31 December 2009

The decade with no name

So we come to the end of the decade with no name. We had the Twenties, the Thirties, the Forties, up to the Nineties. We have the habit of characterising each of these ten-year periods by its major events, its tastes and trends in art, literature, music and fashion. But for the decade following the Nineties, no one can agree on a name.

This way of perceiving time is so ingrained that many people celebrated the turn of the century and the millennium a year early. The 31st December 1999 was the end of the 1990s, but not the end of the 20th century, and the first decade of the 21st century will only end in a year's time.

But it is how we perceive decades, because of the easy way of naming them. Many historians see the 19th century as being bracketed by the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War, beginning in 1815 and ending in 1914. It was a century of relative peace, in the sense that such wars as there were were relatively localised. Not that there was much peace in southern Africa, which was the scene of many of those local wars. Several of the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars were fought then, and the Anglo-Zulu War, and the first and second Anglo-Boer Wars, to name a few.

Most of the 20th-century wars, however, were fought elsewhere. The closest that the First World War came to South Africa was Namibia, then known as German South West Africa.

Over the last decade I've managed to put most of my journal on computer, and so one of the things I do most mornings is to look to see what I was doing this day 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago, and finally 25 years ago, the midpoint between 50 years ago and the present. So I look back and see what I was doing at the end of the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s. '90s and '00s. Perhaps we should call the last the zeroes.

Twenty years ago I noted the end of the annus mirabilis, 1989, when democracy was breaking out all over. Dictators fell in many countries: Egon Krenz (remember him?), Nicolae Ceausescu, and P.W. Botha. The euphoria of that year was rather spoilt by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the Wars of the Yugoslav succession that followed. The decade of the zeroes saw wars of aggression provoked by the USA and Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq. On balance it hasn't been a good one.

In South Africa the fall of P.W. Botha was followed by the advent of democracy in 1994, but we haven't done much with it in the last 10 years. Instead of a concerted effort to undo the ravages of apartheid, politicians have been more concerned with jockeying for position, grabbing the spoils of office, and slagging off their rivals. Well, that, at least, is the impression one gets from the media, and it has to be tempered with the knowledge that there is nothing the media enjoy more than a big fight. Perhaps there has been something good going on behind the scenes that they aren't telling us about, but it seems more likely that there is not much to tell. Before the 1994 election the ANC produced a blueprint for a Reconstruction and Development Programme, but within a year they had abandoned it. Twenty years ago some of the biggest problems in the country were education, health and policing, and since then there has been little or no improvement in any of them.

Let's hope the next decade will be better. Anyone got a name for it?

One thing I have noticed is that most people seem to call the years of the past decade by the thousands -- "two-thousand" to "two-thousand-and-nine". But 2010 is called "twenty ten".

Perhaps 2010 will prove to be an annus mirabilis too, in which South Africa not only hosts the World Cup, but wins it. But I'm not holding my breath.

28 December 2009

Swiss minaret ban has consequences

Religious intolerance breeds more religious intolerance. Terry Cowan blogs about one of the consequences of the recent Swiss referendum where it weas decided to ban construction of new minarets. Notes from a Common-place Book:
It seems a group of Muslims confronted the priest at a Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey. The three men threatened the priest with death unless the church's bell tower was demolished within the week, this in retaliation for the Swiss action. The priest, Fr. Yusuf, did notify the authorities, but added 'It is my job to protect the church, so I will stand here and leave it in God’s hands.”

27 December 2009

The weird world of Twitter followers

Today I got a message: Business World (Business_World1) is now following your tweets on Twitter. As if that were not enough I have been informed that Funglia Koeswanto (Love_mny) and entrepreneur (entrepreneur336) are now following my tweets on Twitter.

I wonder what interest such people can possibly have in what I am doing right now, since if I see keywords like "entrepreneurship", "marketing" or "business" associated with blogs or other on line stuff I avoid them if at all possible. Those words trigger great aversion in me, and I know that blogs etc described by such keywords are unlikely to be of interest to me. So why do people like this want to follow me on Twitter?

It's weird.

26 December 2009

The Second Day of Christmas

It's 5:30 am on the second Day of Christmas, and I've been up since 3:15 am, with the dogs, or one of them, barking, but our street lights are not working, so I can't see what he is barking at. But it disturbs me, so I can't do much constructive at this quiet hour.

In the Orthodox Church the second day of Christmas is the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, and we remember her whose womb was more spacious than the heavens, and contained the Uncontainable One. In our diocese most parishes celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian Calendar, but a couple of parishes that follow Slavic traditions are still in the fast, and will be celebrating "Old Christmas" on 7 January Gregorian.

