29 May 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

From sunset on Saturday 29 May 2010 is Hallowe'en, All Hallows Eve, the Eve of All Saints Day, for Orthodox Christians.

Sunday 30th May 2010

* All Saints

St Isaacius, Founder of the Dalmatian monastery at Constantinople (383)
St Walstan of Bawburgh, Confessor (1016)
St Macrina, grandmother of St Basil the Great (4th)
St Hubert of Maastricht (Netherlands) (727)
St James, Monk of the Galich monastery (15th)
Martyr Barlaam of Caesarea in Cappadocia

Commemorated on May 30

The Sunday following Pentecost is dedicated to All Saints, both those who are known to us, and those who are known only to God. There have been saints at all times, and they have come from every corner of the earth. They were Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous, yet all were perfected by the same Holy Spirit.

For more see:

28 May 2010

Technology and changing rural lifestyles

Twenty years ago, in an online discussion with someone, I expressed scepticism about the value of privatisation in telecommunications. Back then we were communicating on the Fidonet BBS network, which was a fine example of private enterprise socialism. Telkom, our telephone network, had recently been separated from the post office, and was being semi-privatised. There were ominous rumbles that they would be charrging the amateur BBS sysops business rates for their phone lines, because they were carrying "third-party traffic", which Telkom thought ought to be part of their monopoly.

I thought privatisation of the telephone network would be a bad idea. The infrastructure of fixed-line telephones made it a natural monopoly. I couldn't imagine five telephone companies setting up five different exchanges for our suburb, for a fifth of the traffic, and five times the infrastructure, five sets of lines to each place. And in rural villages with five subscribers -- the school, the police station, the shop, the church and a couple of others, erecting five sets of phone lines would be wasteful. And if the shop-keeper wanted to phone the police, who were subscribed to a different company, it would probably cost more.

My interlocutor predicted that cell phones would change all that. Cell phones would make it possible to provide cheap telecommunications in rural areas. I remained sceptical, but his predictions have come true in ways that I doubt that even he had imagined, as this blog post shows: brett’s morning blend (25may10) | aliens and strangers:
This, though, may be the most surprising feat of technology: People who have never had a bank account, and never will, are using their cell phones to save money. They make their deposit at a cell phone store, and the money is kept in the phone network through their SIM chips. If they need to make a withdrawal, they go to a phone shop, and receive their cash. But increasingly now, they are not dealing with cash at all. Instead Tanzanians are paying one another by sending money from one phone to another. I pay for electricity here in Geita through my cell phone, and receive a code to enter into my electric meter. When I enter those numbers, my account is recharged with money. Pre-pay electricity through a telephone. That’s high technology, and people who’ve never seen a credit card are using it every day.

And there's more. Africa leads the way in mobile money - The Globe and Mail:
It’s part of a phenomenon that has people in Africa adopting new technologies that have been slower to catch on in more developed parts of the world, where individuals and institutions cling to older, existing infrastructure. People in Africa who have never used an ATM card, banked online or even had a bank account are using their mobile phone for financial transactions, while Internet users are skipping cable modems and going straight to wireless broadband.

Five years ago we were planting a new church in Tembisa. Most of the people were unemployed, and one of them was a cell phone mast rigger. A couple of months later he got another job, and we haven't seen him since -- his job takes him all over the continent, where cell phone technology had begun taking off.

Update 20 June 2010

For an interesting post on a related topic see First World Technology in a Third World Country | Mission Issues

23 May 2010

We don't want to look like a failure, and just for that reason we are one

One of the interesting things about the internet is that you learn things about other cultures whose existence you never suspected. And one of the things I've learnt in 20 years of online interaction is that one of the favourite insults of Americans is "loser" (though it is often spelt "looser", which I first took to be a reference to a liberator, or an invitation to "hang loose").

Fifty years ago I read Lawrence Lipton's The holy barbarians, which described the lifestyle of the Beats, who dropped out of the cult of the bitch-goddess Success. But the cult continues.

My son works in a bookshop, and tells me that the best-selling books are self-help books, often books on how to be a big success by wroting self-help books, and so the cult feeds on itself. Motivational speakers charge high fees for speaking on how to be a big success, and there seems to be no lack of people to pay to listen to them.

Another blogger has blogged about one of the latest offerings in the genre: Clarissa's Blog: Turning Your Teen Into a Neurotic:
Here is a sample of wisdom that this book offers to poor teenagers:

All successful people have the habit of doing the things failures don't like to do. They don't like doing them either. But this dislike is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.

