31 August 2009

SA white gets refugee status in Canada

Wow, Canada really has changed. In the 1980s it at least paid lip-service supporting the anti-apartheid struggle, but even in the worst days of apartheid I don't think I've come across anything quite as racist as this.

SA white gets refugee status: News24: SouthAfrica: News:
Ottawa - A white South African man has been granted refugee status in Canada, after an immigration board panel ruled he would be persecuted if he returned home to South Africa, the Ottawa Sun reports.

This is the first time a white South African has been granted refugee status in Canada claiming persecution from black South Africans, the newspaper said.

Brandon Huntley, 31, presented 'clear and convincing proof of the state's inability or unwillingness to protect him', the Canadian immigration and refugee board panel ruled last Thursday.

'I find that the claimant would stand out like a 'sore thumb' due to his colour in any part of the country,” tribunal panel chair William Davis said.

Hat-tip to The BlaBla Blog.

"Stand out like a sore thumb because of his colour in any part of the country?" That guy must be channelling Dr Verwoerd.

Is Canada really as racist as that?

Kidnapped children returning home

There have been a number of stories in recent years of children who were kidnapped many years before finally being reunited with their families. One of the most recent concerns Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was kidnapped in 1991 at the age of 11, and was recently reunited with her family.

It's a happy ending in a way, because many children who disappear are sometimes later found dead, and in some cases their families never hear of them again, and are uncertain about their fate. A similar case was that of Natascha Kampusch in Austria, who was kidnapped at the age of ten, and kept in an underground cell. A sadder case was Elizabeth Fritzl, who was not kidnapped from her family, but imprisoned by her own father.

Unlike Jaycee, cellar victims did not see life they were missing - Times Online:
The photographs of Ms Dugard’s backyard jail may spin the illusion that her imprisonment, though dreadful, was better than the lot of the entombed Austrians — the schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch (who freed herself in 2006 after eight years underground) and Elisabeth Fritzl, held in a dungeon for almost a quarter of a century. But the tent-world of Ms Dugard may have been an even greater mental torture than that faced by the Austrian cellar children.

For the Fritzl children the outside world was an abstraction; they had no concept of sky, of birdsong or trees. For Ms Dugard and her daughters, the real world was tantalisingly close. What was she supposed to tell her children?

The tent-prison must have expanded as she grew into adolescence and became the mother of her captor’s children. The canopies multiplied and now the pictures show a warren resembling a shanty town or a refugee camp.

But there is another story that perhaps did not receive quite the same prominence in the Western media, of a 12-year-old boy who was kidnapped in Afghanistan, and kept for seven years. Youngest Gitmo inmate returns to Afghanistan:
The youngest detainee in Guantanamo has been finally released to join his family in Afghanistan after seven years in custody in the notorious detention center run by the US military.

Mohammed Jawad, who is now believed to be 21, reunited with his family in the Afghan capital, Kabul, late on Monday, his lawyer confirmed.

Jawad was arrested by Afghan police on charges of throwing a hand grenade that injured two US soldiers and their interpreter in Kabul in 2002. He was later delivered into American custody, and about a month later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

A federal judge ordered Jawad released in July, after a war crimes case against him was dismissed for a lack of evidence and concerns about his age.

In the first cases mentioned, parents turned to state authorities to help them find their missing children, except in the case where it was the parents themselves who had imprisoned their children, and in the case of Mohammed Jawad, it was state authorities who were the kidnappers, and reminds me of Psalm 94:20-21:

You never consent to that corrupt tribunal
that imposes disorder as law
that takes the life of the virtuous
and condemns the innocent to death.

Perhaps there is a common childhood fear of being kidnapped and taken from one's family. I am aware of having had such fears in my own childhood. Perhaps the fears were sparked off by learning this poem at school, at the age of nine. I found it both very sad and very scary, and I think of it whenever I read such news stories:

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together,
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl's feather.

It's called "The fairies", but a few lines further on, it tells what these "good folk" did:

They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again,
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
Between the light and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since,
Deep within the lakes,
On a bed of flag leaves,
Watching till she wakes.

28 August 2009

Recent reading: The Arthurian handbook

The Arthurian Handbook The Arthurian Handbook by Norris J. Lacy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The stories of King Arthur are among the most enduring legends in English literature, not to mention French, German and other literatures as well. As the authors note in the preface to the second edition, "in the period 1990-95, and in English alone, well over eighty Arthurian novels and even more short stories were published, and the flood shows no signs of abating."

The authors do not claim to be able to record every title in this flood; to do so would be to make the book nothing more than a bibliography. They concentrate on the more important and significant works.

But the point of such a book is that one is quite likely to come across references or allusions to the Arthurian legend in books that one reads, and so some familiarity with the main features of the legend are useful, and this is what this book provides. It has chronologies of the main works published, including non-literary works, like painting, sculpture, film and more. If gives family trees of Arthur (all different) from the major works. And it gives a brief description of the various works that convey the Arthurian story. At the end there is a glossary, giving the names and roles of the main characters, and their various forms, and the way they are portrayed in various works.