On 23 December I met Prof Germanos Marani of the Gregorian University in Rome, who came with a proposal for a missiological symposium, and I spent the whole day discussing it with him (there's more about this on my other blog, for those who are interested). On Christmas Eve he joined us for the Vigil Service at the Church of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, Johannesburg. We had Great Compline followed by Matins. Though our choir director was conscious of many mistakes, I don't think many other people noticed them, and it was very pleasant.

On Christmas morning I took a couple of families from the Klipfontein View congregation we were involved with last year to the Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas. They had been part of the Tembisa congregation, and we used to take them to the services there, but the priest who is now in charge there doesn't have a big enough car to take them. Someone sometimes gives them a lift to St Thomas's Serbian Church in Sunninghill, but the services there are all in Slavonic or Serbian, so it was nice for them to have an English service for a change. There were several other visitors, including old parishioners who have moved away, like the Kilner family, now living in England, but who came home to visit family for Christmas. A new visitor was Reader John Burnett, originally from the USA, but who has been working in East Africa, and who has now come to work in our diocese. I've been in contact with him by e-mail before, and through reading his blog, and look forward to getting to know him and possibly working with him.

We came home and had Christmas dinner -- roast turkey, gem squash, cauliflour cheese and roast potatoes -- a nice way to break the fast.

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord,
as we sing of this present mystery:
the wall which divided God from man has been destroyed;
the flaming sword withdraws from Eden’s gate;
the Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life;
and I, who had been cast out through my disobedience,
now feast on the delights of Paradise:
for today the Father’s perfect Image,
marked with the stamp of His eternity,
has taken the form of a servant.
Without undergoing change He is born from an unwedded mother;
He was true God, and He remains the same,
but through His love for mankind,
He has become what He never was: true man.
Come, O faithful, let us cry to Him:
“O God, born of the Virgin, have mercy on us!”

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

23 December 2009

Court: Microsoft violated patent; can't sell Word - Updates - Fresnobee.com

Court: Microsoft violated patent; can't sell Word - Updates - Fresnobee.com:
SEATTLE -- A federal appeals court ordered Microsoft Corp. to stop selling its Word program in January and pay a Canadian software company $290 million for violating a patent, upholding the judgment of a lower court.

But people looking to buy Word or Microsoft's Office package in the U.S. won't have to go without the software. Microsoft said Tuesday it expects that new versions of the product, with the computer code in question removed, will be ready for sale when the injunction begins on Jan. 11.

Oh well, there's always Open Office.

19 December 2009

Rock-solid nebulous hot air

Hat-tip to Father David MacGregor of Contact Online Weblog: Ugandan Church faces totalitarian liberal activism. for pointing to this piece of rhetorical gobbledegook.

Anglican Mainstream: Ugandan Church faces totalitarian liberal activism.:
Chris Sugden Evangelicals Now Janaury 2010

The pressure on the Church of Uganda to respond to legislation that will be placed before the Ugandan Parliament on homosexual behaviour is not restricted to Uganda. This issue is affecting other democratic nations in Africa and Asia."

Anyone who knows anything about the English language will know that "liberal" and "totalitarian" are about as far removed from each other in meaning as they can possibly be. It is impossible for anything, including activism, to be simultaneously liberal and totalitarian. It is no more possible than it is for something to be simultaneously wet and dry, or hot and cold, solid and liquid. The only place where you will find liberal totalitarians is skiing the slow-clad slopes of Sahara mountains in midsummer, or sunbathing on the sand-dunes of Siberia in mid-winter.

If you want people to pay attention to what you have to say, avoid such over-the-top rhetoric.

Recent reading: Her fearful symmetry

I finished this book more than a week ago, but have spent so much time trying to get my computer working properly again that I haven't had time to write about it until now.

Her Fearful Symmetry Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a difficult book to review; I suspect that many people, like me, will have been influenced by Audrey Niffenegger's first book, The time traveler's wife, and by the expectations aroused by that. Comparisons are inevitable. I certainly was influenced by such expectations, and found Her fearful symmetry a little disappointing.

It's a ghost story. It's about twin daughters of twins. It's set in Highgate Cemetery in North London. The cemetery is one of the characters in the book, as much so as any of the people. It's hard to say more than that without giving away the plot.

I found it an OK read, but I was expecting and hoping for more.