Obviously, the purpose of this 'successful' individual does not include being happy or enjoying life. The quote makes a lot more sense if we substitute the word 'neurotic' for successful. It's also curious how a person who refuses to do things s/he doesn't enjoy is necessarily seen as a 'failure.' In this masochistic worldview, the only permissible lifestyle is the one that includes constant self-repression and suffering.

Other pieces of advice the book offers include making weekly lists of the goals you need to achieve and looking at yourself in a mirror in order to find in yourself qualities that need to be eradicated.

Little has changed since Norman Vincent Peale wrote The power of positive thinking

An American Anglican priest once told a joke about it.

Norman Vincent Peale was transported to Calvary at the time of the crucifixion of Christ. He looked at Jesus hanging on the cross and said "Think positively!"

19 May 2010

South Africa - 100 years old

With all the excitement of the football World Cup, which begins next month, something that seems to have been overlooked by many is that South Africa, as a country, will be 100 years old on 31 May 2010. It will be a century since four British colonies -- the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal Colony -- united to form the Union of South Africa.

One writer, however, has not forgotten, and wrote BusinessDay - MESHACK MABOGOANE: Salute the bravery and vision of SA’s founders:
Former colonies, republics and kingdoms were forged into a unitary and variegated state, the first — and still the only modern state — founded by natives on a continent whose other states were created outside by foreigners.

The founders — Louis Botha, Barry Hertzog, and Jan Smuts — were war-seasoned generals, who had led a genuine anti-imperialist struggle in a true people’s war. These great men laid the foundations and frameworks that have enabled the evolution of a complex and dynamic country with a thriving economy and vibrant society.

The article is a paean of praise to Botha, Smuts and Hertzog, South Africa's first three prime ministers, and takes some nasty digs at Oliver Tambo, though it does not mentio0n him by name.

Perhaps we should remember, though, that in the negotiations leading up to Union, Botha, Smuts and Hertzog fought to prevent the Cape Colony's non-racial franchise from being extended to the rest of the country, and in 1936 Hertzog and Smuts conspired to abolish it in the Cape Colony as well. By so doing they entrenched racism in South African society and helped to prepare the way for apartheid.

But yes, the formation of the Union of South Africa is something worth remembering, for good or ill. Before 31 May 1910 the term "South Africa" was simply a geographical expression, and referred to a region, like East Africa, West Africa and North Africa. Once "South Africa" became the name of a country, a new name had to be found for the region, and it became known as Southern Africa. That is something worth remembering if you read books published before 1910.

It was in the 1860s that the British government, which ruled the Cape Colony and Natal, came up with the idea of forming a single country in Southern Africa. The confederation of Canada in 1867 was the model, and the Conservative government, led by Disraeli, tried to apply it in South Africa too. Theophilus Shepstone led a band of filibusters from Natal to take over the South African Republic (Transvaal), and a much larger British army invaded the Kingdom of Zululand in 1879. It was initially repulsed at Isandlwana, but later succeeded in taking the capital, Ondini (Ulundi), and King Cetshwayo went into hiding. The Transvaal, led by Paul Kruger and others, then fought back and sought to regain its independence. The Liberal Party came to power in Britain, under Gladstone, and lacking the imperialist ambitions of the Conservatives, ended the First Anglo-Boer War by recognising the Transvaal's independence, and left Zululand to fend for itself, split into 13 principalities that fought among themselves. So the first attempt at union left South (ie Southern) Africa more divided than ever.

Eventually Zululand was incorporated into Natal and in the late 1890s, with a Conservative government back in power in Britain, and the New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa in full swing, Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, and Alfred Lord Milner, the British High Comissioner at the Cape, sought a casus belli with the South African Republic, and the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899. The war was ended by the Peace of Vereeniging, signed on 31 May 1902. The South African Republic became the Transvaal Colony, and the Orange Free State Republic (Oranje-Vrijstaat) became the Orange River Colony.

In 1906, the Liberal Party came to power in Britain again, and, as previously, sought to mitigate the imperialist policies of the Conservatives. The Transvaal and ORC were given self-government, and the governments that came to power were led by the generals who had fought against the British in the Second Anglo-Boer War, Louis Botha, Jan Smuts and Barry Hertzog. And they became prime ministers of the Union of South Africa as well, so that some historians have called the period of South Africa's history from 1910 to 1948 the Age of the Generals. It was these generals who fought to keep the Cape nonracial franchise from being applied in the rest of South Africa.

