I have some examples of publications by the South African religious right, which flourished in the apartheid era, though one still sees some echoes of it in some of the election posters that line our streets. Here's a quote from one of them:

Not only have we enemies on our borders -- we have them among us too.Apart from the categorical traitors, the liberals and the relativists, there are the "hands-uppers" -- those who would surrender us without resistance to our ruthless enemies. "Better red than dead" is their craven slogan. Our fate would then be that of Mocambique, which surrendered with little opposition.

That comes from a little booklet called Pray or perish by one Francis Grim, published in 1976. He published several other booklets in a similar vein, and all had one overriding theme -- that Christianity was reduced to being a mere means to an end. The end was to save the apartheid state from "communism".

So the American religious right is by no means unique. There's a movement called Pamyat in Russia that seems not dissimilar. But the American version has far more influence worldwide. So I recommend the article on James Higham's blog. It's worth a read.

The first and greatest commandment is this: God helps those who help themselves. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt not tax the rich to feed the poor. These two commandments override all the law and the prophets, and nothing in the Bible or the church fathers should be allowed to gainsay them.

01 April 2009

G20 summit

Watching Sky News reporting on the G20 summit.

What's it all about, according to Sky News then?

  1. The police
  2. The police
  3. The police
Seems that Britain really is a police state.

It reminds me of a book I read nearly 40 years ago:

Halloran, James D., Elliott, Philip & Murdock, Graham. 1970.
Demonstrations and communication: a case study.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.
The demonstration against the Vietnam War in
London on 27 October 1968 was overwhelmingly
peaceful, yet the press and television
coverage concentrated on the tiny violent
minority. The authors have analysed the way in
which the news media determined the quality of
the event and then were compelled to find
incidents to fulfil their prophecies. This
analysis is a study of the structure of our
understanding of "news", of what counts as
"news" and why the media are committed to
reporting not what happens but what they think
should happen.

Seems that nothing has changed. The media continue to manipulate the news.


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