31 July 2009

The (almost) end of the world

In a recent blog post Jim Forest recalls the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and its most threatening day, 27 October 1962. On Pilgrimage: Memories of the (almost) end of the world:
In my office on Madison Avenue, we did hardly any work that day. We were mainly engaged in nonstop listening to the radio. Then, late in the day, came the news that Khrushchev had announced that the Soviet government had issued an order for dismantling its Cuba-based nuclear weapons. The missiles and their warheads were to be put back in their crates and returned to the Soviet Union.

Out of curiosity I checked my diary for that day. I remembered reading about it in the newspapers at the time, but it didn't make nearly as much of an impression on us in Soputh Africa as it appears to have done in America. It was just one more act of political brinkmanship (now there's a word I haven't seen for a long time, but it was quite common back then).

On that day I was too busy at work to worry about international politics. I was a bus conductor in Johannesburg, and it was a Saturday. Saturdays were mt busiest days. I was working on the Bellevue East Non-Europeans Only route, with clapped-out old AEC Mark III double-decker oil buses which could take about 70 passengers (the "white" buses on that route were big Sunbeam trolley buses, which could take 110 passengers, though they were rarely filled to capacity). We had a full load at the town terminus, and when we reached the station in Noord Street there was another full load waiting, so we couldn't clear the road, and that was the second-last bus that night. Eventually I wrote a memo to the boss asking for either bigger buses or extra buses on the route. So that night I was too busy trying to work my way through the crowded bus to collect the fares to worry about what politicians far away in the northern hemisphere were up to.

The earliest mention in my diary was two months later, when I referred to American hypocrisy in demanding that the USSR not have missiles in Cuba, so close to the USA, while the Americans had their own missiles in Turkey, on the border of the Soviet Union. When US President Kennedy was assassinated the following year, my main recollection of his presidency was his grandstanding on this, which threatened global thermonuiclear war, and my impression that Krushchev had been statesmanlike in defusing the situation, and in being more concerned with saving the world than saving face.

But another paragraph in Jim Forest's post challenged my assumptions on that too, when he mentioned a book of revisionist history On Pilgrimage: Memories of the (almost) end of the world:
(We didn’t yet know that Kennedy had made a pledge, overruling the advice of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not to invade Cuba, nor did anyone beyond Kennedy’s inner circle know of the promise made to Khrushchev to pull US missiles away from the Soviet border with Turkey. The more hidden side of the story is told in Jim Douglass’s book, JFK and the Unspeakable.)

I didn't know that until I read Jim Forest's blog, and it put Kennedy's (and Krushchev's) actions in a very different light. It seems that Krushchev got the kudos, while Kennedy was doing his good deeds in secret, and I might have to revise my harsh judgement on his brinkmanship.

And I was reminded of that again this morning when I came across another mention of this book by Jim Douglass -- America Magazine:
Last year Orbis Books published a book by Jim Douglass, a veteran Catholic peace activist and theologian, called JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. It was reviewed very favorably in America here by George Anderson, SJ. Just when you might have thought everything that could be said about the death of JFK had been said, Douglass offered a new examination of the assassination. His own contribution was to attempt to establish the motive for Kennedy's killing, tracing the process of conversion that led him, over the course of three years, from his attitude as an ardent Cold Warrior to his commitment to lead the world away from the edge of apocalypse. A series of political steps caused him to be viewed as a virtual traitor by elements of the CIA and military establishment.
So perhaps Kennedy was a martyr for peace rather than one of the masters of war.

29 July 2009

Turn offs

As i look around the blogosphere for new and interesting blogs, there are some things that turn me right off.

I do most of my blog surfing on MyBlogLog. I used to use BlogCatalog for that as well, but now they show blogs in an annoying frame, which you have to close to see the URL, which means reloading the page, with a consequent waste of bandwidth.

That's a turn-off in itself. I like to visit blogs whose owners have visited my blog -- if they find my blog interesting, there's a stronger possibility that I'll find theirs interesting. And if theirs is interesting, then people who visit their blog might have interesting blogs, and so on.

But it's a bit like travelling through a maze or a labyrinth -- doing that sometimes leads one down dead ends, and when that happens there is nothing for it but to go back and start over.

