31 May 2009

Finding good blogs to read

I saw this appeal on another blog.

Suggestions, please! The Ultra, the Fabulous, the only, Miss P!:
I’m running out of good blogs to read.
Any suggestions?

I can understand and sympathise.

I used to use Blog Explosion when I was bored and looking for blogs to read. You could give it your favourite topic (mine was "Books/Literature/Witing") and it would show you random blogs dealing with that topic, and when it ran out of ones on that topic it would start showing you ones on other topics. By looking at other blogs you earned "points" which meant that your blog(s) were shown to other similarly bored people.

It was quite a good idea when it started, but apparently like so many things in the blogosphere (remember Amatomu and Geocities), it was abandoned by the originators of the idea, taken over by someone else who was simply interested in making money out of it, and then neglected, and allowed to run down.

Now Blog Explosion no longer shows blogs that are related to your preferred topic, but shows the same old off-topic ones over and over again -- I suspect because they have paid for preferred positions. The trouble is that some of those that keep getting shown first haven't been updated, so it becomes even more boring. I occasionally look at it in the hope that things will improve, but they don't. Perhaps the problem is that there are not enough new people registerin g blogs there, so they are showing the same old repertoire over and over again. So if you are reading this, perhaps you should try it. Register your blog at Blog Explosion, and have a look at what it shows you. Much of it will probably be new and fresh the first time round. If you find too much repetition, there's no need to go back, but at least your blog will provide a new option for some of the users who have seen it all.

Another way is to look at the blogs in the blogroll of blogs you find interesting. Use a social blogrolling tool like BlogCatalog or MyBlogLog to mark ones that look interesting and possibly worth a return visit.

For South African blogs Amatomu still works, though suffering somewhat from neglect by its sponsors. It also went downhill when, in addition to listing blogs, it listed blog hosts, so that half the blogs one sees there are called "Blat: to utter without thinking" or "Thought Leader", when in fact those are hosts to many different blogs. It needs someone enthusiastic to take over and do a radical clean-up and reorganisation to get back to the original idea that worked well.

Afrigator used to work OK, but has now become JASNS (Just Another Social Networking Site).

When I first started blogging I used to use Technorati a lot, but that too has gone downhill. It used to be possible to use tag searches to find stuff you were interested in, and each registered user had a page that showed their blogs, and what tags were popular at the moment, but that has now gone, and like Blog Explosion they've rearranged their user interface to make it more difficult to use. I suspect that this is in order to make you hunt in many more pages to find what you are looking for, so that you will be exposed to more advertising and make more money for them as you go down each dead end. Surely they must realise that this is counter-productive -- it might bring a short-term rise in advertising revenue, but eventually people users will be annoyed and go elsewhere. At the moment they seem to have a lot of technical problems, so even their new and disimproved and dehanced and clunkier user interface doesn't work properly.

So to the one and only Miss P. my best suggestion, at the moment, is Google Blog Search.

Any other suggestions?

30 May 2009

A Constantinian moment for China?

Western missiologists seem to have a fixation on Constantine as the prime villain of Christian history (see Notes from underground: St Constantine, Scapegoat of the West) but some are now hinting at a new Constantinian moment in the East.

The Western Confucian: A Chinese Constantine?:
Father Francesco Sisci says the 'exponential growth of Christianity in China would not have been possible without the forbearance and tacit encouragement of the regime' and that 'the Chinese government has shifted from persecution of Christians to subtle—and sometimes even open—encouragement of Christianity' — China's Catholic Moment.

He goes as far as to suggest that 'it is not an exaggeration to say we are near a Constantinian moment for the Chinese Empire, as the government looks to Christianity—particularly Catholicism—for an instrument of social cohesion.'

28 May 2009

Blessed are the peacemakers

There are lots of computer war games available, but did you know that there are peace games as well?

Jim Forest, of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, writes On Pilgrimage: from war games to peace games:
One of the things we talked about is a possible response to an annual military welcome-house at a Missouri army base. The event features a big tent in which kids are invited to play computer war games. It’s very popular.

An idea that emerged in our conversation is the possibility of setting up a peace games tent outside the base where, using borrowed laptop computers, kids (and parents) could play peace games.

Even if no peace game sells nearly as well as various war games, I was pleased to find that there are a lot of peace games out there.

27 May 2009

Missions pioneer Ralph Winter dies : Townhall.com

I never met Ralph Winter, the missiologist who died last week, but through his writing and speaking and ideas he changed my life.

A few days ago I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned Ralph Winter, and the next day I learned that he had died.

News Headlines - Missions pioneer Ralph Winter dies : Townhall.com:
Ralph Winter a veteran missiologist who 35 years ago sparked an emphasis on unreached people groups worldwide died at his home in Pasadena Calif. May 20 after a struggle with cancer. He was 84. In 2005 Time magazine listed Winter as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America noting that in 1974 at the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne Switzerland Winter revolutionized missionary work overseas by calling Christians to look beyond national borders and serve the world's 'unreached people.'

Winter's influence on me began when I attended SACLA, the South African Christian Leadership Assembly, in 1979.

There was a hall there where various Christian groups and NGOs were displaying their wares, and among them were many mission societies. It took me back to my schooldays when we had had speakers many of from some these mission societies, and I was rather surprised to find that they still existed. I collected their leaflets: the Sudan Interior Mission, the Sudan United Mission, the Leprosy Mission (formerly Mission to Lepers), and the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (formerly the China Inland Mission).

I remembered the last one well. A former missionary called Melsopp came to speak to us at school on several occasions, and he showed us Chinese dress, and spoke about Chinese culture, and emphasised the efforts of the missionaries of the China Inland Mission to identify with Chinese culture. Along with other Western missionaries, he had been kicked out of China in 1950 after the communist revolution there.

But there was one stall that had something new and different. It was about "Unreached Peoples", and it was manned by Debbie Bliss. I talked to her for quite a while, and she explained to me Ralph Winter's concept of "unreached peoples", and gave me more literature, which I read.

