27 December 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Edward Hammond is a surgeon who once, for a large fee, performed a liver transplant on Dragan Gazi, a gangster who was later on trial for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. He is about to go on holiday when Gazi's daughter approaches him an blackmails him into searching for the accountant who controls Gazi's fortune. If he does not fulfil the request, she says, Gazi will reveal that part of his payment was the morder of Hammond's estranged wife Kate, who was indeed murdered by unknown assailants shortly after Hammond's return from Belgrade, where he had performed the surgery.
It does not appear to have occurred to Hammond that he could have gone to the police straightaway, and told them that he had new information relating to his wife's murder. But of course if he had, there would have been no story, or a very different one.
As with most of Goddard's novels, actions of mysteries of the past come back to haunt characters in the present, and this one is as good as most of Goddard's novels, where nothing is as it seems, and the shiftina alliances and loyalties of the characters keep one guessing to the end.
View all my reviews
20 December 2011
Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been undertaken in a university laboratory, instead of at a military facility.It really worries me that "some scientists" appear to put their trust in "military facilities" rather than universities, which are. at least in theory, dedicated to more independent research.
It reminded me of the Cold War parody of a Western hymn:
The day God gave thee, man, is ending
The darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.
The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
And in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky-high.
It worries me that "some scientists" seem to have a preference for operating in that murk.
But never mind:
Bombs shall dig our sepulchreOr, as Jeremy Taylor used to sing:
Bigger bombs exhume us.
Juvenes dum sumus.
But since they tell us that "science" has won the battle of "science versus religion" we ought to forget all our outdated superstitions about human sinfulness, and rather put our trust in "some scientists" and their "military facilities".
Three cheers for the army, and all the boys in blue
Three cheers for the scientists, and politicians too
Three cheers for the future years, when we shall surely reap
All the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.
Notes and references
 Both verses from Quake, quake, quake: a leaden treasury of English verse, by Paul Dehn.
18 December 2011
It reminded me of the Mini. I thought the Yaris was probably today's equivalent of the once-ubiqutous Mini, a small car that was bigger inside than it looked from the outside.
When it first came out sixty years ago a friend of mine, Mike Preston, and I went for a test drive in a Mini. The salesman took us up a mine dump in the middle of Joburg. Our verdict was that it made every other small car look obsolete. Here's what I wrote in my diary at the time (25 February 1960)
And today, for the first time, we parked our Yaris next to a Mini, and the Yaris looked enormous.
After work Mike Preston and I went to Connock's to look at the Morris Mini-Minor. We went for a test drive in it up the Park Central mine dump past Autodiesels. The cornering seemed good, due to the front-wheel drive, but the most fantabulous thing was the suspension. The salesman took us up onto a piece of open land and drove over all the bumps he could find and we felt nothing. He then drove off the kerb back on to the road at about 30 miles and hour and again we felt nothing. He made two circles in the middle of the road and then demonstrated the brakes, which were compensated so
that the back wheels would not lock before the front ones. Mike and I were both most impressed with it, and also it outperformed both a Volkswagen and a Renault Dauphine, although it had a smaller engine. It had more space inside than either of those cars, although it was only ten feet long. It made every other small car seem obsolete.
It was only when seeing them side-by-side that I was reminded how small the Mini was, the "Puddlejumper" as we used to call them.
Last Sunday our son Jethro took us to church in this:
It's bigger than the Yaris, and its engine is almost twice the size. It goes faster and more smoothly and more silently. But there's less legroom, and it's much harder to get into, and impossible to get into while wearing a hat. The Yaris, though smaller, is still more roomy inside.
But, for a sixty-year-old, the Mini still takes a lot of beating.
In some ways, it still makes other small cars look obsolete.
10 December 2011
If it is true that there is enough fuel in the full fuel tank of a jumbo jet to drive the average car four times around the world (hat-tip to 20 Mind Blowing Facts You Probably Didn’t Know) I wonder which has more impact on the environment -- driving or flying.
It seems to be a toss-up.
The distance from here to Durban is 600 km, which we could just about make on a tank of fuel. So if 300 people drove to Durban they would travel 180000 km. Four times round the world is 160300 km so for 300 people on a jumbo jet that is about 535 km, so that seems better than going by car.
But that assumes one person, one car. So if there are three people in a car, it would tip the scales in favour of the car.
But then a jumbo jet wouldn't use a full tank of fuel to go to Durban.
Oh, I give up.
07 December 2011
Why does the Mafia get involved in hauling garbage? - Slate Magazine:
Organized crime appears to have a hand in trash collection all over the world, from Naples to Tony Soprano's northern New Jersey. Why are gangsters always hauling garbage?
It's Mob Economics 101: Find a business that's easy to enter and lucrative to control. Criminal organizations make lots of money from drugs, human trafficking, and counterfeit goods, but creating a monopoly on garbage collection is attractive because the business itself is legal, and public contracts return big profits.
Something similar seems to have happened to things like public transport, for example (dare one say it?) the taxi "industry" in South Africa.
03 December 2011
I've been puzzled by an image that appears on a number of different web sites, often quite unrelated to each other.
It shows a frog in an ice cube.
Can anyone explain its significance?
One example is the Nourishing Obscurity blog, where they appear as the background to the title.
02 December 2011
Someone asked the question "What is Union Spirit" in a newsgroup devoted to human rights, and I think it was a reference to some political slogan being used in Burma alias Myanmar.
But I remember it as a brand of petrol.
It was originally (in the 1940s) sold only in Natal, and mainly in and around Durban, where many garages would have a Union pump. In those days garages sold several brands of petrol. There were no "one brand" garages. The commonest brands were Caltex, Shell, Pegasus and Atlantic. Pegasus later became Mobil and is now Engen. Atlantic became BP.
In the Transvaal province in the 1950s there was Satmar, which was made from torbanite (oil shale) and later Sasol (made from coal).
In the 1960s there was one garage in Johannesburg that sold Union Spirit. It was in Jeppestown, and was in demand among sports car drivers because at that time the regular petrol sold at other garages was 87 octane, and not suitable for high-compression engines, even at Johannesburg's altitude
Union Spirit was 100 octane.
01 December 2011
This map shows how it has spread around the world in the last 30 years:
For more information see World AIDS Day - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
28 November 2011
Here are the first couple of posts, rather experimental Notes from underground: November 2005.
The world has changed a bit since then.
Back then I was saying that our President Thabo Mbeki, for all his faults, was a lot better than George Bush and Tony Blair.
Now I would say that our President Jacob Zuma, whatever his good points, is no better than Barack Obama and David Cameron, and in some respects a lot worse.
I don't know how many posts I've written in this blog over the last few years, but different statistics report somewhere between 110000 and 138000 page reads, and visitors mostly come from:
United States - 45,166
United Kingdom - 9,163
South Africa - 6,393
Germany - 4,645
Canada - 3,004
Russia - 2,267
Denmark - 2,045
Australia - 1,836
Netherlands - 1,673
Slovenia - 1,394
The puzzling one there is Slovenia. Why Slovenia, I wonder?
Before starting this blog I used LiveJournal, but it was a bit clunky and difficult to use. It was intended more as a journal than a blog, and after seeing quite a lot of Blogger blogs I thought I'd try it out, and I was impressed with the ease of just sitting down and writing something.
What was most impressive was tools like the "Blog this" one, which made it easy to save the URL of a web site and comment on it, which is what blogging was originally all about.