There are, however, some warning signs that indicate that a dead end is coming up -- key words that turn me off.

And some of these words are: entrepreneurship, marketing, self-help, self-improvement, personal development.

When I see those tags in a MyBlogLog blog listing, I don't even bother to look at the blog. I know it's going to be a boring dead end.

But there are a lot of blogs like that out there.

My son works in a book shop, and he tells me that the best-selling books are the self-improvement ones.

One of the most popular recent ones is called The Secret. More people seem to buy that than anything else, and from my son's description of the contents I gather its main purpose is to promote the "culture of entitlement" which is already the bane of our society. Its main message appears to be that the universe owes you a living, and you just need to be sufficiently assertive to persuade it to cough up.

A few years ago we went to his graduation at the Pretoria Technikon (now called the Tshwane University of Technology). He studied fine arts, and was a bit unenthusiastic when we said we would like to attend his graduation. When we did, we saw why.

The main speaker pronounced his pride in the institution's greatest achievement: it was the very first tertiary education institution in the world to include the word "entrepreneurship" in its mission statement.

And it went from bad to worse: the lights were dimmed, and the graduands all recited "The Entrepreneur's Creed" together in unison, like 8-year-olds reciting the multiplication tables -- the new secular religion for the masses.

Marketing, entrepreneurship, self-help and self-improvement are the biggest turn-offs I know.

But if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, just write and publish a self-improvement book. Marketing it is one of the easiest things in the world to do, because the demand is limitless.

Better still, write a book about how to write self-improvement books.

28 July 2009

Living Memory

Bishop Alan meditates on the death of Harry Patch, the last British soldier of the First World War to die, which means that that conflict is now beyond living memory. Bishop Alan’s Blog: Harry Patch: Last of the Old Brigade:
This whole stream of our culture is now almost extinguished, although there may be a few civilians who lived through it left. I am not sure where this leaves us in our own Great War for Civilisation. I am optimistic enough to believe young people have a great underlying spirit and capacity for altruism, that comes out when really necessary. I love the way our children’s generation network and care for each other. Plainly the ravages of ego, selfishness and materialism come much more easily to us, and them, than to Mr Patch’s generation — another reason to respect our young people, who have so much more confused and confusing a world of which to make sense.

I've been reading the biography of Siegfried Sassoon, one of the "war poets" of that era, which chronicles his gradual disillusionment with the politicians who were running the war. He came to believe that, no matter what good reasons there may have been for getting involved in the conflict initially, politicians were trying to prolong it, and ignoring opportunities for peace.

And whenever I read books of that era, I am once again aware of the change that that war brought about. There was a huge cultural change. Life before the war and life after it were utterly different.

It was a conflict that shaped the lives of many who have shaped our lives. The author of the most popular book of the 20th century, The lord of the rings fought in it, as did many of the other authors of 20th century books. Those who lived through it probably saw more changes in their life time than most other generations, before or since. Before the war, the cavalry rode horses, after it, they drove tanks. And in civilian life, motor vehicles replaced horses as the main means of transport. In the short space of 15 years or so, the world had changed beyond people's imaginings.

This is illustrated by a picture in my grandfather's photo album from the Anglo-Boer War, which he has captioned "War in the Future".

In our generation there haven't been many changes in modes of transport for the last 40 years. Forty years ago men went to the moon, but they have gone no further since then. Forty years ago, Boeing 747 jumbo jets were introduced to the airlines of the world, and while there have been refinements since then in electronics and other things, the basic mode of transport has remained the same. Forty years before that it was airships.

And how long will it be before one can no longer find anyone who knew anyone who fought in the First World War?

When I was a student, nearly 50 years ago, in about September 1964, Professor Edgar Brookes spoke about it. He was a history professor at the University of Natal, and he spoke on the 50th anniversary of the start of the First World War, and the 25th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. He had lived through both of them, and had memories of both of them. But that generation has now passed.

Political honeymoon is over for Jacob Zuma

Letter from Africa: Political honeymoon is over for Jacob Zuma | World news | guardian.co.uk:
Whereas the former president Thabo Mbeki was an aloof, out-of-touch philosopher king, we were told, Zuma was a massive presence in every sense, a Zulu warrior king so in touch with the people he had already married four of them.