I was studying for History Honours at the University of South Africa (Unisa), and had done the first two Honours papers, but when I came to the last three the university put the fees up so that I could no longer afford them (I later worked for Unisa, and was able to complete the degree ten years later, with the help of a staff discount). But to continue studying I registered for a second bachelors degree, a B.Th., majoring in missiology -- a choice influenced by Ralph Winter's thought. At that time the B.Th. course was divided into 30 modules, which were cheaper than the postgraduate honours papers, so I could afford them.

At that time I was Director of Training for Ministries for the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, and my main work was training self-supporting priests and deacons. An influential section of the church-supported clergy were opposed to self-supporting ministry, and introduced rules and regulations designed to make it more difficult for people to join the training programme, so I left to become Director of Mission and Evangelism in the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria, and one of the things we did there was hold an "Institute of International Studies", with the help of David Bliss (husband of the aforementioned Debbie Bliss). The course was based on a book edited by Ralph Winter, Perspectives on the world Christian movement, a collection of essays on various missiological topics. The essays in the book were a mixed bag, but the ones that impressed me most were two by Winter himself -- The kingdom strikes back and The two structures of God's redemptive mission.

At the "Perspectives" course we also had a video of Ralph Winter speaking about "The Kingdom strikes back", and that was even more impressive than it was on paper. It changed the way I looked at church and mission history.

One of the points that Winter makes is in the section on "No saints in the middle?":

It is wise to interrupt the story here. If you haven’t heard this story before you may confront a psychological problem. In church circles today we have fled, feared or forgot- these ten middle centuries. Hopefully, fewer and fewer of us will continue to think in terms of what may be called a fairly extreme form of the “BOBO” theory—that the Christian faith somehow “Blinked Out” after the Apostles and “Blinked On” again in our time, or whenever our modern “prophets” arose, be they Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Joseph Smith, Ellen White or John Wimber. The result of this kind of BOBO approach is that you have “early” saints and “latter-day” saints, but no saints in the middle.

Thus, many Evangelicals are not much interested in what happened prior to the Protestant Reformation. They have the vague impression that the Church was apostate before Luther and Calvin, and whatever there was of real Christianity consisted of a few persecuted individuals here and there. For example, in the multi-volume Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching, only half of the first volume is devoted to the first 15 centuries! In evangelical Sunday Schools, children are busy as beavers with the story of God’s work from Genesis to Revelation, from Adam to the Apostles—and their Sunday School publishers may even boast about their “all-Bible curriculum.” But this only really means that these children do not get exposed to all the incredible things God did with that Bible between the times of the Apostles and the Reformers, a period which is staggering proof of the unique power of the Bible! To many people, it is as if there were “no saints in the middle.”

And I discovered that the Missiology Department at Unisa also operated on that assumption. After a look at the "Biblical basis of mission" they would jump straight to Western missionary movements after the Renaissance -- there were no saints in the middle.

I remember in one essay I mentioned St Boniface, the English apostle to the Germans. I noted that since the English had immigrated to Britain from Germany in the preceding centuries, Boniface would probably not have had as many language difficulties as missionaries going from other places. Prof. David Bosch, who marked my essay, was quite incredulous. The idea had never occurred to him. Western missiologists, with one notable exception, simply ignored anything that happened in that period. The exception was Ralph D. Winter.

So when I came to do my doctoral thesis on Orthodox mission methods I modelled it, in part, on Ralph Winter's The Kingdom strikes back. Winter's account of ten epochs of redemptive history mainly followed Western mission, but I thought the same could, and should be done for Orthodox mission, to highlight the "saints in the middle". Some warned that this was far too broad for a doctoral thesis, which should be on a very narrow topic. But I thought that Western missiology was far too narrow-minded, and that something broader was needed. And Ralph D. Winter provided the inspiration to broaden it.

Thirty years ago the focus of my life switched to mission and missiology, and in that switch the thought of Ralph D. Winter played no small part.

So that's how Ralph Winter influenced me. He influenced many other people, in many different ways. You can read about how he influenced Tall Skinny Kiwi here, for example.

26 May 2009

A constant dripping on a starry night

I woke up early this morning and was reading my e-mail when I became aware of a tapping sound.

On investigating I discovered that it was the geyser valve leaking -- the one we had had replaced 16 months ago. As I noted at the time (29 Jan 2008):

Mobile plumbers came, replaced geyser inlet valve.
400kpa Apex pressure valve R625.78
Total cost R1133.78

I also noticed that the drip tray installed by the same plumbers 2 years previously did not catch the drips, but that the water had leaked into a cupboard and wrecked a lot of stuff. So they came and made the outlet of the drip tray go to the front of the house instead of the back. I still didn't trust them, however, so the cupboard has stood empty for 16 months, with the stuff all over the floor in my study, and down the passage. Just as well, because what wasn't wrecked last time would have been wrecked this time -- files, papers, photographs, CD-R discs and stuff like that.

Are there any fundis out there who know if there is any alternative to these very expensive geyser inlet valves that cost R625 and last for only 16 months before the threads attaching them to the pipe dissolve and water drips into the house? We had to have several replaced over the years, and whether the threads are made of brass or plastic seems to make little difference -- they dissolve and leaks result.

24 May 2009

Brit politicans' expense claims and censorship

For the last ten days or so the media have been full of the scandal of British Members of Parliament's claims for expenses, something that puts our own Travelgate scandal of a few years ago in the shade.

But it seems that some MPs have fought back, and have accused the media of stirring the pot for sinister reasons of their own. And this has led to media censorship of an MP's blog.