At that time Blogger had just been taken over by Google, and about three months after I began using it Google decided to "improve" it, which meant that many features that I liked most, including "Blog this", stopped working. Google seemed to be taking their time about bringing in the replacements for the missing features, and at that time many bloggers switched from Blogger to WordPress, because Blogger was broken for about 18 months.
Eventually I too started a WordPress blog, mainly to see how it worked, in case I too had to switch, but quite soon after that Blogger was fixed, and so I began using both in parallel. Each of these blogging platforms had its strong points. WordPress was better for graphics, and also used straightforward HTML markup, whereas blogger used about a lot of commands just to display something like italic text (what it puts behind the scenes for that is italic text, whereas Wordpress uses the straightforward italic text).
So where I posted something would depend largely on which features of the blogging platform I wanted to use. If I wanted pictures with captions, I'd use Wordpress, while for pictures without captions, Blogger would do, though if there were many pictures you would have to move them individually to where you wanted them, whereas WordPress puts them where in the post you want them to go.
Blogger remains better for quick and dirty web-logging -- using "Blog this" to post a link to a web page and comment on it.
I'm not sure why, but my WordPress blog, though started later, gets about twice as many visitors as this one.
And for quicker and dirtier stuff I've found Tumblr even better, so both this one and the WordPress one feed into Tumblr to be summarised.
26 November 2011
In other words, when all else fails, read the instructions.
Now, however, there are no instructions to read.
We recently installed Microsoft Office 2010.
It is useful for reading those .docx files people keep sending me.
But Microsoft office has no manual. There are no instuctions to read.
Recently a document opened with a fat blue stripe down the right-hand side. I wanted to get rid of it. When I hovered my cursor over it, it said "markup area". So I typed "markup area" into the help file to find out what it is, and how to get rid of it. Nothing, zero, zilch.
My daughter has been raving about Microsoft OneNote, that comes with MS Office. It sounded interesting, so I had a look at it. It has a blurb that tells you how easy it is to use. You just dump all your information into it. That's a bit like telling you to toss all your stuff into an abandoned well and cover it up. It's easy to put it in, but not to get it out again.
I browsed through the computer books in a bookshop the other day.
There was not one on how to use Microsoft OneNote. There were books on MS Office on offer, ranging in price from expensive to exorbitant. Only the exorbitant ones mentioned OneNote on the cover, and I couldn't look inside to see how many pages they devoted to it because the whole thing was wrapped in plastic.
But there were whole books on how to use Facebook and Twitter.
Back in the 80s we bought computer books to learn how to use computers and programs. But now you can only get manuals for web sites.
I wondered why anyone would need a manual for a web site, when you can't get a manual for a program. Then I saw this:
This applicaticon will be able to:
- Read Tweets from your timeline.
- See who you follow, and follow new people.
- Update your profile.
- Post Tweets for you.
That was from Mashable. All I wanted to do was vote for something, once, yet in order to do that I had to let them do all that. I had to allow them to update my profile -- so hey, if someone at Mashable wants to update my profile to say that I'm an international money launderer, wanted in sixteen principalities and native states, I must let them do it? Not a chance.
There are two buttons - Save and Cancel. I click Cancel -- but no, they won't let me do that before I've filled in my e-mail and password. Eventually I entered a bogus username and eight asterisks for my password (Ha! Those password crackers will never guess that!). Then I could click cancel and depart.
So perhaps one does need a manual to understand web sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Only problem is they keep changing them, so the book is probably out of date before you've bought it.
For weeks Facebook has been telling me that I can no longer notify people about my blog posts in my "Notes", but I will still be able to do it on my "Wall" but when I want to share something that someone else has written by putting it on my "Wall" it tells me it has been posted to my "Profile". So are Walls, Profiles and Notes all the same thing?
Perhaps I really do need to RTFM.
Meanwhile, instead of OneNote, I'll continue to use askSam, which I've been using for the last 20 years, and I still haven't managed to exhaust its capabilities.
24 November 2011
It sure seems like it, to judge from the number of spam comments about it people keep trying to post on my blogs.
I always delete them before anyone sees them, so I don't know why they bother, but it makes me wonder. It must really be a crummy dump if they have to pay spammers to publicise their town.
Still, I suppose being Spam Capital of the World must be better than remaining completely unknown, though even that title is probably beyond their reach.
21 November 2011
EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration - Telegraph
Brussels bureaucrats were ridiculed yesterday after banning drink manufacturers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.
NHS health guidelines state clearly that drinking water helps avoid dehydration, and that Britons should drink at least 1.2 litres per day
EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.
Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.
Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large."
The actual text, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has been discussed in the alt.usage.english newsgroup is a true masterpiece of bureaucratic obfuscation, a classic example of bureaucratese.
For reduction of disease risk claims, the beneficial physiological effect (which the Regulation requires to be shown for the claim to be permitted) is the reduction (or beneficial alteration) of a risk factor for the development of a human disease (not reduction of the risk of disease). However, undersupply with water would not be considered as a risk factor for dehydration (the disease) in this context as the beneficial alteration of the factor (increased consumption of water) is not a beneficial physiological effect as required by the Regulation.
Can you make sense of that?
But the bigger danger, it seems to me, is that while we are straining at the gnat of bureaucratic jargon, we can overlook the camel of the privatisation of water implied in the term "drink manufacturers".
The claim that I refuse to accept is not the one complained of by the bureaucrats. It is the claim that there are "drink manufacturers" who are in a position to make such claims in the first place.
The only "drinks manufacturer" I recognise in that sense is God, who makes rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.
Atheists who reject that as naive "creationism" are, of course, free to disagree. Perhaps for them "drinks manufacturers" are a product random evolution. Viva Coca Cola! Viva! Viva capitalism! Viva!
19 November 2011
For a long time Black Cat peanut butter was the only brand in the South African market.
Then other brands began appearing, which tasted horrible. One of them was "Yum Yum". It was American-style peanut butter, with added sugar and other nameless ingredients.
Then Black Cat was taken over by Tiger Foods, and they too started producing the horrible American-style version. Some people objected, like The Black Cat | andrewdotcoza: "They changed my favourite peanut butter and they made it taste like crap!"
I stopped buying peanut butter.
Then I saw a new and unfamiliar brand, Thokoman.
I looked at the list of ingedients: peanuts, salt.
I bought a small pot, and took it home, and rejoiced that it tasted like the real thing. After that, whenever we went shopping, we looked for Thokoman. If we couldn't find it, we didn't buy peanut butter. We bought both smooth and crunchy varieties because some members of the family liked one, and some liked the other.
Then one day I opened a new pot of Thokoman, spread it on bread, tasted it, and gagged. It tasted horrible. I looked at the list of ingredients, and saw that sugar had been added. I threw my slice of bread, and the whole pot of peanut butter in the dustbin. Once again we stopped buying peanut butter.
Then my wife noticed that Black Cat were advertising the "original" peanut butter.
We bought some, but the taste and texture were different from the original.
Instead of the ingredients being "peanuts, salt" they were now listed as "peanuts, stabiliser".
So it still has a weird taste and texture, not quite as revolting as the ones with added sugar, but not pleasant either.
At this time of the year (the Nativity Fast) we used to eat peanut butter several times a week, but now I have it only once every 2-3 weeks. Instead of peanut butter, I spead my bread with hoummous or chakalaka. They are probably also made by Tiger Foods, so it's no skin off their nose.
And I still wonder about the mysterious "stabiliser", and why they are so coy about what it is. It was certainly no part of the real original Black Cat peanut butter (as opposed to the fake "original" that they are selling now). I suspect that it may be something very unhealthy, like this: Ban Trans Fats: The Campaign to Ban Partially Hydrogenated Oils: Trans fat (which means trans fatty acids) is the worst kind of fat, far worse than saturated fat.