The Cape franchise may have been nonracial, but it was sexist and classist. It allowed adult males who owned or occupied property of a certain value to vote in elections. At the time of Union, most of the voters were white, but a growing number of blacks were able to vote. The Cape politicians valued their nonracial franchise, and seeing the threat to it posed by the Generals and others, only consented to join the Union if it was entrenched in the constitution -- it could not be taken away by a simple parliamentary majority, but only by a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament voting together. In 1936 Hertzog and Smuts united their parties in a fusion government, forming the United Party, and they thus commanded a two-thirds majority, which they used to remove black voters in the Cape from the common roll, and gave them three separate (white) representatives in parliament. In 1960 even those were taken away.

Along the way, there were a few other changes that served to entrench white power. There was agitation for women to be given the vote, and eventually they were -- but only white women. And in the cape, white women were not subject to the same property qualification that male voters had, so the property qualification was removed for white male voters, but not for black voters. Sad to say, feminism helped to consolidate racism.

So no, I don't agree with what Mabogoane says in his article. The Age of the Generals was generally a pretty disastrous one for South Africa, as they assiduously cultivated the racism that led to apartheid. It wasn't an unmitigated disaster, but it was a disaster none the less.

I am old enough to remember the celebrations of 50 years of Union, now 50 years ago (see Tales from Dystopia VI: 1960 was a very bad year | Khanya). A special pennant, with "50" on it was distributed to school children and was as ubiquitous as World Cup logos are now becoming. The actual celebration took place in the middle of the State of Emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre, and was most appropriately symbolised by a cartoonists drawing of a frightened little man hunkering down in an armoured car, holding the "50" pennant above the rim of the gun turret. That was the path that Botha, Smuts and Hertzog had set us on. It's only 16 years ago that the armoured cars began to disappear from our streets.

We could still laugh about it, though, as Jeremy Taylor did in his song about Hennie von Saracen, who was somewhat unwillingly conscripted into the army:

In my first weeks of training
I nearly went insane
They marched me all around the square
up and back again
They taught me how to kill a man
They said it was no sin
And soon I was the driver
of a five-ton Saracen.

One day, outside Blikkiesdorp
I got out of control
And I ended up in Bree Street
with my tank stuck up a pole.
A traffic cop came up to me
And said, as he scratched his ear,
"Well did you got a licence
to park that blerrie thing here?"

Well I tried to explain
when I got back to the station
that I wasn't cut out to fight against
the Army of Liberation.
The Commandant agreed
and as he put me on the train
said, "You can push off home to Joburg
And don't come back again."

18 May 2010

Taking your political temperature redux

Some time ago I did a couple of political quizzes -- see Notes from underground: Taking your political temperature. I noted that there were two quizzes available -- a well-designed one called Political Compass, and a very badly designed one called Political Spectrum.

Thanks to The Anger of a Quiet Man I recently revisited the Political Spectrum Quiz - Your Political Label quiz, and found that though some questions had been revised, they were still badly worded, and far more biased and tendentious than those on the Political Compass one, or else they were vague and ambiguous.

Take this question, for example:

50. A person's morality is of the most personal nature; therefore government should have no involvement in moral questions or promote moral behaviors.
Disagree strongly
Agree strongly
How much does this issue matter?
A lot A little

This implies that the entire criminal justice system should be abolished. If someone steals from me, I should not call the police, but rather hire a private detective to catch the thief, and bring a private prosecution if the thief is found, to avoid involvement of the government in such "most personal" matters.

And it also implies that the government should not even promote moral behaviours among its own employees -- if civil servants take bribes, for example, that is "of the most personal nature", and therefore nothing to do with the government. Is this a serious question?

But it gets worse:

22. It is wrong to enforce moral behavior through the law because this infringes upon an individual's freedom.
Disagree strongly
Agree strongly
How much does this issue matter?
A lot A little

What exactly does it mean?

It implies that I shouldn't even bring a private prosecution if someone steals from me, because even if the government is not involved, the law itself will "infringe upon" [sic] the thief's freedom.

I presume that indicating agreement with these in the quiz would show that one was on the libertarian end of the spectrum, but the second question, especially, implies that libertarians are not merely anarchist, but antinomian as well.