St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: Fightback MP silenced - what do you think?:
Well, if you can find anything libellous at the cache of Ms Dorries blog, you're more perceptive than I am. Here is what I think is the offending passage (if you've read her blog, it could be any one of several, e.g. reposting a 'Private and Confidential' letter the Telegraph sent just hours before splashing her personal finances all over the next issue), which I'm posting because

a) this is a free and democratic society, and if MP's have to have their expenses open to scrutiny then their arguments should be open to scrutiny too.

b) I dislike censorship, whether it's happening to Dave Walker, Nadine Dorries or anyone else. Hey, even people I dislike. Most of them.

Dave Walker posted cartoons on his blog about the mismanagement of the SPCK Bookshop chain when it was taken over by a couple of American businessmen, who then tried to bully Dave Walker into silence because he had exposed their unethical practices.

This looks even more sinister, however Craig Murray - Support Nadine Dorries' Freedom To Blog:
It is now confirmed that Nadine Dorries blog has been taken down by her webhosts after threats by lawyers acting for the creepy and anti-democratic Barclay Brothers. I particularly dislike them because they destroyed the Scotsman, which was once a good newspaper.

Nadine Dorries had accused the Barclay Brothers of outing the sleaze about MPs in their Daily Telegraph as part of an anti-democratic plot. The same accusation was in this Independent piece at 2am yesterday. The Independent has edited it out.

It almost inclines one to believe in conspiracy theories. Let's do away with elected government, and have the world ruled by the media for their own profit. Big Brother, in Orwell's novel, was an evil dictator who took over the reins of government and controlled the media and everything else. But Big Brother has now been reinvented by the media as a "reality" TV show, and popularised, and suddenly The Daily Telegraph is Big Brother, and British MPs are the "housemates".

The Daily Telegraph used to be known as the Daily Torygraph, but the opinion that it is trying to suppress is that it is actually trying to score votes for a couple of parties way to the right of the Tories.

21 May 2009

The Kingdom of God -- synchroblog

Should we speak of the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God, or do we need a new metaphor altogether? Here are thirteen bloggers from varied Christian backgrounds synchronising their posts on a common theme -- the Kingdom of God.

See what they have to say, and have your say in the comments on each blog.

While a synchroblog is synchronised blogging on a common theme, what people say is not coordinated beforehand, so each post expresses a different point of view, and so can reveal different aspects of the topic.

20 May 2009

Nollywood Effect: Witchcraft goes mainstream in Uganda

Last night as I was going to fetch my son from work I heard on the 10 o'clock news that some witchdoctors had been arrested in Uganda for killing Albinos and exporting their body parts to Tanzania for use as muti.

Though the source was given as the BBC, a search of Google news this morning found nothing of that, but I did find this: The East African�- Nollywood Effect: Witchcraft goes mainstream in Uganda:
One of the more dramatic stories that closed the month of March was the arrest of a witchdoctor in Entebbe.

Witchdoctors have been much in the news in Uganda recently over ritual murders of infants.

They claim to use the bodies of “pure” people, in this case children, to channel wealth to their clients.

They are thus as bad as the fellows in Tanzania who are driving the hunting of albino people by claiming that their body parts can help you grow rich if treated in certain ways.

This Entebbe witchdoctor was not as violent as the above types.

But he was as big as shame to the nation as the Australian lecher who fathered many kids with his confined daughter.

The last bit shows that some Kenyans confuse Austria with Australia as easily as some Brits confuse Tanzania and Tasmania, but that is not the point of my repeating this story.

These events in East Africa seem to be similar to the use of zvikwambo in Zimbabwe. Zvikwambo (singular chikwambo) are magical objects one can buy from a n'anga (traditional healer), which are supposed to make one rich. They are often made of human body parts. The purchaser of a chikwambo is usually urged to keep it secret, even from other members of the family, and it demands sacrifices for its continued efficacy. The demands become more and more onerous, and sometimes include human sacrifice.

An important aspect of Christian healing ministry in Zimbabwe is releasing people from the power and demands of zvikwambo. I recently co-authored a book on African initiatives in healing ministry, which is soon to be published by Unisa Press. One of the co-authors, Lilian Dube, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, did research on Agnes Majecha, a healer of the Zvikomborero Apostolic Faith Church, who specialises in neutralising zvikwambo. It is mainly African Independent Churches (AICs) that undertake this kind of ministry, and people have visited Majecha at her healing centre in Marondera from as far afield as Botswana and South Africa.

Muti murders also take place in South Africa, usually for similar motives -- the desire to get rich quick. These are sometimes reported by the media, but often the reporting is confined to sensationalised stories about complaints, and possibly arrests, but very little is reported on subsequent trials, if any. One exception was a case in Tshwane a few years ago, when a four-year-old child went missing. The story of her disappearance and the subsequent search made headlines, as did the discovery of her mutilated body. A police sniffer dog detected her remains in the wall of a hairdressing salon -- they had been incorporated to make the business prosper. In that case there was some reporting of the trial, but generally there isn't. There were some sensational arrests in the Eastern Cape last year, but so far there have been no reports of a trial.

Sometimes people in the West look down on African culture, and point to such things as indications that African culture is inferior to Western culture. However the recent bailouts of Western companies with "toxic assets" resemble nothing so much as the sacrifices offered to appease zvikwambo, only on a far bigger scale. But where is the Agnes Majecha in Europe or the USA to deliver them from this mess?

And at the root of it all is one human passion -- greed.

19 May 2009

Sales of Marx soar

The recession and the collapse of many capitalist economies has resulted in a boom for booksellers -- at least in the sales of the works of Karl Marx.

Thoroughly Modern Marx : NPR:
The economic crisis has spawned a resurgence of interest in Karl Marx. Worldwide sales of Das Kapital have shot up (one lone German publisher sold thousands of copies in 2008, compared with 100 the year before), a measure of a crisis so broad in scope and devastation that it has global capitalism -— and its high priests -— in an ideological tailspin.

Yet even as faith in neoliberal orthodoxies has imploded, why resurrect Marx? To start, Marx was far ahead of his time in predicting the successful capitalist globalization of recent decades. He accurately foresaw many of the fateful factors that would give rise to today s global economic crisis what he called the 'contradictions' inherent in a world comprised of competitive markets commodity production and financial speculation.

