29 June 2009

Celebrity deaths and the media

Many people have commented that the media obsession with the deaths of celebrities like Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett (what happened to the "Majors"?) over the last couple of days was way over the top, and some, including me, attributed it to declining standards of journalism.

But it seems we were wrong, and the media have always been like that. Hat-tip to Santos Woodcarving Popsicles: No person is lost in the crowd for pointing me to this example: Irenic Thoughts: Titanic Mistake:
The Titanic sank, in April of 1912. The next day, the headline of a famous newspaper was devoted entirely and exclusively to the death of the multimillionaire, John Jacob Astor. At the end of the article, the newspaper almost casually mentioned the other 1800 people who died. The other 1800 were not that important. Such is the attitude of the world and many public media, but not God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is concerned about every single person and no person is lost in the crowd, however unimportant that person may be in the eyes of the world.

—William Barclay

The media will say, of course, that they are just giving the (paying) public what they want, and that is quite true. Apparently the celeb followers' tweets jammed up Twitter so much that protesters in Iran, for whom Twitter was almost the last line of communication, were cut off from the rest of the world.

26 June 2009

Books and reading

For several years I've kept in touch with people who share similar literary interests by means of Usenet newsgroups and mailing lists. Now many ISPs are withdrawing their news service (it does require rather a lot of server space) and so traffic in the newsgroups has dropped off a lot, and I've lost contact with a lot of the people with whom I used to have interesting conversations in the newsgroups.

I've found an alternative way of keeping in contact, through Good Reads, where you can find me at http://www.goodreads.com/hayesstw. But more on that later (see below).

For those who have suffered the fate of losing access to newsgroups, there is a free news server at news.eternal-september.org where you can subscribe to the various newsgroups.

My favourite newsgroups for books and reading are:
The Tolkien group still thrives, but the others have almost emptied of participants since some of the major ISPs stopped their nntp service.

If you click on those links, your web browser should automatically take you to your default newsreader, but if your ISP is one of those that no longer provides news (I bet they didn't reduce their subs for the reduced service) you will not be able to do much unless you set your news reader up to connect to a server like eternal-september.

There are also other newsgroups that are (or were) useful for those who like books and reading:
Most of the better-informed participants in rec.arts.books took themselves off to a Facebook group called The Prancing Half-Wits, but the Facebook interface is clunky, and does not lend itself to interactive discussions the way newsgroups do. alt.usage.english continues to thrive, perhaps because many of the participants are a bit more computer-savvy than most, and know how to connect to alternative news sources.

For those interested in the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien & Co) I've started a mailing list called Neo-Inklings, which you can find at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eldil/. To subscribe to it, send e-mail to eldil-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, but it is worth also visiting the web site, as there are facilities for uploading files and photos, creating polls and databases and more. I've invited some of the former members of the alt.books.cs-lewis newsgroup to join us there. For those interested mainly in the works of Charles Williams rather than the other Inklings, there is a Charles Williams list called Coinherence-L.

There are also several web sites for book lovers to keep track of their books and make contact with others with similar interests. Three of the best-known are Bibliophil, LibraryThing and Good Reads. For various reasons I prefer Good Reads.

Good Reads

GoodReads is a combination of a book catalogue and a social networking site for books, and I think it works better than the others.

Like most social networking sites, you can add people as "friends", but in many social networks this is rendered useless by people wanting to add you as a "friend" when they don't know you, don't want to know you, share no common interests with you and you've never heard of them. It's a bit like regarding everyone in the phone book as a "friend" -- if everyone is your friend, then no one is.

But Good Reads provides a good way of seeing whether someone is likely to be your friend.

First you need to join, and enter some of the books that you have in your library or have read, starting with your favourites, but you can also add a few books that you really hate. Like other such sites, you are asked to rate and review them. When you've entered those books and rated them (with 1-5 stars), then you can look for friends. Find someone who owns some of your favourite books, look at their profile and click "compare books".

There you can see if they've read your favourite books, and what they think of them. It's expressed as a percentage. For example, with one of my friends (who sometimes reads my blog), it produced this result:
You and booklady have 21 books (or 7.27% of your library and 2.07% of her library) in common. Your tastes for those 21 ratings are 78% similar.