Well, perhaps that is what the designers of the quiz intended, but I still think that the quiz is badly designed, biased and tendentious. If you want a better way to compare your political views with those of others, The Political Compass still wins hands down.

17 May 2010


In my experience many people raise privacy issues in connection with web sites such as Facebook, or in genealogical research. But very few seem to be willing to discuss the underlying principles of the issues. In a recent blog post Matt Stone raises the same issues. Thinking biblically about privacy - Glocal Christianity:
I gather many believe privacy is a good thing; that it's erosion is a bad thing. But of what basis do we found such beliefs? Is the foundation biblical, or merely cultural? How might we go about articulating a cross cultural ethic for instance?

I think that is quite important, because many people do not seem to regard privacy as an issue at all. It is simply not up for debate. They say "That's private," and for them that is the end of the discussion.

But as Matt Stone points out, it is an issue. It is debatable, because many people have different ideas about what is private and what is not, and how important privacy is. He asks if this is merely cultural, and I think that for most people it is. We each have our own ideas about what is private, and what is not; about information that we are willing to share with others and information that we do not wish to share. But because we rarely discuss these with other people, there is no common standard, and no shared understanding.

In our family history research we have come across relatives who are suspicious of the whole enterprise. They prefer the past to be forgotten, and rather resent our looking into matters that they think ought to have been buried and forgotten. This sometimes extends to things that one might regard as trivial. For example, when my father-in-law, Keith Greene, died in 1983, we wrote about it in a kind of open letter to friends and family members, and included a brief obituary, as a kind of appreciation for him. Among other things we included what we regarded as an amusing incident. He worked for a shipping firm, Rennies, in Durban, and travelled to Maputo in Mocambique once a month. Relations between apartheid South Africa and newly-independent Mocambique were not cordial, and Mocambique had many shortages, so he usually took a carload of groceries and things like toothpaste for people in the Rennies office in Maputo. On one trip they had two pigeons in a cage, and since the pigeons were livestock, and would have to be smuggled in, they stopped at a lay-by just before the border, and jettisoned the cage. But when they got to the border, they found it was closed for three days. They rushed back to the lay-by to get the cage again, but it was gone, and so they not only had to find a place to keep the pigeons, but also a car-load of frozen food, until the border re-opened.

We thought it was an amusing incident that threw light on life in South Africa, and its relations with Mocambique, but my mother-in-law was furious with us for putting it in the letter. "That's private," she said. End of discussion. She clearly drew the line between what was private and what could be shared with others in a different place from where we did. And we found that that was true of many of that generation.

On the other hand, I did draw the line somewhere. The letters were posted in addressed envelopes, and we intended that they should be read by the intended recipients, though we would not have minded if they had shown it to some of their friends. We did not intend to publish it a newspaper where it could be read by anyone. Nor did we intend that it should be intercepted by the Security Police and read by their functionaries, though we knew that that was a possibility. Since Keith Greene had died, he would not be making any more trips to Mocambique, so it did not matter if they knew that he once smuggled a couple of pigeons across the border.

On the other hand, I've been writing an article about the mentality of the Security Police in South Africa in the apartheid era, based on my own file, and their reports refer frequently to "a sensitive source", and it is clear that this often refers to someone in the post office reading outgoing mail to foreign countries, which was illegal without a court order, but that did not deter the Security Police. Though we took it for granted that mail was intercepted and telephones tapped, we still regarded that as crossing the line, and as an invasion of privacy. So though we drew the line in a different place from my mother-in-law, we still drew the line somewhere, and if we had evidence of it happening today in the new democratic South Africa we would complain, probably to the Human Rights Commission.

A student friend of mine went to teach in the rural village of Postmasburg in the Northern Cape, and once in my travels I turned aside to visit her. She was amazed at the lack of privacy and the propensity for gossip. Everyone in town knew everyone else's business, and the main souces of village gossip were the operators at the (manual) telephone exchange and the doctor's receptionist.

A few years later, when we lived in a similar small town (Melmoth in Zululand) we discovered the same thing, except that an additional vector of gossip was the golf course. Local calls were free in those days, and if people were going out to dinner, they would call the exchange and let them know, and so calls would be put through to their dinner hosts. That was the equivalent of SMS, but considerably less private. And of course the party lines that went to the farms were notorious for people listening in.

So there are different privacy standards for rural areas and cities.

