28 November 2009

Thoughts on blogging on a blogiversary

Today is the fourth anniversary of the starting of this blog, which prompts thoughts about blogging generally.

This wasn't my first blog. I started an online diary back at the beginning of the millennium, but it seemed a bit clunky, so don't write much there any more.

Then I was invited to LiveJournal by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, and it was a combination of an online journal and a social networking site. I still use it for personal things. But there were two problems with it: first, while it was fairly easy to network with other people on LiveJournal, it wasn't so easy to link to people outside that circle -- one can't use widgets like MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog for social blogrolling, and while it is possible to have a blogroll of sorts, it has to be created laboriously by hand. The second problem is that unless one pays extra for a subscription, photos and graphics have to be hosted on a third-party site. I still have my LiveJournal, but my posts there often link to posts on my other blogs.

Then, four years ago, we got a broadband connection, which made web surfing more affordable, and also something that one could do at any time of the day or night, without waiting for times when phone rates were cheaper. So I discovered Blogger, and that it was useful for quick and easy blog posts. It seemed like a good tool for bouncing ideas off other people and things like that. So I started this blog.

About six months later, Google, having taken over Blogger, began messing with it and lots of features that I had liked stopped working. I liked the "Blog this" feature, where one could grab a bit of text from a web site or another blog, and make some quick comments on it. It stopped working for about a year. The problems of that period caused a mass migration of bloggers from Blogger to WordPress and other blog platforms.

At one point, when many Blogger features had not worked for six months or more, I too started a WordPress blog, to be ready to jump ship if necessary. I still have it, and it's called Khanya, and I still use it. For some reason that I've never been able to fathom, it seems to attract twice as many readers as this one.

I use the two interchangeably, sometimes writing a post on one, sometimes on the other. Which one I choose depends mainly on which features of the blogging platform seem easier for the purpose at the time. WordPress makes it easier to enter pictures with captions, for example, so if I want to post more than one or two pictures linked to a narrative, I post them there rather than here. But widgets like the MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog ones seem to work much better in Blogger than in WordPress. I like to know who has visited my blogs, because that is a reminder to me to go and look at theirs.

Blogger seems to have settled down now, and most of the features are working again, so perhaps I'll carry on blogging here for another four years, if it's still around then. And thanks to everyone who has commented over the last four years, and linked to posts, and helped in the sharing of thoughts and ideas.

25 November 2009

The deterrent effect of capital punishment

From The West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser. Friday 20th July, 1849

EFFECT OF EXECUTION - A correspondent informs us that JOHN VANSTONE and WILLIAM LEE, were executed at Bodmin on the 1st of September, 1802, for burglary; the daughter of one of them saw her father executed and immediately afterwards went into the town and stole a loaf of bread.

22 November 2009

After the rain

As usual we went to church in Mamelodi this morning, for the Hours and Readers Service (Obednitsa), and sang "Many Years" to old Mary Nthite, whose name day it was yesterday.

The sun was shining brightly after the wet and cloudy weather of the last few days, with fluffy white cumulus clouds, and even the old and rather rundown shopping centre looked quite attractive.

On the way home, in East Lynne, we passed a stretch limo that indicates that World Cup fever is beginning to bite.

But it seems that our national team will be nowhere near ready. But we've still got a few months to get the national anthem right, however, after the fiasco at a rugby match in France last week. We lost that match, too.

21 November 2009

Rain and renovations

I went down to the post office today, to collect a parcel someone had sent me. It took a while to open it, as they were busy mopping the floor. There had been a flood, with all the rain we've had lately.

They are also busy renovating the exterior. It was done about 20 years ago -- actually the entire interior was rebuilt, and modernised, and they just kept the facade -- they had to do that, as it is a historical monument, and part of Church Square in the centre of Pretoria. Back then they renovated the facade too, but it was built of sandstone, which doesn't weather very well, and it took only about 10 years for the repairs to wash off. So now it looks as though they are preparing to do so again, but this time they will replace the sandstone with more durable granite. Here it was, ready to be put in.