If it's over 70%, go to the next step, which is the "book compatibility test". This compares your ratings of some popular books in various genres, or if you've even read them. In this case my result was "Your compatibility with booklady is 63%."

If you have read some of those popular books, but haven't entered them and rated them, then do so, because it will make future comparisons easier.

So Good Reads is a good way to find and keep in touch with those with similar literary tastes.

25 June 2009

Pragmatic - Eclectic: You Go Do Likewise .....

Pragmatic - Eclectic: You Go Do Likewise .....:
In our world of increasing globalisation the sinful power of economic structures magnify and multiply the power of sin. The destruction or impoverishment of human life is a theological problem, the problem of sin in action and the problem of life denied in human existence.

Worth reading.

23 June 2009

Female asses at Wimbledon

Heee Haaaw
Heee Haaaw
Heee Haaaw
Heee Haaaw

Change the channel!

I can't stand these female tennis players braying like asses any more.

22 June 2009

Tony Blair pushed Gordon Brown to hold Iraq war inquiry in private

Tony Blair pushed Gordon Brown to hold Iraq war inquiry in private: The Observer:
Tony Blair urged Gordon Brown to hold the independent inquiry into the Iraq war in secret because he feared that he would be subjected to a 'show trial' if it were opened to the public the Observer can reveal.

The revelation that the former prime minister - who led Britain to war in March 2003 - had intervened will fuel the anger of MPs peers military leaders and former civil servants who were appalled by Brown's decision last week to order the investigation to be conducted behind closed doors.

Could this be the same Tony Blair? Blair Threatens Milosevic With War Crimes Trial
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be held accountable for any further war crimes in Kosovo British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday. Blair s threat was the first time any Western leader has singled out Milosevic for possible war crimes committed by forces under his command. Blair 'President Milosevic and his commanders must ... understand that NATO will not stand by in the face of renewed repression in Kosovoor atrocities like the one we witnessed in Racak. Nor can the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague' Michael Evens London Times 9 Mar .

Could it be that the man who wanted others held accountable for their alleged warmongering is shying away from accountability himself? And remember that the "Racak atrocity" was shown to be a fabrication, unlike Tony Blair's very real involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

It seems that the belligerent Mr Blair made a habit of lying to take his country into war.

17 June 2009

Amahoro Gathering

Last week I went to the Amahoro Gathering at Hekpoort, about 40 miles west of Pretoria. About 250 people gathered from various countries in Africa and there were a few from other countries as well.

"Amahoro" is a word in Rwandan languages meaning "peace", and I think it was chosen to represent the rebuilding needed in that country following the horrific genocidal strife that took place there 15 years ago. The gathering was billed as "empowering emerging leaders", so perhaps I shouldn't have been there at all, not really being a leader, and at my age I'm submerging rather than emerging.

Much of it was about what it means to be Christian in a postmodern and postcolonial world. I won't say much about it here -- I've blogged about that in my other blog, with pictures. But it was useful, because words like "postcolonial" have often been bandied about and I wasn't too sure what they meant, and I think I now have a better idea.

For some of the younger people there it was a lifechanging experience, and if you're interested in reading about it, here are links to some of the blog posts on it, including mine.

If you have posted a blog post about the Amahoro Gathering and would like to add it to this list, please click here to see how to do it. You are welcome to copy this list to the end of your post.

Also, Technorati seems to be working again, so you can find more blog posts on the topic here.

15 June 2009

Meat-free Monday?

I've seen two stories on the same day about people calling for a meat-free day each week.

Day of the lentil burghers: Ghent goes veggie - The Guardian:
Ghent embarks on a radical experiment today seeking to make every Thursday a day free of meat and of the fish and shellfish for which the city is renowned. On the eve of what is being touted as an unprecedented exercise the biggest queue in the Flemish university town of 200 000 yesterday was for signatures – to collect a bag of wholefood goodies and sign up for 'Donderdag – Veggie Dag' turning the burghers of Ghent into pioneers in the fight against obesity global warming cruelty to animals and against the myth that meat-free eating amounts to a diet of soggy lettuce a slice of tomato and a foul-tasting bean burger.