I think the idea of privacy is also very much linked to the modern worldview. The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment encouraged the notion of the individual point of view, and perspective (based on a single viewpoint), and this notion also gave rise to the idea of privacy (see also Notes from underground: The ikon in an age of neo-tribalism).

I can't recall that anyone has defined privacy, or expounded the principles on which it is based, or said how we should decide on the limits. And the Bible records the life of premodern societies, so I very much doubt if they had very much notion of "privacy", so I don't think we will find a "biblical" view of it, or succeed in defining it biblically.

15 May 2010

Too many toolbars

I wish software marketers would learn that if there is one thing that most computer users don't need, it is yet another tool bar.

Yet today I got yet another semi-spam message advising me of a new "must have" toolbar. Do they really think I am desperate to look at a screen full of tool bars, most of them with links to the same search engines, and the same other useless stuff?

Worst of all are the ones that install their toolbars along with their programs, without asking if you want it. And then they don't go away. Firefox asks me if I want to uninstall add-ons that I want and use, but on the junk ones that I'd love to get rid of the "uninstall" option is usually greyed out, and one can just disable it or enable it. And I keep getting notes advising me of updates to the toolbars that I don't want and can't uninstall.

One of the problems with too many toolbars is that some web sites (often those of the people who automatically install unwanted tookbars) have pop-up windows that demand a response, but you can't see what response is needed because the buttons for responding are hidden below the bottom of the screen, and you can't scroll down the window to see them, and you can't move the window up above the numerous toolbars.

Some virus writer is going to make a killing one day by writing a program that claims to be able to remove unwanted toolbars, just like a lot of the anti-spam programs that actually transmit viruses.

That's my pet peeve of the day. I feel better now.

13 May 2010

12 May 2010

Politics: style and substance

I spent much of yesterday watching the TV, Sky News, most of it on attempts to form a government in Britain. Hung parliament. David Cameron speaks of the need for a "strong and stable" government, while Nick Clegg speaks of a "stable and good" government.

It's a pity there Lib Dems didn't win more seats, so they could negotiate from a position of strength. As it is, whichever way they go will actually be to their long-term detriment. Endless talking heads outside doors, speculating, speculating, speculating. I think of how different the atmosphere is from South Africa, or at least South Africa as it was in the glory days of the 1990s, where there was the African desire for inclusion, not just the Government of National Unity, which was a kind of constitutional mandate, but a real attempt to bring everyone on board, like getting Gatsha Buthelezi as Minister of Home Affairs, even though he made a total cock up of it.

There was a desire for consensus, rather than the British winner-takes-all system, which makes so many Brits uncomfortable with a hung parliament. Here only the Democratic Party refused to come to the party, and insisted on being a British-style opposition, opposing everything the government did, good or bad, as a matter of principle.

It's all different now, of course -- the ANC can't even extend the politics of inclusion to their own party, and there are no longer any issues of principle, it's all personalities and jockeying for position, and the media are only ever full of stories about who's in and who's out with not a hint of what policies they stand for. It's all personality clashes.

In the evening it seemed that a deal between the Tories and the Lib-Dems was in sight, and Gordon Brown knew the game was up, and resigned. He made a rather touching speech outside 10 Downing Street before going to hand his resignation to the Queen. He walked off down the street with his wife and children to the car. I don't recall any other British prime ministers leaving like that. I think most of them left almost surreptitiously, from the back door. But there is another contrast. Five years ago I thought that we in South Africa were fortunate to have Thabo Mbeki as head of government. For all his faults, he seemed preferable to Tony Blair, George Bush, or Robert Mugabe, or most of the other prime ministers or presidents in the world.

But now I think that Gordon Brown was better than Jacob Zuma, and seeing him walk down the road with his family, after saying that he was giving up his second most important job, as prime minister, but would continue the first, as husband and father, seemed to emphasise the contrast. It's PR, of course, staged for the media, but there is some substance to it as well, and a huge contrast to Jacob Zuma's family life.

But I only follow British politics sporadically, and from a distance. British bloggers are closer, and perhaps see more clearly. One British blogger, Tony Grist, remarked Eroticdreambattle: A good man?:
If a good man does bad things is he still a good man?

Or- to narrow things down more specifically to the career of Gordon Brown- can a person claim to be in possession of 'a moral compass' if he never seems to use it.

The defining characteristics of Brown's career have been cowardice, lack of principle, corrosive ambition, sulkiness, disloyalty and double-dealing. He tacitly supported the Iraq war, encouraged the banking free for all, created a culture of paranoia around himself, persistently undermined his colleagues- including Tony Blair- and (behind closed doors) sulked and fumed and bullied. In what way are these the actions of a 'good' man?