In the 1980s neoliberalism was advocated as the panacea for the world's economic ills. The fact that the "structural adjustment programmes" imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had a disastrous effect on health and education in much of Africa did not seem to worry the proponents of neoliberalism very much. By the 1990s many advocates of neoliberalism were saying that socialism was dead.

And in the 1990s many people could be excused for thinking that Marx's ideas had been shown to be wrong, and that there could never be a revival of interest in them. Most of the "socialist" countries had abandoned socialism, and often followed the advice of neoliberal Westerners to liberalise their economics as well as their politics. In Russia the immediate result of this was a drastic drop in life-expecatancy, as health services deteriorated. Another result was a gangsterisation of the economy.

And, as the article quoted above points out, much of this was predicted by Marx. Capitalism has changed a great deal in the 150 years since Marx wrote about it, but some of the fundamentals remain the same.

But while Marx was quite good at analysing the weaknesses of capitalism, his proposals for alternatives were not as successful. And some of his fundamentalist followers who tried to apply his solutions in a spirit of ideological correctness regardless of their practical effects produced results as disastrous of those of the neoliberals.

So we should not be surprised that the sales of Marx's works are booming. But we can hope that the buyers will pay more attention to Marx's analysis of the problems than to some of the solutions proposed by him and his followers in the past.

Perhaps the adage of G.K. Chesterton can be applied to this, mutatis mutandis: "As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism, but there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals."

And so I hope that people will say, "As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in socialism, but there was once a rosy time of innocence when I believed in socialists."

Trade unionists and communists in South Africa seem to have the unhappy knack of allying themselves to all the wrong people and causes, and attacking all the wrong targets. Here in South Africa we have an example of unrestrained capitalism that the government dare not control, and which is a magnificent example of the application of neoliberalism in practice -- the taxi industry. I would love to see someone do a Marxist analysis of that.

18 May 2009

Skewed View: Friday Cemetery Blogging

Spookyrach in Skewed View: Friday Cemetery Blogging posts one of the saddest epitaphs I've ever seen.

Sleeps but rests not
Loved, but was loved not
Tried to please, but pleased not
Died as she lived, alone

Perhaps it was copied from somewhere else, but one wonders who chose it, and why.

17 May 2009

The Beaker Common Prayer

Here's an interesting satire on fluffy bunny spirituality. Hat-tip to St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: Revised Prayer Book issued

The Beaker Common Prayer:
So I was looking for a form of exotic spirituality that would let me make a fortune. But which one? I had a large house with plenty of space to expand, so it had to be rooted in the Bedfordshire landscape somehow. The Celts had been done. And Buddhism’s just so Islington, don’t you think? I thought of traditional Norman spirituality – but no-one’s gonna buy sitting in a Gothic chapel mumbling unintelligibly. Apart from the Prayer Book Society. But sitting up late in my conservatory one night, reading about the mystery of the Amesbury Archer, it all fell together. Because this early Bronze-Age man, buried within the environs of Stonehenge, was a Beaker Person. My third piece was in place.

14 May 2009

Goodbye Geocities

If you go to Geocities web site, this is what you will see: Yahoo! GeoCities: Get a free web site with easy-to-use site building tools:
After careful consideration, we have decided to close GeoCities later this year. We'll share more details this summer. For now, please sign in or visit the help center for more information.

The implications of this are quite serious, because Geocities web sites have hosted a great deal of material and information that has accumulated over the last 14-15 years or so, and which is not available elsewhere. If it is just deleted, some of it may never be available elsewhere.

It also raises more indirect concerns, because some of the other Yahoo services may come under threat as well.

One of the things that is of immediate concern to me is that I maintain several web sites on Geocities. I started my own personal web site there in 1996, nearly 13 years ago.

A couple of years later I started one for the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS). In August 2007 SAMS opened its own web site under its own host, and so the Geocities site became less important. I nevertheless kept it open because many other sites linked to it, and if it were closed, those links would no longer work. There were also articles from previous issues of Missionalia that have not yet been transferred to the new site, though I suppose it might be possible to find a way to transfer them. I also continued to maintain the section on African Independent Churches at the Geocities site, which continues to be used frequently by people looking for information about AICs, many of whom have contacted me by e-mail.

Geocities was one of the very early attempts at social networking on the web. It was also one of the first attempts at free webhosting, supported by advertising. It was divided into "cities", each associated with a particular theme. Most of my pages were hosted at "Athens", where the themes were philosophy, metaphysics, and I thought theology could be fitted in there too, in spite of Tertullian's protest, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" There were other cities too, with themes for literature, music, entertainment, travel and so on.

It was as much about community as about free web hosting. You could go surfing in a city and find similarly themed blogs just by looking at those adjacent to yours. There were city coordinators who encouraged interaction between the webmasters of the various sites.

Geocities flourished, and all kinds of web pages were posted there. Quality varied. You could look at a list of the sites -- my personal one was http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7734 and you could look at the eddresses 7700-7799. Some had icons showing cobwebs, indicating that they hadn't been updated for some time. Others, if you went to them, had icons saying "Under Construction" -- someone had discovered Geocities, thought it would be cool to start a web page, posted the equivalent of a "Hello World" message, and an "Under construction image" and that was it.

But others were amazing sources of information. There were interesting literary essays, histories of towns, schools and other institutions, stories of churches, missions and missionaries, articles and papers on mathematics, history, geology, you name it. There were family trees, often in considerable detail.

Perhaps some of that material will be preserved. The webmasters will find another host, and move it elsewhere, and within a year or two search engines will direct you to the new site. But some of it has been abandoned. The webmasters and the authors of the articles may have died, and it will be tossed on to the scrap heap, never to be seen again.

