28 April 2011

On holiday, Free State and Eastern Cape

Last Tuesday we left Pretoria for a holiday, travelling around seeing people and places. On the first day we drove to Clarens in nthe Eastern Cape, where the trees, especially the Lombardy poplars, were in their yellow atutumn beauty.

On Wednesday we drove to Graaff Reinet, to spent a couple of nights at Villa Reinet, run by Steve's cousins Nick and Ailsa Grobler. Thursday spent visiting the Valley of Desolation and Nieu Bethesda. where real ale was available.

The Karroo Ale is brewed on the spot, and one drinks it in a room that feels like something out of Tolkien, The sign of the pracninbg pony at Bree, perhaps.

Since Lion Ale was withdrawn from the market by South African Breweries some 20 or more years ago, no ale has been available, until these guys at Nieu Bethesda starteds brewing this -- on the l;eft is Honey Ale, which Val had, and the right Karroo Ale, which I drank.

25 April 2011

Afriforum versus Juju: a storm in a teacup

This blog has moved. If you want to comment on this post, see here.

For the last week or so the media have been dominated by Afriforum's vendetta against Julius Malema, the leader of the ANC Youth League.

This blog has moved. If you want to read the full post or to comment on this post, see here.

Farewell to MyBlogLog friends

I suppose it's time to say goodbye to my MyBlogLog friends.

MyBlogLog provided the little widget that showed who had visited my blog, and, if they were themselves bloggers, provided a link back to their blogs. I've spent many hours surfing blogs that way -- following someone who visited my blog, and then someone who had visited their blog and so on. If one wanted to visit a blog again, one could join that blog's "community" and have a list of them, so it was a form of social blogrolling. You could have your own blogroll, but also see other people's blogrolls on MyBlogLog, and I've found many interesting blogs in that way.

But that's all ending on 21 May, since MyBlogLog was taken over by Yahoo, and Yahoo have announced that they are killing it on that date. So on the right is the "in memoriam" of what the MyBlogLog widget used to look like, frozen in time, something to remember it by, a preserved piece of blogging history.

Tomorrow we'll be going away on holiday, and by the time we get back, MyBlogLog will be gone, so the time to say goodbye is now. I may add some of the blogs I used to visit on MyBlogLog to my regular blogroll, but I'll probably forget some of them, and so will tend to lose touch. While we are on holiday I may ocassionally manage to post something at a wireless hotspot, but the places where one accesses those are not usually conducive to blog surfing.

There is also BlogCatalog, which was similar to MyBlogLog, but it was revamped about six months ago, to make it more difficult to navigate and use, and most of its functionality has gone. I'll leave the widget up while it still works, but I won't click through to the BlogCatalog site much, because even though some of the stuff is still there, it's very difficult, if not impossible to find any more.

Perhaps some of my MyBlogLog contacts will still visit my blogs, but I'll never know if they have done so unless they leave comments. So farewell, Adios, Hamba kahle -- maybe we'll see each other again, maybe not.

23 April 2011

Book projects nearing completion

I’ve been trying to get a lot of stuff finished before Holy Week, and going on holiday in Bright (Easter) week.

One of the projects at last nearing completion is the book African initiatives in healing ministry, which I’ve been working on for more than 10 years, and my coauthors have been working on for considerably longer. I’ve just signed off the final page proofs, and the book should be available in the next couple of months.

The core of the book is a study of healing ministry in four churches in Zimbabwe, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, and two African Independent Churches, each of which has developed a slightly different response to health and healing.

As if to emphasise the urgency of this, someone I knew died of Aids last week. But he would not face up to the fact of his illness, and insisted that someone had been trying to poison him. His mother persuaded him to visit a sangoma, and to stop taking antiretrovirals, and to take traditional medicine instead. A bad decision, but for which he might have been alive today. This is one of the important health and healing issues in Africa today, and to grapple with it we need to understand attitudes to health and healing in Africa, and also the different Christian responses, and the attitudes that lie behind those responses. Hence the need for the research that led to the publication of this book.

Another task was the final indexing and proof-reading of the doctoral thesis of my colleague in ministry, Fr Athanasius Akunda, with whom I’ll be serving at the Good Friday liturgies later today.