I'm asking because I've just been reading this. Gordon Brown has failed in most things, but he's somehow managed to sell us all on the notion that he's a moral person- that whole son of the manse thing. Well, I beg to differ.

and a little later he elaborated

Brown comes from a very moral place- from Scottish Presbyterianism and Christian Socialism- and has betrayed almost everything he was taught and once stood for.

The young Brown would, I think, have been disgusted by the things his older self wound up doing in the pursuit and exercise of power.

But another British blogger takes a different view. Neil Clark: Farewell, Gordon Brown. You weren't that bad:
Neil Clark: Brown should have strung the bankers up from the lamp-posts – it’s what the public wanted

He's been called the worst Prime Minister ever - and that was by a politician from his own party. But was Gordon Brown, who announced that he was stepping down as Labour leader yesterday, really that bad?

And goes on to say Gordon Brown was not the worst prime minister ever | The First Post:
None of the candidates mooted as replacements for Brown have distinct ideological positions. You certainly couldn't say the same about Jim Callaghan, Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Tony Crosland and Denis Healey - the six Labour candidates who set out to replace Harold Wilson when he stepped down in 1976. Back then, the policies the politicians espoused - and not their personalities, or their media image - were decisive.

But in today's neo-liberal, globalist era, where policy parameters are set by international capital and sovereignty-impinging institutions such as the EU and the IMF, politicians have largely been reduced to mere managers. And because the difference between their policies is so small, so the emphasis has shifted on to personality.

That many regard Brown's premiership so negatively has little to do with the man's actual record in office, but owes a lot to the fact that 'Gloomy Gordon', the man famous for having the 'worst smile in the world', was ill-suited to the personality-based politics of today.

True, there were many things he did do wrong: signing the undemocratic Lisbon Treaty, which surrendered even more sovereignty to the EU without a referendum; his failure to renationalise the railways; and his continuation of Britain's military involvement in Afghanistan.

As Clark points out, politics today is certainly becoming a matter of style rather than substance. But on the positive side

He was certainly a better PM than his warmongering predecessor, who took us into military conflicts which will make us a target for Islamic militants for many years to come, and John Major, who destroyed Britain's railways. And he also comes out favourably compared to Sir Anthony Eden, who led us into the Suez fiasco and Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement of Adolf Hitler led to World War 2.

But there is one real issue, which is at the centre of the wheeling and dealing to form a government in Britain, and that is that the Lib-Dems are wedded to the idea of electoral reform, and this determines the extent to which they will support any of the other parties that wish to form a government.

The Liberal-Democrats want a system of proportional representation, which will more fairly represent the wishes of the voters. When South Africa had a constituency system only a minority of the population were allowed to vote, and even some of those who did have the vote were effectively disenfranchised because many constituencies returned unopposed candidates. Now we have proportional representation, and every vote counts.

The disadvantage, however, is that proportional representation with a list system makes members of parliament accountable to their parties rather than to the electorate. If media image counts for a great deal in British politics, it counts for very litte in South African politics. Julius Malema has had a poor media image for some time, but that counts for little. What counts is the party cabal.

As a non-Brit, my main interest in British politics is their foreign policies. The warmongering propensity of the Labour government of the past 13 years has helped to make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. Leftist socialist Brits say that the most important thing was to vote Labour for sake of the British working class, and they care a lot less about the fact that the Labour government has enthusiastically participated in the bombing of the working class in other countries. Working class solidarity and socialism that is no longer internationalist becomes National Socialism. Add to that the denial of civil liberties at home by enthusiasm for such things as 90-day detention manifested by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, with the bulk of the British media calling that "the moral high ground", and Labour's record is not a good one. I'm not sure that the Tories would have been any better on those issues. The Liberal Democrats at least made some effort to oppose those things, and my thought was that a hung parliament would be a good thing if it enabled the Lib-Dems to restrain the worst excesses of Tories and Labour.

But in Britain, as in South Africa, I think it is well to heed G.K. Chesterton's wise words

Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarrelled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of Carlyle--the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments on government at all, its comment must be this -- that the man should rule who does NOT think that he can rule. Carlyle's hero may say, "I will be king"; but the Christian saint must say "Nolo episcopari." If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it means this--that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can't.