Well, that's a nice pithy summing up.

But the article goes on to say:

But the political honeymoon has rapidly slipped into a winter of discontent. Doctors, miners, train drivers and workers in the chemical, construction, energy, paper, printing, retail and state broadcasting sectors have downed tools. More than half a million working days were lost due to strikes in the first half of this year, more than twice that in the same period in 2008. Residents have been warned to expect power cuts at home, no buses or trains to get to work and streets piled high with rubbish.

That really makes it sound as though we're getting more like Europe every day. Last time I visited Greece hardly a day went by without some or other group of striking workers marching to or from Syntagma Square in Athens.

I wondered what Cosatu thought they were doing, throwing their support behind Jacob Zuma in the general election three months ago. I wonder if they are beginning to wonder themselves.

24 July 2009

Catholic Nurse Sues Hospital over Abortion

Catholic Nurse Sues NY Hospital over Abortion - US - CBN News - Christian News 24-7 - CBN.com:
A Catholic nurse is suing Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City for forcing her to participate in a late term abortion and violating her rights of conscience.

The Tuesday lawsuit claims hospital administrators told nurse Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo the abortion was an emergency and insisted she participate in the second-trimester abortion or face possible termination. The woman was 22 weeks pregnant.

A case of "terminate or be terminated"?

There is something in this story that someone is not telling us. Without the missing piece of the puzzle it is not possible to make sense of the actions of the participants in the story.

The missing piece is the nature of the "emergency".

Some news stories are mysteries because not enough is known at the time -- the cause of a plane crash, for example. B ut this is one of those that are mysteries because the people who tell the story know but won't tell.

Perhaps the truth will come out when the case comes to court, but will the new media be bothered to tell us the missing bits then?

23 July 2009

Circumcision of HIV+ males increases risk to women

For quite a long time now there have been reports of studies that purport to show that male circumcision reduces transmission of HIV and Aids, leading some people to advocate universal male circumcision as a means of combating the pandemic.

There is a study that implies that this approach could be counterproductive. Circumcision of HIV men INCREASES risk to women. | ICGI - Genital Integrity:
A new study published in Lancet shows that women are 50% more likely to contract HIV if they are having sex with circumcised men. Most of the infections were from the time period when the couples began having sex before the wound healed, but the effect continued past that period, indicating that there is no benefit to women from male circumcision. Proponents of mass circumcision plans have long argued that women are protected when men are circumcised, but this study indicates the opposite. The study, like its predecessors, was stopped early.

Medical statisticians may believe that universal male circumcision will statistically reduce the rate of transmission of HIV, but one is dealing with people, not statitstics. The web site in the link is an advocacy site, and not disinterested in this matter, but The Lancet is a reputable medical journal.

The study referred to above shows what simple logic should have shown anyway -- that while circumcision may reduce a male's chance of being infected with HIV, one that male is infected, it does nothing to reduce the chance of his passing on the virus to women.

And the propaganda for universal male circumcision may be counterproductive, in that, human nature being what it is, it could lead circumcised males to believe that they are immune to infection (yes, weirder things have happened -- people are not statistics) and thus become more promiscuous.

22 July 2009

Ant mega-colony takes over world

BBC - Earth News - Ant mega-colony takes over world: "Argentine ants living in vast numbers across Europe, the US and Japan belong to the same inter-related colony, and will refuse to fight one another.

The colony may be the largest of its type ever known for any insect species, and could rival humans in the scale of its world domination.

What's more, people are unwittingly helping the mega-colony stick together.

Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) were once native to South America. But people have unintentionally introduced the ants to all continents except Antarctica."

19 July 2009

Illegal aliens

Telling it like it is, as we used to say in the sixties.

The Sovietizing of American War Propaganda --LewRockwell.com Blog:
Think of it for a second: If a gang invaded your home, set fire to several rooms, killed several of your family members, and then decided to stay for a while, would you refer to such people as “guests”?