So if anyone knows where one can buy real peanut butter, with nothing other than peanuts and a little salt, please let me know.
18 November 2011
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Unlike most of Henning Mankell's "Wallander" novels, this one is set at least partly in South Africa, which gives it additional interest to me. It is set in the period between the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the first democratic elections in 1994. It was a period of great uncertainty, when no one knew quite what would happen. Though the National Party had already shed its ultra right wing (to the HNP in the late 1960s), and its far right wing (to the Conservative Party in the late 1970s), the bulk of its support was still pretty much on the right, and the unbanning of the left opposition parties tended to make its supporters nervous, including many in the security forces and the army. One of the possibilities was a right-wing military coup, and attempts to create disorder in order to facilitate such a coup. And there were such attempts, by the mysterious "third force", and others.
So Mankell's main plot, which is based on the training of a South African political assassin in Sweden, is quite believable. After all, Chris Hani was assassinated in just such a plot about the time that the novel was published. Mankell does a fairly good job of showing some of the tensions and ambiguities of South Africn society at that time.
But I also have the problem that I tend to read novels set in places that are familiar to me more critically, and tend to find it more jarring when things are oui of place. Because relatively few novels of this type are set in South Africa, its not something that happens very often, but I wonder how people who live in places where lots of crime novels are set feel when they read them. It's OK with Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels, which are set in a fictional town, but when actual places are mentioned, I wonder how people who live in them feel when there are inaccurate descriptions. Perhaps I'm also more sensitive to such things than most readers, having worked as a proofreader and editor, where it was my job to detect and correct such slip-ups.
Another novel I read, set in the same period, and with a similar plot line, was Vortex by Larry Bond, which was spoilt for me because some of the action took place in locations that were geographically impossible.
At first Henning Mankell's slip-ups were relatively minor -- a car parked under a baobab tree in the Transkei (I've never seen a baobab tree in the Transkei), someone working on a mine in Verwoerdburg (I lived there in the 1980s, and there were no mines there then). These are minor errors, and concerned only minor characters, but they are jarring none the less.
But there were some things that did affect more important characters, and the plot.
One is that Mankell refers to the "Transkei Province", where it affects police looking for suspects in the Transkei. Yet at that time Transkei was an "independent" homeland, and though its independence wasn't recognised by anyone but South Africa, police procedures at that period would surely have to take some account of the "independent" status of the Transkei, and so in a novel whose genre is a "police procedural" rather than a whodunit, this is a more serious error.
Some of Mankell's descriptions of African culture also strike me as somewhat odd. South Africa is a very multicultural country, and I'm not familiar with every single cultural nuance out there, but still, I wonder what Mankell's conception of a sangoma is. He has characters talking about "my sanhoma" the way some Americans talk about "my shrink", and though there are some ways in whch a sangoma's role in South African society is similar to that of a shrink in America, I've never heard anyone speak of "my sangoma. Mankell also writes about people's relations to spirits that also don't fit, especially since the character in question is a Zulu, and one of the better books on the topic, Zulu thought-patterns and symbolism was written by a fellow Swede, Axel-Ivar Berglund.
Mankell also has urban African characters using using rural imagery of wild animals. I think he underestimates the extent of urbanisation in South African society. I once took a group of students to a work camp in rural Zululand, and one of them, from Soweto, wondered how the local people could survive when they lived so far from the shops.
Never having been to Sweden, I have no idea whether there are similar discrepancies in the Swedish settings, but there do seem to be some rather large plot holes relating to the villain-in-chief, but to say more about that would reveal too much of the plot.
In spite of these flaws, however, it is an enjoyable read.
View all my reviews
15 November 2011
Hat-tip to Notes from a Common-place Book: Rethinking Greece: "Greece has been in the news a lot recently, and not in a good way. This article, by George Zakardakis, puts the crisis in historical perspective--always a refreshing touch."
Modern Greece built on myth | The Japan Times Online:
When the Greek crisis began two years ago, the cover of a popular German magazine showed an image of Aphrodite of Milo gesturing crudely with the headline: "The fraudster in the euro family." In the article, modern Greeks were described as indolent sloths, cheats and liars, masters of corruption, unworthy descendents of their glorious Hellenic past.
The irony was that modern Greece has little in common with Pericles or Plato. If anything, it is a failed German project.
In 1832, Greece had just won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The "Big Powers" of the time, Britain, France and Russia, appointed a Bavarian prince, Otto, as Greece's first king. Otto arrived with German architects, engineers, doctors and soldiers and set out to reconfigure the country to the romantic ideal of the times.
It seems that no sooner was Greece decolonised by the Turks than it was recolonised by the Western European countries who imposed their own ideas on it, rather along the lines of Edward Said's Orientalism.
For romantically-minded Westerners of the 19th century monasteries like those at Meteora (above) were not the "real" Greece.
Modern Greece built on myth | The Japan Times Online:
the intellectuals dream of a truly Westernized Greece through some miracle of economic and social science. When the loan referendum was announced, most of them opposed it. Greece had to show that it belonged to the European family of nations, whatever that may mean. Rebellion was not to be tolerated, lest the country was kicked out of the euro, the symbol of Greek westernization.
Ultimately the intellectuals and politicians, with persuasion from angry European leaders and technocrats, had the referendum quashed. Besides, the invention of fantastical modern Greece demanded that its people, the third division of society, also remained imaginary.
Naturally, they are real as anything. They despise the loss of their sovereignty as well as the bitter medicine prescribed by their European brethren for their "rescue." Austerity enforced by unelected officials from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank is perceived as not remedy but punishment, a distasteful concept to the orthodox Greeks whose core value is mercy.
And that is one of the primary differences between the Orthodox Christianity of the Greek people and the pagan Greece of the Western romantic imagination. Mercy is indeed a core value of Orthodoxy.
You only have to attend a few Orthodox servicesw to become aware of this "Lord have mercy" Kyrie eleison repeated three, 12 and sometimes 40 times.
Orthodox Christians know a God who says "I desire mercy and not sacrifice", but the Westerners demand more and more sacrifices, human sacrifices, of the ordinary people of Greece, and "mercy" is an utterly foreign concept to them.
14 November 2011
An early report, in The Guardian said simply that he had been found dead in a hotel room in Cape Town, where he had been covering the current test series between South Africa and Australia
The former Somerset cricketer Peter Roebuck has been found dead in a hotel room in South Africa.
Roebuck, who was 55 and played alongside Sir Ian Botham and Sir Viv Richards at Somerset, had built a reputation as an acute observer of the game since retiring from playing in 1991, and worked as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. He also worked as a broadcaster for ABC radio and had been covering Australia's tour of South Africa.
"He could describe a game of cricket in such a way that even if you didn't like the game, you liked the way that he went about his business," said Craig Norenbergs, the ABC Grandstand manager.
Roebuck was known as a solid batsman, passing 1,000 runs in nine out of 12 seasons and was Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1988.
The BBC put a different and more ominous slant on it BBC Sport - Ex-Somerset captain Peter Roebuck dies at 55:
South African police said Roebuck had taken his own life and are investigating the full circumstances surrounding his death.... leading one to wonder how he could have been found in his room if he had jumped to his death from the window.
The Sydney Morning Herald, who Roebuck had written for since 1984, reported that he fell to his death from a hotel window on Saturday night after being questioned by police.
But that's not all.
Roebuck falls to death after sex assault questioning - Sport - NZ Herald News:
Renowned cricket writer Peter Roebuck reportedly fell to his death from a South African hotel balcony while being quizzed by Cape Town police over a sex assault on Saturday night.I wonder what really happened.
