30 December 2010

The future is fidgetal

A couple of years ago an advertising hoarding along the freeway informed us that "Blackberry is here". I wondered for a while if it was the next step up from Bluetooth, but it turned out that it was something else.

As the BBC News - The future is fidgetal notes:
Technology, and the hype that surrounds it, is changing the way we speak. But we don't have to turn into drones, all spouting the latest i-word. Chris Bowlby says it's time for the techno-bullied to fight back with their own subversive speak.

With the online Oxford English Dictionary recently re-launched and on the look-out for new language, maybe it's time for a counter-revolution.

Here are some of the BBC's suggestions:

BBC News - The future is fidgetal:
High time that changed. Here, as a start, are a few of my suggestions, with definitions to try and get them into all those new dictionaries.

  • Fidgetal - modern technology whose primary purpose is to give people something to do with their fingers (closely related to the decline of smoking)
  • MisApp - something going terribly wrong due to over reliance on latest Phone gizmo
  • Wikisqueak - sound emitted by diplomat who realises she's sent confidential telegram without proper encryption
  • Dreadsheet - spreadsheet containing very bad financial news
  • Disgracebook - social networking site advertising user's embarrassing past
  • Mobile drone - lover of interminable tedious and public phone conversations
  • Sin card - alternative device to fit in mobile for immoral communication
  • Powerpointless - universal feeling in room at end of hi-tech executive presentation of negligible value
  • Skypeochondria - queasy feeling brought on by obsessive fear of being offline
  • Scroogele - search engine for people trying to find cheapest online gifts
Other contributions are welcome.

Otherwise, in the fidgetal future, any memory of pre-tech language will have been wiped or corrupted.

Any more?

27 December 2010

The butcher's theatre

Butchers TheatreButchers Theatre by Jonathan Kellerman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read a few other crime novels by Jonathan Kellerman and found the palled after reading three of them -- they also seemed to be similar, and got more and more predictable. So I was a bit reluctant to start this one, because it seemed inordinately long, but I wanted some light bedtime reading and it was available, and so I started it, and found it refreshingly different from most of Kellerman's other novels. It has a different setting and different characters.

The story is set in Jerusalem in the 1980s, where a serial killer seems to be at work, though it is not the kind of case that Israeli police are normally called upon to handle, and the protagonist, Chief Inspector Daniel Sharavi, is luckily able to enlist the help of a visiting American policeman friend, who has more experience of such cases. The investigation is hampered by the religious, ethnic and political tensions in the city, which are sometimes reflected in the investigating team itself.

In part the great length of the book is because there are no easy solutions to the case, and it requires lots of plodding and patient police work to get to the bottom of things. We are introduced to the perpetrator and his thought quite early on in the book, and the development of his motivation and psychological state, though he is never a suspect, and his identity is only revealed by accident, towards the end.

So I think this is one of Kellerman's better books, and though it does seem to have some plot flaws, it was still and enjoyable read.

One of the oddities of the book is the strange mixture of US English and other Englishes. The title does not use the American spelling of "theater", but there are American spellings like "meager" sprinkled throughout the book. But there is also the use of "holidays" where one would expect, in a book written by an American, the American term "vacation". Or is American English becoming more international?

View all my reviews

24 December 2010

Bad advisors, bad advice

US President Barack Obama based his election campaign on change, and one of the things he promised to change was the detention without trial system introduced by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama managed to create the impression that he would get rid of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year.

But not only is the Guantanamo Bay camp still there, but now Obama's advisors are urging him to make detention without trial a permanent feature of the US polity.

Hat-tip to Obama's liberty problem: A conservative blog for peace

Bill Quigley and Vince Warren: Obama's Liberty Problem:
Advisors in the Obama administration have floated the idea of creating a special new legal system to indefinitely detain people by Executive Order.

Why? To do something with the people wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo. Why not follow the law and try them? The government knows it will not be able to win prosecutions against them because they were tortured by the US.

Guantanamo is coming up on its ninth anniversary – a horrifying stain on the character of the US commitment to justice. President Obama knows well that Guantanamo is the most powerful recruitment tool for those challenging the US. Unfortunately, this proposal for indefinite detention will prolong the corrosive effects of the illegal and immoral detentions at Guantanamo rightly condemned world-wide.

Needless to say, this is thoroughly bad advice, and one can only hope that he will not take it, and also that he will sack these advisors and appoint others who have a better understanding of all those good things like freedom and democracy.

22 December 2010

Neil Clark: Why we should nationalise our airports

The privatisation mania of the 1980s keeps coming back to bite us, especially in the matter of public transport and communications.

Neil Clark: Why we should nationalise our airports:
"'The government's objective with this bill is to liberate airport management from political interference … to enable airport operators to respond to the needs of their customers, rather than to the shifting priorities of politicians and officials,' declared the Earl of Caithness as he moved the Thatcher government's 1986 airports bill in the House of Lords, which was soon to become the 1986 Airports Act. The privatisation of the state-owned British Airports Authority (BAA), we were told, would ensure that 'better services are provided for all airline passengers'.

I wonder if the Earl of Caithness (or even Margaret Thatcher herself), would have the courage to pop down to Hounslow and tell that to the tens of thousands of holidaymakers stranded at the BAA-owned Heathrow airport for the past three days.

I wrote some other stuff here yesterday, which got lost when my internet connection dies, as it has been doing for the last 10 days. Don't feel like reconstituting it today.

19 December 2010

Personal Banking - simpler, better faster?

The Standard Bank of South Africa used to have an advertising slogan "simpler, better, faster", until they were inspired and motivated to make banking more involved.

Now along comes Capitec bank, which, if their blurb is to be believed, is out to really make banking simpler, better, faster.

If their publicity documents are to be believed, this will provide the first opportunity for ordinary people to save money since the demise of the building societies in 1987.

Personal Banking | Global One Facility | Capitec Bank:
We believe that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. That's why we offer the Global One facility – a single solution to daily money management that lets you transact at the lowest fees, earn highly competitive interest on your savings, and get the easiest access to the best-priced credit through a Daily Savings Account.

The way building societies worked was simple. Lots and lots of ordinary people would put their spare cash in a savings account, which paid fairly low interest. And they would lend this money to people at a somewhat higher rate of interest, so they could build houses.

Then the building societies converted into commercial banks, and imposed fees on savings accounts. Thus any money you tried to save would disappear, as the banks would take it in fees.

Now Capitec Bank does not work quite like a building society. It still charges fees, but if the fees are R4.50 a month, and they give you 6% interest on your savings, then if you have R100 in your account, your savings will still grow by 1,5% a month.

Perhaps if more "fincancial services providers" had thought like this, there wouldn't have been the sub-prime lending crisis that led to the current recession.

One thing I have against Capitec Bank, though. Like other financial services providers, it likes to think of itself as a financial products provider, and likes to call its services "products". I'm not sure what it produces, but such evidence of woolly thinking makes me uneasy. The question of which word to use might not be the only thing they are confused about.

I'm not yet a customer of Capitec Bank, but I'm thinking about it.

17 December 2010

Yahoo May Shut Down Some Services - NYTimes.com

Yahoo! has a history of taking over services from others, then mismanaging them, destroying the features and functionality that made them popular in the first place, and finally closing them down. Two examples are Webrings and Geocities.

Ironically much of what was left of Geocities was rescued by the revived Webring, and some was also rescued by Reocities.

Now there is the threat of more to come.

Yahoo May Shut Down Some Services - NYTimes.com:
As part of its effort to streamline its beleaguered Web business, Yahoo may close down several well-known Web products, including Delicious, a social bookmarking tool, and Upcoming, a social calendar.

The news surfaced online Thursday through what appears to be a leaked snapshot of a Yahoo presentation that shows several Yahoo services the company is apparently thinking about shuttering or merging with other services. The picture was first posted online by Eric Marcoullier, co-founder of MyBlogLog, a social network for bloggers that was acquired by Yahoo in 2007. Mr. Marcoullier no longer works at Yahoo and said on Twitter that he had found the slide on the Web.

MyBlogLog, the social blogrolling site, doesn't seem to work as well as it used to, while its main rival, BlogCatalog, has gone completely down the tubes, after a "revamp" that destroyed most of its functionality.

I just hope that Yahoo! doesn't ditch Yahoogroups, which is one of its best services. Yahoogroups is an exception to the rule: it is a service that Yahoo! took over (from e-groups) and actually improved.

