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.


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