Another leaflet distributed in the villages ominously warns the residents not to tax the patience of their oh-so-benevolent “guests.” One side shows the forlorn and pathetic image of a soldier, his head bowed in exhaustion and pain; the other shows a team of soldiers kicking in the door of a house. The caption reads: “If you do not free the Americans soldier, then … you will be hunted.” (The last word can be translated as either “hunted” or “targeted.”)

In keeping with the self-serving conventions of official U.S. propaganda, the soldier is described as “kidnapped” — the victim of a criminal act — rather than “captured” as a prisoner of war.

Given that the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan have been carried out without a declaration of war, as the Constitution requires, the Afghans would be perfectly justified were they to emulate their supposed betters in Washington by referring to the soldier as a detained “unlawful enemy combatant.”

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace.

The author also mentions the 1980s TV series V, in which extra-terrestrial invaders insisted on being referred to a "visitors". In South Africa that series was interpreted in a rather different manner. Our "visitors" were homegrown. In the TV series the "visitors" were reptilian, but disguised as human beings, and the 1980s were the heyday of P.W, Botha, known even by his cabinet colleagues as "Die groot krokodil".

Nevertheless, no matter which way you look at it, the Americans in Afghanistan are illegal aliens.

18 July 2009

Political correctness left and right

A conservative blog for peace:
A young Canadian libertarian thinks about social conservatism. If a Muslim can’t handle hearing a Christian word then he does not belong in a country of (supposed) free speech. Not all social conservatives want the government to control speech to fit the Canadian heritage mold. I would argue that most, like me, would probably prefer everyone to be culturally Canadian and value traditions but would rarely want the government involved.

I haven't heard of Muslims objecting to Christian words like "Christmas" -- the word mentioned in the original article The Shotgun: My brush with conservatism:
On one side of that line, there is 'being politically correct'; on the other, free speech. Using the term Holiday instead of Christmas is fine when used to include all religions and ethnicities, but telling someone that they can't use the word Christmas because it is discriminating against non-Christians is ridiculous.

"Social conservatives" seem to attribute "political correctness" to the left, but it's equally common on the right.

I've heard of some "socially conservative" Christians who have objected to having "Halaal" printed on food for sale, so this is not simply a "left" political correctness -- it affects the whole political spectrum except the liberals, who believe in live and let live.

And "live and let live" means that Christians can have Christmas (though we prefer to call it "The Nativity of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ", but "Christmas" is fine as shorthand) and Muslims can have Ramadan without it being called "the holidays", and can have food marked as "Halaal" if it makes shopping easier for them. It would be nice if food were also labelled "Nistisimou" for Orthodox Christians, though. Would Muslims object to that? I doubt it. And matzos is "nistisimou", even if it is labelled "kosher".

My objection to "Christmas socials" is that they usually take place during the pre-Christmas fast, and not during the Christmas festive season season itself.

But don't come with all that guff about left "political correctness" -- it comes just as much from the socially conservative "religious right" as it does from the left, if not more so.

17 July 2009

Where were you?

People sometimes ask "Where were you when such and such and event happened?" Or, more likely, they remember where they themselves were. And now people are remembering where they were during the first moon landing, 40 years ago this week. Jim Forest's memories of where he was are particularly interesting because they recall another aspect of the 1960s -- he was in jail.

On Pilgrimage: The whole Earth in a prison cell:
Most people at the time saw the moon landing on television. In my case, I listened to it happening via a pair of low-tech earphones made available to me by the State of Wisconsin. I was in a narrow cell at Waupun State Prison.

Prison had become my temporary home due to an act of protest against the Vietnam War – I was one of 14 people who burned files of Milwaukee’s nine draft boards. Now I was in the early weeks of serving a two-year sentence – in fact one year, given the “good behavior” factor.

As for me, I was travelling through the Kalahari. I was doing that during the Apollo XI space mission, and during the Apollo XII mission as well. At the time of the Apollo XIII mission I didn't make it to the Kalahari, and Apollo XIII didn't make it to the moon either.

16 July 2009

Synchroblog on Syncretism

There is a synchroblog on syncretism this month. Syncretism is mixing up two (or more) religions to make another religion that is different from those that went to make it up. It is not quite the same as borrowing elements from other religions, and nor is it quite the same as what the Russians call dvoeverie -- practising two or more religions side-by-side. But actually the synchroblog posts deal with all three.