Ordinary Internet users were unable to run mailing lists unless they had their own server, or knew of a friendly operator who would give them space on a server. E-groups provided a public list server that anyone could join. Yahoo! took it over, and they have added features like the possibility of posting links, exchanging files and photographs, setting up databases that anyone can contribute to, and a calendar of events. These features made the service useful to academic societies, which could discuss various topics, exchange papers, and collect information at a central point accessible to members. It is also useful to groups like genealogists dealing with a particular family or locality, and any group with a common interest.

Google tried to set up a rival in Googlegroups, which had the dubious advantage of also interfacing with Usenet newsgroups -- those who participated from Googlegroups often had no sense of netiquette, and their inane contributions to many established groups caused many to "killfile" those who participated through Googlegroups. Google have now reduced the functionality of Googlegroups, and diffused it, leaving Yahoogroups, as far as I am aware, unrivalled in the field.

So I really, really hope that Yahoo! don't decide to shut down Yahoogroups.

16 December 2010

Neil Clark: Kosovo and the myth of liberal intervention

The death was announced this week of Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who was described by one Christian blogger thus On the anniversary of the Dayton Accords | Again and Again:
Holbrooke was one of the architects of a US foreign policy that has targeted Christians around the world for extinction–in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in EAst Timor, and in Iraq, where the last remnants of an ancient Christian community are being extirpated even as I write.

Some years ago, I asked some Zionist Evangelicals about the wisdom of a policy that slaughtered Christians in order to help the Jewish state. “Iraqis? They’re not Christians.” They said the same thing of the Palestinian Christians. So the oldest Christian communities in the world are not Christian, and the one and only true church is some Zionist sect invented in the 19th century out of thin air and a misreading of Scripture ! But this is America, where new trumps old, and cheap trumps good every time.

But though many Europeans and some Americans realise that the Iraqi-American War was a war of unmitigated aggression, many of them still think that the Clinton-Blair war on Yugoslavia was a "good" war, a "humanitarian war". But the truth will out, perhaps.

Neil Clark: Kosovo and the myth of liberal intervention:
'The United States of America and the Kosovo Liberation Army stand for the same human values and principles ... Fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values.' So declared the neocon US senator (and current foe of Wikileaks) Joseph Lieberman back in 1999 at the height of the US-led military intervention against Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia.

It would be interesting to hear what Senator Lieberman makes of the report of the Council of Europe – Europe's premier human rights watchdog – on his favourite band of freedom fighters. The report, which cites FBI and other intelligence sources, details horrific rights abuses it claims have been carried out by the KLA, the west's allies in the war against Yugoslavia 11 years ago.

If there are any lingering doubts that Nato is the North Atlantic Terrorist Organisation, acting as the air force for a terrorist gang, the UCK/KLA, this should dispel them.

13 December 2010

Newsweek jumps the shark

Newsweek has really jumped the shark this time. They've just run an article on "the new faces of the religious right", and they seem to have got it all wrong. Among the people they have included is Jim Wallis, regarded by most on the religious right as a dangerous leftist, and certainly one who has been active in trying to move American evangelicalism leftwards -- at least closer to the centre even if not to the actual left.

Faces of the Christian Right - Newsweek:
Who speaks for the religious right? That used to be an easy question to answer: on matters of faith and politics, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson were towering figures: opinionated, controversial, and vastly influential. But with Falwell’s death in 2007, Robertson’s outlandish comments about the 2010 earthquake in China and Hurricane Katrina, and Dobson’s gradual retirement, it’s harder to pinpoint a similar council for the second generation of the movement, which is more strategically, denominationally, and ideologically diverse. Many of the new leaders don’t subscribe to the (figuratively) bomb-throwing tactics their forebears did.

And accompanying the Newsweek article is this picture of a Dr Verwoerd look-alike. No doubt that is a suitable picture to illustrate the "right", as Verwoerd's right-wing credentials must surely be impeccable, but Dr Verwoerd was hardly "religious". He hardly ever talked about God, and the closest he ever got was some vague references to "Providence". Newsweek doesn't tell us who is in the picture -- the closest thing to a caption is "Phyllis Redman / MCT Landov", which is rather uninformative. That guy doesn't look like a Phyllis to me.

But Jim Wallis and "Religious Right" surely don't go together.

But perhaps in the weird contorted American political imagination they do. Many Americans appear to believe that Nazism = Socialism and that Hitler was a Socialist. If they can believe that, I suppose they can believe anything, even about Jim Wallis.

And Jim Wallis is the only one on Newsweek's list of names that was even vaguely recognisable. I knew of Jim Wallis through an American Evangelical acquaintance, Dick Peace, who worked in South Africa 40 years ago, and when he returned to the US told me that there were some American Evangelicals who were not politically apathetic, as most of them were back then, but that some were trying to promote interest in social justice, and referred us to Sojourners, which was founded by Jim Wallis. The following decade saw the rise of the American religious right, which promoted the cause of social injustice, and was hardly to be linked with Jim Wallis.

The American religious right has been influential to some extent in Africa, and its ideas have been disseminated through videos and visiting speakers and the kind of religious books sold in secular bookshops, and have resulted in the formation of Neopentecostal denominations that promote those ideas, sometimes contextualised for Africa.

At one time I used to receive the Sojourners e-mail newsletter, but I gave it up because it did not have a global perspective, but seemed to be almost entirely concerned with American domestic politics, and kept referring to the names of people who were obviously farmiliar to their audience, but most of whom I had never heard of.

But for those familiar with and interested in American parochial politics and religion, the Newsweek article has been analysed and deconstructed at Um, Wallis represents the new Christian right? | GetReligion:
That Newsweek piece is abysmal. My favorite quote? “It’s not as sexy as praying with the president.” [In the bio of Melissa Rogers] Since when is Palin an “evangelical rock star”? [In the bio of Marjorie Dannenfelser] The bit about Cizik is wildly inaccurate - he never backed gay marriage. [In the bio of Jim Wallis]

This guy makes young journalists everywhere look bad. The arrogant sarcasm running throughout this piece is inexcusable; it’s not even appropriate for the op-ed page!

10 December 2010

Follow me...

Follow me on Tumblr.

Wherever you go on the web these days you see exhortations to "Follow me!"

Usually it's on Twitter, but quite often it's on other sites as well. I suppose it's part of the Twitterisation of the web. Some social networking sites that used to have "friends" now refer to "followers".

I gather that you can also get software that will go through the people you follow on Twitter and remove those who don't follow you in return. That seems strange to me. I've never asked anyone to follow me on Twitter, other than my own immediate family, and none of them are on Twitter anyway.

Twitter used to say that what you should tweet about was "what are you doing right now". It was a bit silly because the only possible answer one could give was "tweeting on Twitter". Now they've broadened it a bit to "what's happening?"

But I've never asked anyone to follow me on Twitter, and I don't ask or expect anyone I follow on Twitter to follow me in return. I follow people and groups that interest me, and find the easiest way of doing it is through the Daily Paper. which gives a digest of the main links. It's not perfect, as it doesn't show every link, and I'm not sure what selection criteria it uses - I suspect that it may give preference to links to articles that have pictures, which are not always the most interesting ones.

But I don't ask people to follow me on Twitter.

Follow me on Tumblr.

Why Tumblr?

Tumblr is probably one of the most underrated things on the web.

It's a sort of quick 'n dirty blog site, where you can post stuff by e-mail, or in various other ways with a minimum of effort. It's a kind of blog site for non-geeks, for people who are not web fundis, and makes it easy for ordinary people to use. The trouble is that it is a non-geek site that only geeks know about and use. You don't have to know HTML or CSS or any of that fancy stuff. It's WYGIWYS -- what you get is what you see.

Follow me on Tumblr.

No, I don't mean that literally.

Yes, you can follow people on Tumblr in the same way as you can follow them on Twitter. It's like Twitter except that it's not limited to 140 characters, and you can log in and see a feed of all the people you "follow". But you can also just go in there and read it, without having an account.

So why should you follow me on Tumblr?

Three of my blogs feed into Tumblr, and so you can see a digest of the recent posts and links to them. If one of them catches your fancy, you can click on the link and go to the full post and read it, and comment if you like. And if it doesn't interest you, you can skip it.

I post in various blogs, depending on the topic and the content and how I want to format it. Most, but not all of my theological stuff goes on Khanya. Most, but not all of my political and general stuff goes on Notes from underground (that's this one). And stuff about books and literature can go in either. And then there are the family history and genealogy ones.