I hope it lasts longer than 20 years this time!

17 November 2009

Jesus loves money

Notes from a Common-place Book: "Jesus loved money too!":
Hanna Rosin looks for connections between the recent housing crisis and the 'prosperity gospel' in Did Christianity Cause the Crash? The short answer to her question is, of course, 'No, Christianity didn't.'

Approximately 50 of America's 260 largest churches are prosperity-gospel churches. And 66% of all Pentecostals and 43% of 'other Christians' believe that 'wealth will be granted to the faithful.' Clearly, these American believers were, and remain, a receptive market to what the bankers were selling. Rosin looks in particular at Pastor Fernando Garay and his Casa del Padre, a largely Latino prosperity-gospel church in Charlottesville, Virginia. This group is representative of the larger phenomenon, 'the shift in the American conception of divine providence and its relationship to wealth.'

Many years ago, in my teens, I had just joined an Anglican parish in Johannesburg. I also encountered an Anglican monk, Brother Roger of the Community of the Resurrection, who lent me books by Beat Generation authors like Jack Kerouac, and extolled Francis of Assisi and his embrace of holy poverty.

Then we got a new priest in the parish who came along with a new gospel of "Jesus loves money". He said so, in those very words. "Jesus is watching you put your money in". My mother said it made Jesus sound creepy, like Judas Iscariot, standing behind a pillar, spying. "Success appeals to those who love success," said the Rector, "and all men do." Therefore, the church must look like a big success, to attract the rich and successful. Another priest, however, was saying at that time "We don't want to look like a failure, and just for that reason we are one."

And I read in one of the books that Brother Roger lent me

Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to
offer are not valued at a high price in our society... It is not the poverty of
the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

That tended to innoculate me against the "prosperity gospel", which surged into South Africa about ten years later, and looked to me a lot like idolatry -- wooing the bitch goddess Success.

But so all-pervasive has its message become that many people seem to think that it is Christianity.

In the early 1970s I visited a Pentecostal church a few times. The minister announced to the congregation his vision of a "Christian Centre", and asked them to pray that it would become a reality. I thought he was talking about some kind of evangelistic outreach. Their congregation used to have an annual evangelistic effort, where they would set up a tent and have evangelistic services, believing that the unchurched would feel more comfortable coming to a tent than to a church building. Perhaps they did. He made his plans for a Christian Centre sound something like this, not a church, but a kind of community centre for outreach, possibly interdenominational. What happened, though, was that he bought an old theatre, but far from being a Christian community centre, it was actually the start of a brand-new denomination, where he preached the prosperity gospel. His vision was in fact of a Neopentecostal megachurch. Once he had it, he left his Pentecostal denomination and started his own, with prosperity preaching high on the agenda.

Around the same time, in the early 1970s, "contextualisation" was the theological buzz-word du jour. And contextualisation went along with the prosperity gospel pretty well, because the prosperity gospel came in a bright new packaging to contextualise the gospel for yuppies, just in time for the secular prosperity gospel and Mammon worship of the Reagan-Thatcher years. The gospel of the Market, wedded to the bitch goddess success, a marriage made in... um, heaven?

12 November 2009

Pedant's corner: soldiers and troops

Grammar-cop alert.

This is a soldier:

This is a troop:

Got it? Good.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace.

Actually it's a little bit more complex than that.

Troops are usually mounted, and a member of a troop is usually called a "trooper", which is equivalent to a "private" in the infantry and a "gunner" in the artillery.

So it would be more accurate to say that THIS is a troop:

My great grandfather, Richard Wyatt Vause, was a lieutenant in the Natal Native Horse in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, and he had 50 men in his troop. As he wrote in his diary after the Battle of Isandlwana

Fortunately the Zulus were repulsed at Rorke's Drift and did not get as far as Helpmekaar. I lost 30 men and 10 wounded, so have not many left of my original 50.

Coming up next in the milspeak alerts: deploy.

11 November 2009

Commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall

Of all the activities to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, this one seems the most appropriate.