You may find the posts here:

And then there is this post The Deacon's Bench: Buying into the "Prosperity Gospel", which seems not unrelated.

14 July 2009

Sarah Palin is so 2008

John Smulo said on Facebook:
I'm trying to deal with Facebook suggesting I become a fan of Sarah Palin.

But John, Sarah Palin is so 2008.

She isn't a patch on our Lynda Odendaal!

As one political commentator, The Wild Frontier at The Times -- Lynda Odendaal puts it:
THE departure of Lynda Odendaal from the position of second deputy president of Cope is not a seismic event in South African politics. The party’s first deputy president is Mbhazima Shilowa. It’s president is Mosiuoa Lekota. It’s Parliamentary leader is Mvume Dandala. So there is no shortage of leadership to fill the vacuum left by Odendaal. But her departure is yet another signal that Cope is yet to plot a course that inspires the electorate.

And probably the same could be said of Sarah Palin in the USA -- not a seismic event. Is there a Lynda Odendaal fan group on Facebook? Is there a fan group for every political drop-out?

New NATO: Germany Returns To World Military Stage

New NATO: Germany Returns To World Military Stage:
'If somebody had announced in 1989 that, well, the Berlin Wall has come down, now Germany can unite and send military forces back into Yugoslavia — and what is more in order to enforce a partition of the country along similar lines to those it imposed when it occupied the country in 1941 — well, quite a number of people might have raised objections. However, that is what has happened, and many of the very people might who have been expected to object most strongly to what amounts to the most significant act of historical revisionism since World War II have provided the ideological cover and excuse.' [6]

The campaign was not without effect in Germany as subsequent events have proved and has been accompanied by the rehabilitation, honoring and even granting of veteran benefits to Nazi collaborators, including former Waffen SS members, in Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine in recent years.

Yesterday Yugoslavia, tomorrow the world!

By successfully demonifying the Serbs, and transferring the guilt of its Nazi past to them, Germany has succeeded in perpetuating the past rather than burying it.

12 July 2009

Communication without community

In a recent post Bishop Alan’s Blog: Why ordination? Why today? Bishop Alan quotes an author, Eugene H. Peterson as saying:
The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shop-keepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shop-keepers’ concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shop-keeping; religious shop-keeping, to be sure, but shop-keeping all the same... “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.

And one of Bishop Alan's blogging friends, Simple Massing Priest, responded to this thus:
I've said before that statistics only tell you what they tell you and that's all they tell you. Thus statistics about average Sunday attendance or giving by members do tell you something about the vitality of a congregation. But what they're telling isn't always clear. And even when it's clear, it may not be important.

If only we could find some discrete statistical way to quantify the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a community and in the lives of individuals.

He goes on, however, in another post Simple Massing Priest: The Great Heresy(ies) to say:
Historically, Catholic Christianity has always seen the collective expression of the Body of Christ - that is to say the Church - as important. While never denying the importance of individual faith, individual devotion and individual piety, a Christian is properly a Christian because they are part of Christ's Body, the Church. To treat Christian faith as being an entirely individual undertaking - as seems altogether too common in some circles - is manifestly heretical. The Ethiopian eunuch came to believe as an individual, but it was baptism by Philip which grafted him into the Church. The lot fell on Matthias as an individual, but his Apostolic authority came from being 'added to the eleven Apostles.'

Now, I agree that there is, as always, a polar opposite heresy - the heresy that would emphasize the collective to the exclusion, diminution and discarding of the individual. That heresy might take many forms, but it would certainly be a heresy.

Individualism and collectivism are both Western heresies, or perhaps I should say heresies of Western modernity. And they are both related to (and are perhaps the root of) the obsession with counting, and the idea that if things are not numerically quantifiable, they aren't worth bothering with. Things must be "measurable", and this is often used as a kind of label of approval. "Measurable" is an epithet tagged on to things to make us think that they must be good.

The Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras has a different take on it

In everyday speech we tend to distort the meaning of the word 'person'. What we call 'person' or 'personal' designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms 'person' and 'individual' as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, 'person' and 'individual' are opposite in meaning. The individual is the
denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man's common nature, and quantitative
comparisons and analogies. Chiefly in the field of sociology and politics the human being is frequently identified with the idea of numerical individuality. Sometimes this rationalistic process of leveling out is considered progress, since it helps
to make the organization of society more efficient.

One manifestation of this, especially in America, is the failure to understand objections to attempts to expunge the inclusive use of the word "man" from our vocabulary. Some people insist that "man" must refer exclusively to males, and ought not, indeed cannot, include females.

They would demand that the word "man" be removed from a phrase like "reconciliation between God and man, and man and man" and replaced with some impersonal abstract collective term like "humanity", and fail to see that this changes the meaning, and the reason they fail to see this is because they cannot see the distinction between individuals and persons.

In part this is because a a deficiency in the English language. Other languages have different terms for a person of either sex and a male person. Greek has anthropos and aner, Latin has homo and vir, Zulu has umuntu and indoda, but English has to make do with "man" and "man". Zulu even has a saying umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu -- "a person is a person because of people". But because Western modernity prefers to see things that are quantifiable and countable, the idea that persons need communities in order to be persons at all seems quite alien. The Orthodox anthropology that Yannaras describes is communitarian rather than aligned with Western individualism or collectivism -- and I've discussed the economic ramifications of that in another post.

However, another blogging friend, Dion's random ramblings, writes about using social media:
Build a wide range of relationships. This is where twitter and facebook come in. The intention of these relationships is the create opportunities to interact around common interests and concerns, and particularly to drive traffic to my content! I cannot emphasize this last point strongly enough!

As should be apparent from my previous post, I have grave reservations about simply "driving traffic" without being concerned with the quality of the traffic. For example, on Blog Catalog I have 8 friends. They are people I have interacted with, either face-to-face or online. There are many more who have said that they want to be my "friend", but they haven't bothered to read any of my blogs. What kind of idea of friendship is this?

As one writer put it, we live in an age of communication without community. People say that they want to be our "friends", but they don't want to talk to us, or exchange ideas. A person is a person because of people, but in individual is an individual in isolation from other people. Occasionally feral children have been found, children that were lost and brought up by animals, and they find it very difficult to interact with other people. They may be individuals, but they find it very difficult to become persons till they have faces, and some people don't seem to want to have faces. Faces have been replaced by "avatars" and "personas".

07 July 2009

TrafficG -- blog surfing and traffic generation

For some time I've been a member of Blog Explosion, which is intended to bring traffic to your blog when you surf other blogs.

I've now found a similar site, TrafficG, which may be better and more versatile.

Both work on a similar principle -- you surf blogs from their site, and as you do so you earn "credits", which are applied to directing other people to your blog(s).

Both of them have selections of interests -- you can say what interests your blog caters for, and what kind of blogs you are interested in, and that should mean that when you surf you can discover new blogs on topics you are interested in.

Unfortunately that feature of Blog Explosion stopped working some time ago. My main interest was "Books, literature and writing", but it hardly ever shows me blogs in that category any more, and when I visit it shows me blogs in categories I'm not interested in , the same ones over and over, even if they haven't been updated for months.

TrafficG seems to be based on the same idea, so I'll be interested in seeing if it works any better, and shows me some more interesting blogs.

To me the "interests" thing is crucial.

I'm not interested simply in "hits" -- what I want is readers who are interested in at least some of the same things I'm interested in, who will leave intelligent comments on the content of the posts, and possibly lead to interesting conversations. Blog Explosion did that in the beginning, but no longer does so. I think the owners have got bored with it and are neglecting it.

So here's hoping that TrafficG works better.

And the verdict is...

Blog Explosion beats TrafficG hands down.

For all its faults, Blog Explosion does occasionally show me a web site that I find interesting. Only about one in 20 match my preferred interest (Books, literature and writing), but TrafficG did not manage to show me a single site that was of any interest at all. About 99,9% of them looked like paid ads for other web sites that promise to bring traffic to your side -- and none of them looked like they would have any interest in visiting my blog, much less be capable of making intelligent comments. That kind of "traffic" I could do without. It looks like TrafficG is the tip of an iceberg: a huge incestuous network of "traffic-generation" sites wasting bandwidth by generatng traffic for each other in an endless circle.