11 May 2010

Once there was a cassowary

When we returned from the vet with our dogs yesterday, I told my wife about the vet saying that the animal they had killed sounded, from my description, like a cassowary, whereas I think he meant a capybara.

My wife then cited a half-remembered rhyme from her childhood, that went something like "Once there was a cassowary on the plane to Timbuktu". I remembered something similar, so I thought I would look it up on the web and try to find the original, an d see who wrote it. It sounded like Edward Lear.

One version is:

Once there was a cassowary
on the plains of Timbuktu
killed and ate a missionary
cassock, bands and hymn book too.

My web search produced several other versions too, and the attributions included Tennyson, Thackeray, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and several others, so I ended up being none the wiser.

Does anyone know its real origins, or was it the ubiquitous Anon?

10 May 2010

Our dogs kill a rat

This morning I went to the dentist at 9:30, was finished by 10:00, and got back home at about 10:15 to find that our dogs had killed a rat. A large rat. Or at least some kind of rodent.

That's our dog Ariel with the rat.

I'm just wondering what it was doing in the garden, and hoping it didn't have rabies. Perhaps I'd better take the dogs to the vet for jabs just in case.

09 May 2010

The spirit of Mothers Day

Today is the American Mothers Day (the British one is in the middle of Lent). It is worth remembering the spirit in which it was started. Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe - Mother's Day History:
Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:

'We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.'

06 May 2010

Brit elections: the elephant in the room

I watched a couple of the televised debates between the three front-runners in the UK election, and I've read several British blog posts about the hustings in various constituencies, and one thing that has struck me is that they all seem to be silent about the elephant in the room -- that the Labour Party, since it came to power in 1997, has led Britain into not one, but three imperialist wars.

Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats did, to his credit, make a passing reference to the fact that the war in Iraq was illegal, but he did not follow it up, and Gordon Brown and David Cameron did not respond to it.

As an Australian journalist notes, t r u t h o u t | Voting for War. Take Your Pick:
All three party leaders are warmongers. Nick Clegg the Liberal Democrats leader and darling of former Blair lovers says that as prime minister he will 'participate' in another invasion of a 'failed state' provided there is 'the right equipment the right resources.' His one condition is the standard genuflection toward a military now scandalized by a colonial cruelty of which the Baha Mousa case is but one of many.

For Clegg as for Gordon Brown and David Cameron the horrific weapons used by British forces such as clusters, depleted uranium and the Hellfire missile which sucks the air out of its victims lungs do not exist. The limbs of children in trees do not exist. This year alone Britain will spend £4 billion on the war in Afghanistan and that is what Brown and Cameron almost certainly intend to cut from the National Health Service.

One other thing that all three front-ronners studiously avoided mentioning, and none of the public questions mentioned either, was the Labour Party's attempts to destroy civil liberties and turn Britain into a fascist police state. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown tried to introduce 90-day detention without trial.

In the 1960s, when South Africa introduced 90-day detention, Harold Wilson's Labour Party imposed military sanctions, and cancelled an order for Buccaneer aircraft destined for the South African Air Force. Now the British media laud Blair's and Brown's attempts to turn Britain into a Vorsterstan as "taking the moral high ground".

My, how the mighty have fallen!

04 May 2010

Multichoice DSTV blown away by competition?

Multichoice, for long South Africa's only satellite TV provider, seems to have rolled over and died the moment competition appeared on the scene.

One can't get their broadcasts, one can't get them on the phone, and they don't respond to e-mails.

Have their competitors found a sophisticated way of jamming their broadcasts, their phone lines and their e-mail all at once?

Does anyone know?

03 May 2010

Touch me on my studio - 11th most popular Twitter hashtag

Politics produces strange expressions and turns of phrase, and a political debate on the Africa 360 show last month led to the phrase "touch me on my studio" becoming the 11th most popular Twitter hashtag among South African Tweeters.

The phrase originated here: 'Don't touch me on my studio!' - Times LIVE:
But it was Maroleng's repeated statement to Visagie, 'Don't touch me on my studio, don't you dare touch me on my studio (sic),' and the AWB member's adamant response, 'I'll touch you on your studio', that left the country in stitches.

The recorded altercation, particularly the 'studio' phrase, became the joke of the day on YouTube, Twitter, e-mail and Facebook, with innuendos about what exactly Maroleng's studio was.