Instead of going to each of them in turn to see if there are any new posts that might interest you, or getting an RSS feed of one and missing the others, or of all three and wasting bandwidth on stuff you don't want, you can go to Tumblr and see if there is anything that interests you or not.

Blogger, the software for this blog, has a "Blog this" feature, which I use quite a lot. It grabs a paragraph or two from a web site and lets you use it as the basis of a blog post, but it usually needs tweaking and fiddling with HTML to get it looking half decent. But sometimes one doesn't want to do that. You just want a link to a web site to remind you what it was about and share it with others, perhaps. Tumblr lets you do that easily -- for example this one, about a steam engine that rescued passengers from electric trains stranded in the snow.

I call my Tumblr site Marginalia. If my life as I live it and experience it is a book, those are some notes and comments written in the margins.

No, Tumblr isn't perfect, and I'm still playing around with it to see what it can and can't do, but if you want to "follow" me anywhere, then follow me on Tumblr.

09 December 2010

WikiLeaks ditched by MasterCard, Visa. Who's next? - CSMonitor.com

Mastercard and Visa are planning to suspend the use of their cards on Wikileaks until the situation is resolved. I suggest that the rest of us suspend the use of Mastercard and Visa on our Christmas shopping, or anything else, until the situation is resolved.

WikiLeaks ditched by MasterCard, Visa. Who's next? - CSMonitor.com:
Last week, WikiLeaks was evicted from Amazon cloud-based servers, reportedly under pressure from US politicians. A couple days later, PayPal followed suit – effectively depriving WikiLeaks of a flood of micro-donations from supporters around the globe. Now reps for MasterCard and Visa have said the companies will halt payments to WikiLeaks until a full investigation into the practices of the site has been completed.

Meanwhile, Avaaz has a petition you can sign here.

And they say

The massive campaign of intimidation against WikiLeaks is sending a chill through free press advocates everywhere.

Legal experts say WikiLeaks has likely broken no laws. Yet top US politicians have called it a terrorist group and commentators have urged assassination of its staff. The organization has come under massive government and corporate attack, but WikiLeaks is only publishing information provided by a whistleblower. And it has partnered with the world's leading newspapers (NYT, Guardian, Spiegel etc) to carefully vet the information it publishes.

I see that Tony Blair has been recalled by the Iraq War commission in the UK to answer some questions he evaded before, partly as a result of Wikileaks. I don't think Wikileaks revealed anything that we didn't already know or hadn't already guessed, but all those people who are telling us how righteous they are for trying to impose democracy of the rest of the world while trying to suppress media freedom in their own countries need to have their bluff called.

So remember:

  • Don't buy your Christmas prezzies on MasterCard or Visa
  • Pass this on

Until the situation is resolved, of course.

07 December 2010

Russian religious revival

During the Bolshevik era the Russian government was officially atheist and actually promoted atheism through quangos like the League of Militant Atheists. The number of working Orthodox Churches had dwindled to 7000. Now there has been a quite spectacular revival. Interfax-Religion:
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia cited the statistics that 23,000 Orthodox churches have been restored in Russia over the past two decades...

Patriarch Kirill emphasized that this had been done against the backdrop of economic, political and social confrontation, rather than at a time of economic and political security and social well-being.

The religious revival actually began before the end of the Bolshevik era, and was in no small measure responsible for the collapse of Bolshevism.

Back when that was just beginning a Russian bishop and some diplomats met with some leaders of the NG Kerk in Pretoria, and it became clear that just as some people were feeling their way uncertainly into the new South Africa, so Russians were feeling their way uncertainly into a new Russia. They were uncertain because in both cases the rules had changed, and freedom was beginning to appear on the horizon, and the old certainties of a world in which whatever was not forbidden was compulsory no longer applied. Here's an excerpt from my diary for Sunday 5 July 1992:

We went to the Liturgy at Brixton. Bishop Victor of Podolsk was there. He had come to bless the offices of the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He spoke briefly on the church in Russia, and said that the church buildings and monasteries were being handed back by the government, but the church had no money to maintain them. He came to tea afterwards, but had to rush off to another engagement.

In the evening went to Prof Johan Heyns's house, and bishop Victor was there, together with the ambassador, Alexei Makarov, and three others from the Russian Chamber of Commerce - the Vice President, Alexey Leonidovich Kolomeichuk, the public relations officer, Vladimir Michaelovich Korostelev, and the local representative, Vadim A. Mejnikov. Johan Heyns asked how I had become Orthodox, so I explained that I had originally been Anglican. The bishop said that the Russian Orthodox Church had had dialogue with the Anglicans for many years, and felt some theological affinity, but that they had broken off the dialogue when the Anglicans ordained women.

After we had supper the bishop explained the position of the church, and said there had been a spiritual hunger in Russia in recent years, and millions of people were
flocking to the church, but the church did not have resources to minister to them. They were ignorant of the rudiments of the faith - they were seeking God, but did not know why they were seeking, or in many cases they did not know what they were seeking. Henno Cronje asked why this spiritual hunger had appeared so suddenly now - had political changes caused it. The bishop replied that it might have been partly responsible for the political changes, and Dr Makarov said something similar. Henno Cronje also asked if the bishops had been appointed by the government under the communist regime, and bishop Victor said he had only been a bishop for two years, so he could not speak from personal experience, but he knew the government had had the power of veto on the election of bishops.

The DRC people said that they thought there were a lot of affinities between South Africa and Russia - but the ones they gave, even Piet Meiring, were different from what I expected. I thought the most obvious similarity was that both were beginning to emerge from decades of oppression under totalitarian governments, and that they were both discovering that freedom is not without its problems. But they spoke of the mystical identification of the church with the soul of the people, the patriotism, and the love that Russians and South Africans had for their country.

Henno Cronje asked about the meaning of ikons, and the bishop explained how they differed from Western religious painting - that they were not representations of physical objects, but that they had a spiritual meaning. Vadim Mejnikov translated, but obviously had some difficulty with theological terms. At the end all the
Russians, except the bishop, said they were not members of the church, but it seemed that even as the bishop spoke, some kind of spiritual hunger was being awakened in them. As the bishop spoke about the longing for God, it seemed that they were hearing new things, and responding.

One thing that amused me, though I didn't record it at the time, was that all the solemn DRC dominees giggled like naughty schoolboys whenever the Russians said "kak", which means "how" in Russian but "shit" in Afrikaans.

The Russian Ambassador, Makrelov, was quite emphatic about the religious revival leading to people's disillusionment with Bolshevism and contributing to its fall.

It is rather sad to think that both Alexei Makrelov and Prof Johan Heyns died in tragic circumstances not long afterwards. Alexei Makrelov died in a domestic accident, when his wife, who was carrying a tub of hot water, slipped and spilt it on him. Johan Heyns was murdered by an unknown assassin on 5 November 1994.

30 November 2010


Concerning the latest Wikileaks, my blogging friend Poliphilo over on LiveJournal says it all really Eroticdreambattle - Wikileaks:
Thus far there's been nothing in the Wikileaks revelations that comes as a huge surprise. The Saudis hate the Iranians, the US State department spies on the UN, Russia is a kleptocracy, China mounts attacks on the Web, most of the aid that enters Afghanistan goes straight into Swiss bank accounts, Netanyahu is slippery, Merkel is dull, Sarkozy a blowhard, Karzai weak and paranoid, Prince Andrew obnoxious . These aren't secrets that are being disclosed. At most they confirm our best guesses. As someone on a Guardian thread put it, 'Diplomats say in private what Joe Public thinks!'

And, as someone commented there, "...but during National Brotherhood Week"

Or The Merry Minuet.

29 November 2010

In the dark: book notes

In The DarkIn The Dark by Mark Billingham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A run-of-the-mill crime novel.

A pregnant London police officer is on maternity leave, and her boyfriend, also a police officer, is doing things that have little relation to his everyday duties. I found the first hundred pages, which set the scene, rather dull, and at several points contemplated abanding the book. But then the story picks up and becomes more interesting as one gets involved with the remaining characters. To say uch more would give away too much of the plot.

View all my reviews

Thanks but no thanks

I thought I'd visit a blog of a blogger who visited my blog.

Found his blog had closed, and was redirected to another site.

First hoop.

Got this message:

You are accessing


This website is participating in a project to stop the spread of viruses and malware online. Often, people do not realize their computers are infected.