Australia's The Age news website said an agitated Roebuck had asked another cricket writer to help him, after police began speaking with him at a hotel near the Newlands ground.
"Can you come down to my room quickly, I've got a problem," the website reported Roebuck as saying.
Roebuck then fell to his death while a police officer was reportedly in the room.
05 November 2011
Such was the reply often given to playground taunts and insults in my youth.
But a recent discussion on the alt.usage.english newsgroup puts a new slant on it.
People were discussing the remake of the film The Dam Busters, a true story of how the British attacked German dams in WW2 by using an ingenious technique to drop bombs where they would be most effective.
Apparently the remake hit a snag.
Squadron Leader Guy Gibson, who led the raid, had a pet dog, a black Labrador called "Nigger", and it was decided to use the dog's name as a code name to indicate that the first raid had been successful.
The WikiPedia page on the film, and the proposed remake, describes the problem as follows The Dam Busters (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The British Channel 4 screened the censored American version in July 2007, in which the dialogue was dubbed so as to call the dog Trigger, this screening taking place just after the planned remake was announced. For the remake, Peter Jackson has said no decision has been made on the dog's name, but is in a "no-win, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't scenario", as changing the name could be seen as too much political correctness, while not changing the name could offend people. Further, executive producer Sir David Frost was quoted in The Independent as stating: "Guy sometimes used to call his dog Nigsy, so I think that's what we will call it. Stephen has been coming up with other names, but this is the one I want." In June 2011, Stephen Fry mentioned in an interview that the dog would be called Digger in the remake to avoid offending modern audiences. In September 2007, as part of the BBC Summer of British Film series, The Dam Busters was shown at selected cinemas across the UK in its uncut format.The discussion on alt.usage.english was mainly concerned with the issue of the dog's name. The original name is now regarded as offensive in America, so using it might harm the film at the box office. But changing the name of the dog would be historically inaccurate.
Discussion went back and forth for a while, and eventually someone said:
I don't see what harm it does to change the dog's name consistently in the dialogue, just so people don't repeatedly cringe until it gets run over. (I haven't seen the original film; I'm trusting what someone else said in this thread.) They could put a note up at the beginning or end of the film briefly explaining the deviation from historical accuracy.And Peter Brooks of Cape Town made a comment that put the whole discussion in perspective:
Cringe? There's a film showing people getting ready to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians by drowning and people watching it cringe because of the name given to a dog? What kind of perverted system of values could lead to that?Another Wikipedia article describes the results of the first raid Möhne Reservoir - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The resulting huge floodwave killed at least 1579 people, 1026 of them foreign forced labourers held in camps downriver. The small city of Neheim-Hüsten was particularly hard-hit with over 800 victims, among them at least 526 victims in a camp for Russian women held for forced labour.
04 November 2011
650,000 Americans Joined Credit Unions Last Month -- More Than In All Of 2010 Combined | ThinkProgress
Now, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reports that a whopping 650,000 Americans have joined credit unions since Sept. 29 — the date that Bank of America announced it would start charging a $5 monthly debit fee, a move it backed down on this week."
Now there's an interesting thought.
The South African equivalent of a credit union was a building society, but the building societies all went commercial, turning themselves into banks in about 1987.
Building societies specialised in one thing -- lending money for building and buying houses; in other words, mortgages. It was something they were actually quite good at, and something commercial banks are very bad at -- much of the economic crisis of the last four years or so was caused by American banks playing fast and loose with mortgage finance.
So the news that Americans are moving their money to credit unions might herald the beginning of a return to sanity.
As I understand it, a credit union is like a general putpose building society, lending money not only for building and buying houses, but for other things as well. I believe that, like the building societies, they are cooperative rather than commercial.
Can South Africans do the same thing?
Are there any building societies left? Perhaps this is their opportunity to make a come-back. If anyone reading this knows of any South African bulding societies, please post a link in a comment. And revived building societies could even help to solve the housing shortage.
There are, of course, stokvels, but they usually have to keep their money in commercial banks, with the ever-increasing bank charges. I saw that my bank now charges R25.00 for a cash withdrawal.
That's a good and sufficient reason to move my money to a building society... if there was one.
02 November 2011
The U.S. was one of just 14 countries that voted “no” to Palestinian admission.
But within hours of the vote, the Obama Administration announced it would stop paying its $80 million in total yearly dues to UNESCO, which amounts to over 20 percent of UNESCO's total budget. Why? Because the vote triggered decades-old U.S. legislation that requires that the U.S. stop paying any UN body that accepts Palestine as a member—even though official U.S. policy is to support a Palestinian state.
That has to change.
You see, the Israeli government and its right-wing supporters in the United States don't even want a symbolic recognition of the Palestinian's right to self-determination or participation on the world stage. That's what the law is really about. The Israelis have already announced that they are expediting the construction of even more settlements and withholding life-sustaining tax monies that belong to the Palestinian Authority as punishment for the vote.
The U.S. is endangering its status at the UN and impoverishing critical global program needs simply because Palestinian admission to UNESCO angered Israel.
Please write your U.S. representatives now. Tell them to waive the portion of the law that bars the president from making funding decisions based on the national interest, and to work towards repeal of the law.
If you live outside of the United States, send a message to the Obama administration that this policy is harmful for the whole world.
from A Jewish Voice for Peace
27 October 2011
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A psychiatrist, Andrew Marlow, has a patient, Robert Oliver, who attacked a painting in an art gallery with a knife. Oliver will not speak, and so to try to understand him Marlow visits and interviews people who had known Oliver, to try to understand his behaviour. As he uncovers more of Oliver's past, he finds it leads back into art history, and the history of the Impressionists in France.
In a way, the book follows a formula that has been used by other authors, such as Robert Goddard -- a mystery in the present whose answer is to be found in something that happened in the past.
I don't think it's qute up to the standard of the best of Goddard, but it's a lot better than his worst, and the pace is a bit more leisurely. It's the kind of book you can spin out, reading a chapter or two at bed time.
View all my reviews
None of my blogs, nor any of the blogs I regularly read, fits into any of those categories. The organisers seem to have a very blinkered view of human life. Or is is just me?
The categories to enter have been simplified this year, and are as follows:
- Best Business / Political Blog
- Best Entertainment / Lifestyle Blog
- Best Environmental Blog
- Best Fashion Blog
- Best Food & Wine Blog
- Best Music Blog
- Best Photographic Blog
- Best Science and Technology Blog
- Best Sport Blog
- Best Travel Blog
Please choose a category which best fits your blog.
As far as I can see there are huge swathes of human life and experience (which is what most blogs are about) missing from the list. I think quite a large number of the missing ones are covered by the H*U*M*A*N*I*T*I*E*S. As, of course, are the categories in Digg, which I avoid for the same reason.
I really think that blogging awards thingies should not be run by technogeeks. For them things like art, literature, history and religion simply do not exist.
Is there anything else you can see that has been left out?
20 October 2011
19 October 2011
Historian Peter Frankopan is challenging a millennium of scholarship in his view of the First Crusade | The Australian:
FOR a thousand years the idea of the crusade has defined nations and empires, justified wars and acts of terrorism and inspired everyone from medieval minstrels to Ridley Scott.
But is all that potency built on a misunderstanding? New historical research suggests that the campaign that became known as the First Crusade was not a religious war, was not started by the Pope, was not really about regaining Jerusalem and was actually a direct result of a little local difficulty in modern day Turkey [sic].