And then this from Britain: Support Meat Free Monday – Eat less meat for a better planet:
It's a food campaign to encourage the nation to help slow climate change by reducing their meat consumption by having at least one meat free day a week.

Having a MEAT FREE day every week is a simple way to start making a real difference in the world. The more people who join in, the more difference we can make.

What I find curious about this is the days on which it is suggested that this fast should take place -- Monday and Thursday.

Traditionally, Christians have fasted from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, and though many no longer observe this fast, some do, and since Belgium was, in the past, a country with a majority Roman Catholic population, why not encourage people to begin that practice again?

Perhaps it is to avoid embarrassment to atheists, who might not want to abstain from meat on Wednesdays or Fridays and thus give the impression that they are Christians. In Albania, when it was officially an atheist country, teachers would interrogate children at school to find what they had or hadn't been eating at home, especially during the Christian fast of Lent and the Muslim fast of Ramadan. They would also ask children if they had been eating lots of eggs during the Easter season. If there was evidence fo feasting or fasting, a visit from the police was sure to follow.

But if fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays would cause embarrassment to atheists, why not encourage people to fast on a day of their choice? Or is the aim to get Christians who are already abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays to add another day?

I've been to a number of conferences and gatherings where Halaal and Kosher food are provided, but it is rare for find Orthodox Christian fasting food on such occasions. Perhaps if Wednesday or Friday were adopted as the meat-free day it might make such things a little easier.

14 June 2009

All Saints: making it personal

The Sunday after Pentecost is All Saints Sunday in the Orthodox Church (which means that yesterday was Halloween)

Antioch Abouna: For All the Saints ...:
The saints personalise Christianity. There are versions of Christianity around which reduce Church life to a set of doctrines, good in themselves, but because they are not enfleshed in the lives of real people, such Christianity remains, abstract, dry, formal, conceptual. Think back to your time at school. I guess it's not the lessons you remember directly, rather the teachers who, for you, embodied and made accessible what they taught. So it is with saints. If you want to know who the Holy Spirit is, read the account of Motovilov's conversation with Fr. Seraphim. If you want to understand the place of monasticism in the life of the Church, read St. Athanasios' Life of St. Antony the Great. If you value the healing work of God, don't even read about it, just invoke the prayers of St. Panteleimon, St. Swithun or some other unmercenary healer. The saints make real, vivid and personal what we believe and how we live by those beliefs.

Last week at the Amahoro Conference I met Adriaan Vlok, who had been Minister of Law and Order in the apartheid regime. Truth, reconciliation and smelly feet: Khanya:
When he was Minister, Mr Vlok’s underlings had attempted to poison Frank Chikane, the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, and Adriaan Vlok had appeared before the Truth and Reconciliatian Commission and later the Amnesty Committee and had apologised for that and other things. But he said that no one seemed to hear him, and in 2006 several things he read or heard convinced him that he needed to go beyond making a general apology, and apologise to a person, and Frank Chikane seemed to be one of those people. So he had gone to his office and washed his feet.

Adriaan Vlok told this story at the Amahoro Gathering and there was a sequel Truth, reconciliation and smelly feet: Khanya:
the person sitting next to him on the podium, Sean Callaghan, said he had been a member of Koevoet, one of the most vicious units of the apartheid security forces, who were, in effect, hired killers. He and others had had to have psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress, and his counsellor had told him he should not just curse the system, but a person to focus his anger on, thd the person he had chosen to do that was Adriaan Vlok. So he wanted to wask Vlok’s feet, and in the end the both washed each other’s feet, right there on the podium.

I found that quite scary. It was one thing to make repentance personal, as Vlok had done with Frank Chikane. It was quite another, in my mind, to make hatred personal. Sometimes we say "Love the sinner, hate the sin", but here was a psychotherapist urging someone to hate the sinner, namely Adriaan Vlok.