When Geocities was taken over by Yahoo! it began to deteriorate. The "city" themes were de-emphasised, and eventually dropped altogether. Geocities-Yahoo just became another free webhosting site. Yahoo! (like Google) started as a web search site, and gradually bought up other things that had been started by other people and had worked well. Many of them, when taken over by Yahoo, began to work badly.

One of those was Webrings -- a way of linking web sites with similar themes, as Geocities did, only they did not have to be on the same server. It was working well when Yahoo took it over, and they proceeded to wreck it. Eventually they sold it, or gave it away, to someone who promised to work it properly, but it never really recovered.

They took over eGroups, a public mailing list server, which became YahooGroups. They didn't manage that too badly, and actually made a few improvements. But the closing of Geocities makes one wonder how long YahooGroups will last, because Yahoo has proved increasingly unreliable. They lose things. Sometimes they intend to lose things, like Geocities. But sometimes they just lose them, with no rhyme or reason.

Three years ago yesterday they lost all my personal web pages on Geocities. No warning -- one day they were there, the next they were gone. I blogged about that at the time. When they hadn't reappeared after a couple of days, I moved my personal pages to Bravenet. Moving them was easy -- they're all on my hard disk and I just had to upload them. But getting people to find them was something else. Search engines still showed the Geocities ones, even through they were no longer accessible, and people who had links to the old pages could no longer find them. Two months later, they were back, inexplicably. But I did not update them except to provide links to the new site.

Then my Yahoo login stopped working. I couldn't update the web pages even if I wanted to, and I could not moderate the YagooGroups mailing lists I was moderator of, so spammers started posting spam there, and I was unable to block them. Some of them were academic research forums, like the African Independent Churches and the New Religious mMovements ones, and the spam was a nuisance, but there was nothing I could do about it. Eventually after six months I was able to log into my Yahoo mail again, and kick the spammers off the mailing lists, but all my archived mail on Yahoo! had disappeared, several years' worth.

So I don't trust Yahoo, not at all.

No doubt they are closing down Geocities because it takes up resources and isn't making much money, and times are hard, and Yahoo has probably taken a cut in profits. But in part that is their own fault. They have mismanaged a lot of things, particularly things like Webrings, but others as well, some of which I have described above.

But another problem is the users. I block pop-up ads, but I've never blocked banner ads, and have been quite happy to have them and occasionally look at them, because that is how free webhosting sites like Geocities are able to continue. But for advertising to pay, people must be able to see the ads, so it is in Yahoo's interest to encourage people to visit those sites, and people who use sites on free web hosts also attract the people who will look at the ads.

Google, however, does it better. They target the advertising based on the content of the site. Some have complained, and said it raises privacy issues, but I don't mind. I've had more problems with inappropriate ads. I've had very rude letters from secretaries of the CEOs of Christian organisations, berating me for allowing certain advertisements. It's always been the secretaries, never the CEOs themselves. They demand that I move to another site, even if it means paying extra. I tell them, Hey, I'm a pensioner, and I'm not making money out of this, I'm providing this information out of the goodness of my heart, and they go off in a huff. One got so nasty that I had to contact the CEO in person to ask him to call his rottweiler off.

So if Google tries to coordinate ads with content, more power to their elbow, I say, though sometimes it gives rather amusing results. There are lots of priests' web sites with ads for things for dads, and child rearing and father's day, because they have "Father" in the site title.

A few months ago AOL did something similar to what is about to happen to Geocities. They stopped their free web hosting, and a relation of ours who had put up a lot of interesting family history lost it all. She wasn't all that computer savvy, and didn't know how to retrieve or move it.

Beware, all you publishers of scholarly journals who think e-journals is the way to go. You can think that that is cheaper, is more accessible and saves trees, but if you entrust it to someone like Yahoo it isn't safe, not at all. Put not your trust in Googledocs either, because they can easily vanish the moment someone decides they aren't making enough money and pulls the plug.


Check these as well:

Adactio: Journal—The Death and Life of Geocities: "They’re trying to keep it quiet but Yahoo are planning to destroy their Geocities property. All those URLs, all that content, all those memories will be lost …like tears in the rain."

And here's someone who wants to do something about it

ASCII by Jason Scott / Geocities: "Many pages are amateurish. A lot have broken links, even internally. The content is tiny on a given page. And there are many sites which have been dead for over a decade. But please recall, if you will, that for hundreds of thousands of people, this was their first website. This was where you went to get the chance to publish your ideas to the largest audience you might ever have dreamed of having. Your pet subject or conspiracy theory or collection of writings left the safe confines of your Windows 3.1 box and became something you could walk up to any internet-connected user, hand them the URL, and know they would be able to see your stuff. In full color. Right now. In a world where we get pissed because the little GIF throbber stays for 4 seconds instead of the usual 1, this is all quaint. But it’s history. It’s culture. It’s something I want to save for future generations."

10 Reasons for Leaving the American Dream Behind

All over the internet you see these advertisements for "Green Cards" to emigrate to the USA. I'm not sure why they are advertising them, because you can apply for them free at any US consulate.

And here are ten reasons why people want to emigrate from the USA.

10 Reasons for Leaving the American Dream Behind ::
Bye-bye Miss American Pie. I am leaving soon. I still love you America … but, I think a long distance relationship suits us better. Why? Well, I’ve sat down and looked through my entire life in pursuit of the American Dream and this is what I’ve discovered

You'll have to visit the blog to see the reasons, and at least one of them might be a good reason for emigrating from South Africa -- a few years ago my wife was transferred by the firm she worked for to their Johannesburg head office and after a year she resigned, because she reckoned that over the next seven years she would spend a year of her life sitting in traffic jams. But you don't have to leave the country for that. I hear people are sometimes retiring to villages in the Karroo.

12 May 2009

The sheer lunacy of anti-gun control freaks

I've always thought that anti-gun control freaks were a bit nuts, but this takes the cake. Hat-tip to Mark Stoneman's Clio and me.

FactCheck.org: Did gun control in Australia lead to more murders there last year?:
In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated

The picture is utterly bizarre.