Your computer or network ( is showing signs of infected behavior. You are being alerted so you can take action.

To resolve the problem:

  • Make sure your anti-virus, anti-malware, or computer security is up-to-date.

  • Run a full scan of your computer and remove any viruses, worms, trojans, or other infections found.

  • If your computer or network stops showing signs of infected behavior, this alert will no longer trigger.

Warning: JavaScript is not enabled in your browser!

In order to request temporary access to roezer.com, you must have JavaScript enabled in your browser!

Too many hoops, so I gave up.

There are two main reasons I disable Javascript. One is that it is sometimes exploited by sites that have viruses, malware, and other bad behaviour. The second is that some sites, especially news sites, have streaming video or whatever they call it that eats up bandwidth at a rapid rate.

Telkom recently upped the monthly bandwidth allowance to 9 Gigs, and for the last two months we have managed to reach the end of the month without having to buy more bandwidth, but I'm not taking any chances by enabling Javascript for all sites all the time.

28 November 2010

Anniversary of this blog

Today is the anniversary of this blog, which I started five years ago today.

I thought it might be interesting to have a look at some statitics, like how many posts there have been, how many readers, and so on.

Here's the answer: There was an error while fetching stats. Please reload page.

The first post was this:

Notes from underground: Seek and ye shall find: "I've lost touch with a few old friends, and so I've entered their details in a 'reverse people finder'"

You can try it here: Is Someone Looking For You? Reverse People Finder - Who? Me?

And if you look down the sidebar on the right, you can see what the most popular posts have been, though I don't think thay were necessarily the best or the most profound.

Some of my personal favourites, in no particular order, are:

25 November 2010

19 Reasons You Should Blog And Not Just Tweet

Unscientific observation: most bloggers use Twitter, but many Twitter users do not blog. And that's a pity.

19 Reasons You Should Blog And Not Just Tweet:
Twitter is popular because it is easy. It is easy to setup, easy to copy-paste links into, and easy to write 140 character bits. But, having your own blog remains the strongest platform if you’re serious about sharing ideas and having a continued dialog with the world. Blogging is the antithesis of easy, however it is far more rewarding.

I'm blogging about this in several places, because I think it's quite important.

I use Twitter.

I joined it about 3 years ago (on 14 April 2007, to be precise), and I didn't see much use for it. I thought it would be good for messages to let family members know that I'd be late home for supper because I was stuck in the traffic. The trouble is, no other members of my family were interested in joining Twitter, so they'd never read the messages anyway.

Then some people began to follow me on Twitter, and I began to follow some people I knew, so I began using it to let people know about stuff I or others had written elsewhere that I found interesting. There's not much you can say in 140 characters, but you can use it to post a link with a brief description.

One problem with that was that some links were too long, so there was no room for description, and in some cases the link itself was over 140 characters. Well, there's always TinyURL, but it's a bit of a schlep to go to Tiny URL to shorten the link and then post it on Twitter. Then I discovered su.pr. That automatically shortens the links for you and posts it on Twitter for you, and gives you some interesting statistics on the fate of your tweet.

And I also have Twitter automatically pass on my tweets to Facebook, so my Facebook friends who aren't on Twitter can also see them.

What I find quite odd, though, is that some of my Facebook friends comment within Facebook about the announcement of the post, and not about the content of the post itself, and I wonder if they even bother to read the blog post at all. Sometimes their comments suggest that they haven't. Some have suggested that this is the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of sites like Facebook. Tim Berners-Lee: Facebook Threatens Web, Beware:
Social networking sites are threatening the Web's core principles by collecting and retaining users' information--from their contacts to their photos to their email addresses--then offering up that information to users only within their own websites, Berners-Lee argued.

'Each site is a silo, walled off from the others,' he explained. 'The more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social networking site becomes a central platform - a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it.

He warned, 'The more this kind of architecture gains widespread use, the more the web becomes fragmented, and the less we enjoy a single, universal information space.'"

And for those who think that bloggin is too difficult and tweeting is too easy, there's a useful compromise in sites like Tumblr and Posterous, which let you post by e-mail, or from a link in your browser, but don't limit you to 140 words. You can see mine at Marginalia.

I find Tweets without links are often qute frustrating. Someone has said something interesting -- but there is no link to where they said it or where one can find more.

So Tweet if you must, but blogging's better.

23 November 2010

Sarah Palin’s ‘refudiate’ Oxford’s Top Word 2010

Some have criticised US politician Sarah Palin for her neologisms, like "refudiate", and have accused her of ruining the English language. Others have praised her, and she herself has apparently compared herself with Shakespeare, who also made up new words. .

Who’s laughing now? Sarah Palin’s ‘refudiate’ Oxford’s Top Word 2010 - Business News - Exec Digital:
Sarah Palin's latest self-made source of public mockery has been re-made as merit, being named New Oxford American Dictionary's Word of the Year for 2010 and the latest addition to its official lexicon
I think the English language is in far more danger of being ruined by stupid journalists who misuse "refute" to mean mere denial instead of "prove to be false". If Sarah Palin is guilty of malapropisms, then so are they.

And "refudiate" is a useful portmanteau word to mean "not only have I shown conclusively that it is false, but I have nothing but contempt for those whose moral turpitude led them to suggest that it was true."

Not that Sarah Palin meant anything like that by it; she probably malapropped her own neologism, if such a thing is possible. But it could prove to be a useful word.

21 November 2010

Entropy in the blogosphere: the disintegration of social networking

One of the good things I have found about blogging is that one can find people interested in similar things and exchange ideas with them. There are various tools, like blogrolls, for finding bloggers who say interesting things.

In the past I've found social blogrolling tools, like MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog, useful for this. But both have recently become considerably less useful, though for quite different reasons. BlogCatalog, as I noted in a recent post, recently decided to change the way it looks and works, and shot itself in the foot. With its reduced functionality it is almost useless.

MyBlogLog continues to function, and it is the behaviour of users that is the problem.

Both of them had little widgets (or "gadgets" as Blogger calls them) that you can put in the sidebar to show who visited your blog. And that is a reminder to me to visit their blogs. OK, some people don't show up there because they read blogs through RSS feeds. But others don't show up there because they have taken themselves out of MyBlogLog entirely, though their blogs remain there like orphaned children.

Here are some of the abandoned ones:

Bishop Alan's blog
The Stroppy Rabbit
Calum Carr's take on... whatever

Some are still there, but have removed the widget from their own blogs:

Skewed view
Conjectural navel gazing: Jesus in lint form
The poor mouth

While others never bothered to put the widget on in the first place.

The trouble with that is that it makes it more difficult to surf from blog to blog -- I visit the blog of someone who has recently visited me, move on to someone who has recently visited them, and so on. But with the widget gone, there's nowhere to go but back. So I'm beginning to feel constricted, as if the number of options is shrinking. It's all rather sad.

On my family history blog I discovered that most of those who visited (as shown on MyBlogLog) were not interested in family history or genealogy, and some were just spammers. But in that field someone revived an old device -- the web-ring. Web-rings let you surf from site to site following a similar theme. The problem with static web pages was that once you had seen them all, you had seen them all. Great for new visitors, but not for people who had seen all the sites. With dynamic web sites, like blogs, however, it is ideal. Each time you visit there is likely to be new content. So perhaps things are not so bad after all. I just have to find a web-ring for this blog, which is such a mixture of stuff it is difficult to fit into any category at all. So, goodbye BlogCatalog, hello blogrings.

20 November 2010

"We are not leaving"

I've blogged here and elsewhere about one of the most salient features of the Bush-Blair legacy being the hastening of the exodus of Christians from the Middle East, the region where Christianity began.

Now Notes from a Common-place Book: "We are not leaving" points to two significant articles on this topic by Robert Fisk, one of the Western journalists who probably knows most about the region:
Robert Fisk is a columnist and commentator for The Independent. He has been based in Beirut for many years, and his writing on the region is some of the most perceptive available to Western readers. I consider Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation to be essential reading. Two of his recent columns address the worsening Christian position: Exodus: The Changing Map of the Middle East and Only Justice Can Bring Peace to this Benighted Region. A few excerpts, below:

"Across the Middle East, it is the same story of despairing – sometimes frightened – Christian minorities, and of an exodus that reaches almost Biblical proportions. Almost half of Iraq's Christians have fled their country since the first Gulf War in 1991, most of them after the 2004 invasion – a weird tribute to the self-proclaimed Christian faith of the two Bush presidents who went to war with Iraq – and stand now at 550,000, scarcely 3 per cent of the population. More than half of Lebanon's Christians now live outside their country. Once a majority, the nation's one and a half million Christians, most of them Maronite Catholics, comprise perhaps 35 per cent of the Lebanese. Egypt's Coptic Christians – there are at most around eight million – now represent less than 10 per cent of the population."