(This is a post I tried to post here yesterday, but kept getting "Illegal date/time format" messages, so posted it on my Khanya blog instead).

Is this thing working?

For the last day or so I (haven't been able to post anything on my Blogger blogs. because it keeps telling me "Illegal post time (format is: hh:mm AM/PM)"

And it's doing it again right now!

Since it enters the posting date/time automatically, it must be a fairly new bug in the software.

15 April 2011

Racial epithets

There has been an interesting discussion on the English usage newsgroup alt.usage.english recently. It started with someone asking whether African-Americans should be referred to as "Black" or "black" (with or without a capital "b".

I kept out of it at that stage, because I'm not American and certainly not a fundi on American usage.

But then it broadened, as these things inevitably do, and some people were asking about racial and ethnic terms in South Africa, and one person said he thought that Hindus in South Africa were called "black". And someone else said that the apartheid terminology was "Indians".

Well, no. "Indians" was the pre-apartheid terminology, and it was applied to Hindus and Muslims indiscriminately if they or their ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided into India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

One of the first acts of the apartheid government was to pass the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required that everyone have their population group registered, and this was done in the population census of 1951. Everyone was given a race (or population group) classification, which was one of Asiatic, Bantu, Coloured or White (all with capital letters, because they were official). Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis etc were all lumped together under "Asiatic". In the 1970s the canons of political correctness were changed, and Asiatics became Asians, while Bantu became Blacks.

Then there was this snippet, with my reply:

>Apparently "brown" is now used to some degree to refer to
>Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S.

It is also used as a self-description by some former so-called "Coloureds" who are still so called in official documents in our so called "non-racial" democracy (scare quotes deliberate, indicating two-finger gestures with both hands in viva voce situations).
The Population Registration Act has been repealed, yet the same racial epithets continue to be used, though they are no longer defined. Apartheid may be dead, but it still rules from the grave, and its legacy lingers on.

10 April 2011

Deceptively large

On the newsgroup alt.usage.english we have discussions about English usage and the variations in different dialects. One question that came up recently was the meaning of the phrase "deceptively large".

Some thought that it meant that a thing was smaller than it looked, while others thought that it meant that it was bigger than it looked.

What do you think?

09 April 2011

A quick introduction to Russian culture

This week I scanned some photos of my first trip to Russia in 1995 into my computer, and posted some on Facebook, and thought I'd post some here too.

I flew from Johannesburg to Moscow on an Aeroflot IL62, an interesting experience. When I'd spend two years studying in the UK I returned in 1968 on a Vickers VC 10, and the two aircraft looked very similar. Both had four engines in the tail, and I was delighted to be able to fly in both.

The flight, via Togo and Malta, lasted 17 hours, and my friend Andrei Kashinski met me at the airport with his friend Maxim Zapalski, who had a car, and, since it was my first visit to Moscow, they took me straight to Red Square. Andrei had arranged accommodation for me in the guest house of the Danilov Monastery, where he was supervisor of the rebuilding programme. He insisted on feeding me, though I had just had a substantial breakfast on the plane. He phoned another contact, an online friend Sergei Chapnin, who arranged for me at attend a youth conference at a parish in Klin, about 80 km north-west of Moscow along the St Petersburg road. The priest, would be coming to Moscow, and could give me a lift to Klin.

So back in the car with Andrei and Maxim, and they took me to a flat in a block in north-west Moscow. Guests were expected, but I was the unexpected guest, and the first to arrive. The flat was tiny, but crammed with books on every wall It turned out to be a welcoming party for Alexei Kurenkov, who had just returned on the plane from New York, where he was studying at St Vladimir's seminary. And there was a fantastic feast -- my third of the day, and though I had lost track of the time it felt like mid-morning. It was July, and I'd flown from winter to summer, from short days and long nights to long days and short nights.

So my first practical lesson in Russian culture was within an a couple of hours of arriving. Russians eat a lot, and you can't visit a friend without being fed. My fellow blogger Clarissa describes this and other aspects of Russian culture in her blog Clarissa's Blog: What You Need to Know About Your Russian-Speaking Friend:
A Russian-speaking party is very different from the Anglo-Saxon party, for example. For one, nobody stands while trying to balance the plate and the glass. Everybody sits around a big table. Regardless of the economic situation of your Russian-speaking hosts, food will be abundant and will consist of several courses with many food choices. Nobody will ever ask you eat off a paper plate and drink out of plastic cups. The table will be beautifully and properly laid, there will be beautiful table linens and dinnerware.