View all my reviews >>

15 December 2009

Death of an old friend

This morning, in an amazing coincidence, I mentioned an old friend in a blog post on another topic, on my other blog, and as I was writing the sentence that mentioned him my cell phone beeped with a message from him, letting me know that his wife had died. He was Hiskia Uanivi, whom I had known as a student at the Paulinum, the Lutheran theological seminary in Namibia, and this is what I had written Tales from Dystopia III: Theological education in a totalitarian state: Khanya:
Two of the students, in particular, became friends of ours. One was Zephania Kameeta, who later become bishop of the Lutheran Church, and a cabinet minister after Namibia became independent; the other was Hiskia Uanivi, who later fell out with Swapo and lived in Angola under the protection of the Angolan government, returning after independence.

Hiskia came with me and another friend on a tour of South Africa at the beginning of 1971, and was amazed to see that in South Africa the grass was so green yet the cattle were so thin. Hiskia was engaged to another student, Albertina Eises, and they were married on 30 October 1971.

I was deported from Namibia three months later, and so did not see them much in their married life. Hiskia completed his studies and became a pastor in the Lutheran Church, and later left Namibia, and worked for Swapo in exile. He fell out with the Swapo leadership, however, believing that they were collaborating with the South African government. He lived in Angola under the protection of the Angolan government, and returned just before Namibia became independent, as leader of a workers revolutionary party.

A couple of years ago Hiskia and his family were in Pretoria, and came to visit us. and we saw each other for the first time in more than 30 years. Their children and ours had grown up. It was good to see them again, and I was sorry our meeting could not have been longer. I'm sure Hiskia must have fascinating stories to tell about his adventures. And it would be interesting to to have heard what Albertina did in this time, but now I'll never hear it from her.

The picture shows Albertina, Dangi, Uetu and Hiskia Uanivi, when they visited us on 4 March 2007.

And today came the news that his beloved Albertina had died. May her memory be eternal!

10 December 2009

Book Review: Doing everything with MS Access

How to Do Everything with Microsoft Office Access 2003 (How to Do Everything with) How to Do Everything with Microsoft Office Access 2003 by Virginia Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In reviewing a book on how to use a computer program, I suppose the most important point is whether it helps one to use the program effectively. There was a time when buying a computer program included a substantial user's manual, but no longer. Most programs come with rather skimpy manuals, and one often has to buy a third-party book to fill in some of the gaps.

This book is mistitled. It does not tell you how to do everything with MS Access. It tells you how to do some things, the basic things. It is a beginner's guide, and to the extent that it is that, it does it fairly successfully. It doesn't tell very much about how to use Visual Basic for Applications, which one needs to do to produce all but very simple database applications that can be used by other people. So the title is misleading.

I found it generally useful, but there was one serious flaw. It describes a sample database application for creating tables, queries and entry forms. But when it comes to reports, it works on an entirely different set of hypothetical tables, for which no samples are given in the text, and they are onyl described very sketchily -- a police database. This makes it very difficult to see how the reports work, when one cannot create the tables on which the reports should be based. This is a serious flaw, so I can't give the book more than two stars.

View all my reviews >>

09 December 2009

Frustrating computers

Computers are supposed to help us to work faster and smarter, and for the most part they do. But sometimes they go on strike, and demand attention, and this has happened to us. So for the last four days I've done little else but fiddle with computers to try to get them working again.

We seemed to be leaking bandwidth last month, so reinstalled the ZoneAlarm firewall, but that stopped our LAN working. Val's nephew helped us to sort that out, and Val had also bought the full version of ZoneAlarm on one of their special offers. But as soon as it was installed, the LAN stopped working again. Greg tried to help us sort that out too, but nothing seemed to work, so we asked for a refund, and reverted to the free version of ZoneAlarm.

Then the hard disk on my desktop computer died. For some time I've been wanting to get a bigger one, but everywhere I've been they say they no longer have EIDE drives, only SATA ones. Eventually managed to find a 500 Gig EIDE drive, and then when it was installed, it didn't work. Cable fault. Cannibalised a cable from a dead computer. Partitioning and formatting took the whole morning. Now restoration of the dying drive's backups seems likely to take the whole afternoon. And then we have to see if it works after that, and that software doesn't have to be reinstalled. That would take four weeks rather than four days.

Then, I hope I'll be able to read some e-mail and get some work done!

At least my laptop still works, and I'm typing this while waiting for the F: drive to be restored. Thank the Lord for Acronis. And after that there's the G: drive, and then there's that dicey DVD drive to be sorted out...