06 July 2009

Does Yahoo! have a death wish?

Yahoo! seem to be determined to drive away all their customers.

First they announced that they were closing their Geocities web sites (after years of neglect), which will break millions of links and mean the loss of much useful material from the web (as well as much rubbish).

Now my daughter has discovered that her Yahoo! mail account no longer works; she can read mail, but can't reply.

It appears that the reason is that they have changed their mail service so that it no longer supports the Opera browser. As a result, my daughter has switched to Gmail.

Well, I've been advising her to do that for years, ever since I discovered just how unreliable Yahoo can be. They "lost" my Geocities web pages for two months. They eventually came back, but too late. Within two days of their disappearing from the web, I had moved them to a new host. Perhaps others whose web pages may be orphaned by the closing of Geocities could do that too. The only disadvantage is that Google searches still point to the old site.

No sooner were my Geocities pages back up than they lost my e-mail account for six months. And when it came back they had lost all my archived messages. They lost my Yahoo 360 account, which was no great loss because it was pretty clunky anyway. The only problem is that I have no access to anyone else on Yahoo 360, and they keep urging me to "join" -- a bit stupid, since I have already joined.

Perhaps Yahoo are retrenching because they are losing money, but one reason for their losing money is that they are alienating their customers like this. They buy services (like Geocities and Webrings) from other people, and then mess them up, and wonder why they lose money. They recently took over MyBlogLog -- I hope they don't mess that up too. Actually it is pretty messed up already. On my other blog (and most WordPress blogs) they show that the only visitors are Eric, Reesa10, SteveHo and Rafer. People have been asking them to fix that bug for years, but it seems that they are neglecting MyBlogLog just as they are neglecting the other things they took over, which is why BlogCatalog is better -- at least it shows who the real visitors are.

05 July 2009

A.N. Wilson: believer, unbeliever, believer

A.N. Wilson, the novelist and literary biographer, has returned to the Christian faith after a spell as an atheist (hat-tip to The Inklings: A.N. Wilson).

New Statesman - Why I believe again):
I haven’t mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer’s serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.
His article about his reconversion is quite interesting, and that is one of the more interesting bits for me at the moment, perhaps because a couple of days ago I participated in a survey on beliefs, which seemed to me to raise similar questions. I did the survey, and it begged too many questions. I thought the authors needed to examine their presuppositions, and ask themselves whether they could assume that those who answer the survey question share those presuppositions, otherwise they might totally misinterpret the answers they receive.

As another person who took part in the survey put it

The assumptions seem to be that people go from "believing" to "not believing" in:

a) Monsters
b) Santa Claus
c) God or gods

Interesting correlations, those. They do have a couple of questions for those who came to believe in God as adults, but most of the questions have an underlying assumption that people don't go from unbelief as children to belief as adults, which made it difficult for me to respond to the survey. I had to leave several notes in the boxes that asked for explanations.

My own observation was that, concerning monsters, Chairman Mao, who I assume was an atheist, said that "monsters of all kinds shall be destroyed".

Chairman Mao also made frequent reference to "paper tigers" and "bean curd tigers" -- could it be assumed that he believed in the existence of those as a child, and that he could have said (if he were still alive to do the test) whether he stopped believing in them when he was 8, 16, 32 or 64?

The test asked if one had "seen" monsters. Chairman Mao said that US imperialism was a bean curd tiger -- what kind of sense does it make to ask whether one has "seen" US imperialism, either when one is awake, or when one is dreaming? Can one "see" abstract things physically, which is what the designers of the survey seemed to assume? Could I say that I had "seen" bean curd tigers at the age of six, but that I had stopped "believing in them" by the time I was 8, and thereafter only "saw" them in my dreams? What would Chairman Mao have said if he had been asked to take a test like that?

The designers of the survey seem to assume that human beings think like computers, and are not capable of abstract or symbolic thought.