Hat-tip to Fascinating Social Networking (twitter) research on South Africa - Dion Forster - An uncommon path, who referred to the the report on Who is Your Average South African Tweeter? In Depth Charts And Analysis.

Then the British Financial Times posted a report on the Tory leader "speaking from a palette" while campaigning in the British general election, leading readers to speculate on whether he was using colourful language, or merely getting his shoes covered with paint.

FT.com / Reportage - On the campaign trail with David Cameron:
Cameron is at his best when he is at his most authentic. As he speaks from a palette in Wolverhampton’s Asda, it is immediately clear why, in spite of his problems during the campaign, he stands on the brink of power. In his shirt-sleeves, he drops in knowing references to football and popular culture and displays an impressive grasp of detail.

And if you speak to me from a palette, I'm warning you: I'll touch you on your studio.

The end (of the recession) is not in sight

The end of the global recession is not in sight, and seems to be perpetually receding. It seems that we are still on the road to a full-scale depression, thanks to "casino capitalism".

Merkel Reaches Her Overdraft Limit: Greek Bailout Could Push German Debt Through the Roof - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International:
The end of the spiral of debts is nowhere in sight. It just continues to grow -- and soon it will grow further if Germany provides €8.4 billion ($11 billion) in financial aid to Greece. Initially, that assistance will only come in the form of credit guarantees from the federal budget for state development bank KfW, which will then provide the money in the form of loans to Greece. So they aren't technically debts. But what happens if cash-strapped Greece is unable to pay back its loan? Then Germany's deficit would grow in real terms by several billion.

While free-marketeers prescribe "hair of the dog that bit you", others take a different view: Pension Pulse: Beyond the Greek Crisis: Will Capitalism Survive?:
It is clear to me that pensions and the global economy have succumbed to Casino Capitalism - a form of capitalism which benefits the financial and corporate oligarchs, leaving the rest of the population behind. Greece is the birthplace of democracy, will it also be the birthplace of a new form of capitalism?

Some commentators seem to be moving into conspiracy theory territory, though some might attribute this to the law of unintended consequences: First of May 2010: Organize and Fight Against Capitalist Exploitation! | Mostly Water:
Information indicates that the US and UK finance capital are using speculation in other countries' economies as a weapon against competitors. Various Anglo-American financiers [intended] that a diversionary attack on the euro, starting with some of the weaker Mediterranean or Southern European economies, would be an ideal means of relieving pressure on the battered US greenback which was at a record low in November 2009.

At the time as the EU was launching its Lisbon Treaty in December 2009 there were speculative assaults or bear raids against Greek and Spanish government bonds as well as the euro itself, accompanied by a press campaign targeting the so called PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). Both the Greek and Spanish Prime Ministers reacted against these speculative attacks.

And an apparently capitalist-favouring source makes a perceptive comment: The Greek Tragedy Unfolds - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest:
For many Greeks, capitalism still feels wrong. The substitution of market forces for traditional social relations undermines aspects of Greek life that are very dear to many people; the inequality that so often results from capitalism offends deeply held social ideas about fairness. More, since the rising powers whose policies and interventions have done so much to shape Greek history have been capitalist, Greeks associate institutions like the IMF and the ECB (European Central Bank) with foreign meddling and unjust usurpation. And the successful capitalist countries (and the foreign multinational corporations who come with it) have never scrupled to press their advantages in less developed or weaker countries like Greece.

I wonder if those social ideas about fairness ultimately spring from Orthodox theology, and church fathers like St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great who suggest that goods that we own in excess of our needs are stolen from the poor.

02 May 2010

God is the only landlord | Lansbury's Lido

Chris Hall posted a rather nice Anglo-Catholic socialist hymn for May Day - you can see the whole thing at God is the only landlord | Lansbury's Lido:
3. Today the tyrants triumph
And bind us for their gains,
But Jesus Christ our Saviour
Will free us from our chains,
And love, the only master,
Will strive with might and greed,
Till might is right no longer,
And right is might indeed.

Lift up the people's banner
And let the ancient cry
For justice and for freedom
Re-echo to the sky.

4. God is the only Landlord
To whom our rents are due.
God made the earth for everyone
And not for just a few.
The four parts of creation --
Earth, water, air, and fire --
God made and ranked and stationed
For everyone's desire.

Lift up the people's banner
And let the ancient cry
For justice and for freedom
Re-echo to the sky.

A couple of days ago I wrote something about Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker, and I can't help thinking that she would have approved of that hymn.


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