16 November 2010

Scott Cairns: Lost Christian Language for Repairing the Person

Technical theological jargon may seem boring to many people, but here is an excellent article saying how much we lose by not understanding or using these terms. Scott Cairns: Lost Christian Language for Repairing the Person:
Among a good many advantages our predecessors in the early Church could claim was a more nearly adequate vocabulary. For instance, they were in possession of a number of words that indicated a number of amazing truths. Nous, kardia, nepsis and theosis were among those words that helped to keep the young Body focused on the task at hand, the task of healing our shared array of rifts -- rifts within ourselves, between ourselves and others, and, most keenly, between a Holy God and a race of creatures that had broken off communion.

Three of those words -- nous, nepsis and theosis -- have been all but lost to our contemporary conversation, and the deep significance of another, kardia, which is to say 'heart,' has been sorely diminished. With these onetime commonplace words enhancing their spiritual conversations, our predecessors were better able to give their attentions to the profound complexity and the vertiginous promise of the human person, another treasure neglected over the centuries.

These are the vocabulary of Christian psychotherapy, which differs considerably from the world's understanding of that discipline.

14 November 2010

New health and safety lunacy: banning books

It seems that in the USA they are planning to ban children's books published before 1985, on the ground they they might, just possibly, contain too much lead.

New federal law bans children's books printed before 1985 - National Civil Liberties | Examiner.com:
Until 1985, it was legal for trace amounts of lead to be used in the inks and paints used in children's books. But the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (PDF), which went into effect February 10, bans the sale of any children's products containing more than 600 parts per million (ppm) total lead, no matter how unlikely it is that the items will feature at a toddler buffet. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has 'clarified' the issue with contradictory guidance that has thrift stores and even libraries disposing of mountains of books published before the magic date -- and hoping that a stray copy of The Wind in the Willows doesn't bring down the wrath of the regulators.

Is this the law of unintended consequences, or health and safety concerns gone mad? Ot is it censorship "for your own good"?

13 November 2010

Stereotypes of evil and menace

What do you consider the most powerful and scary stereotypes of evil in your society? In the West, perhaps "terrorist" and "serial killer" might spring to mind. In Africa, "witch" or "zombie".

But if you want to find something pretty horrific, try Googling mom's boyfriend or mum's boyfriend. It seems to to be right up there with the others.

Hat-tip to The Western Confucian: Mom's Boyfriend.

Physicist and priest, Polkinghorne balances science and faith

Physicist and priest, Polkinghorne balances science and faith: "John Polkinghorne, 80, is one of the world's most famous physicists, known in part for his role in explaining the existence of the quark, the smallest known particle. He is the former president of Queens College at Cambridge University in England, a member of the Royal Society, was knighted for his work on England's standards for embryonic stem cell research and for the medical industry's ethical positions, and winner of the Templeton Prize.

When he was in his 40s, he left the world of physics and became a priest in the Church of England. He has written more than 30 books on the relationship between faith and science, and is one of the world's leading voices on that topic."

I read one of his books about 50 years ago -- quite good, if I remember correctly.

09 November 2010

Aircraft engine failures: strange reporting

There were two incidents recently reported of airliners' engines failing at or just after take-off. One was given wall-to-wall coverage in the international media, while the other got barely a mention in the local press.

Qantas: No Crash / Explosion | Plane Lands In Singapore:
'Qantas flight QF32 was en route from Singapore to Sydney, the number two engine has shut down, so as a precautionary measure we are taking it back to Singapore,' a Qantas spokeswoman said.

Qantas said the airliner landed at 11.45am local time.

DFAT confirmed the flight had landed safely at Changi Airport and that no passengers or crew had been injured.

And then there was this: Daily Dispatch Online:
ELEVEN passengers were injured yesterday during an emergency evacuation after an engine of a 1Time aircraft exploded at OR Tambo International Airport.

The 128 passengers on board Flight 119 to Cape Town at around 10am heard a “loud boom” minutes before take off.

So which one got bigger coverage -- the one in which there were no injuries, or the one in which 11 people were injured?

It was the former. I listened with amusement as a reporter interviewed a passenger on the Qantas flight, where there were no injuries. The reporter was desperately trying to get the passenger to say that he was frightened, and that it was a frightening experience, but the passenger refused to play ball. He wasn't frightened. Yes, an engine had failed, but the plane in question had four engines, and the other three were still working, the plane was still flying, and the pilot was still in control -- what was there to be frightened of?

The other story, in which 11 people were injured, mainly, apparently, because they made an emergency evacuation, got far less coverage. And one wonders why. Ususally the media are interested in injuries, so why less interest in this case?

Could it be because of the manufacturers of the aircraft and the engines? Could it be that the media have a vested interest in boosting some manufacturers and denigrating others? Especially when one learns a couple of days later that the value of the shares of one manufacturer of aircraft engines has dropped drastically. They couldn't be trying to manipulate the markets, could they? Perish the thought.

But it does make one wonder.

08 November 2010

American Communism and the Rise of Feminism

I read this article on American communism and the rise of feminism, and I couldn't work out whether it was serious or a tongue-in-cheek send-up. savethemales.ca - American Communism and the Rise of Feminism:
In a 2002 book, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women's Liberation, feminist historian Kate Weigand states: 'ideas, activists and traditions that emanated from the Communist movement of the forties and fifties continued to shape the direction of the new women's movement of the 1960s and later.'(154)

In fact, Weigand, a lecturer at Smith College, shows that modern feminism is a direct outgrowth of American Communism. There is nothing that feminists said or did in the 1960's-1980's that wasn't prefigured in the CPUSA of the 1940's and 1950's. Many second-wave feminist leaders were 'red diaper babies,' the children of Communists.

Communists pioneered the political and cultural analysis of woman's oppression. They originated 'women's studies,' and advocated public daycare, birth control, abortion and even children's rights. They forged key feminist concepts such as 'the personal is the political' and techniques such as 'consciousness raising.'

Hat-tip to Ibid.

So what do you think it is?

Satire? A serious academic article? A loony rant? Or something else?

06 November 2010

Manic street preachers exposed

Hallowe'en is big in America. And it is probably biggest of all in Salem, Massachussetts, where my blogging friend Phil Wyman usually tries to lay on some special events at his church, often in collaboration with the local pagan community.

This year, however, there were some encounters with manic street preachers who threatened to expose him, but ended up being exposed themselves: Phil Wyman's Square No More: You Will Be Exposed! Threats from Fundy-ville. Quite an amusing story.

Hallowe'en has never been big in South Africa, and most of what I knew of it as a child came from Nancy and Sluggo comics. What was big at this time of year was Guy Fawkes night, when everyone was in competition to have the biggest and best fireworks, and the shops had boxes of Ronden's fireworks in various sizes from the cheap and miserable to the droolingly unaffordable. The best ones had big rockets with conical caps that reached the apex of their trajectory and spat out brilliant coloured stars.

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.

Well, this year it was forgot.

I didn't hear a single cracker in our neighbourhood. And the following snippet from a neighbourhood crime watch circular suggests a reason for its being forgot:

We have been fortunate. As far as I could detect nobody celebrated Guy Fawkes last night. It is, however, the beginning of the BIG BANG season. Shooting of fireworks in a residential area is an offence, unless a permit has been issued by the City Council. Please report shooting of fireworks immediately so that we can request the Metro Police to deal with the offenders.

Well, I must say it made life a lot happier for our dogs, and a lot of other people's dogs too, no doubt.

BlogCatalog loses functionality

BlogCatalog used to be a halfway decent social blogrolling tool until a couple of months ago.

Then someone who had never heard the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" decided to fiddle with it, and as a result it's lost a lot of its functionality. Instead of doing what it used to do quite well, it's now trying to do what Twitter does, and does it very badly indeed.

We've already got Twitter. We don't need a third-rate imitation.

And now we no longer have BlogCatalog. Or at least we have it in a very truncated and crippled form.

The part that still works is the widget that shows who's visited this blog.

Oh, and the messages from people who don't visit my blog, but still tell me they want to be my "friend". That I could do without.