Palestinians tear down chunk of wall - Yahoo! News:
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) – Palestinians tore down a chunk of Israel's West Bank separation barrier on Monday in a protest staged to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall came down.

A truck was used to pull down the wall section to the cheers of an estimated 150 Palestinian activists and foreign supporters near the Qalandia refugee camp just outside Ramallah.

Israeli troops used teargas and stun grenades in a brief clash with stone-throwing Palestinians who then dispersed.

'Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and marks the first day of a week of resistance to the apartheid wall in Palestine and around the globe,' the Stop the Wall campaign said in a statement.

And if all the speeches abouty what a good thing it was that the old one fell were applied to the new on that has arisen in the mean time, they might be less of a waste of breath.

10 November 2009

Blogging blind

With the death of Amatomu and Technorati, I feel a great lack in the blogosphere.

Both seem to have died from the same cause -- someone decided to tinker with them to make "improvements", and broke whatever was working before. There's a lot of truth in the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Amatomu used to be a fairly good guide to South African blogs. You could see who was blogging about what, and the latest posts in various categories. It also gave fairly interesting statistics on one's own blog, showing which posts got the most readers and things like that.

Now I suddenly find that there are blogs that I used to follow fairly regularly that I haven't looked at for a month or more, because Amatomu is dead. It appears that the Mail & Guardian, which used to run it, has pulled out, and are looking to sell it or give it away.

Technorati was good for topical searches. I used to use it to see who was blogging on a certain topic, and to see what they said. I liked to do that when I was planning to write a blog post on a topic, and if I found that other bloggers had already said interesting things on the topic, i could link to there posts as well. But now it's as though one is blogging blind, not knowing who else is writing on the topic, and whether anyone has some interesting angles one hadn't thought of.

I suppose that has now been taken over by Google blog search, because when one goes to Technorati for the last few weeks all one gets is messages like

Welcome to the new Technorati.com! The page requested was not found. It's possible you reached this page because we forgot to update a link on the previous version of our site. We have recorded this event and will be doing our best to repair any broken links.

Well the links have been broken for so long that there is no longer any hope thatr they will be repaired.

I suppose Amatomu is the victim of a common problem in the IT industry -- people who have a good idea and implement it where they are working, and then move on to somewhere else, leaving the Mail & Guardian (in this case) stuck with a service that no one else really knows how to maintain. I rather hope that the community option comes off, and that the original authors may see fit to revive it.

08 November 2009

Saving the Soul of Secularism

Recently someone sent me, quite unsolicited, a link to this article Saving the Soul of Secularism:
Since February 2003, millions in the U.S. and around the world have participated in marches, rallies and varied protests, making a bold, ethical stand against U.S. military aggression. Citizens have engaged in persistent resistance to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S troops.

While numerous humanists have and continue to be actively involved in the anti-war movement many others are too narrowly focused on issues such as church-state separation and promoting science education.

The time has come for humanists to actively assert that they are as committed to peace and ending U.S. militarism as they are to the separation of church and state. If we can see the threat to freedom posed by the mixture of church and state, we must see the threat to freedom posed by militarism.

The very legitimacy of secularism and freethought is at stake. Humanists, atheists, and assorted freethinkers along with the organizations that represent them: the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Secular Student Alliance, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Center for Inquiry, among others, should join anti-war/peace organizations in calling for a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy away from neo-liberal imperialism and militarism.

This strikes me as very strange.

I can understand why humanists, who believe that human beings have intrinsic value, might see militarism as a threat to human freedom and therefore a bad thing.

What I find difficult to understand is the logic of urging atheists to support such a cause. I can see no logical connection between atheism and a response to militarism (or to pacifism, for that matter). There is nothing about atheism that makes it desirable that atheists should join anti-war or peace organisations. There is also nothing about atheism that makes it undesirable. Atheism, as atheism, is surely quite neutral in regard to such moral imperatives.

Why should an atheist, by virtue of being an atheist, believe that neoliberal imperialism is a bad thing? Some atheists have clearly believed that it is quite a good thing.