I've read about the Arthurian legend in several books, and allusions to it in several others. One is C.S. Lewis's That hideous strength. The Arthurian element is obvious in the case of Merlin, but for a long time "Mr Fisher-King" quite escaped me.

I tried reading Malory and Tennyson's versions, but found it difficult to see the wood for the trees. This book helps one to follow the thread through the longer works, and also points out some of the inconsistencies. Sir Kay is a villain, or at best a bumbling jobsworth in some versions of the story, but in others, as Sir Cai, he is a hero.

So I've found it a good read, and I'll be going back through it to make notes before I take in back to the library.

View all my reviews >>

26 August 2009

Mugabe's popularity plunges

Perhaps the unity government in Zimbabwe is beginning to pay off.

The Zimbabwe Mail:
Support for President Robert Mugabe has plunged since the formation of a unity government six months ago, according to two polls, the results of which have only now been leaked.

Less than 10 percent of adults would vote for him or Zanu-PF if elections were held now, a new survey suggests.

Mugabe, 86, has lost 20 percent of his support since 2008's elections in which then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, beat him.

However, after a campaign of Zanu-PF violence, Tsvangirai was forced to withdraw from a run-off and Mugabe was sworn into five more years in office.

But the South African Development Community (SADC) persuaded the two to form a unity government.

When the unity government was formed in Zimbabwe, the very best i could think of it was that perhaps half a loaf is better than no bread. The "loser takes all" election result made it marginally better than the alternative, which was that Mugabe continue wreching the country as he has been doing for the last yen years.

Perhaps this is a sign that at last ordinary people in Zimbabwe feel free to express dissent. Up till now most of them have simply voted with their feet, and left for South Africa and other places.

Hat-tip to Reggie Nel.

24 August 2009

Now the US bullies Scotland

When Barack Obama became president of the US, some of us hoped that among the changes we were urged to believe in would be the US abandoning its role as self-appointed bully of the world.

But it seems that this was a change we could not believe in.

Laurence White: Lockerbie case has more to do with politics than justice - Laurence White, Columnists - Belfasttelegraph.co.uk:
The Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, is equally convinced. Indeed, such is his fury at the release of al-Megrahi, that he wrote a letter to the man who set him free, Scottish justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, in such vitriolic terms it is a wonder it did not spontaneously burst into flames when exposed to the open air.

There can seldom have been such a missive sent from the security services of one country to a its friendliest and longest standing ally. He described the decision to release al-Meghrahi as making a “mockery of the rule of law”.

FBI director rips release of Lockerbie bomber - Terrorism- msnbc.com:
'Your action,' he wrote MacAskill, 'makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988. You could not have spent much time with the families, certainly not as much time as others involved in the investigation and prosecution.'

He ended the Lockerbie letter with a frustrated question: 'Where, I ask, is the justice?'

Perhaps he should ask where the justice was when William C Rogers did not spend any time in jail at all. Doesn't that make a mockery of the grief of the families that lost their own on 3 July 1988, just six months before the Lockerbie crash?

Are there no limits to US hypocrisy and bullying?

23 August 2009

How healthy is your healthcare?

Healthcare seems to be a big issue in the American blogosphere at the moment. Normally I try to keep out of such debates, for the simple reason that I don't know enough about the issues at stake. When the debate intruded into a newsgroup discussion on another topic, I had to ask what "single payer" meant -- a term bandied about by Americans on the assumption that everyone knows what it means, but one which I had never heard of before. Don't worry, someone has explained it to me now, but I'm not really interested. The manner in which healthcare is provided in the USA is something for the citizens of that country to decide. I'm not so much a disinterested spectator of the debate as an uninterested one.

Two things happened to weaken my resolution to stay out of the debate.

The first is that the debate seems to be largely ideological, and some proponents of ideologies have been propunding slogans based on ideological principles that they regard as universally applicable. One of these was the statement that "universal healthcare is theft", which seems to me diametrically opposed to the basics of the Christian faith, and to have huge theological implications. Those who find theology too boring and abstruse will be glad to know that I'm not talking about that now, since I've blogged about that already at Health, disease, theology and politics: Khanya.

The second thing that made me think that this wasn't a purely domestic matter for the USA was a rather vicious campaign among some in the USA about the British National Health Service (NHS), full of lies and innuendo. It certainly caused a reaction in the UK Twittersphere, with lots of tweets tagged #IlovetheNHS. Bishop Alan has responded at Bishop Alan’s Blog: How healthy is your healthcare?:
Stephanie’s birth as an undiagnosed extended breach in a strange hospital (she arrived early and unexpected on Christmas night) was supervised by one of the finest obstetricians in the world, who gave Lucy the choice, then delivered her faultlessly without a C-Section, using an old midwives’ routine called the Burns-Marshall technique. Both these ace bits of effective medical care were delivered with nary a credit card or insurance policy between them, and I would take a lot of persuading that the kind of medical system we use for Max the Cat would have served us any better.

We had a similar experience with the birth of our daughter. She was born in the provincial hospital in Utrecht, Natal. Shortly before she was born the cat had kittens, and because she had previously had obstetrical problems we took her to the vet. The kittens cost us four times what our daughter's birth did.