So I've been wondering at my own reaction. Why do I think that it's OK to personify virtues in the cult of the saints, but that it is not OK to personify vices in the execration of sinners?

My mind also goes back to the apartheid time, long before Adriaan Vlok was minister, under one of his predecessors, B.J. Vorster. Vorster passed a lot of repressive legislation to crush opposition to apartheid. He introduced detention without trial for 90 days (which Tony Blair wanted introduce in Britain, and Gordon Brown still wants to). It became personal when a friend of mine, Stephen Gawe, was detained. A few years later I was banned by another of Vlok's predecessors, as were several of my friends and acquaintances. I was then an Anglican, and the Anglican Church celebrated St Peter's Chains on 1 August, also called Lammas (in the Orthodox Church it is celebrated on 16 January). This celebrates the incident in Acts 12:1-11 in which St Peter was arrested, and the church prayed, and he was miraculously freed from prison. I regarded this as the patronal festival of all people who were banned or detained without trial, and was quite shocked when the Anglican Church's Liturgical Committee announced that they planned to abolish its observance. I regarded this as a slap in the face for all Anglicans who were banned or detained, and wrote to the chairman of the liturgical committee, Bishop Philip Russell, pleading with them to change their minds.

This led to quite a protracted correspondence. In those days, among Western Christians at least, "relevance" was regarded as one of the greatest virtues, and "irrelevance" one the greatest vices.[1] Bishop Russell was one of those who regarded "relevance" as very important and said that the Liturgical Committee regarded the feast of St Peter's Chains as irrelevant in our modern age. I was astounded that they could not see its relevance to South Africa, where people were being detained without trial regularly and every year more and more repressive legislation was being passed to enable them to be detained for longer periods and with fewer legal safeguards. I prayed that God would preserve the church from relevant priests.

Eventually Bishop Russell offered, as a consolation prize, a commemoration of Martyrs and Confessors of the Twentieth Century, which was introduced in 1975, commemorated on 8 November. The equivalent of the Synaxarion for the day explicitly mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King (neither of whom were Anglicans, though of course, neither was St Peter).

The implication was that I could consider myself among the "countless men and women of our time" who faced "misunderstanding, social ostracism, imprisonment and even death" for the sake of "the changeless truths of God". And it seemed to miss the point altogether. The commemoration of St Peter's Chain's was important to me because it was a concrete example of how the Lord "executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free, the Lord opens the eyes of the blind" as the Psalmist says. The point about St Peter's Chains is not so much that men imprisoned him as that God set him free, and that it was therefore an image of hope to those in prison. But that was not "relevant" enough for the twentieth century theologians of relevance.

No, it is better to personify good, and to depersonify evil, or to personify it only in the person of the devil. Apartheid made prisoners of us all, even Adriaan Vlok, and it is better to curse the system than to demonify a person, because that makes demons of us all.

And I wonder what the world would have been like today if George Bush and Saddam Hussein had washed one another's feet, and if Robert Mugabe washed the feet of the Zimbabwean refugees who sleep in doorways in Johannesburg.

But there were saints who did such things and more. They were irrelevant in the eyes of the world, and even in the eyes of some theologians, but not in the eyes of God.


[1] Colin Morris, a Methodist minister who worked in Zambia, wrote in his book Include me out: confessions of an ecclesiastical coward

(Karl Barth writes 'Jesus is immanent in the Church only because He transcends it'. In everyday speech this is like saying that something is wet only because it is dry, near only because it is far away, and relevant only because it is irrelevant...

... Ah, breathes the theologian. That is paradox and, therefore, profound.

... Ah, says the man in the pew, it's beyond me but I'll take the parson's word that it means something.

... So what? says the man in the street, it has nothing to do with the price of fish! -- a remark calculated to touch a theologian on the raw; say that he's unintelligible and he will take it as a compliment, but suggest that he is also irrelevant and he will sue you!

12 June 2009

Britain swings to the rift... er... leght

The election of two members of the fascist British National Party (BNP) to the European parliament has been the cause of some concern to British church leaders.