It is possibile to say, as Marx and Lenin did, that it is incumbent on a communist to be an atheist. But the reverse is not true. It is not incumbent on an atheist to be a communist. An atheist can just as easily be a neoliberal imperialist.

This seems to be "fluffy bunny" secularism, as some of my (neo) pagan friends would say. They seem to be getting carried away by moralism.

06 November 2009

ANC Thatcherism: Pretoria refuse collection resumes after two week strike

SABCNews - Main Feature > Top Stories:
Refuse collection is finally under way in Pretoria after waste removal workers, employed on a contract basis by the Tshwane Metro Council went on a two-week-long strike. The workers were demanding overtime payments for September, which the council paid to them last Friday.

Although the strike is over, rubbish is still overflowing in certain parts of the city including at two garden refuse sites in Rooihuiskraal and Dorandia. The council's Dikeledi Phiri says a 'damage control' schedule has been devised to fix the problem as soon as possible. It is unclear if Pretoria residents will be billed for services not rendered over the two-week period.

Just in time, too. If it had gone on for another week I'd have been collecting old tyres to burn in Soutpansberg Road, which seems to be the standard method of complaining about poor service delivery nowadays.

This episode illustrates some of the problems of the Thatcherist mania for privatisation, which is still with is nearly 20 years after Margaret Thatcher resigned.

Rubbish removal is one of the core services of the monicipality. It is not something that should be contracted out to others, and the ANC-controlled Tshwane City Council should know better.

Rubbish removal should be done by by municipal workers using municipally-owned vehicles. If the municipality contracts it out, then they are simply abdicating their responsibility. If they really think that it should be done by private enterprise, then let each household make its own contract with a rubbish-removal service provider of its choice, and let us live with the consequences (cheap fly-by-night operators dumping it at the roadside when no one is looking). And then let the municipal rates be reduced accordingly.

Why is it better that this service should be done by the municipality, at least in larger towns (when we lived in Melmoth, in Zululand, population about 2000, the rubbish was put in plastic bags and collected by a tractor pulling a trailer)? In the big towns we have wheelie bins, which need specially equipped compactor lorries to collect. If a private firm were to tender for this, for say three years, they would have to have a lot of capital to equip themselves to begin with. And if their tender was not renewed, they would stand to lose a lot of capital, unless they sold it to the next operator. And, what is more, the workers for the firm that lost the tender bid would also stand to lose their jobs, and probably end up having to resort to crime for a living. To make such a system work more smoothly, it would need a lot more lubrication than a fully-owned municipal undertaking. The lubrication would probably take the form of greasing the palms of municipal officials and such things.

It would be better for the municipality to trun the operation, with a stable work force who had at least a modicum of job security, a pension and a medical aid, which contract workers don't get. And then we wonder why we have such a high crime rate.

05 November 2009

Central Methodist Church could face closure

Central Methodist Church could face closure - Mail & Guardian Online:
Johannesburg's Central Methodist Church, which houses over 3 000 Zimbabwean refugees, could face closure after a visit by the Gauteng legislature's health and social development portfolio committee early on Friday morning.

'We will make a recommendation to close the church after witnessing the horror that we saw this morning,' said committee chairperson Molebatsi Bopape.

'If I could have it my way, I would close it down today.'

Quite how they plan to "close" the church is not clear. There might be a slight problem with the constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.

But the fact is that Bishop Paul Verryn has been asking the provincial and municipal authorities for years now to do something to help homeless refugees, and they have done nothing concrete. The church opening its door to homeless refugees is "horror" -- but what then is the attitude of provincial and municipal authorities, who would prefer them to sleep in shop doorways?

And all credit to the South African Council of Churches, who have not only supported their member church, the Methodist Church of South Africa, but have, in a clear and lucid statement reminded national, provincial and local government of their responsibilities. Reggie: SACC Media Statement on the situation at Central Methodist Church:
It is well known that the living conditions of the refugees at the CMC are poor and often appalling. No one wants to live in an over-crowded situation where there is no privacy, few sanitation facilities, etc. People are not living in these conditions out of choice. They are not living there because Bishop Paul Verryn and the staff at CMC have invited and encouraged them to live there. Nor is this the reason for Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF) camping at the CMC. The people have moved into CMC because it responded to a humanitarian crisis – to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government responded. It is the calling of the church to provide care and refuge to the destitute and the vulnerable.