If dissidents in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany had had firearms and used them to resist arrest, most of them would have died sooner rather than later, and many more of them would have died.

If you want to avoid arrest in a totalitarian country, your best chance is to avoid or evade the police, not confront them, whether you are armed or not. And then try to skip across the border into a free(er) country, assuming there is one nearby.

I know something of this from personal experience.

Last week I got together with a friend, and we compared our police files from the apartheid era, which recently became available in the archives. We're planning to write an article on memoiries of a surveillance society, based on the contents of the files, and comparing the fantasies of the Security Police and the Department of Justice with reality.

In my file I discovered that the Minister of Justice had signed a banning order for me on 11 January 1966. I never received it, so I didn't know about it until I saw it in the file.

At the time I was working as a bus driver in Johannesburg, trying to save enough money to go and study overseas. On the afternoon of 18 January 1966, when I was about to go to work, I had a phone call from a Detective Sergeant van den Heever, asking if he could come and see me. I said I was about to go to work. He then asked if he could come and see me in the morning. I said I would be doing overtime in the morning, but said that I could go and see him between my overtime and my regular shift if he told me where I could find him.

I did not go to work, that afternoon, but went to see an Anglican priest friend, the student chaplain at the university, to tell him about this and ask his advice. We thought that Van den Heever would either be coming to confiscate my passport, or to give me a banning order, in which case I would not be able to study overseas. We decided that the wisest course would be to leave the country immediately.

So at 10:00 pm we set out for Beit Bridge and the Rhodesian border, which we crossed the next morning when the customs post opened at 6:00 am. The priest friend came to drive my mother's car back. My mother arranged with a travel agent in Johannesburg for me to collect a plane ticket at Bulawayo, and I got on a plane in Bulawayo, and arrived in London two days later, on 20 January 1966.

Now imagine what would have happened if I had done what the gun nut above suggested.

Detective Sergeant van den Heever comes to my door with the banning order, and I have a gun and shoot him.

The SB (Security Police) usually went in pairs, and so I'd have to be pretty quick to shoot his buddy as well before he either overpowered me or shot me.

We lived in a block of flats, and at that time of day people would be arriving home from work, so the incident would probably be witnessed by other residents who would undoubtedly call the police, even if they didn't know that the two bodies lying at the door of my flat were those of policemen in plain clothes.

So banning might be delayed, but arrest for a real crime would follow shortly. Then would follow a period of interrogation, with the possibility of slipping in the shower and falling through a 7th-floor window (defenestration). If that didn't happen there would be an appearance in court, an open and shut case of murder, followed by hanging.


One bloke who was banned tried to follow the path of armed resistance. Not with firearms; he took a suitcase full of explosives and took it to Johannesburg station. It killed an old lady and disfigured her granddaughter. His name was John Harris. He was hanged on 1 April 1965.

Or, of course, one could use firearms. Go to Norwood police station (where, if my banning order had been delivered, I would have had to report every Monday between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm) and make like Columbine High School -- shoot everyone in sight.

Ultimately, the result would be the same.

But the gun nuts who write stuff like that above are too stupid to see it.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps they would go into a school or a shopping mall and open fire on everyone in sight, and think that that would save them from the Gulag or whatever. Or they could join their likeminded buddies in the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

So instead of saying idiotic things like "In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated", let the gun nuts say exactly how having legal firearms would have prevented them from being rounded up and exterminated.

And if they feel so strongly about it, perhaps they could strike a blow for freedom and smuggle arms to all the poor dissidents cooped up in Guantanamo Bay.

10 May 2009

It's not a train smash, it's the presidential Inauguration

Yesterday was the inauguration of the fourth president of South Africa since the advent of democracy in 1994. According to some reports, the bash cost R75 million.

All the TV news channels were reporting it non-stop. In the midst of them showing the chairs being arranged and the like, there was one of those ticker-tape things at the bottom of the screen with a fleeting mention of a train crash in which 100 people had been killed, or something. We waited for more news, but there was no chance of it. The preparations for the inauguration were everything, nothing else mattered.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated in 1994 we went along and joined in the flag-waving jubilation. It was, after all, a historic occasion. "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion: then were we like unto them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter: and our tongue with joy."

But when Thabo Mbeki was inaugurated in 1999, we stated home, and looked at bits of it on TV. Kgalema Motlanthe was inaugurated without a big fuss being made, and perhaps Jacob Zuma could have had a more low key affair as well.

So, bored with the chair-placing by chair-placing account of the inauguration preparations, I switched to a Brit TV station. They might not tell us about a train crash in our own city, but they could perhaps show us something more interesting thatn a bunch of overpaid politicians with umbrellas.

They were showing a bunch of overpaid politicians who had cheated on their expense accounts, and made our own "travelgate" scandal look positively amateur, and I have to admit that the temptation to schadenfreude was great indeed, after reading the sneering comments of the British Daily Mail's Peter Hitchens He has four wives and faced 783 corruption charges: PETER HITCHENS on South Africa's next president | Mail Online:
Once, South Africa dominated the nightly news for weeks on end. Now the liberal media barely mention it. Why not? Because post-apartheid South Africa is a failure.

Well, welcome to the world of failed states, Mr Hitchens.

Oh, and it turned out that the train smash wasn't so serious either, but they could have told us.

09 May 2009

Confederations Cup 2009 and World Cup 2010

South Africans have often been criticised for poor attendance at international football matches, so that there is some concern about filling the venues for the Confederations Cup later this year, which is regarded as a curtain-raiser for the World Cup next year.

But perhaps the soccer administrators should look at other sports, as well as at their own past successes. There doesn't seem to have been much difficulty in filling stadiums for the IPL cricket matches, and they aren't even really international. But there has been a lot of imaginative promotion, while the Confederations Cup has been almost kept a secret.

Never mind the IPL -- look at the Africa Cup of Nations which South Africa hosted and won in 1996.