Bishop Alan’s Blog: BNP MEP’s: bring on the clowns?:
The disconnection of the Labour party from its own roots under Blair, Sun style pop Xenophobia, and disillusionment with parliamentarians, produced this result. Politicians must listen, not only pragmatically, but in a way that reconnects with this country’s historic Christian value base, or things can only get worse.

I wonder if the UK Sun is owned by the same people as own the South African Sun, because the latter's pop xenophobia certainly played a part in inciting the xenophobic violence that erupted at the beginning of last year, in which over 60 people were killed, and which was discussed at the Amahoro Conference this week. Part of the problem in South Africa, as noted at Amahoro, is that apartheid deliberately disconnected the country from a historic Christian value base (while claiming to be protecting "Western Christian civilization" -- whatever that means).

The xenophobic violence that lasted most of the first half of last year shows that we have not yet exorcised the demons of apartheid. And the demons that have been expelled seem to have emigrated to Europe, where they found the house swept and garnished, first in the wars of the Yugoslav succession, and now in the growing xenophobia in places like the UK.

But perhaps part of the problem in the UK could be remedied by voter education, which is very much needed, if the following example is anything to go by: Cranmer: Could the BNP now be sued for discrimination?:
The far-Left BNP may have won two seats on the Elections to the European Parliament, but, while this success undoubtedly constitutes something of a political and propaganda coup, Cranmer is not so sure that Nick Griffin will consider it much of a blessing when the lawsuits start being delivered.

"Far-Left BNP"? Perhaps that is the result of a misinterpretation of our Lord Jesus Christ's injunction not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, but it seems more likely that it is caused by not being able to tell one's left from one's right. What does one call that? Political dyslexia, perhaps? So if the blogger Cranmer's view is widespread, perhaps a lot of Brit voters simply voted for the wrong party, and thought that the "HITLER" tattooed on the chest of the gentleman in the picture spells "T-R-O-T-S-K-Y".

11 June 2009

Hope Transfigured: Crusading Koreans?

Hope Transfigured: Crusading Koreans?:
With Korea now sending more cross-cultural missionaries than any other country outside the US (so Julie claimed) their missiology and methodology must be significant. I was struck by how many times Julie spoke of the Korean mindset as 'crusading' - ouch!! - but she's right in many respects. Another colleague later talked of Korean missionaries as being 'modern' (rational, linear, success oriented, goal setting) and therefore finding it difficult to address pre- and post-modern mission contexts.

When I read this paragraph in Mark Oxbrow's blog (I met Mark at the conference of the International Association of Mission Studies - IAMS - at Hammanskraal in 2000) I briefly wondered what might have caused Korean missionaries to become "modern", and then I remembered the Haggai Institute.

I attended a mission training course at the Haggai Institute in Singapore in May 1985. It lasted a month, and there were people there from nineteen different countries, including four South Africans. The aim was to train third-world leaders in mission methods in such a way that they could return to their own countries and train others. And one of the things that characterised the traning was that it was modern -- rational, linear, success-oriented, goal setting. I found the training quite useful, though some parts were more useful than others.

The teaching was done by various people, from different backgrounds. Some of was informational -- for example on religions like Islam and Hinduism. Some was academic -- a sociology lecturer from the University of Singapore taught several classes. Some were practical "how to" lessons -- one taught about writing, preparing manuscripts for publication, using audiovisual media (especially where there was no mains electricity) and so on. Some were more theological -- on the Biblical basis and theology of missions. And some were a bit like motivational speakers, and the modernity was especially apparent in what they said.

I wouldn't knock that either, however. I found it useful, not so much for setting goals myself (I tend not to work like that) but for questioning the goals of activities proposed by others and even me. Step-by-step goal-setting and working everything out on paper beforehand just isn't my style, but it can be useful when someone comes up with an idea that sounds impressive until one tries to determine the goal behind it, and then suddenly it become clear that there are many better ways of reaching that goal, and that the activity proposed might actually be counterproductive in reaching the stated goal. And if people persist in pursuing the proposed couse of action, one then needs to look for an UNstated goal. An example (with which most people are no doubt familiar) is the US invasion of Iraq. What was it intended to achieve? What did the initiators SAY it was intended to achieve? Was it the best way of achieving what they SAID they wanted to achieve? And with hindsight, what did it actually achieve.