What's missing is all the features that made it useful for finding interesting blogs to read.

What used to happen was that I would click on one of the people who visited my blog, and get to see their blog, if they have one, and then some blogs that were similar to theirs, chosen by some mysterious algorithm that seemed to work, more often than not, to show some interesting blog. But that's gone now.

There was also a facility for creating groups or communities of bloggers with a common interest, so that you could see a group of blogs that deal with a topic you were interested in. No longer.

You can't find blogs that you are interested in. You can only find blogs that the people at Blog Catalog want to show you because the blog owners have paid them to do so. In other words, it's become a vast junkmail advertising site. Instead of opening your horizons to the wider blogging world, it now tries to rub your nose in stuff you aren't remotely interested in.

I really don't mind if sites like BlogCatalog have banner ads, or better still, discreetly-placed ads. I know someone has to pay for the service they provide. But when they stop providing the service, I think fewer and fewer people will be using it. I'm certainly spending a lot more time in it than I used to. There's nothing to see there any more.

They should go back to doing what they did well, instead of trying to do what Twitter does, and doing it badly.

The Bush-Blair legacy

"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." So wrote Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, and so it has proved with the evil unleashed by George Bush and Tony Blair, which continues long after they have left office.

The City and the World: The continuing tragedy of Iraq's Christians.:
Another survivor of yesterday's siege told the BBC that 'I do not think I and other Christians can stay in Iraq any longer,' while a young Christian from Northern Iraq (which is ostensibly much safer than Baghdad) told the New York Times, 'There is no future for us here.' Accounts like the one given above make for difficult reading, but they remain only a small part of the larger tragedy of Iraq's ancient Christian churches, which have suffered from continual violence, persecution, and dispersion since the fall of Saddam Hussein. My greatest fear at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was that Bush administration war policy would play a direct role in destroying one of the oldest Christian communities in the world; over the past seven years, it has become increasingly clear that those fears are being realized.

Hat-tip to Kyrie eleison | A vow of conversation.

05 November 2010

Ikons and ikon calendars

Here's a shameless plug for my daughter's ikons and ikon calendars: ikonographics.
There is a special 15% discount on my 2011 calendars (and other prints and greeting cards from RedBubble). To order follow the links in the post below and use the code ikonographics_is_on_sale_2202. The discount is valid until 14 November 2010.

For more information see ikonographics: 2011 Calendars available.

The Tablet - Review: Engineers of the Soul

"One evening in 1932, Joseph Stalin summoned dozens of the more biddable Russian writers – that is, without the likes of Pasternak, Bulgakov, Mandelstam or Akhmatova – to a jolly at Maxim Gorky’s place, and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: to join the Soviet Union’s military-industrial drive. “Our tanks are worthless,” he tells the nervous assembly, “if the souls who must steer them are made of clay. Man is reshaped by life itself, and those of you here must assist in reshaping his soul. And that is why I raise my glass to you, writers, engineers of the soul.” This was no polite big-up, of the sort that might be bandied about at Islington drinks parties by soft London authors in an attempt to shore up their self-importance: it was an order, and signalled an attempt to turn literature into something it had never been before."

So begins an interesting review of The Tablet - Review: Engineers of the Soul:
Frank Westerman’s marvellous and original book traces the catastrophe – spiritual, ecological, social – that that attempt bolstered. A country addicted to political fictions enlisted writers to give literary substance to them, with the result that, disastrously, not only the people but the state itself began to believe those fictions. One of the enduring geographical dreams of the Soviet Union was to divert its Arctic rivers southwards to turn the deserts of central Asia into a flowering paradise. Westerman tracks down an old professor engaged in this vainglory: “We were smothered beneath an avalanche of praise. The dams and pumping stations we designed were invariably spoken of as ‘more monumental than the pyramids of Egypt’. Try keeping a level head then!” The result: “Some of us let it go to our heads. There were those who dreamed of digging canals using controlled nuclear explosions … ”

Hat-tip to Jim Forest. It reminded me of Recent reading: The socialist sixth of the world Khanya. That wwas written by Hewlett Johnson, the "Red Dean" of Canterbury, who sang the praises of Stalin's industrialisation of the Soviet Union, which, according to Johnson, brought peace and plenty, full employment and freedom, at a time when the rest of the world was suffering from the Great Depression. Westerman's book sounds like an interesting counterpoint to that.

02 November 2010

Book review: The memory collector

The Memory CollectorThe Memory Collector by Meg Gardiner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book started off OK. There was a mystery about what had caused an airline passenger to go berserk on board a plane, and whatever it was seemed dangerous and possibly contagious. But after the first fifty pages or so, the plot seemed to come unravelled.

It reminded me of a book I had bought to read on a plane a few years ago, Temple by Matthew Reilly. Reilly was quite frank about his aim to write an action novel where the action never lets up, and so one improbable scene follows another until it descends into mind-numbing tedium. Well Meg Gardiner writes a little bit more articulately than Reilly (not very difficult) but after one or other character jumped the shark for the fifth or sixth (or was it the seventh?) time, I found myself nodding off to sleep in the middle of some exciting action-packed scene with no clear indication of how or why the characters got there. They simply move from one action scene to another.

Well, you get the picture. If you're on a long plane trip and don't mind dropping off to sleep in the middle of what you're reading, it will do.
Oh, and while I'm writing about books, NaNoWriMo started yesterday. I'll be giving it a miss this year... again. I'm too busy with non-fiction to spare writing time for fiction. The book I wrote with two co-authors on healing ministry in Zimbabwe is getting closer to publication. And I'm working on another book, on the history of the charismatic renewal movement in southern Africa with Prof John de Gruchy, so my writing time is already pretty fully occupied. I still read trashy novels to unwind, though.

View all my reviews

Speeding ticket

Says it all, really!

Private prison industry helped draft Arizona immigration law

I've been greatly suspicious of the mania for privatisation that began in the Reagan/Thatcher years, and has continued ever since. But this must surely be one of the most egregious examples. Private prison industry helped draft Arizona immigration law - War Room - Salon.com:
When it comes to creating demand for a previously unnecessary service and making a profit by any means necessary, you can't beat the private sector. So no one should be surprised that the private prison industry is in part responsible for the Arizona immigration law that requires state law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law (read: lock up anyone suspected of being Hispanic until and unless they can prove their citizenship). NPR investigated the prison industry's role in drafting and passing SB 1070. It's pretty depressing.

30 October 2010

Online library services and other pitfalls in cyberspace

Online library services are very useful. I often look up books in the university library catalogue from home when I want to check a bibliography, or see if a certain book I have read about is available.

But sometimes they can also be frustrating.

Today I got 40 (yes, 40) letters from Unisa, reminding me to renew my library books or return them.

Well, I tried to renew them using their electronic system, but it no longer seemed to recognise my password. I looked up the help file to see what I could do about getting a new password, but the things that the help file said were on the web site were not there -- or at least I couldn't find them.

I thought perhaps there might be a glitch in the system so I waited a few days and tried again. Same result -- or rather non-result.

But then there is a last chance emergency procedure -- e-mail them for a new PIN to be sent. I tried that. It bounced, rejected as spam. If you want to query that, write to the postmaster. I wrote to the postmaster. That also bounced, rejected as spam.

Ah, but there is a final last resort -- you can write a letter by snail mail, asking them to renew. So I did that, attaching the bounced e-mail rejecting my attempts to contact them electronically as spam.

And now I receive 40 re-reminders in the mail. I just hope they crossed in the post with my letter requesting renewal. I really, really hope they haven't bounced my snail mail request as spam!

Computers are extremely useful tools, and sometimes they save a lot of time and effort. At other times, however, they can be extremely frustrating.

29 October 2010

Scientists Find 'Liberal Gene'

The discovery came too late for Hitler, who could have used it to identify and exterminate opponents of his regime at birth, on the general principle that prevention is better than cure.

Scientists Find 'Liberal Gene' | NBC San Diego:
According to scientists at UC San Diego and Harvard University, 'ideology is affected not just by social factors, but also by a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4.' That and how many friends you had during high school.

The study was led by UCSD's James Fowler and focused on 2,000 subjects from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Scientists matched the subjects' genetic information with 'maps' of their social networks. According to researchers, they determined that people 'with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults.' However, the, subjects were only more likely to have leanings to the left if they were also socially active during adolescence.

28 October 2010

Mission accomplished

A lot of people mocked George Bush when he proclaimed "mission accomplished" after the US invasion of Iraq.