For months before the competition, publicity was good. Kids were urged to collect cards of the players and buy books to stick them in. Bookshops like the CNA had books with a history of the competition, information about the teams taking part and the key players, and biographies of the South African squad. I haven't seen that sort of think either for the Confederations Cup or the World Cup.

In 1996 school kids, even those who were not hardened soccer fans, knew most of the SA team members, which clubs they played for, their strengths and weaknesses. They urged their parents to buy the cards and the books, and as a result the parents, even if not hardened soccer fans, also learnt something about the teams, and the SA players.

But this time round there's nothing like that. Most people don't know who is playing, where they come from, or even what the Confederations Cup is.

It's time for the soccer administrators to pull finger and get some real publicity going.

Ten worst countries to be a blogger

Ten worst countries to be a blogger | Global Media Forum:
With a military government that severely restricts Internet access and imprisons people for years for posting critical material Burma is the worst place in the world to be a blogger the Committee to Protect Journalists says in a new report. CPJ s '10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger' also identifies a number of countries in the Middle East and Asia where Internet penetration has blossomed and government repression has grown in response...

Relying on a mix of detentions, regulations, and intimidation, authorities in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Egypt have emerged as the leading online oppressors in the Middle East and North Africa. China and Vietnam, where burgeoning blogging cultures have encountered extensive monitoring and restriction, are among Asia's worst blogging nations. Cuba and Turkmenistan, nations where Internet access is heavily restricted, round out the dishonor roll.

It's interesting that Zimbabwe doesn't make the list. One can be thankful for small percies.

03 May 2009

Bishops and blogs

Bishop Alan describes a Social Media Day in Oxford. The aim was to gather people working for the Church with an interest in communications, to scope the scene and its possiblities.

His own contribution was a piece on bishops and blogging, and here are two of his very good ten points on why bishops (and anyone else in Christian ministry) should blog. Bishop Alan’s Blog: Social Media, Church and Bishopping:

  • Be yourself! Most of your colleagues only see you on formal occasions, or when they’re in trouble. This makes them think you’re a workaholic or policeman. You’re not, but how would they know? What you reveal in your blog adds dimensions to the way you are seen, for good or ill, usually for good unless you are a complete idiot.
  • Take the initiative! People cometimes seek your views for their own reasons, time and context, often to make up stories — like the old round robin about how many bishops believe in God. The reality is they all do. The fantasy is they all don’t. You get caught in silly crossfire. Gazump this process by publishing your own views for your own reasons, in your own time and context, to tell your story. If anyone really wants to know what you believe all the information is in the public domain. If they’re just trolling or manipulating you, you don’t have to play.

One of the social media that seemed to be omitted from their social media day was electronic discussion forums (mailing lists), and that's a pity.

I've been trying for more than 20 years now to get church people to see the value of electronic communications, and have largely failed. Yes, some bishops have blogs, and Bishop Alan gives very good reasons why they should do so.

But discussion forums wwere one of the earliest, and are still one of the most underutilised electronic tools.

They reached their highest and best form on Fido Technology Networks (FTNs) which flourished in the early 1990s, and were basically killed by Windows, which failed to provide a decent comms program for dial-up networks. Fido Technology networks had "echo" conferences, which were a true form of many-to-many conversation. Fido Technology networks, such as Fidonet and FamilyNet linked computer bulletin boards throughout the world in a cooperative network, run by a kind of private-enterprise socialism.

The Echo conferences could also be gated to or from usenet newsgroups and e-mail mailing lists, which made them more versatile, though news and mail had several technical limitations, which still exist. But you can still participate in e-mail mailing lists and start your own on a public host like YahooGroups.

How do they benefit the church?

I have been to numerous church meetings and conferences where people have gathered from around the country or around the world at great expense, to themselves, or more often their church. They get together for a few days or a week, eat food that they don't have to cook (and usually don't have to wash the dishes either) meet interesting people, hear interesting papers, and pass occasionally controversial resolutions that are soon forgotten when everyone has gone home.

At one period in my life I went to the annual conference of the Anglican Department of Theological Education. They would talk about theological education and training for ministry, and after about 20 minutes someone would say, "before we can talk about training for ministry we need to be clear about what a priest is" Out would come the felt-tip pens and newsprint and they would then discuss "what is a priest?" until it was time to go home, noting all the interesting points on the newsprint.

About the third meeting this happened I suggested that we save a bit of time by just putting up the newsprint from the last three meetings and move on from there, and everyone looked at me like I had crawled out from under a stone. Quite apart from anything else, it was all based on the assumption of a one-man-band style of ministry.

Two of the things that made such meetings unproductive were lack of preparation and lack of follow-up.

And preparation and follow-up are precisely what electronic discussion forums are good for. Get people discussing the agenda beforehand, so that the important issues can be pinpointed, the newsprint can be prepared beforehand, based on the electronic discussions (one could use more sophisticated tools nowadays, like overhead projectors or even the deaded Powerpoint presentation) to summarise the main points, and then get down to discussing what to do about it. And likewise the electronic forum can be used for tracking what has actually been done, or what has prevented it from being done.

But will church people use these tools?

Not a chance.

"I get too many e-mails already," says one.

Right, so he prefers one-to-many communication to many-to-many communication. A preference for top-down style.

And if he sends out an e-mail on an important matter, and get ten responses, he must either ignore them, or write ten replies. But if it was on an electronic forum, each of the ten responders could read what all the other responders had written, and the guy at the centre (lets call him the "bishop") need only write one reply for them all to see it.

The technology has been around for 30 years. It was improved around 20 years ago, but the improved version has been dropped. But we still have the old-fashioned mailing list, and it still works better than web forums.

But will people use it?

No. They prefer to arrive at conferences without preparation, and put it all behind them when they leave, until the next conference is held in Ougadougou or Geneva or Kolkata, with tours of the local sights and selected local ministries. And don't forget the free lunch.