That may seem remote from a mission goal, but remember that at one point George Bush said "mission accomplished" -- so what was the mission, and was it accomplished?

But that is an illustration. The questions about it are rhetorical, so please don't try to answer them in comments!

The point here is that goal-setting is part of the modern approach that characterises Korean missionaries. And a bit strange, that, too, talking of "Korean missionaries". Because they are all, I am fairly sure, SOUTH Korean missionaries. I have my doubts that NORTH Korean missionaries, if any, take that approach.

When I was at the Haggai Institute there was one person there from South Korea, Byung Jae Jeong. We were the 85th and 86th session, so if there was an average of one South Korean for every two sessions, by that stage the Haggai Institute would have trained about 43 from South Korea. Each of them was supposed to train 100 others, so that would be about 4300 South Koreans trained in modern methods.

I don't think that the Haggai Institute was alone in training people from Asian, African and South American countries in the use of modern methods, but it can illustrate the way in which others may have offered similar training.

In this, perhaps one can see Christianity as acting as a kind of agent of modernity in South Korea, and perhaps other Asian countries, and possibly in Africa and Latin America as well.

And using the training in goal setting I received from the Haggai Institute, I ask: what are the intended and unintended consequences of this?

Firefox crashing on clicking Image Uploader in WordPress

Firefox crashing on clicking Image Uploader: WordPress.com Forums:
Is anyone reporting problems with Firefox crashing when trying to upload images? I have not installed anything new on my desktop, just clicking on the square box to upload images would crash Firefox.

I've been having that problem too, so I thought I would try it in Blogger.

The last couple of days I've been at the Amahoro Conference, and wanted to blog about it on my Khanya blog, and every time I tried to upload a picture, Firefox crashed. But it seemed to work OK in Internet Exsplorer.

But it seems to work OK here, so it must be a Wordpress problem rather than a Firefox one, though the latest information is that Google Gears is the culprit, so it looks like it's time to uninstal that.

Oh yes, the Amahoro conference has been pretty good, and I've blogged about it here and here, among other places.

08 June 2009

Who's an intellectual, then?

The newspaper The Weekender asked its readers to nominate people they thought were "intellectuals". Are these the same group that the Russians call the "intelligentsia"?

In any case, they received 148 nominations from their readers. Some of the nominations were rather dubious, but I was interested to see that the three that received the most nominations were:

  1. Mamphela Ramphele - 31 nominations
  2. Jonathan Jansen - 16 nominations
  3. Mary Metcalfe - 8 nominations

And I think I agree with those three.

Some of the others may be, but I suspect that some were nominated out of political or religious loyalty.

Can anyone suggest any others, either on The Weekender's list, or others not mentioned?

07 June 2009

A Baptist minister visits an Orthodox Church

Not for Lightweights | Real Live Preacher:
Last Sunday was the 4th of 13 in my sabbatical time. Each of them is precious to me. Each week I am choosing a place and a way to worship. I’m not a church tourist, hoping to see new things. I’m seeking spiritual experiences. I want to worship. Saturday night Jeanene and I still hadn’t decided where to go. I experienced something common to our culture but new to me. The “Where do you want to go to church - I don’t know where do YOU want to go to church” conversation. I found the Saint Anthony the Great website. It's an Orthodox church that has beautiful Byzantine art in the sanctuary. We decided to go there.

I've been reading blogs where people discuss "attractional" versus "missional" churches, and have struggled to make sense of these terms. They just don't seem to fit my understand or experience of church. And, perhaps this real live preacher 's experiwnce can give a clue about why "attractional" versus "missional" seems such a false dichotomy.

This one has been doing the rounds on Facebook.

05 June 2009

Who is Raymond A. Foss?

Who is Raymond A. Foss -- or, What is "community"?

Whenever I look at the social blogrolling site MyBlogLog, I see the footprint of Raymond A. Foss, who seems to be a member of the "community" of every single Christian blog registered with MyBlogLog.