15 October 2011
Now (hat tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: In Defense of Witch Trials) it seems that they are focusing on Uganda: BBC News - Where child sacrifice is a business:
The villages and farming communities that surround Uganda's capital, Kampala, are gripped by fear.
Schoolchildren are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.
The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country's economy.
The report, however, is slightly misleading, with its mention of "witchdoctors".
Witchdoctors are those whose job is to counter witchcraft, not to practise it.
Witchdoctors who engage in such activities are like policemen who take part in bank robberies and vehicle hijackings -- they find it more lucrative to practise crime than to catch criminals. We should be careful not to give the impression that those are part of the job description.
I would also take issue with The Pittsford Perrennialist on the question of witch trials. The witch trials of the Great European Witchhunt were largely based on false accusations, made for the same reasons as those engagecd in child sacrifice in Uganda and other places today -- greed and covetousness. The accused were accused of Satanism, but the accusers were actually far more satanic, because the main characteristic of the satan in Christian theology is the making of false accusations.
For more on witch trials, witch hunts and witchcraft accusations, see my article on Christian Responses to Witchcraft and Sorcery.
In addition to revelations about child sacrifice in Uganda, there is also the news that the US is now sending troops to Uganda. Perhaps it has something to do with allAfrica.com: Uganda: Scramble for Minerals Begins:
The revelations come shortly after an aerial survey report confirmed that Uganda is endowed with copper, iron ore, cobalt, tin, gold as well as platinum.
There is anticipation for Foreign Direct Investment in the mineral exploration sector in the Great Lakes region as China looks for raw materials to oil its growing economy.
China's entry into Africa is seen as catalyst for renewed interest in Africa by the European Union and US to undermine China's emerging influence due its non-political interference policy on investments in Africa and the potential for monopoly access to energy and mineral resources.
Another hat-tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: Another War?.
14 October 2011
From what I've been able to see, it this discipline proposes to cure racism by encouraging racist thinking, which, it seems to me, is a bit like an alcoholic thinking that the cure for his craving is another drink.
If any of this interests you, I've written a series of four blog posts on it, here:
- Whiteness, whiteliness and White Studies
- Whiteness Studies, Black Consciousness and non-racialism
- Race, class and history
- Tales from Dystopia: SACC Consultation on Racism 11-14 February 1980
I thought I'd written enough on it, but someone posted something on Facebook that made me change my mind: Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa:
Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa
Male and female circumcision collide in Foreskin Man #3 when America’s most controversial superhero attempts a daring rescue in the jungles of Kenya.
That looks like a rather good candidate for #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture | Stuff White People Like, though with a somewhat different slant on it. That seems to be the essence of Whiteness, as defined by the American discipline of Whiteness Studies.
But I'm getting ahead of the story, which begins here, in a web article someone recommended to me, about Racism 2.0, which is the racism practised by white liberals in the USA Tim Wise | With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left. And, it seems to me, the comic book Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa seems to be a good example of Racism 2.0 as practised by white liberals in America. The gallant white superhero, representing enlightened Western values, sets out to rescue the barbaric Africans from their darkness. The cover of the comic says it all.
One of the things that human beings seem to do a lot is modify their bodies. The way they do this varies with different cultures, and as time passes cultures change, and bodily modifications fall in and out of fashion. One such fashion in the USA has been male circumcision. Another, common in the Western world, has been female ear piercing, and in some sub-cultures in the West piercing other parts of the body and sticking safety pins and other objects in the holes. A southern African varient of earpearcing, about 70-80 years ago, involved putting wooden cotton reels in holes in one's earlobes.
Other such practices are knocking out front teeth, tattooing, and lengthening necks and penises. In China there was the practice of foot-binding of girls, because small feet on women were fashionable.
Another thing about this is that bodily modifications that one culture regards as normal seem bizarre and barbaric to people from other cultures.
In the 19th and early 20th century Christian missionaries travelled from Western Europe and North America in large numbers to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in other continents, and they came across many cultural practices that they found strange, and some that they found abhorrent. Among the ones they found abhorrent ones were foot-binding and female circumcision.
In China it was Christian missionaries who founded the Natural Foot Society, to discourage the practice of foot-binding. And in parts of Africa missionaries, who were associated with colonial governments, discouraged female circumcision. In Kenya, where, in the 1920s, all schools were controlled by various religious bodies, some missionaries, led by the Church of Scotland, insisted that all teachers in the schools should take an oath against female circumcision, which was practised by the Kikuyu (Agikuyu) people. This led to the formation of independent African-led educational associations, and eventually contributed to the establishment of the Orthodox Church in Kenya (see Orthodox mission in tropical Africa).
The policy of demanding oaths came back to bite the colonialist missionaries, however, when, about 20 years later, the Mau Mau movement began getting their members to take oaths to fight against the British colonial regime. Suddenly "oath-taking ceremonies" were made illegal, and suspicion that someone had participated in one became sufficient cause for detention without trial. All Kenyan Orthodox clergy were detained.
White Western secular liberals have often been quite vociferous in condemning the way in which Christian missionaries "destroy indigenous culture", but are not averse to doing exactly the same thing when other people's cultural values conflict with their own, and using neocolonial powers to put the squeeze on people who resist.
In a way, I can empathise with those who object to female circumcision. I can still recall the shock and revulsion I felt when I read about it as a teenage schoolboy in a book called Blanket boy's moon by Peter Lanham and A.S. Mopeli-Paulus, which described the practice in Lesotho:
The first night of the (circumcision) school is known as the Marallo, the secret night. This night is spent outside the village in the dongas, where ritual dances are taught and new code names are given to the girls -- so that they can afterwards challenge the claim of any woman who states that she is circumcised.
At Marallo, too, the Khokhobisa-tsoene, or "Hiding-of-the-monkey" is encompassed. The girls are cut with a blade in their outer sexual organs, and a flap of flesh is drawn down to cover that mischievous "monkey" which can be the source of much pleasure to uncircumcised girls. The performance of this rite tends to encourage chastity among the women, for a circumcised girl can know little of the joys and passions of physical love. During this ceremony when the blood flows from the wounded flesh, black magic medicine is rubbed in as a protection against bewitchment.
It can perhaps be said that the circumcision of women not only denies the girl great pleasure and joy in the sexual act, but must in consequence lessen the happiness and exaltation of the man, and thus shut out any upliftment of the spirit -- lying with a woman, then, becomes a selfish rather than a mutual pleasure. Here in the very homeland, in this circumcision of women, lie the seeds of the physical love of man for man, which is brought to flower in the living conditions imposed on African mine workers by the white man.
As a schoolboy I found that more scary even than a description of a ritual murder elsewhere in the book.
But an interesting thing is that though the protest against the Protestant missionaries' attempt to suppress female circumcision was one of the factors that helped the Orthodox Church to grow in Kenya, very few, if any, Orthodox Christians practise female circumcision today, not because of high-handed colonial or neocolonial suppression, but rather as a result of people seeing no need for it within a Christian worldview.
Western cultural imperialism hasn't changed very much. Whether practised by Protestant missionaries or liberal secularists, it looks much the same. And I won't say it doesn't exist in South Africa. There are signs of it, for example when you get white suburbanites objecting to their black neighbours next door ritually sacrificing a goat, but generally I think white racism in South Africa takes different forms from that in North America. The North American version, with Foreskin Man going out to deal with the black savages in far-away places, is perhaps typical of the American version. And Foreskin Man doesn't seem to be interested in rescuing the people his fellow-countrymen drop bombs on, in places like Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where they lose a great deal more than their foreskins.