04 December 2009

Recent reading: two novels, one good, one not so good

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Millennium, #3) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the third book in Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy, the others being The girl with the dragon tattoo and The girl who played with fire. While there is something of a gap between the first book and the second, this one carried on right from where the second one leaves off, so if you've read the second book, don't wait too long before reading this one, because it is in effect one long book in two volumes. Leaving it too long might mean that you forget some important elements of the plot.

I also think that this one is by far the best of the three.

I won't describe it, because saying too much would probably be a spoiler for the second book if you haven't read it. I didn't learn much from it, and its nothing profound, just a good story, well told. It differs from the preceding one in that there's more police action, and a bit of courtroom drama thrown in.

The Friends of Meager Fortune The Friends of Meager Fortune by David Adams Richards

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I haven't finished this book, and I doubt that I will. My wife picked it up cheap in a book shop that sells remainders, and read it. She said that she found the style difficult, and that she had to read each sentence twice.

It's about a logging family in eastern Canada before and after the Second World War, and small town gossip and rumours.

I picked it up for bedtime reading when I was too tired to read anything more demanding and found it too demanding. I too found I was having to read every sentence twice, though I'm not sure why. The sentences are not over long, nor are they complicated in structure. But on first reading, the meaning doesn't seem to get through, and one has to read it again to see how it connects with what went before.

Maybe I'll pick it up again later, maybe not.

View all my reviews >>

03 December 2009

Are you homophobic?

I came across this quiz about "Are you homophobic?"

"Homophobic" is not a word I like very much, partly because I'm a language pedant, and believe it should mean "fear of the same", and therefore be partly the opposite of "xenophobic", which means fearing strangers.

Another reason that I don't like it is that it is often used as an insult or accusation -- it is used by bigots to accuse other people of bigotry.

But I accept that the way the word is generally used nowadays, it means to regard homosexuals with fear and loathing.

So I took the test, partly to see what the result would be, but also partly to see what the test would be. Some of these tests are themselves a manifestation of bigotry, as I mentioned above.

Here's the result:

You Are 18% Homophobic

You're open minded, tolerant, and accepting.

And you're not homophobic in the least :-)

Before reading any further, I suggest that you take the test -- first to see what the test thinks of you, and secondly to see what you think of the test.

I think that the test is fairly accurate, and measures "homophobia" as it is generally defined today, that is, the degree to which people regard homosexual people with fear and loathing.

So what do I mean when I say that the word "homophobic" is sometimes used by bigots to accuse other people of bigotry?

This is also related to being a language pedant, but it is about things that are rather more important than the etymology of "homophobic".

People sometimes ask "Is homosexuality a sin?"

And my answer is "No".

Homosexuality is a sexual orientation, as people say nowadays. Sexual orientation means what people find sexually attractive. People are homosexual if they find people of the same sex sexually attractive. From the point of view of Christian morality, finding people sexually attractive, whether they are of the same or the opposite sex, is not a sin. What is a sin is to allow that to develop into lust, and possibly sexual activity with another person. What is sinful is not homosexuality, but fornication and adultery.

And as a Christian, I believe that if I perform such acts, or even dwell on lustful thoughts, whether about people of the opposite sex or the same sex, those are sins that I must confess.

There are lots of people who fornicate or commit adultery, with people of the same sex or the opposite sex. Should I shun such people and avoid them socially? Should I refuse to work with such people because they are sinners? No, because I am a sinner too.

And why should we regard it as necessary to shun someone who commits adultery with someone of the same sex, but not those who commit adultery with someone of the opposite sex?

If I am to shun and avoid anyone for being a sinner, then I must first of all shun and avoid myself. Orthodox Christians pray frequently during Lent, "Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother."

We are not to engage in the relatively undemanding activity of confessing other people's sins. Nor are we to excuse our own sins as minor, and regard those of others as much more serious. Again, as Orthodox Christians we pray before receiving the holy communion, "I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first".

Jesus did not shun notorious sinners, and was criticised for failing to do so. He met socially with social outcasts like Zacchaeus, and if he, who was sinless, could do that, how can I, who am the first of sinners, refuse to do so on account of my supposed moral superiority?

One of the questions in the quiz concerned same-sex marriage. I believe that such a thing is ontologically impossible, but I won't go into that here. I've dealt with that in some detail in another blog post on the theology of Christian marriage.

But I will say that that concerns same-sex marriage, or homosexual marriage. People often talk loosely of "gay marriage", but that is not the same thing at all. There is nothing that I know to prevent gay people from marrying, and some have. It might even be possible for two gay people to marry each other. They might need to think about it carefully, and consider the difficulties that there might be in such a relationship. As a limerick puts it:

There was a young queer of Khartoum
who took a lesbian up to his room
they argued all night
over who had the right
to do what, and with what, and to whom.