But such anecdotes prove little or nothing. One can collect anecdotes of both good and bad treatment in any kind of hospital, whether private or public, commercial or non-profit. A lot depends on the ethics, skill and dedication of the staff, and that is often very much a matter of the luck of the draw.

I think healthcare in South Africa is something of a disaster. First because the apartheid policies of the previous government, which nationalised the non-profit church hospitals in the 1970s for ideological reasons, and there was an immediate very rapid decline in the standard of healthcare in the rural areas that had been served by those hospitals. The reasons are not hard to find. When the hospitals were run by Christian churches, they were able to recruit staff who saw healing as part of their Christian ministry. Young Christian doctors, newly qualified, saw this as an opportunity of Christian service. Highly qualified and experienced surgeons when they retired did the same. Well qualified nurses would go to serve in such hospitals with a similar motive, and try to pass on their dedication and enthusiasm to a new generation of student nurses.

When the government nationalised them, the former church hospitals were immediately taken out of the recruiting network of the international Christian conspiracy, and very often the only people the government could get to work there were medical students who had been conscripted for military service, and were sent to do their national service in rural hospitals.

Of course dedicated Christian healthcare professionals did not have to work in church hospitals, but church hospitals did have a better recruiting network for such people. Some years ago I visited the Orthodox seminary in Nairobi, Kenya, and there were two other people in the guest house. One was a young Ukrainian doctor who had come with a United Nations relief group to work in Rwanda after the genocide there. The other was a top Greek heart surgeon who had become a priest, and was spending a few weeks providing healthcare to the clergy in Kenya and their families, and helping out at clinics run by the church. The young Ukrainian had to pass exams to be licensed to practise in Kenya, and so was going through the stuff he had to learn with the priest, which shared his knowledge, and I heard the more experienced one catechising the younger one after dinner in the evenings.

But whether in Kenya or South Africa, very few commercial healthcare providers are going to establish a practice in the poorest rural areas. Anyone who puts the commercial model forward as the ideal and universal one might be following the best free-market economic principles, but for Christians that comes up against the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

There is now a stnchroblog on this topic, with various Christians writing on it: Square No More: Synchroblog on a Christian Response to Healthcare

22 August 2009

Cheesy dreams

British Cheese Board - News:
The age old myth that cheese gives you nightmares has finally been laid to rest this week following the release of a new study carried out by the British Cheese Board.

The in-depth Cheese & Dreams study, a first of its kind, reveals that eating cheese before bed will not only aid a good night’s sleep but different cheeses will in fact cause different types of dreams.

Of the 200 volunteers who participated in the week-long study, 72% slept well every night, 67% remembered their dreams and none recorded experiencing nightmares after eating a 20g piece of cheese half an hour before going to sleep.

A lot of people still believe the old wives tale that cheese gives you nightmares but this study endorses the scientific facts.

Hat-tip to Matushka Donna.

It makes interesting reading, but I'm still not sure about it. Twenty grammes doesn't sound like a lot of cheese to me. I find that if I eat pizza too soon before going to bed, it wakes me up, and it is better to give it a chance to digest first. I wonder if they should re-run the experiment with cooked cheese.

21 August 2009

Spring is here!

It's been a colder winter than we've had for a long time, though not as cold as those I remember from my youth, But a couple of days ago the first new leaves started appearing on our mulberry tree.

The mulberry tree is the second biggest tree in our garden, but was not here when we moved in 25 years ago, It must have been self-sown from one across the road near the railway line, from which the kids used to collect leaves in the days when they kept silkworms. We never see much fruit from it, though. It's too big, and most of the branches are too high to reach, so the birds get most of it. In about October there are huge flocks of very fat doves swarming over and around it. And when the fruit that the birds leave drops, our dogs eat eat it, spending days on end under the tree until there is nothing more to get.

Our oldest dog Ariel (in the picture) is the greatest lover of mulberries, but the other dogs enjoy them too. Ariel is a cross Alsatian-Border Collie, and we hoped when she had puppies they might look a bit like her. She had several, but we had to sell most of them, and the one we kept isn't black with white patches, but is black with brindled patches, and neaver learnt ear control, so we call her Squiffylugs. Her father is a pure Alsatian.

20 August 2009

Caucasian paranoia

The Balkans used to be a byword for over-the-top nationalism and suspicion bordering on paranoia, but it looks as though the Caucasians have overtaken them and are now well in the lead. In a fine demonstration of how surveillance technology can be put to good use, the Azerbajan security forces have been tracking down the traitors who voted for the Armenian entry in the Eurovision song contest.

The Poor Mouth: Azeri security forces flush out Eurovision traitors:
Hmm now there’s surveillance technology put to good use I don’t think. As for getting irate over who votes for who in the Eurovision, if there is a grain of truth in this story, the Azerbaijan government should find some greater threat to national security like the evil bastards who step on the cracks on pavements.

The crack about cracks in pavements reminds me of when I was banned in Durban, and we used to read A.A. Milne's poem about the bears who were waiting to pounce on those evil bastards who step on cracks in pavements, or who inadvertently enter "any place which constitutes the premises of any organization contemplated in Government Notice No. R2130 of the 28th December, 1962, as amended by Government Notice No. R. 1947 of the 27th November, 1964, and any place which constitutes the premises on which the premises of any such organization are situate."