Apart from anything else, to me Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl sound utterly kitsch. But that's probably just my cultural prejudice speaking.
13 October 2011
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Detective Kurt Wallander's daughter Linda is about to join him on the police force in the town of Ystad in southern Sweden, and while she is waiting to start work Linda re-establishes contact with a couple of old school friends, Anna and Zeba. Then Anna says she thiinks she has seen her father, who had been missing for many years, and shortly afterwards goes missing herself. Linda begins searching for Anna, and thinks her disappearance may be linked to a case her father is working on, of animals that have been cruelly killed and then a murder, that seems to be linked to a religious motive.
Until about halfway through, I thought that this was the best book Henning Mankell had written. The point of view has shifted to Linda Wallander, and we see her father through her eyes, rather than his own rather jaundiced view of the world, and his battles with booze. There seem to be too many boozy policeman novels nowadays.
The second half doesn't hang together too well, and there seems to be too much of the deus ex machina. Perhaps, however, that is more what real police work is like -- strokes of luck and chance happenings.
Despite these faults, however, it is still one of Mankell's better novels.
View all my reviews
11 October 2011
But then it seemed that it was actually pretty universal. Millions mourn because he touched the lives of millions.
He didn't really touch my life much, though. At least not in a good way.
I once played some games on an Apple ][ computer that a friend had borrowed from work.
I was an avid reader of computer magazines in those days, and one of the things that they all praised Apple computers for was their open architecture. You could put all kinds of third-party cards in them to make them do things that went far beyond their original design. There was a card that had a Z80 processor on it (remember those?), which made it possible to turn an Apple computer into a CP/M machine, and run all kinds of interesting software.
Then the Apple Mackintosh appeared, and it had a decidedly closed architecture, and I lost interest. I played with one in a shop once, in the days when it was a kind of oblong vertical box with a monochrome screen, decided I didn't like it, and that was the last time I played with an Apple. Oh, there was one other time, when a student whoe thesis I was supervising got an Apple laptop, and we had enormous problems transferringt it back and forth so I could read and comment on it.
More recently we bought a gadget that is supposed to convert audio tapes to digital format. It is basically a tape player that runs off a USB port. It cost R500.00, which was quite expensive for what it is, but I thought it would be useful if I could convert all the tapes I have lying around the house and then toss them out.
When I got it home and opened the box, however, I discovered that the gadget only converted the tapes toApple's iTunes format, which is virtually useless, except for commercially produced music tapes that have "tracks". Most of the tapes that I have are speech, or mixed speech an music. The ones I want to convert are mostly research interviews I recorded for my masters and doctoral theses and other research projects. So I spent R500.00 to convert three music tapes I had, and could have bought the CD versions in a record shop for a lot less. There was nothing on the outside of the box the gadget came in to indicate this limitation.
I think Apple took a massive wrong turn when it switched from an open to a closed architecture.
So, though I agree with John Donne that "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind" I don't really see Steve Jobs as someone who has benefited me in any way -- rather the reverse. And still less do I see him as a benefactor of mankind. Meet the workers dying to meet your iPad 2 demand
If you're frustrated at being unable to buy an iPad 2, spare a thought for the Chinese workers who may never be able to afford one of the shiny new gadgets but are literally dying to get them out fast enough to meet Western demand.
A new report into conditions at Apple's manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has found slave labour conditions remain, with staff complaining of being worked to tears, exposure to harmful disease, pay rates below those necessary to survive and military-style management that routinely humiliates workers.
Though to be fair, it is not only those who are waiting for an iPad who are contributing to those working conditions. When I booted up my computer this morning, which has no connection with Apple, the first thing that appeared on the screen, in big white letters on a black background, was Foxconn.
So perhaps it is worth quoting the rest of John Donne's meditation from his Devotions upon emergent occasions:
Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die. Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.
The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into the body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
As therefore the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is.
The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Neither can we call this a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.
If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels as gold in a mine and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another's dangers I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.
And perhaps that links to Charles Williams's idea of coinherence.
But that is really a topic for another post.
07 October 2011
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This blog has moved. If you and to comment on this post, see here.
I quite enjoy reading whodunits, and when I saw this volume of short stories about Sherlock Holmes, I thought it might be interesting to read some early examples of the genre.
The narrator is Holmes's friend Dr Watson, who says he is telling the stories to record the remarkable powers and abilities of his friend Sherlock Holmes, and I didn't really enjoy the first couple of stories very much, as the adulation of the sycophantic Watson was jusdt too much. After that, however, it settled down, and by the end Watson was becoming more critical of Holmes. And as Holmes became more human, the stories seemed to become more interesting.
It is interesting to compare 21st century detective stories with those of 130 years ago, Most of the modern protagonists of detective fiction are part of what Holmes called "the official police". He, however, was a private detective, working for a fee, and often solving mysteries and crimes that the police were too unobservant to see. The amateur detective, and the "private eye" seem to have faded from detective fiction after about 1960. Sherlock Holmes was followed by Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown and juvenile equivalents like Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys. But since the 1960s most fictional detectives have been part of the official police.
Another difference is that, for the protagonists of current detective fiction, the only crime they have to deal with is murder. No detective mystery story is complete without a corpse, and preferably two or three, or even more. Sherlock Holmes, however, seems to deal with a much wider variety of crimes, including solving mysteries that aren't really crimes at all.
Another, and more obvious difference is that Sherlock Holmes doesn't have high-tech methods at his disposal. There are no DNA samples, not even fingerprints. Though Holmes is something of an amateur chemist, he doesn't seem to spend any time examining blood or tissue or soil samples from the scene of the crime. His method is to make "deductions" from data.
And this is where things begin to be confusing, because Sherlock Holmes's method is clearly inductive reasoning rather than deductive, yet Conan Doyle persistently refers to it as "deduction".
I wonder how many philosophy students were confused as a result.
View all my reviews
You can't make this stuff up (though perhaps you can photoshop it).
Or is that just an example of entrepreneurship?
My wife sent me this photo -- it's one of thse circulating by e-mail.
Click picture to enlarge if you can't read the writing.
05 October 2011
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
For most of my lifetime obsession with whiteness has dominated South African politics, society, economy and even the landscape. When I heard quite recently that there was an academic discipline called "Whiteness Studies" my immediate reaction was negative. Some of my blogging friends assured me that they had found it useful, and this was one of the books they recommended, and since it was based on stories told by people I found it in the library and began reading it.
Melissa Steyn collected stories from 59 white people in South Africa and divided the narratives into different categories, and commented on the various approaches. This book is the result.
The first chapter is a kind of potted history of "Whiteness Studies" and the various view its practitioners have taken to the phenomenon of "whiteness" in a global sense. In part it deals with the fairly well-known phenomenon of Western modernity, where Westerners (mainly from Western Europe and North America) thought that their society was central and normative, and others quaint and peculiar and exotic. So, for example, Western anthropologists confined their studies to non-Western cultures (and often did so in the service of colonial rulers). The proponents of Whiteness Studies call this kind of cultural chauvinism "whiteness". But even after reading Steyn's book, I am not convinced of the adequacy of the description, and I find that Steyn herself falls into the same cultural chauvinist trap by not disclosing where she is coming from, and pretending to be "objective", even when she is aware of the dangers of that approach.
The main manifestation of this in the book is that, while the bulk of the book is devoted to the the analysis of people's responses to Steyn's questionnaire, the questions that elicited those responses are not revealed to the reader. If this forms the bulk of the book, then surely the questions themselves could have been put in an appendix. Apart from anything else, that might give readera a chance to try to answer the questions too, and try to analyse their own responses.