If you look at his profile page you can see that he is in fact a member of 2487 "communities" on MyBlogLog, and that he has 5629 family, friends and contacts.

But when I visit the blogs whose "communities" I am a member of, I hardly ever see Raymond A. Foss among the "Recent Visitors" to those blogs.

A few months ago my wife was watching a TV programme, I think on the BBC, called The human footprint, which was about the effect that the average human being has on their environment over their lifetime, and one of the things they noted was that the average inhabitant of the British Isles knew about 1750 people in the course of their life.

I decided to try to make a list of all the people I've known -- family, friends, colleagues at work, casual acquaintances. I include people I've met and that I remember having had conversations with, even if I've only met them once or twice. I've got nearly 700 listed for far. I don't do this all the time, just in odd moments while waiting the kettle to boil for coffee and times like that.

The idea of someone having 5269 friends and contacts just boggles the mind. And especially since Ramond A. Foss never seems to interact most of the people that he has listed in this way, or with the blog "communities" he has joined.

Raymond A. Foss is not the only one, however.

Another one who joined a lot of Christian blog communities and then rarely or never visited them is Called2Bless.

I mention these two because I keep seeing their pictures (avatars) every day, in the "communities" they have joined, but rarely if ever interact with.

And things like this make me wonder what is community, and what do people think it means?

It's not confined to MyBlogLog, but can be found on every social networking site. Several times a week I get e-mails from people who claim to have seen my profile, and say that they want to be my friend, and ask me to send a photo. I usually just delete them unread. If they really wanted to be my friend, they would read my blogs, and write intelligent comments on some of the articles, and it would become clear that we have at least some common interests, something to talk about.

Over the last 20 years I have had several "friends" I have made through electronic networking, through BBSs, and later Usenet and the Internet. Some of them I have never met in the flesh, but have kept in touch with them for 10, 15 or 20 years. In some cases I have met them, and we've continued our electronic conversations face to face. In that way there is a community, a network of friends and relationships, because there is interaction between people. And its those kinds of relationships that social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are designed to foster and facilitate. But some people seem to want to call "friends" people they have never met and show no desire to communicate with.

Another example of this false "community" and false "friendship", where people claim friendship with not communication or interaction comes from another social blogrolling site, BlogCatalog.

BlogCatalog has an equivalent of MyBlogLog's "communities", which it calls "favorites" (and used to call "neighbourhoods"). These are blogs that you want to mark for return visits.

But it also has "groups", for people who share common interests.

I recently started a group there for Orthodox Christian bloggers, because I looked for such a group and didn't find one, and thought it might make it easier to maintain contact with people who share a common interest. Soon after it started shamirdevnath joined. Shamir Devnath does not appear to be an Orthodox Christian, and his blog did not appear to have any recent posts on Orthodox Christianity, so I rejected his membership. Three days later he joined again, so I banned him. Shamir Devnath belongs to 1217 groups on BlogCatalog. I've no idea what the average size of a group on BlogCatalog is, but the Orthodox Christian bloggers group has 10 members so far, though it is fairly new, so more may join. But if all those 1217 groups had an average of 10 people, that's 12170 people. How can someone like Shamirdevnath relate to so many people? As far as I can see, it's impossible. So why is he (and again, there are many others like him) so keen to join groups in which he clearly has no interest, and has no desire to interact with?

Also on BlogCatalog I get e-mails several times a week telling me that so-and-so has added me as their friend. Half of them are people I have never heard of, never interacted with. According to the BlogCatalog widget, they've never even looked at any of my blogs, much less commented on the posts. Why on earth do they want to add me as their "friend", when I don't know them, and they don't know me, and apparently don't even want to know me. If they wanted to know me, at least they could read my blog.

Back to MyBlogLog: soon after I joined, they introduced a new feature -- that members could send a message to all the members of the community of their blog.

There was an outcry from some people, who complained that they would be inundated by "spam". The loudest squeals came from someone who had joined over 9000 "communities", but if they didn't want communication from them, why did they join them in the first place?