And that's the truth. The more people you visit, the more you eat. If you visit a lot, you can end up having six or seven meals a day.

In South African culture, or should I say South African white urban culture, if you are going to drop in to see someone unexpectedly, you try to avoid doing so at meal times, so that your hosts don't feel obliged to feed you. In Russia, there is no avoiding meal times, because meal times are whenever guests arrive.

It took me a little while to get used to this. I once made the mistake of thinking I could pop in to say hello to someone before jumping on the Metro to go to a service at a Cathedral. No chance of that. Fortunately the Cathedral was full and anyway in Orthodox services people arrive late all the time.

Rural black culture in South Africa is still a bit like that. You can drop in to say hello to someone and then when you want to go they say you must wait, because someone has gone out to catch a chicken to slaughter for a meal. The amazing thing (to me) about Russia is that that kind of attitude has persisted in urban culture, even in big cities like Moscow.

07 April 2011

Alien wasps abduct ants

Now here's an alien abduction story with a difference -- Alien Wasps Abduct, Drop Ants to Get Food:
Looking for a way to banish ants from your picnic? According to a new study, wasps have developed a unique method for dealing with the pests: airlifting them away from the food.

In an experiment done with wild insects, scientists in New Zealand recently witnessed the common wasp, an alien invader to the island country, competing for food with the native ant species Prolasius advenus.

When a wasp approached a mound of food swarming with ants, the wasp would pluck an ant from the pile, fly a ways off, and drop the still-living insect from its jaws.

04 April 2011

Trains and individualism

You find some really bizarre stuff on the web but this is one of the strangest I've come across yet - on trains and individualism.

Dagny Taggart Wept - NYTimes.com:
the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

This comes from an article by Paul Krugman Diminished Individualism Watch - NYTimes.com commenting on something he wrote earlier about what someone called George Will wrote here: Will: Why Liberals Love Trains - Newsweek. I have no idea who George Will and Paul Krugman are, and I came across this series via theMiss Eagle Daily, a digest of tweets from a fellow blogger I follow on Twitter.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for George Will's doubts about the usefulness of high-speed trains. The Gautrain is due to come into operation later this year, and it has been a pretty expensive exercise. It is supposed to provide high-speed connections between Johannesburg, Pretoria and the airport.

But I cannot help remembering an earlier high speed train attempt, the Metroblitz of the 1980s. It required an expensive upgrading of the existing line between Johannesburg and Pretoria -- the one via Germiston. But by 1995 the train had been abandoned, and the coaches were lying, forlorn, vandalised and abandoned in a siding at Koedoespoort.

This picture shows the interior of the vandalised coaches. But a couple of years later most of the bodywork had gone too.

We rods on the Metroblitz once, when we had just bought our present house, and had to visit lawyers in downtown Johannesburg to sign some transfer documents. It seemed easier to go by train than look for parking in Johannesburg. But to get the Metroblitz we had to take a train from Sportpark in Lyttelton to the centre of Pretoria, because the Metroblitz did not stop at Sportpark. It went non-stop from city centre to city centre. It took 45 minutes, as opposed to the hour-and-ahalf of the regular trains.

Perhaps the Gautrain will improve on that. At least it has intermediate stops, and in places that people actually want to go to.

So yes, I have my doubts about high-speed trains.

The real problem with George Will's article is not his doubts about the economic viability of high-speed trains; it is the ignorant ideological claptrap that surrounds it. As Klugman points out: Dagny Taggart Wept - NYTimes.com: "But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad."

And then there is Will's Orwellian doublespeak of the "war is peace and peace is war" variety, when he ascribe to liberals a desire to destroy individualism and promote collectivism. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history would know that the rise of liberalism cannot be separated from the rise of individualism. Perhaps George Wills is not a stupid man, but if he expects people to buy this "wet is dry and dry is wet" argument, he is either remarkably ignorant, or expects his readers to be.


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