Well, perhaps it was a bit premature, but time is proving him right, as these reports show.

Robert Fisk: Exodus. The changing map of the Middle East:
Across the Middle East, it is the same story of despairing – sometimes frightened – Christian minorities, and of an exodus that reaches almost Biblical proportions. Almost half of Iraq's Christians have fled their country since the first Gulf War in 1991, most of them after the 2004 invasion – a weird tribute to the self-proclaimed Christian faith of the two Bush presidents who went to war with Iraq – and stand now at 550,000, scarcely 3 per cent of the population. More than half of Lebanon's Christians now live outside their country. Once a majority, the nation's one and a half million Christians, most of them Maronite Catholics, comprise perhaps 35 per cent of the Lebanese. Egypt's Coptic Christians – there are at most around eight million – now represent less than 10 per cent of the population.

The invasion was calculated to destroy Christian communities and to make sure that radical Islamists had more say in the running of the country, and that is being achieved.

Tariq Aziz: villain or victim? - Opinion - Al Jazeera English:
So what really lies behind the decision by Iraq's high tribunal to pass a death sentence on Tariq Aziz, long serving Iraqi foreign minister and number two to Saddam Hussein? The decision has caused shock waves around the World, largely because the sentence has the feel of vengeance to it. The Iraqi High Tribunal took what must be a highly unusual step in effectively rescinding the earlier judgments against him. For Tariq Aziz’s twenty seven year sentence has effectively been reduced to a matter of months by his death sentence. Aziz has now been found guilty of “the persecution of Islamic parties”, whose leaders were assassinated, imprisoned or forced into exile.

Now I don't think harrassing leaders of Islamic parties (or anyone else) is a good policy, but nor do I think that the assassination, imprisonment or sending into exile of Christians is a good thing either, and that is one of the chief "accomplishments" of George Bush's mission. Replacing one evil regime with another is really not a useful exercise.

Tariq Aziz: villain or victim?:
Tariq Aziz is of course a Chaldean Christian, who along with the Assyrian Christians, have suffered terribly since the War, with more than half of their number now living in exile. Being the only Christian in a secular Ba’athist dictatorship was a factor apparently exploited by Saddam, with veiled threats being made periodically to Aziz’s family. I remember being in Iraq and hearing that Aziz feared Saddam, and that he was only too aware of the fragility of his family’s safety. Which is not to excuse Aziz for “following orders”, but it may go some way to explain why Aziz stayed in Baghdad even when it was obvious to him, if not Saddam, that America and Britain were deadly serious about invading.

The destruction of Christian communities in the Middle East surely cannot be described as an unintended consequence of the invasion. It was both forseeable and foreseen, and therefore must have been intended. It is an integral part of the Bush-Blair legacy. It is said that one should not ascribe to malice what can be explained by ignorance and stupidity, but the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth cannot have been that stupid.... can they?

Upgrading hardware

This is my first blog post on my new hardware, so it's a kind of test to see if everything is working, and so far it does.

My old computer had a 30 Gig and a 40 Gig hard drive, and about 6 months ago I upgraded the 40 Gig one to 500 Gig. It was quite difficult to find one, as most of the hard drives being sold now are SATA, and I wanted an EIDE disk to match the other one. Eventually I found one, backed up all the data on the old drive using Acronis disk imaging software, installed it on the new drive, and everything still worked.

This time, however, was more ambitious.

The old computer was getting rickety. I dared not switch it off, because it might not restart. If the power went off, I'd have to sit pushing the power button for half an hour before it would run.

The CPU fan was also getting noisy, and it sounded rather ominous.

So that meant replacing the motherboard, and both hard drives (both now 500 Gig SATA). I'll see if I can use the 500 Gig EIDE drive an an external housing as a backup USB drive - it's only about 6 months old.

It took me a day to get this far -- backing up the 30 Gigs of data on the G: drive took 9 hours, and nearly 2 hours to restore on the new drive. And the C: drive was the critical one, because that had the operating system (Windows XP) -- would it work on the new drive? It did. Everything seems to be working fine.

The only problem is, Windows thinks there have been too many hardware changes, and wants to be revalidated. If that goes as smoothly as the rest of it, all will be well.

Oh, and my printer has a parallel cable, and the new hardware has no parallel port. But perhaps a USB cable will work, or I can nick a parallel card from the old one, if it fits the new motherboard.

27 October 2010

In Brooklyn Mall

Yesterday I went to the bank to send some money to someone overseas. My own branch couldn't do it, so they sent me to another branch and when I was leaving to come home the road had been altered so I could only turn in the opposite direction and I drifted up to Brooklyn Mall, and thought I'd go to the bookshop and see if Michael Cardo's new biography of Peter Brown was out.

When I got to the mall the floors were covered with cardboard boxes of Christmas decorations -- plastic pine needles and tinsel etc, which they were putting up. I got to the bookshop, and the Peter Brown biography was there, but in the end I didn't buy it. The Christmas decorations put me off. They made me think that perhaps someone will buy it for me as a Christmas prezzie.

25 October 2010

Britain’s Austerity Overdose - NYTimes.com

One thing that strikes me about the debate about Britains public spending cuts is how things aimed at alleviating human suffering are cut first and most drastically, while spending devoted to inflicting suffering, like military spending, is regarded as essential, and therefore cuts are made much more circumspectly.

I haven't been following the debate about Britain's public spending cuts very closely (after all, it's a long way away), but catch snippets here and there -- like this one: Britain’s Austerity Overdose - NYTimes.com:
There is a time and a place for aggressive deficit reduction. Now is not the time, especially not in Britain. The deep spending cuts announced by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government will hobble public services, strain poor families’ budgets and weaken Britain’s influence abroad. They could suffocate a feeble recovery.

Mr. Cameron and his team appear to be driven solely by Conservative Party articles of faith. They are gambling on the improbable theory that in a period of weak consumer demand, the private sector will generate enough business activity to replace the $130 billion the government will be withdrawing from the economy over the next four and half years. We are not sure why the Liberal Democrats, the coalition’s junior partners, are going along.

But I suppose that the Lib-Dems may have influenced their Tory partners to rein back on some unnecessary spending, like the Trident nuclear submarine replacement.

When is bullying acceptable?

A few days ago there was a campaign to get people to wear purple to show their disapproval of bullying of gay people. I agree with the sentiments of my Facebook friend Joseph Slonović when he said Facebook (1) | Joseph Slonović:
I don't own a single item of purple clothing. And really, I don't want to. But do take a moment, folks, to reflect on the disgusting bullying and intolerance that has led so many gay teens to resort to suicide -- especially lately. It's terrible, and it should be taken seriously.

But I disagreed with him when he went on to say

And as my friend Lucie pointed out: "can we stop calling it 'bullying?' The term seems too benign. Let's start calling it what is is - bigotry, homophobia, gay-bashing, an epidemic of hate crimes. These aren't the actions of a few rogue 'bullies.'"

I disagree about not calling it bullying. Bullying is bad, regardless of who the victims are, or the reason for it. By not calling it bullying you create a perception that certain kinds of bullying are socially acceptable, or at least less socially unacceptable than others.

Is calling it "bigotry" an improvement?

Bigotry is intolerance of any ideas other than ones own, especially about things like religion, race or politics.

I would say it was quite a big and serious step to pass from bigotry to bullying; from rejecting another person's ideas to actively hurting, persecuting or indimidating them (which is what "bullying" means). In what way can that be described as "benign"?

Calling it "homophobia" rather than bullying singles out one class of victim, and makes it easier to ignore other classes. Can one have a scale of phobias? If bullying is too "benign" for homophobia, is it acceptable for xenophobia? Is it more evil to bully homosexuals than to bully illegal immigrants? Or to bully Somali immigrants just because they are immigrants, regardless of their legal status?

I think bullying is bad, no matter who the victims are. And creating a hierarchy of victims smacks of, well, bigotry.

23 October 2010

Aircraft crashes after crocodile on board escapes

Aircraft crashes after crocodile on board escapes and sparks panic - Telegraph: "A small airliner crashed into a house, killing a British pilot and 19 others after a crocodile smuggled into the aircraft in a sports bag escaped and started a panic."

An odd sort of story to publish two months after the event, which perhaps gives it something of the flavour of an urban legend, especially the "sole survivor" angle.