But marriage is never plain sailing all the time, and even marriages when both parties are heterosexual often end in divorce.

Another question about words and meanings is raised by the term "gay lifestyle" which some people bandy about.

It's a strange term, because I doubt very much that there is such a thing as a "gay lifestyle" any more than there is such a thing as a "heterosexual lifestyle". Gay people can have as wide a variety of interests and engage in as wide a range of activities as heterosexual people. Some gay people are promiscious, and some are not, just as some heterosexual people are promiscuous and some are not. Some gay people are celibate and some are not, just as some heterosexual people are celibate and some are not.

There is, however, one exception to this.

There are gay subcultures, and among these subcultures, there is something that could be called a "gay lifestyle", but it is important to realise that only a small minority of gay people identify with such subcultures or participate in their activities.

There was a time when homosexual activity was illegal in South Africa, as it was in many other countries. And in those days there was a gay subculture, which had the rather romantic aura of a persecuted minority. It had its own argot, and even the word "gay" was not known to people outside the subculture, probably not even to homosexual people outside the subculture. What drew them together was not just the fact of being gay but the fact of being persecuted, and they had that in common with the communist and liberal and black nationalist subcultures of those days.

Some (not all) members of the gay subcultures were actvists, and they wanted the laws against homosexual activity repealed. And under our democratic constitution those laws have been repealed, and it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation, though I'm not sure that that provision of the constitution is as fully observed as it might be, nevertheless, it is there and can be appealed to.

One of the main arguments for the repeal of the laws against homosexual activity was that the law should not concern itself with what was done by consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms, and eventually those laws were repealed, as they have been in many other countries.

But some "gay activists" went further.

There was an Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, Timothy Bavin, who after some years left and became Bishop of Portsmouth. He was unmarried, and a group of gay activists decided that he was gay, and began a campaign of actively persecuting him and demanding that he "come out".

I have no idea whether he was gay or not, but from what I do know of him, he believed that he was called by God to celibacy, and he was abused by a group of "gay activists" who were little more than fascist bullies.

And it seems to be somewhat dishonest to say on the one hand that one's sexual orientation is one's own business and that what one does in one's own bedroom is not the concern of the law and anyone else, and then to go flaunting one's sexual orientation in "gay pride" parades, and demand that other people flaunt theirs by "coming out", and persecuting them if they do not. There is homophobic bigotry, and there is gay activist bigotry, but the so-called "gay lifestyle" is characteristic of only a small minority of gay people. It is the bigots and fascist bullies, on both sides, who make the most noise.


This post has been linked to the Synchroblog for October 2010: Same-sex marriage synchroblog | Khanya. Click on the link to see the other posts in the synchroblog.

02 December 2009

Swiss ban mosque minarets

Swiss ban mosque minarets in surprise vote:
Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets on Sunday, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers in a surprise vote that put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population.

Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic. Business groups said the decision hurt Switzerland’s international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there.

When I read the first paragraph I thought it was rather sad that the Swiss should be seen to be suppressing religious freedom like that.

But when I read the second paragraph I was even more saddened by the hypocrisy of it all.

Perhaps the Muslim groups who objected should have a look at the restrictions on building and repairing Christian churches in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and do something about those before complaining about the restrictions of others.

Sauce, goose, gander and all that.

As for the response of the business groups, well, it reminded me of Tom Lehrer's saying, "Christmas, with its spirit of giving, reminds us of what we all most deeply and sincerely believe in. I refer, of course, to money."

01 December 2009

You might be an American Evangelical if...

You might be an American Evangelical if:

10. T-shirts with Christian catch-phrases are a part of your evangelism strategy.

9. Your car is equipped with the ever-popular license plate frame that reads, "In case of rapture, the car is yours!"

8. You're convinced Jesus was a Republican.

7. Tim LaHaye's Left Behind book series is gospel truth.

6. Your favorite authors are Stormie Omartian and Joel Osteen.

5. Anyone who disagrees with you has taken the wide path.

4. You're convinced Sarah Palin has a bright future as a political candidate.

3. Your notion of God's purpose for your life happens to correspond nicely with upper middle-class suburban life.

2. You can't fit anymore music on your ipod because it's full of songs by John Tesh and Michael W. Smith.

1. You feel this post is alienating and abrasive, and your first inclination is to unsubscribe from this blog.

With acknowledgements to Christians in Context: from orthodoxy to orthopraxy.: Top Ten Marks of a Mainline Evangelical.


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