That meant, for example, that if you entered the ground floor of a building and looked at the list of occupants in the lobby to see if any organisations contemplated in Government Notice No. R2130 of the 28th December, 1962, as amended by Government Notice No. R. 1947 of the 27th November, 1964 had premises in the building, you had already committed an offence. And the bears could be watching.

And speaking of bears, that reminds me of a little song composed by my friend Ed Tonkin (wonder where he is now?), to the tune of The teddy-bears' picnic.

If you go down to the woods today
You're in for a big surprise
For Nusas Congress is there today
And everyone's in disguise
And every tree that ever there was
Has a Special Branch man behind it because
Today's the day that Nusas is having their congress.

(NUSAS was the National Union of South African Students)

But it sounds as though the Azeris have gone one better.

SRI LANKA: Religious Feast Embodies a Nation’s Hopes for Peace

SRI LANKA: Religious Feast Embodies a Nation’s Hopes for Peace - IPS ipsnews.net:
The jungle church was once again filled with devotees camping out for days to take part in the feast of the Virgin Mary of Madhu. It had been over 27 years since the last occasion when tens of thousands of believers streamed into the church located at Madhu, in the north-western Mannar District, about 300 km from the capital Colombo.

In 1982 the jungle shrine was caught in the crossfire between government forces and the Tamil separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), preventing devotees, especially from the south, from travelling there. The war ended in May, when government forces wiped out the Tigers, who had been fighting for a separate state for ethnic Tamils since the 1970s.

On August 15, over half a million gathered at the church to celebrate the feast, the first in over a quarter century, or since peace was achieved.

19 August 2009

Recent reading: An instance of the fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a mixture of a historical novel and a whodunit, set in Restoration Englisn.

I've read a number of books about the period recently -- Samuel Pepys's diary (the concise version), a history of the Restoration by Ronald Hutton, and an account of the great fire of London.

This one is set in Oxford, and several of the characters are real historical personages. It is rather unusual in that the same set of events is described from the point of view of four different people, and are seen very differently, depending on the roles and interests of the characters concerned.

One thing that stood out for me was the attitude of most of these characters towards servants, and their emphasis on class, or as the book describes it, "station". Those of higher station seem to have had the same attitude towards the lower orders as white Rhodesians had towards blacks. One of my mother's Rhodesian cousins described her ex-husband's habit of pressing a lighted cigarette into the necks of blacks who didn't get out of his way fast enough when walking down the street. So in Restoration England, according to this book, the members of the upper classes seem to have expected to beat their servants if they were "insolent", and to be shocked if the servants did not expect this.

Now perhaps this was an exaggerated reaction agaist the more egalitarian society that was and ideal of the Commonwealth period. but it seems rather an abrupt change.

View all my reviews >>

17 August 2009

Transforming Johannesburg's Alexandra Township

My former collegue in the Missiology Department at the University of South Africa, Tinyiko Maluleke, has just written a very evocative post about Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. Prof Tinyiko Sam Maluleke's Blog: Transforming Johannesburg's Alexandra Township:
Alexandra is history - the history of a people in search of meaning and dignity in the ruthless Johannesburg of the Apartheid era. Alexandra is mother – mother of children spread within and beyond. Alexandra is reality - the reality of life daily lived in the face of death. Alexandra is metaphor – a metaphor for what it meant to be simple and black in Apartheid South Africa. Alexandra is irony – the irony of beauty in the midst of squalor; the irony of poverty existing 5 minutes away from the opulent wealth of Sandton. Alexandra is a witch – she bewitches all those who have been touched by her. Alexandra is a fountain – a fountain of talent and creativity. Think of Mahlathini Nkabinde, Zakes Nkosi, Caiphus Semenya, the Dark City Sisters, Theo ‘the Black Panther’ Mthembu, Nelson Mandela, Joe Modise, Zanele Mbeki, Wally Serote. What do they have in common? Alexandra. They are all children of Alexandra! Alexandra is symbol – symbol of defiance, symbol of resilience, symbol of the triumph of the human spirit.

Alexandra is a square mile of densely-packed urban housing north of Johannesburg. It was originally outside the Johannesburg municipal area, but Johannesburg has now expanded to incorporate it. I grew up not far from Alexandra, in a place we called Sunningdale, though it is called something else today. I Lived there from the age of 7 to 13, and in other places not far away, until I was 24. We lived on a 5-acre smallholding, with cows and chickens, and I used to accompany my mother on her daily rounds as she sold eggs, cream and butter in the neighbouring Johannesburg suburbs of Sandringham and Sydenham. We had horses and I used to ride with friends over the open veld opposite Alexandra, across the Jukskei river. Today it is all built up, and the traffic-clogged N3 highway cuts the area in half.

Back then, in the 1950s, Alexandra had a reputation among those outside as an evil place, the home of gangsters. As I grew up I looked on the Jukskei River as the border between good and evil. On the east was the open veld, with the fressh air and the cry of kiewetjies nesting in the bracken. Across the river was the dark city of sin, covered with an evil-smelling pall of coal smoke, its mean streets infested with gangsters, or so we had been told.