While it is easy to turn CMC into a villain in this scenario, SACC warns against jumping to that conclusion. The primary villain, if there is one, first and foremost are such governments as that of Zimbabwe and of those African countries whose nationals live at the church. Within South Africa the primary villain is government; and not the Central Methodist Church.

For far too long the South African government has turned a blind eye to Robert Mugabe's autocratic and kleptocratic fascist distatorship, which is why millions of Zimbabweans have voted with their feet and fled to neighbouring countries to seek refuge. They are here, in part, because the South African government coddled and cossetted and pampered their oppressor, and doesn't even want to acknowledge their existence because to do so would expose the unpalatable truth that Zimbabwe under Mugabe is a fascist dictatorship.

Ms Bopape, your government helped to create this situation, and the Methodist Church just responded to it. If you regard it with "horror", then the best long-term solution is to help make the homeland of the refugees habitable again, instead of turning a blind eye to the repression and gross violations of human rights that are taking place there. And until Zimbabwe becomes habitable again, do something about helping the homeless refugees now.

Reggie Nel quotes the SACC statement in full on his blog, and it is well worth reading.

Want to do something about it? Sign this petition for a start.

Letter to an alien spammer

Someone calling themselves oxsumms
of dwpyuwvbdbfq.com/
giving the e-mail address of datakt@glfrag.com

Attempted to post the follow spam comment on my blog this morning.
qzwsPE ntrdcanlqxxc, [url=http://qadfozdfvdvs.com/]qadfozdfvdvs[/url],
I usually delete about 4-5 such spam comments each week, identical in form, though using different combinations of nonsense letters and nonsene URLs.

I'm just curious about why these are being posted? What's in it for you? What reward is there for such futile and meaningless activity?

I suppose it is just possible that somewhere in a galaxy far far away there is a language in which "qzwsPE ntrdcanlqxxc" means "Enlarge your nine penises", but what mere earthling could be expected to understand it, much less be tempted by the offer?

So what does motivate people (or extraterrestrial space aliens) to engage in such futile, meaningless and apparently unrewarding behaviour?

Enquiring minds want to know.

03 November 2009

Even unpublished authors need literary executors

It seems that even unpublished authors need literary executors these days.

The Girl in the £20m Inheritance Battle – partner of late novelist Stieg Larsson fights for share of fortune | The Guardian:
As the author of three dark and violent crime novels, Stieg Larsson was at home in a dysfunctional landscape of simmering resentments and rancourous family secrets. But the Swedish writer cannot have foreseen how, almost five years to the day after his death, the novels' success would lead to bitterness and paranoia in his own family.

And I still haven't made up my mind about whether Larsson's protagonist is a Mary Sue or not.

02 November 2009

Twenty-first century urban life

My son works at Exclus1ve Books in Menlyn Mall. They used to be Exclusive Books, but they recently changed their name to Exclus1ve Books, presumably to make it easier, or more difficult, as the case may be, to search for on the Internet.

When he's on night shift he usually cycles to work, and then when he finishes work we go to fetch him, because he doesn't have a light on his bike, and people tend to drive more dangerously at night. Last night when bringing him home I stopped for a red light and a guy who had been following me overtook and drove through at high speed. He was driving a big BMW. They, of course, are immune from accidents, because all other traffic is expected to automatically get out of the way. Anyway, that kind of thing is why my son doesn't ride his bike home when he's on night shift.

When I wait for him to finish work, here's what I see from one of the parking lots.

The blue lights in the tree seem to be intended as Christmas decorations or something; they've been there for a month already. It seems to get earlier every year. If he's late getting out of the shop I have to leave and drive around the block. They only give you 20 minutes free parking, which is one of the reasons I don't often shop there myself. There are other shopping malls that give up to 2 hours of free parking on weekdays, so i patronise those instead.


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