02 May 2009

Glocal Christianity: Rapture Ready? Questioning the Celestial Panic Room

Glocal Christianity: Rapture Ready? Questioning the Celestial Panic Room:
For those of you not familiar with the jargon the rapture is not the same as the second coming of Jesus which we all look forward to. Instead the rapture is said to be a precursor to it sort of a factional coming between the first and second coming of Jesus from what I can gather which I suppose makes it the one and a halfth coming . It is said that to protect his people during the last days Jesus will come and snatch them away to keep them safe before he returns. It is a prominant feature of the premillenial dispensationalism to be found in books like Tim LaHay's 'Left Behind'.

Thanks to Matt Stone for posting that, and with it a warning -- this post is an exercise in theological archaeology, so anyone who finds that sort of stuff boring should skip to the next one.

Also a disclaimer: the Orthodox Church regards chiliasm as a heresy. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines chiliasm thus:

CHILIASM (Gk. chilii 'a thousand'). Another name for Millenarianism, the theory that Christ will return to earth and reign here for a thousand years before the final consummation of all things. The belief is based on an interpretation of Rev 20:1-5.

And under the entry for Millenarianism in the same source we learn that

...its advocates fall into two groups, pre- and post-millenialists. The former maintain that the Millennium will forllow the Second Coming of Christ, but are divided as to whether it will be spent by the saints in heaven or upon earth: the latter believe that it precedes the Advent and, indeed, prepares the way for it by the spread of righteousness over the earth, a view which, in its modern form, owes owes much to Daniel Whitby (1638-1726).

In the early Church, Millennarianism was found among the Gnostics and Montanists, but was also accepted by more orthodox writers such as St Justin Martyr, St Irenaeus, and St Hippolytus of Rome, all of whom were pre-millennialists. Millennarianism came, however, increasingly to stress the carnal plasures to be enjoyed during the thousand years of the saints' earthly reign and eventually a revulsion against the whole concept set in, initiated by Origen and completed by St Augustine. For the next thousand years millenarian expectations were rarely met with, except among the Joachimates and other sectarians of the 13th cent.

The article goes on to describe how the doctrine was revived by the Anabaptists and Pietists in Germany, and in the English-speaking world by the Irvingites, Plymouth Brethren and the Adventists.

It was the Plymouth Brethren who added to it the refinement of Dispensationalism -- the belief that history was divided into periods called "dispensations", and that the Bible can similarly be divided into sections that are only relevant to certain of these periods. Dispensationalism was propagated by the Scofield Reference Bible, through which it spread far beyond the Plymouth Brethren to other branches of Protestantism, especially in the English-speaking world.

The terminology of dispensationalism may be familiar to those whose theology has been shaped by the Scofield Reference Bible, but is quite likely to be puzzling to anyone else, and this includes the term "rapture" itself.

I first heard of "rapture" in the dispensationalists' sense of the word on a radio programme called "The world tomorrow" by Herbert W. Armstrong. A friend of mine insisted that I listen to the programme, and Herbert W. Armstrong went on and on about "rapture", but did not say what he meant by it. I gathered that he was against it, and took it to mean that he thought that Christians ought to be miserable, and should exclude all joy from their lives.

My understanding of "rapture" was shaped by English poets who associated it with birdsong:

That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture (Browning)

or Shelley's Ode to a skylark

Teach us, Sprite or Bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

I'd read the Bible a couple of times, but had never encountered the term "rapture" in the sense used by Herbert W. Armstrong.

My ignorance persisted for several years, until I picked up a pamphlet attacking dispensationalism, when some of the terminology became clear.

"Rapture", it appeared, was based on an an interpretation of Matthew 24:40-41, and to the dispensationalists it meant being literally carried away bodily, and not being metaphorically carried away by joy.

That discovery led me to ponder something else. At my Methodist school we had sung a hymn, which I quite liked, one verse of which was:

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son
But purer and higher and greater will be
Our wonder, our rapture, when Jesus we see.

I had always understood that as a similar kind of rapture to that attributed by the poets to the thrush and the skylark.

But having discovered what dispensationalism was I began to have second thoughts, and this is where we get into theological archaeology, deconstruction and textual criticism.

In the Methodist Hymnbook that hymn (No 313) was listed as written by W.H. Doane and Frances Jane van Alstyne. But there were other hymn collections where it was shown as written by Fanny J. Crosby. Well, that could be explained by one being her married name and the other being her maiden name, and nowadays Google makes it easy to check on such things.

But there were other differences too. In some of the Fanny J. Crosby versions the last line was changed to

Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

So which was the original, and who changed it, and why?

Could it have been changed by someone who objected to dispensationalism, or by someone who favoured dispensationalism? Now that I knew about dispensationalism, the word became loaded with ideological implications. I still favoured the poets' ornithological sense, but what if it meant something else?

"Transport of delight" is a metaphor that means exactly the same as "rapture" in the poetical sense, and is also used as a pun on the literal meaning of "transport" (see here, for example), though speakers of American English might know that better as transportation. For speakers of other than American English, however, "transportation" is anything but delightful, being associated with penal servitude.

But without "of delight" transport suggests the literal meaning even more strongly.

So that little question of the substitution of a word bothers me. Can anyone tell me the answer?

I don't suppose it bothers dispensationalists though (unless it was a dispensationalist who made the change in the wording of the hymn). Dispensationalists are far more worried about being rapture ready, but that doesn't bother me at all.

For Orthodox Christians there is a somewhat different concern, which we focus on at the beginning of Holy Week. Here's the Troparion for Bridegroom Matins:

Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed be the servant whom He shall find watching: and again, unworthy is the servant whom he shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O our God. Through the blessed Theotokos, have mercy on us.

You don't have to be a dispensationalist or any other kind of chiliast for that.

And for those who are worried about not being able to find "troparion" in the Bible, you won't find "rapture" in the Bible either, just like Herbert W. Armstrong said. But here's a hint.


Related Posts with Thumbnails