One day, while riding on horseback with a friend, we saw a group of Zionists baptising people in the river. We stopped to watch, and the man who was preaching, an impressive looking figure with a bushy beard, whom I thought of as Jeremiah because he looked like a prophet, switched to English, seeing these white kids watching. They urged us to cross the river, which we did, and after the service they invited us back to tea. And so I entered the mean streets of Alexandra for the first time. There were dongas down the streets, which were open drains, or perhaps sewers. There was rubbish lying around, and broken-down cars with no wheels or engines, with children playing in them. The houses, mostly 40 years old, were built of clinker brick, shabby and poorly maintained. In most of the backyards there were corrugated-iron shanties with more people living in them. Then we tied up the horses outside a house and went into the spotless kitchen that looked like a furniture store catalogue. We sat down to tea at the kitchen table and talked to the leader of the group, not the bearded prophet, but a clean-shaven man called Moshe Moloto. We talked about theology, and what impressed me was that they did not talk down to us, as kids, but that they treated us like fellow human beings. I visited them again several times, alone or with my friend, and also wrote letters to Moshe Moloto.

And so I discovered that, though there may have been gangsters in Alex, the vast majority of the people living there were ordinary people, trying to live good lives, and make a living in difficult circumstances.

A few years later there was a bus boycott in Alexandra. Putco, the bus company, had raised the fares, and the people refused to pay, and preferred to walk to work in Johannesburg, 11 miles away. I had read about this in Alan Paton's novel Cry the beloved country, where he described a similar bus boycott that had taken place ten years earlier, in the 1940s. The newspapers blamed the boycott on "agitators" and "intimidation". My mother would sometimes stop and give some of the weary boycotters a lift to town, or home again. Lots of white motorists did so, and the Johannesburg traffic cops were very diligent about stopping such motorits and trying to find an excuse to give them tickets. That was the only intimidation I saw.

One day I went from my boarding school into town to go to the dentist. My mother was supposed to pick me up afterwards and take me back to school, but forgot, and I found myself walking home with the bus boycotters. So I experienced what it was like, though I had only half the distance to go, and also had not had to walk into town in the morning.

After leaving school I became involved in the Anglican parish of Orange Grove, which had a youth group affiliated to the Anglican Young People's Association (AYPA). The neighbouring parish to the north was St Michael's, Alexandra, and we helped them to form an AYPA branch there as well, and went to speak to them about it. What stuck us about it was the sense of friendship and fellowship among the Alexandra youth. The priest from there, Fr Jacob Namo, came to St Augustine's Church in Orange Grove to celebrate Midnight Mass at Christmas one year, and my mother and I took him home afterwards, through the ghostly streets with moonlight gleaming on the water in the open drains at 2 am on Christmas morning, and thought that it was in such a poor and unpretentious place that Jesus was born, and that in the friendliness of the people in the church there we could see Christ incarnate in our world today.

So reading Tinyiko's piece brought back many memories, and in what he has written, and the poem by Wally Serote that he quotes, I think he has captured soemthing of the essence of the place, at least as I experienced it. In many ways it was a horrible place, a decaying crumbling slum, with a reputation for crime. And yet it had such wonderful people, through whom the love of God shone. Gangsters there may have been, but I never met them. The people I met made me think of Christmas -- the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And I read Tinyiko's piece and was reminded of this, and then I looked at my diary for 40 years ago today. I was about to go to Namibia, and was spending a couple of days with John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits university, and his family. Perhaps it's worth reproducing in full, as it captures some things about those days I had half forgotten. By way of explanation, "Sprocas" was the Study Project on Christianity in Apartheid Society, which was set up after the Message to the People of South Africa had been published the previous year, denouncing apartheid as a false gospel, and so worse than a heresy.

Sunday, 17 August 1969

We went to Mass at St Michael's in Alexandra, driving there through thick early morning smog. It is many years since I have been to Alex. Saw Jacob Namo, the priest. He didn't remember me. John celebrated and I preached and read some parts of the service in Zulu. There were many servers and much holy smoke, and it was very lively. I felt quite at home here. It seems that one must either have elaborate ceremonial and colourful vestments or else be completely informal. The drab colourless formality of the Missions to Seamen chapel I could not stand.

Afterwards we fetched a Methodist minister from the church in Alexandra, and he went off with John to the Sprocas theological commission. Later in the morning Shirley and I took Mark and Elizabeth to the zoo, and looked around at gemsbok, and spider monkeys doing acrobatics, and such things. We rode there and back in the double-deck one-man operated Daimlers with automatic coupon-punching machines. Quite good vehicles. Later we went out to get ice cream at the Dairy Den.