They also appeared to assume that people stop believing in God/gods because of injustice in the world, and continue to believe in God/gods because of justice in the world. The possibility of the reverse being true did not seem to have occurred to them. That, I thought, was the most ridiculous assumption of all, and it is linked to what A.N. Wilson said about Bonhoeffer's Ethics.

Oh, if you want to try the survey for yourself, you can find it here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/DevelopmentofBeliefsNew.

I haven't read much of A.N. Wilson's work, in fact the only book of his I've read is his memoir of Iris Murdoch. When I saw it in a shop, going cheap, I bought it, because I wanted to learn something more about Iris Murdoch and what made her tick. I thought the book was a biography of Murdoch, but it was not; it was more like an autobiography of A.N. Wilson. I was misled, as I flipped thoruhg it in the shop, by a chapter headed "I want you to writye my biography". But it is a memoir rather than a biography. And that's OK, as long as one understands that. Memoirs can make useful sources for biographers, but biographies they are not.

I've sometimes thought of writing biographies of some people that I have known, but I realise that I have neither the time nor the energy nor the patience nor the resources to do it. To write a good biography is a huge task, and I simply don't know how biographers manage it. Where do they find the money, for a start, to travel around and collect their material? From publishers' advances? But the publishers must then be pretty certain that they are going to make a lot of money out of sales, and the only biographies for which they will do that are the badly written ones, the ones hastily tossed off by hack journalists after the death of a celeb, not properly researched, but enough to keep the fans happy and paying. So the biographers who get the money don't need it, and the ones that need the money don't get it.

So I don't blame A.N. Wilson not for writing a biography of Iris Murdoch, but perhaps he will one day. It will be interesting to see if his reconversion to Christianity changes his attitude to ppeople like C.S. Lewis and Hillaire Belloc, for whom he has written biographies. Will he rewrite them, or write an addendum? Or will he claim that what he wrote was just the objective truth. It will be interesting to see.

03 July 2009

The Times - UK ‘more violent than South Africa’

We South Africans have got used to foreign journalists like PETER HITCHENS rubbishing South Africa in their columns, but now one of the papers he writes for has had to admit that violent crime in Britain is worse than in South Africa.

The Times - UK ‘more violent than South Africa’:
The United Kingdom has overtaken South Africa as the world’s most violent country.

# UK violent crime “worse than SA” - Daily Mail

# Britain’s crime wave is nothing to be smug about (editorial)

The UK has been left with some soul searching to do after findings that Britons experienced more incidents of violent crime per 100,000 citizens than South Africa, which is often depicted as the world capital of violent crime.

Commenting on a report in UK tabloid the Daily Mail, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Dr Johan Burger, said: “Maybe now those who have been pointing fingers at us will get their own house in order.”

The Daily Mail reported yesterday that the UK has a higher rate of violent crime than any other country, “beating” the likes of the US and South Africa.

Hat tip to Contact Online Weblog: UK ‘more violent than South Africa’.

Of course the problems that people like Hitchens writes about are here. We had a lot of electricity blackouts in January 2008, as he writes. But they have not continued. A long-term solution needs to be found, and people are whinging because they will have to pay for it (just as they do in Britain).

There was xenophobic violence between February and June 2008 -- 2008 seems to have been a bad year -- in which more than 60 people died -- about the same number as in the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. And though the violence has dropped off, there is still racism and xenophobia. But the Brits elected two MEPs from the xenophobic BNP to the European parliament this year, so South Africa doesn't have a monopoly on xenophobia either.

And yes, we have corrupt politicians, and we had the Travelgate scandal, but that was small beer compared with what has recently been revealed about British MPs fiddling their expense claims.

01 July 2009

Unlimited bollocks for bullockymorons

In an English usage discussion forum someone asked about the meaning of "unlimited" in the following examples:

"Unlimited Mobile Internet: Unlimited mobile internet is subject to a fair use allowance of 1GB per month."

"Unlimited Mobile Internet – 30p a day: Our daily charge for access to the mobile internet is subject to a fair use allowance of 25MB per day."

Source: Virgin Mobile Terms and Conditions

Apparently the British Advertising Standards Authority thinks such lies in advertising are OK, as long as they are truthful lies.

That really does give them incredible credibility.


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