In addition, while Steyn collected 59 narratives, these narrators are not really allowed to tell their own story. Steyn is the only narrator, setting the scene, telling the story, and pulling a quotation, sometimes as short as a single sentence, to illustrate the point in her story. So I get the impression of a stage magician, displaying tricks to an audience, with the quotations from the stories being pulled out like a rabbit from a hat or a coin from the sleeve at the appropriate moment, with only Steyn really knowing what is going on behind the scenes.
For instance, there is this:
Such is the fear of being perceived to be aligned with what is morally reproachable that even to talk about "race" could implicate one in racism. The topic is a no-no:
"Whites can never know how blacks were affected by Apartheid. [computer analyst] "
At first sight, this seems to be a complete non-sequitur. It certainly doesn't seem to be an instance of race being a "no--no", because it mentions race ("whites", "blacks") and the relations between them ("Apartheid"). Either Steyn is misrepresenting the narrator, or she is interpreting it in the light of its context, which she has failed to quote, and this is withheld from the reader.
Taken on its own, the sentence can be interpreted in a variety of ways, of which the most likely (it seems to me), is that since, because of Apartheid, whites were separated from blacks, they could not know how blacks were affected by apartheid because they were kept isolated, and whites could not see what was happening, and their was little comparable in their experience. For instance, if a black man died in town, his wife and children, if they were allowed to live in the town at all, would be endorsed out to a "homeland" because they became surplus to the labour requirements of white society. Much of this was invisible to most whites, and so they did not know and could not know the extent to which this took place, nor what it was like do be endorsed out and forced to go and live in a rural area where you knew no one.
Maybe the context shows that the narrator meant something different, but Steyn does not show us the context.
Similarly, Steyn castigates those she regards as adopting a liberal "colourblind" approach, saying that they are "in denial", yet when, in another section of the book, she cites an example of that approach, she praises it.
The Apartheid system tried to make me think about "white" in a certain way and about "black" in another way. I strive to define my own reality and I try to avoid being hamstrung by other people's projections. [lecturer]
Steyn says "Whatever whiteness may have meant in the past, this narrative perks up in tone when it considers what may develop now that whiteness has lost its power to dominate."
Yet elsewhere she says that to claim that whiteness has lost its power to dominate is to be in denial. The difference, if any, isd hidden behind the stage magician's black cloth that she pulls away to reveal the rabbit in the hat.
One of the narratives, however, I could identify with:
I have discovered that, despite apartheid, I have more in common with black South Africans than with other whites, be they British, Dutch, French or American... When I first went overseas in 1986 I thought because of my colonial British background I would find Britain home. Instead I became increasingly aware that I was not British, and that I was African. This is how I came to see myself as a white African. [lecturer]
I wrote something very similar in a blog post at What is African? Race and identity | Khanya long before I had ever heard of "whiteness studies".
Steyn summarises the argument of the Introduction in her conclusion
In the Introduction, whiteness has been theorized as the racial norm, the invisible center that deflects attention from itself by racializing the margins, and constructing them as the problem. Whiteness then believes in its own homogeneous neutrality. Whites are then described [in the Introduction - STH] as generally unaware of their own racialization, unconscious of their privilege, or of how their implicit assumptions of white entitlement are a consequence of certain historical relations, not something essential about whiteness itself.
I'd go along with that, especially where North America is concerned (and Steyn wrote the book while living in North America). South Africa, however, is somewhat different. Whiteness was anything but unconscious.
But it appears that Steyn was also suffering from the same disease.
On page 26, writing of English-speaking South Africans' attitudes towards poor rural Afrikaners, she writes, "Like ethnic working class whites and partially racialized groups in America, Afrikaners had to 'fight' for the status of first class citizens."
"Ethnic working class" what are they? Just as "whiteness" is invisible to the dominant white group in America, so is ethnicity. "Ethnic" whites are the "other", the "them". And Steyn uses that terminology without batting an eyelid, withouit scare quotes, without even the almost obligatory [sic] used in some academic writing when politically incorrect language comes up. But Steyn is not quoting, she is using the terminology herself, thus identifying with those who believe they have no ethnicity, and manifesting "ethnic blindness".
Perhaps I might have read this book differently if I had read it before engaging in a discussion on whiteness studies with some others (see Whiteness, whiteliness and White Studies | Khanya).
And one of the biggest problems I have with this book is that it seems to be saying that even if we have deconstructed whiteness, and dumped it, we must now reconstruct it in order to deconstruct it again, like Sisyphus. It's a bit like a child being told by its mother, "You must have a bath tonight, whether you need it or not." And the proponents of whiteness studies seem to be saying "You must have an identity crisis, whether you need one or not."
One thing I will say, though. I didn't find it boring. It was a page-turner.
View all my reviews
As Mamphela Ramphele puts it Ramphele backs Tutu on Dalai Lama - Times LIVE:
"Isn't it ironic, that when he's celebrating his 80th birthday, the most fundamental right -- the right to association -- is being taken away from him?
"He can't have a party with his friends and they are just old men," Ramphele said on Monday evening at a candlelight vigil outside Parliament to put pressure on the government to grant the visa.
That's exactly the kind of petty nastiness one had come to expect from the National Party government. And it's worse, because our constitution now upholds the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of travel, and freedom of association -- all of which are trashed by this act. The old National Party was not as cynically hypocritical as that. They made no bones about it -- any foreign religious leader was a persona non grata, and found it very difficult to get a visa. And any Nobel Peace Prize winner, domestic or foreign, was the same, and so the combination would not have much hope.
I suggest that any Southern African religious bodies hosting international conferences to which foreign religious leaders may be invited should seriously think of moving the venue to Botswana or Namibia, or they may find that their speakers are unable to attend. That would include the congress of the Southern African Missiological Society, due to be held in January 2012.
The petty spitefulness of stopping two pensioners having a party, however, is overshadowed by the implications for South African sovereignty. Zuma, who was elected ANC leader by promising to be all things to all men and courting universal popularity, is now finding that popularity gurgling down the drain, and trying to shore it up by disciplinary hearings of his most vociferous critics, but not daring to contradict his (and our) colonial masters.
As a student I sometimes enjoyed listening to Radio Peking (as it was spelt in those days), denouncing US imperialism as "a paper tiger, a bean curd tiger". But Chinese imperialism seems to be lapping up South Africa like bean curd.
The Dalai Lama visited South Africa when Nelson Mandela was president, and again when Thabo Mbeki was president. Why not now? And above all, why stop him from coming to Desmond Tutu's brithday party?
Last night he phoned to say he would be late -- he had to wait in the shop while some workmen put up a shelf, so he rode back on his bike when they were finished, arriving about 1:30 am. We were woken by the dogs barking to welcome him come. And about 20 minutes later there were two shots and the white of ricocheting bullets, quite close. We were glad that he got home before that. It set the dogs off barking again, and we looked out of the window, but couldn't see anyone.
But after being woken twice within half an hour, I couldn't get back to sleep. Now it's just after 9:00 am, and I feel sleepy.
02 October 2011
First real rain of the season. There was some last night and this morning, not enough to make run-off and puddles, just enough to make the roads slippery, and cause accidents. We were held up by one on the N1 at the Olifantsfontein Road exit this morning and arrived at church halfway through Matins. It seemed a bad one, involving at least three vehicles, and there were ambulances, so some people were probably injured. Lord have mercy.
And it's been raining heavily for at least 10 minutes now. Reminds me I need to get the lawnmower serviced, but it should make the weeds easier to pull.
30 September 2011
I suppose I've reached an age where I should not be surprised at such things, but I'm nevertheless saddened by his passing.