John said he had great doubts about his role in the Sprocas theological commission, and said he felt at a disadvantage, being less of an academic theologian than most of the others. With people like Ben Engelbrecht, he felt that the only thing that enabled them to carry on talking to each other was the fact that they both arrived at the same conclusions, though by completely different routes. He said that at the session yesterday he had received an envelope on which was written "For John Davies. For guaranteed results. Has never been known to fail". On opening it, he found a broken comb inside. Thinking it came from Calvin Cook, he went outside and found a large screw, and put that in an envelope, and sent it to Calvin, after writing on it "on using the implement you provided, this came out of my brain. Reality is an illusion caused by a deficiency of hidden presuppositions". Then Calvin denied responsibility for the comb, and they found it had come from Ben Engelbrecht.

In the evening, another eucharist, this time in the Davies's house, with many students. It was altogether informal, sitting on the floor, with no vestments, and using the new South African liturgy - the first time I have seen it used. It is really very good - as good as the Liturgy for Africa, and very much better than the English Series II thing, though the intercessions have a similar pattern. I again made an offering of a word from the Lord, expounding about "if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation" from the Epistle, and then asked for, and got, some feedback, including actions by Peter Beukes to demonstrate a feeling of freedom. We sang with Charles Murcott accompanying on guitar, and ended up singing "When the saints go marching in" and all dancing round.

15 August 2009

The vanishing hitchhiker

No, I'm not talking about the well-known urban legend (Legends from a small country: Legends that go bump), but about the fact that one no longer sees hitchhikers on the road. It came up in a discussion on the alt.usage.english newsgroup, where someone asked why one doesn't hitchhikers on the road any more. Was it paranoia on the part of motorists, cops cracking down, or what?

I used to hitchhike and give lifts to hitchhikers in the past, but no more.


Perhaps, but I think the change came when hijacking became a popular method of car theft, possibly due to the increased effectiveness of car anti-theft devices.

Until about the mid-1980s I think most car thefts were of unattended vehicles, and robbery was rare. But with electronic ignition systems and satellite tracking that has become more difficult, so robbery, and especially armed robbery, has become far more common. People are reluctant to pick up hitchhikers, and hitchhiking has become a futile method of getting from place to place.

Concerning the urban legend, I found this interesting:

The first possible variant of the urban legend The Vanishing Hitchhiker occurs in Acts 8: 26–40 with the conversion of an “Ethiopian” by the hitchhiking apostle Philip. More recent variants in the Gambia and Somalia exhibit a different plot, but retain the vanishing hitchhiker motif. A female hitchhiker spends time with a man, who is later unable to locate her, but who finds his coat on her grave. The found-coat variant is part of a widespread cycle of vanishing hitchhiker legends. Could the story have originated in Africa? This article deals with this issue and with widespread occurrences of this legend.

But back to the actual vanishing hitchhiker.

Hitchhiking could be quite interesting. One sometimes met interesting people that way, though sometimes one also met very dull ones.

In 1960 I was told a story of an Anglican monk, Fr Victor Ranford SSM (of the Society of the Sacred Mission) who was based at Modderpoort in the Free State, and used to hitchhike wherever he needed to go. One driver who picked him up told him he knew he was an Anglican and not a Roman Catholic. Fr Victor asked him how he knew. "I can tell by your socks," the driver said.

In 1964, when I was at university in Pietermaritzburg, a friend and I decided to hitchhike to Grahamstown, 500 miles away, on a long weekend. We got as far as Ixopo, 50 miles away, and no one gave us a lift, so we walked back into town and took a bus to Springvale Mission, where we hoped to get a bed for the night. The bus was supposed to be for blacks only, but the driver allowed us to board. The priest of Springvale, whom we knew, was away, but someone let us into the house and we spent the night there. There was a lot more trust in those days.

The next morning we hitchhiked to Highflats village, and planned to go down to the coast and up to Durban where my friend lived. Our first lift out of Highflats was from a witchdoctor in a pre-war Packard. We sat in the spacious back seat and watched the gall bladders and goat horns and other paraphernalia that festooned the car swinging as he drove rather erratically along the winding road. He took us as far as Hlutankungu, where he turned off.

From Hlutankungu we walked, waving our thumbs at passing cars, but they were few, and none stopped for us. After an hour we reached Jolivet, which was at the third mile, so we knew we walked at three miles an hour. There was a station on the narrow-gauge railway, and we heard a train whistling and could see it coming winding in and out shosholoza through the hills, so we waited for it at the station, and asked the guard if we could get a ticket to the terminus at Umzinto on the South Coast. He said the train no longer carried passengers. It seemed that the information in Alan Paton's novel Cry the beloved country was out of date -- he describes someone travelling one one of these narrow-gauge trains. But eventually the guard took pity on us, and allowed us to travel in the guard's van at the back of the train, sitting among the mail bags. That was the only time in my life I managed to hitchhike a ride on a train, and it reminded me of the hero of Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma bums. It's my favourite Kerouac novel, and on that trip I felt a bit like a Dharma bum.

Four years later, as a student in England, I hitchhiked with another friend from Durham to Manchester, where we stayed with his parents in the village of Saddleworth. Then we went to Liverpool, and took the ferry across the Mersey and stayed with another friend in Cheshire, and from there down to South Wales.

A couple of years after that I was living in Namibia, and we had a visitor, an English guy who had been teaching in Tanzania, and when his time was up and he had to return to England, he discovered that if he paid 30 shillings (R3.00) more, he could change his plane ticket to go from Johannesburg instead of Dar-es-Salaam (those were the days!) He did so, and hitchhiked from East Africa to southern Africa, and saw quite a lot before going to Johannesburg and getting the plane back to the UK.