Don't get me wrong -- I like social blogrolling sites like BlogCatalog and MyBlogLog. I wish all the blogs I am interested in would join them, because it would make it easier to keep track of ones that deal with topics I am interested in. But when people join communities they have no interest in, it dilutes the usefulness. If everyone joins everything, there is no point in anyone joining anything.

What kind of world do we live in, where people want to join groups that they have no interest in, where they want to call people their "friends", but have no communication with them?

The kinds of things I have mentioned above indicate to me that we live in a seriously dysfunctional society, and this dysfuction is not confined to one country or one group of countries, or one culture, but seems spread throughout the world.

Nearly twenty years ago someone wrote "The Rushdie affair showed how dangerous is the present stage of global development - a stage of communication without community" (Anderson, Walter Truett. 1990. Reality isn't what it used to be. San Francisco: Harper. p. 241).

That was a book about postmodernity.

But now we seem to have reached post-postmodernity, where we have reached an even more dangerous stage -- a stage of community without communication.

04 June 2009

Tiananmen Square Is None of Your Business, Congress by Ron Paul

The US Congress recently debated a resolution condemning human rights abuses in China 20 years ago. At least one member of of their congress urges that they should be paying more attention to human rights abuses closer to home, and nearer to the present.

Tiananmen Square Is None of Your Business, Congress by Ron Paul:
While we certainly do not condone government suppression of individual rights and liberties wherever they may occur, why are we not investigating these abuses closer to home and within our jurisdiction? It seems the House is not interested in investigating allegations that US government officials and employees approved and practiced torture against detainees. Where is the Congressional investigation of the US-operated “secret prisons” overseas? What about the administration’s assertion of the right to detain individuals indefinitely without trial? It may be easier to point out the abuses and shortcomings of governments overseas than to address government abuses here at home, but we have the constitutional obligation to exercise our oversight authority in such matters. I strongly believe that addressing these current issues would be a better use of our time than once again condemning China for an event that took place some 20 years ago.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace

Upcoming Synchroblog: Bridging the Gap - The Musings of a Confused Man

I came across this announcement of a synchroblog on faith and sexuality: Upcoming Synchroblog: Bridging the Gap - The Musings of a Confused Man:
New Direction has been seeking to foster safe and generous space for authentic conversation about faith and sexuality. We have committed ourselves to building bridges. But we cannot do it alone. We need other Christ-followers: gay and straight and everything in between, to speak up and join the conversation, to share the heart of the gospel in the midst of this conflict. We need those beyond the walls of the church: gay and straight and everything in between, to speak up and join the conversation, to share their thoughts on how the church can reach across the divide and build bridges.

See the press release on the event here.

03 June 2009

Fearful pride: North Korea's WMD

After all the media hype about North Korea's second nuclear test, here's an article worth reading.

CounterPunch: Fearful pride:
So, what does the DPRK leadership hope to gain by brandishing nuclear arms? The DPRK leadership's deepest desire is that of all elites everywhere: a long-term guarantee of its privileged position within the undisturbed extent of its domain. The DPRK wants to interact with the rest of the world in a way that sustains the physical and economic existence of their state but without introducing any ideas or social forces that weaken the control of the DPRK leadership, and the fealty of the population to that leadership. Clearly, the present DPRK regime is skeptical it can follow the Chinese example of introducing a state-directed form of capitalism while maintaining ideological control and sufficient popular obedience, so it is resistant to allowing the population wider exposure to foreign influences. The DPRK nuclear arsenal is the equivalent of a 10 foot (3.3 m) high wall topped with glass shards surrounding an estate with Pit Bulls and Doberman Pinschers running loose. It is a shield built with pride and motivated by fear.

And it seems to me that the countries that demand that North Korea abstain from developing weapons of mass destruction without dismantling their own nuclear arsenals are probably also motivated by fearful pride.

01 June 2009

The Poor Mouth: African immigrants swarm to Britain

The Poor Mouth: African immigrants swarm to Britain: "They come literally in their millions and yet the mainstream media ignore this story. The country is in the midst of an invasion of African migrants. The immigrants invade our public spaces and take food with no regard for the laws of this land"

Shadows of ecstasy in the place of the lion!


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