But, assuming it is true, one of the fascinating aspects of the story is thinking about how aircraft accident investigators would have worked out what had happened if there had been no survivors. The cockpit voice recorder would surely not record panic in the passenger cabin, and the flight recorder would just record that the plane suddenly became nose-heavy and crashed. The position of bodies might show how that happened, but it would not explain why. It could have become one of the great unsolved mysteries of aviation.

21 October 2010

The Speech President Obama Should Give about the Iraq War (But Won’t) | Informed Comment

The Speech President Obama Should Give about the Iraq War (But Won’t) | Informed Comment: "Fellow Americans, and Iraqis who are watching this speech, I have come here this evening not to declare a victory or to mourn a defeat on the battlefield, but to apologize from the bottom of my heart for a series of illegal actions and grossly incompetent policies pursued by the government of the United States of America, in defiance of domestic US law, international treaty obligations, and both American and Iraqi public opinion."

19 October 2010

The Facebook News Feed: How it Works

If, like me, you joined Facebook to keep in touch with friends, especially those who live far away so you don't see them very often, why does it show you so little news about the friends you really want to know about, and so much about people you hardly know? Here's an explanation The Facebook News Feed: How it Works,10 Biggest Secrets - The Daily Beast:
Why does that guy I barely know from the 10th grade keep showing up in my Facebook feed?

If you've ever spent time on Facebook, you've probably pondered that last one. The social-networking giant promises to keep us connected with our friends in exchange for pumping a steady diet of advertising at us—but the algorithms Facebook uses to decide what news to pass along can seem capricious or altogether impenetrable.

The Daily Beast therefore ran an experiment to try to find out what criteria Facebook uses to show you stuff.

And it works the other way too -- how much of your stuff gets shown to friends who really find it interesting, and how much to people who find it irrelevant and boring?

Most of what I put on Facebook is links to my blog posts, and I don't suppose they would all interest all my friends on Facebook. The blog posts fall into four or five main categories, and some of my Facebook friends might be interested in only one or two of them, and some might be interested in none of them.

  1. Theology
  2. Literature and culture
  3. Politics and society
  4. Family and family history
  5. Everything else

So what if Facebook shows my family and family history stuff to people who aren't related, or the theology stuff to atheists/agnostics, or the politics and society stuff to the guy I knew in Grade 10 who now lives on the other side of the world and is completely apolitical?

The Facebook News Feed: How it Works,10 Biggest Secrets - The Daily Beast:
You might think you've shared those adorable new baby photos or the news of your big promotion with all of your friends. Yet not only does Facebook decide who will and won't see the news, it also keeps the details of its interventions relatively discreet.

All the while, Facebook, like Google, continues to redefine 'what's important to you' as 'what's important to other people.' In that framework, the serendipitous belongs to those who connect directly with their friends in the real world—or at least take the time to skip their news feed and go visit their friends' pages directly once in a while.

It also seems that the more friends your friends have, the less likely they will be to see your stuff, not just because there's just too much of it, but because Facebook is less likely to show it to them.

Now I wonder how many of my Facebook friends will see this, and how many will comment on it on Facebook, and how many will comment on it here?

16 October 2010

Paul Craig Roberts: The War on Terror

Paul Craig Roberts: The War on Terror:
Does anyone remember the “cakewalk war” that would last six weeks, cost $50-$60 billion, and be paid for out of Iraqi oil revenues?

Does anyone remember that White House economist Lawrence Lindsey was fired by Dubya because Lindsey estimated that the Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion?

Lindsey was fired for over-estimating the cost of a war that, according to Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, has cost 15 times more than Lindsey estimated. And the US still has 50,000 troops in Iraq.

Does anyone remember that just prior to the US invasion of Iraq, the US government declared victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Does anyone remember that the reason Dubya gave for invading Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, weapons that the US government knew did not exist?

Are Americans aware that the same neoconservarives who made these fantastic mistakes, or told these fabulous lies, are still in control of the government in Washington?

The “war on terror” is now in its tenth year. What is it really all about?

What can one say but "We told you so"?

Hat-tip to The Western Confucian: Paul Craig Roberts Asks, "What's It All About?".

Collateral damage and the death of Ubuntu

Ubuntu is dead.

A few weeks ago my blogging friend Tom Smith wrote In memory of Martha Molaudi | Soulgardeners:
On Thursday we lost a dear friend, Martha Molaudi. Martha lived with us from 2006. To the children she was like a second mom. Martha was a remarkable woman of courage. She was the main provider for seven people. She passed away on Thursday evening due to liver failure.

The circumstances surrounding her liver failure has caused me to reflect a lot.

It failed due to the negligence of the clinic that gave her the wrong tuberculosis medication. When she was finally admitted to the hospital the staff couldn’t give her the care she needed because of the strikes that lasted for three weeks. In the space of three months the medical systems failed her miserably.

During the strike I watched an interview where they asked a hospital worker what he thinks about people who will die as a result of him striking. He mentioned the phrase, “collateral damage”. Collateral damage had a name – Martha.

"Collateral damage" is one of the most obscene phrases in the English language that I know of, and is diametrically opposed to the spirit of Ubuntu. It is a euphemism used by terrorists for their killing of civilians. It was given popular currency during the Nato (the North Atlantic Terrorist Organisation) attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999. And when it is used by strikers to justify the deaths of those who die as a result of their actions, we know that we have lost our Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is dead. That is no different from the way in which terrorists use people as human shields and hostages. When we start talking casually of "collateral damage", Ubuntu is dead.

Let no one say that South Africa's guiding philosophy is Ubuntu. It's Greed, just like the rest of the world. Ubuntu is dead.

14 October 2010

Have you seen my wife, Mr Jones?

I just watched on TV the last rescue worker who went to help the trapped Chilean miners being brought to the surface, and no doubt millions of other people were watching the same thing.

It reminded me of the Coalbrook mine disaster 50 years ago, when the attention of the nation, if not the world, was focused on the drama of attempts to rescue the more than 400 miners trapped by a rockfall in the Clydesdale colliery. It was pushed off the front-page news by the attempted assassination of Dr Verwoerd and the Sharpeville massacre a couple of months later.

And of course it also reminded me of one of the BeeGees' best songs:

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound.
Maybe someone is digging underground,
or have they given up and all gone home to bed,
thinking those who once existed must be dead.

In South Africa, as I remember it, the news was full of the fate of the trapped miners, and the desperate attempts being made to rescue them, but unlike what happened in Chile, all rescue attempts failed. A contemporary issue of Time magazine came up with some aspects of the story that didn't make the front pages in South Africa, where, at that stage in our history at least, mining and media interests were closely allied. SOUTH AFRICA: Delayed Reaction - TIME:
Like some modern Moloch, South Africa's mining industry has long come to expect its regular sacrifice of human lives. And even though in good years South Africa has 15 times as many fatalities per ton of coal mined as the U.S., the fact that most miners are black men has kept the subject from becoming too important in South Africa. But three weeks after the Coalbrook rockfall entombed 411 blacks and six whites in the worst mining disaster in the nation's history (TIME, Feb. 1), the Union finally was working up a real case of public indignation.

And the Time article goes on to say

For South Africans one awkward test of compassion still remained. A relief fund for the survivors had climbed past the $300,000 mark. In South Africa there is no racial equality even in death; compensation laws grant a white miner's wife a pension for life of up to $93 a month. But a Bantu widow gets only a lump sum payment, which, if prudently invested, would give a return calculated at $9 a month. At week's end keepers of the fund were trying to decide whether or not to apply a similar ratio (Time, Monday, Feb. 22, 1960).

Society has changed for the better since then -- or has it?

The media tell us of the huge international effort that went into saving the trapped miners in Chile. But there has been very little publicity given to the question of who pays for it. The answer is, no doubt, that the bulk of it will be paid by the taxpayers of Chile and the other countries that helped.

And that leads to two further thoughts.

First, I wonder about the people who begrudge the spending of any taxpayers' money on things like health care. Are they fuming? Are they throwing things at their TV screens in indignation of this massive instance of "armed robbery"? Yes, that's what some American ideologists call it -- the money used to rescue the miners, they firmly believe, was taken from them at gunpoint.

And secondly, when all these huge international resources are concentrated on rescuing 35 miners in Chile, even more resources are being expended on sending drones to kill 35 villagers in Pakistan.

In the words of another song, almost contemporary with the BeeGees' one, "It's a strange strange world we live in, Master Jack."[1]


[1] Dave Marks, who wrote Master Jack, was a real-life miner, and the song is said to have come from his experiences when working on the mines.


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