So people hitchhiked quite a lot in those days.

But I rarely see hitchhikers nowadays, and if I do, I don't stop. I think it's rather sad.

14 August 2009

Megachurches and the recession

Bishop Alan has been attending a conference at an American megachurch on the topic of how to weather the recesssion. Bishop Alan’s Blog: Church and MegaChurch Stress Test:
There’s some comfort in knowing the seas look rough from a supertanker as well as from our little English dinghies. Of course my Anglo tendency is to be sarcastic about the differences, but it’s a fact that a place like that, as well as yea many more dollars resourced (the thing people always notice first) is also yea many more dollars committed and exposed.

13 August 2009

About International Lefthanders Day

Did you know that today was International Lefthanders Day? I've just discovered.

About International Lefthanders Day:
On 13th August 1992 the Club launched International Left-Handers Day, an annual event when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed. This event is now celebrated worldwide, and in the U.K. alone there were over 20 regional events to mark the day in 2001- including left-v-right sports matches, a left-handed tea party, pubs using left-handed corkscrews where patrons drank and played pub games with the left hand only, and nationwide 'Lefty Zones' where left-handers creativity, adaptability and sporting prowess were celebrated, whilst right-handers were encouraged to try out everyday left-handed objects to see just how awkward it can feel using the wrong equipment!

I've done most things left-handed most of my life, and at the age of 16, when I took an interest in the subject, I started doing a few more things left-handed (like holding a knife and fork). The activity I found most disadvantageous for left handers was playing hockey. Driving trolley buses, with the power pedal on the left and the handbrake on the right, seemed to come more easily.

I've just discovered that one can get left-handed cheque books -- in Britain, anyway, but I can't imagine what conceivable advantage they would have. On the other hand, I wish they would make computer keyboards with function keys on the left where God intended they should be.

11 August 2009

The devastating effects of the new colonialists

When there was a coup in Madagascar a few months ago, there was widespread condemnation of the unconstitutional actions -- from the US, from France (the former colonial power) and from the African Union, with several African countries threatening to impose sanctions. BBC NEWS | Africa | Pressure grows on Madagascar coup:
The African Union has suspended Madagascar after the army forced out the president and installed the opposition leader in his place.

Southern African leaders say they may impose sanctions on the Indian Ocean island unless legality is restored.

But as with many such stories, there is more to this one than meets the eye.

Wish you weren't here: The devastating effects of the new colonialists - Nature, Environment - The Independent:
The urban poor were angry at the price of food, which had been high since the massive rise in global prices of wheat and rice the year before. Food-price rises hit the poor worse than the rest of us because they spend up to two-thirds of their income on food. But what whipped them into action was news of a deal the government had recently signed with a giant Korean multinational, Daewoo, leasing 1.3 million hectares of farmland – an area almost half the size of Belgium and about half of all arable land on the island – to the foreign company for 99 years. Daewoo had announced plans to grow maize and palm oil there – and send all the harvests back to South Korea...

The government of President Ravalomanana became the first in the world to be toppled because of what the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization recently described as "landgrabbing". The Daewoo deal is only one of more than 100 land deals which have, over the past 12 months, seen massive tracts of cultivable farmland across the globe bought up by wealthy countries and international corporations. The phenomenon is accelerating at an alarming rate, with an area half the size of Europe's farmland targeted in just the past six months.

10 August 2009

Seminar - "How To Love Your Enemies".

Pragmatic - Eclectic: Seminar - this weekend - "How To Love Your Enemies".:
When was the last time you went to a Seminar on, How to love your enemies? How to bless those that curse you? Or, maybe, How to do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spit in your face? Here’s another – how to conduct our business or profession on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Now there's a thought -- it seems that these are not frequently to be seen among the topics for Christian self-help seminars, or among the titles of self-help books in bookshops. When can we expect one by Dr Phil or T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen? Don't hold your breath!

08 August 2009

Real Economic Development, Not Slogans

Half an Hour: Real Economic Development, Not Slogans:
Indeed, the remark reflects the fallacious belief that all private sector economic activity is wealth producing, while all public sector activity is wealth draining. This is simply not the case. A wide variety of public sector activities can directly drive revenue into the province (for example, sales of energy by a crown corporation) while others can drive it indirectly (for example, tourism marketing and promotion). Meanwhile, private sector activity can be nothing more than an unproductive drain on society.

Hear! hear!

And we know how private sector activity and "structural adjustment programmes" have impoverished many parts of Africa, though of course asset stripping does "produce" wealth for a few.

07 August 2009

Recent reading: The Mitford girls

The Mitford Girls The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'd only read one Mitford book before I began reading this joint biography of the Mitford sisters, and that was The American way of death by Jessica Mitford. But I often like literary biographies better than the works of the authors themselves. Perhaps that is because the lives of the authoers are sometimes more interesting than the subjects they write about, though it seems that the Mitford sisters took a lot of their material from their own lives, writing semi-fictionalised biography.