He was Marthinus Theunis Steyn Krige, known as Steyn, and he was my geography and scripture teacher at St Stithians College, Randburg, from 1954-1958.
I learnt of his death from an e-mail sent out by the St Stithians Alumni Association
It is with deep regret and sadness that we must inform you that Mr Steyn Krige passed away peacefully on Tuesday night, 27 September 2011, after a long illness.
Steyn was the second Headmaster of the College from 1962 - 68 and the recently-opened class room block at the Boys' College was named the Krige Block in his honour.
Steyn matriculated from Rondebosch Boys' High with a first class Matric and taught at that school before moving to St Stithians. At Saints he became Second Master under Wally Mears as well as Mountstephens Housemaster. He succeeded Mr Mears as Headmaster. He was a conscientious and dedicated teacher and a deeply committed Christian. He was instrumental in founding and developing the Randburg Methodist Church.
Whilst Headmaster of St Stithians, he was also Chairman of the HMC, forerunner of the present day SAHISA (South African Heads of Independent Schools Association) and, as Chairman of the HMC, he played a major role in the opening of private schools to all races.
Steyn was a profound educational thinker and many of his innovations are still with us - the option of African languages, Integrated Studies, a three term year and the tutor system.
He was also a progressive educationalist and, after leaving St Stithians, went on to found Woodmead School which was a beacon of liberal education in the 1970s and '80s. He also founded the New Era Schools Trust, an educational trust, in 1981 together with Dean Yates, a former headmaster of St John's.
Our sincerest sympathies and condolences go to Steyn's widow, Hazel, their children and grandchildren, including Ken, a former teacher at the Boys' College and currently Headmaster of Felixton College in KZN. Please hold them in your thoughts and prayers at this sad time.
His funeral will take place on Friday 30 September 2011 at 14h30 at the Randburg Methodist Church.
Headmaster: Boys' College
Four years ago a fellow blogger challenged people to write about five people, living or dead, who had influenced our spiritual path in a positive way, and I took up the challenge, and this is what I wrote about Steyn Krige Notes from underground: Five influences
He taught me for most of my time in high school at St Stithians College from the age of 12 to the age of 17. For the first couple of years he taught Geography, Chemistry and Scripture. Chemistry wasn't his field, and some of his experiments went horribly wrong, and I think he cookbooked his lessons. But he was a good teacher, and even when his experiments went wrong and the expected didn't happen, we knew what was supposed to have happened.
The year before he came to the school I had begun to break away from my atheist/agnostic upbringing and become interested in reading the Bible, and Steyn Krige hosted voluntary Bible study groups in the housemaster's flat where he lived with his family. He also arranged camps during the school holidays -- in the Western Cape, in the mountains of Lesotho and in other places. And he it was who guided me and showed what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
I rather hope that someone will write a biography of Steyn Krige one day, because the announcement of his death sent out by the school was almost as notable for what it didn't say as for what it did say.
It said that a classroom block at the school was named after him. I'm glad to hear that, because to my recollection the school treated him pretty shabbily, and it's good to know that they perhaps tried to make amends in that way.
The obituary says that after leaving St Stithians he went on to found Woodmead School, but did not mention the fact that the reason for his leaving St Stithian's was that he was sacked. The story of his sacking was all over the Sunday newspapers back in 1969, but the reasons for it were never revealed. Perhaps now is the time to tell it.
When I heard of Steyn's death I did a Google search for him, and discovered that something similar had happened at Woodmead School, in a fragmentary anonymous article rescued from from Yahoo's Geocities disaster. What happened to Woodmead Schoolo?:
In December 1998, Woodmead School, the first fully multi-racial school in South Africa, closed its doors after twenty-eight years. Employees who had served the school faithfully were evicted from their houses on the property. Some had been there from the beginning. Most had nowhere to go. To exacerbate matters the school's Board breached numerous tenets of the National Labor Laws. It withheld information. It 'fobbed off' concerned parents. In the end, several members of the Board fraudulently 'donated' Woodmead's Preparatory School to a spurious company. It was then secretly sold to Crawford College for a fraction of its value. The people who closed Woodmead School didn't understand its unique place in South African history. What occurred was a tragedy. Why did it happen?
An anonymous article rescued from Yahoo's dustbin is not much to go on, but it does make the questions What happened? Why did it happen? more insistent. It seems that in his teaching career Steyn Krige experienced a considerable amount of back-stabbing.
The Woodmead article goes on to say
When I arrived at Woodmead in 1981, Steyn Krige was still the Headmaster. He had pioneered much of what was unique about Woodmead – the Tutor System, the Tier System, its democratically elected Student Council and Integrated Studies. He particularly liked to discuss Integrated Studies, one of the school's shining lights, and he would periodically announce that it was time for a conference to assess the current progress of the subject. In theory, Integrated Studies replaced English, Geography, History and Social Studies, but in practice it encompassed a great deal more. Emphasis was placed on themes rather than topics. Each theme was approached from different directions and students were encouraged to explore the theme along a range of pathways. Skills were emphasized and independent learning encouraged and fostered. The students were enormously enthusiastic and supportive. There were classes of fifty but the strength and breadth of the subject offset the disadvantage of large classes. What emerged from the Integrated Studies program were highly motivated students who approached their final years of secondary school with confidence and enthusiasm. In 1982, I conducted a series of interviews with Standard 8 (Grade 10) Integrated Studies students who, without exception, spoke in glowing terms about the value of the subject, its significance in the school curriculum and the positive way it had influenced their academic progress.
When I was at St Stithians Steyn Krige was only deputy headmaster and there was no talk of "Integrated Studies", but I think I experienced some of the precursors. On one occasion we had a double period of Scripture and Geography, taught by Steyn, and the one flowed seamlessly into the other with no break, with wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of topics, including the end of the world and flying saucers. We rather smugly thought that we had put one over Steyn, and got away with turning a formal lesson into a bull session. But actually people paid far more attention in the bull session than they did in formal lessons. Perhaps that's where Steyn got the idea, or perhaps he already had the idea, and took advantage of a double period to try it out.
Reading the paragraphs above about Woodmead, it is also clear that by South African standards of the 1970s, Steyn Krige was a loony leftist. By American standards of the present day, he would be regarded as belonging to the Religious Right.
Steyn Krige's theology was Conservative Evangelical.
St Stithians was a Methodist Church school, and a Methodist minister would come and preach in the school chapel on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week the religious life of the school was guided and directed by Steyn Krige (a Methodist) and Derek Hudson-Reed (a Baptist) and they ran the informal evangelistic "hot gospel" sessions on Sunday evenings, which usually ended in an "altar call", and the voluntary Bible study and prayer meetings where we learned far more than in formal "Scripture" classes. Steyn was a Pre-Trib Pre-Millenniallist, though he never used those terms and I only came to understand what they meant several decades later. He taught the "rapture", though he never used such fancy theological terms, and it was only much later that I discovered the theological meaning of that as well.
So when I was at school, Steyn Krige was showing that it was possible to be politically liberal (and even radical) while being theologically conservative, and I'm sure that those aspects of his life were pretty well integrated too.
And I suspect that this may have been one reason why he was sacked. School boards, and even the boards of church schools, tend to be composed of hard-headed businessmen (who, it would be hoped, would be good at raising money for the school), but to such businessmen both religious fanaticism and political radicalism would be anathema. But I'm guessing now -- that's why it would be good to know the real story.
I try to think of what my life might have been like if Steyn Krige had not influenced me as he did, and somehow I just can't imagine it.