Though I have not read any of her fiction, the eldest sister, Nancy, also edited Noblesse oblige, with essays about class markers in English speech some 50 years ago, which popularised the linguistic theory of U and Non-U speech, some of which found its way into a new edition of Fowler's Modern English usage, where one learns, for example, that the English upper classes say "napkin" and it's terribly non-U (i.e. middle class) to say "serviette" -- or at least it was 50 years ago.

So before reading this book I knew the Mitfords mainly through their writing about social customs: speech customs and funeral customs, specifically.

The book also brings out the wide political divergence in the family. Two of the sisters, Diana and Unity, had far-right views, being admirers, and in Unity's case personal friends, of Adolf Hitler. Diana left her husband and married Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist leader. Jessica, on the other hand, was for a time a Communist activist, and eloped with her boyfriend to Spain during the civil war. As a result she and Diana did not speak to each other for years.

One of the things that struck me most about it was the changes in values in different generations, and especially the huge change following the First World War. The Mitford parents belonged to the Victorian-Edwardian age, and brought up their daughters with a view to marrying into an upper-class family, where they would stay at home and manage a household with lots of servants. They regarded school as unnecessary for girls, and university was unthinkable. For some of them, therefore, the only creative thing to do was to rebel against their upbringing. And perhaps it was this very thing that made them creative in a literary sense. If they had had a more permissive upbringing, and been allowed to go to school and university, they might not have rebelled, and might therefore have been less interesting people.

Of all the sisters, I found myself most in sympathy with Jessica, who did not have a society wedding. Her elopement caused great distress to her parents, and she never saw her father again. It seemed to cause even more distress than the society divorces and extramarital affairs of some of her sisters. Yet in marrying for love rather than money and social position, she seems to have had more inner stability than some of her siblings.

Another interesting thing for me was that it brought out the extent to which the countries fighting Fascism in the Second World War were infected by fascist tendencies themselves. Diana and her husband, Oswald Mosley were interned without trial during the war. And Jessica and her husband in the USA were persecuted by the FBI duing the McCarthy witchhunt period in a manner reminiscant of the South African security police during the apartheid era. Perhaps Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's craving for 90-day detention is not so unusual after all.

View all my reviews >>

05 August 2009

Traffic Wave Simulation

Have you ever wondered why traffic comes to a standstill when there is an accident in the other carriageway of the freeway? Here's a simulation to explain it. Traffic Wave Simulation - screamyGuy:
The fact that the wave propagates explains why the source of the traffic jam is often not near where the traffic will clear up. By increasing the density of the incoming traffic, you can also see how intolerant of minor disturbances a heavy flow can be. Increase the traffic rate and note that halting as little as two cars can cause a jam that fills the entire screen! This implies that the hour you spent in traffic this morning may be little more than the remnants of a near collision when someone was messing with their stereo.

Those things are so frequent on the N1 between Pretoria and Johannesburg that I try to avoid travelling to Johannesburg unless it's absolutely necessary.
For more detailed explanations, see here http://trafficwaves.org/.

02 August 2009

Blog statistics - countries

Amatomu have recently began revamping their web tracking, and are offering several new statistical comparisons. I'm not sure how accurate they are yet -- one of the popular posts on this blog, Books to read before you die, dropped from most popular to zero reads the moment Amatomu brought in their new tracking system, whereas other trackers show that people are still reading it, so I think there are still some teething problems with the new systems.

But they are still interesting, nevertheless.

One of the new indicators is the countries people come from to read blogs, and I found it interesting to compare this blog with Khanya (my Wordpress general blog) and with my Family History blog.

The MyBlogLog widget shows that most of the recent readers of this blog are from the UK. So I thought I would compare the Amatomu statistics.

Notes from Underground


HayesGreene Family History

The family history one seems to have a higher proportion of visitors from Australia and New Zealand, which don't feature on this blog.

I suppose that can be explained by having several recent posts on the Sandercock family, many of whom emigrated from Cornwall in the UK to Australia and New Zealand.

Khanya recently had a lot of visitors from Pakistan, which doesn't feature in the statistics for the other two. I suppose that could be explained by a recent article about the use of Allah as the name for God, and Pakistan having a large Muslim population. But there is a discrepancy: the article was mainly concerned with a law in Malaysia prohibiting Christians from using "Allah" as the name for God in their publications. Why then do more Malaysians apparently feature as readers of this blog, rather than the other one? Could it be that Pakistan is planning a similar law, thus arousing more interest there than in Malaysia, where the law has apparently been in force for some time?

I'm also interested in Amatomu's statistics about other things. In the two general blogs, this one and Khanya, Firefox is the most popular web browser. In the family history one, Internet Explorer is. I suspect that that is because family historians are less interested in computers for their own sake than most blog readers. For family historians, computers are primarily a tool and a means to an end, so they accept the default web browser that comes with their computer, as long as it works. Only when things go wrong will they look for something else. Other blog readers are perhaps more technically minded, and compare different kinds of software to find something they like.

Another interesting thing is the cities from which readers come, but I'll save that for a post on the Khanya blog, where the WordPress platform handles graphics better than Blogger.


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