30 September 2011

Steyn Krige, RIP

One of my old school teachers died this week.

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.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Lowry

David Knowles
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.

27 September 2011

Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company's carbon project | redd-monitor.org

Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company's carbon project | redd-monitor.org: A report released yesterday by Oxfam International documents how more than 22,000 people in Uganda were evicted to make way for a carbon offset tree plantation established by a London-based firm called New Forests Company. While this is not a REDD project, it provides an early warning of how “standards” and “safeguards” can be willfully ignored.

New Forests Company (NFC) was formed in 2004. The company now has projects covering a total of 90,000 hectares in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda. Investors in the company include the Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, which in turn is backed by the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation and the European Investment Bank. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) owns about 20% of NFC and has a seat on its board. These investors have social and environmental standards to which NFC should comply.

Oxfam’s report, “The New Forests Company and its Uganda Plantations”, can be downloaded here (pdf file 208.7 KB). The story has been reported in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and on AlJazeera.

'Nuff said.

24 September 2011

Aids, Atheists, Condoms and Catholics

Some prominent British militant atheists, like Polly Toynbee and Richard Dawkins, have accused the Roman Catholic Church of being responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Africa from Aids, because of their teaching that the use of condoms (and other forms of contraception) is morally wrong. This, claim these atheists, has caused millions of Africans to die from Aids.

Hat-tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: Is the Pope Responsible for the Deaths of Millions of Africans? for the link to this article:

Shameless Popery: What Impact Does Catholic Teaching Have on AIDS in Africa?
This is a common meme. Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins used this same argument to argue that the Catholic Church was in the running for the major institution that “most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world.” So let's tackle this argument head-on: Is the Catholic stance against contraception responsible for the AIDS-related deaths of millions of Africans?

Well, why not see what the data says? After all, these are the same atheists who routinely crow about being interested in real knowledge and reason, rather than faith. So let's put their faith to the test. If the Catholic Church's teachings against condoms are causing millions of Africans to contract AIDS, we should expect to see heavily-Catholic countries with far higher AIDS rates than their non-Catholic counterparts. So I decided to compare the rates by region and by country.

The post is quite interesting for the comparative statistics and graphs it gives for the rates of Aids infection, though one could perhaps argue for a long time over the accuracy of the statistics and the reasons for the differences.

But there is really no need for these statistics to show that the arguments of the atheists are not merely wrong, but also remarkably stupid.

I think it is generally accepted that Aids is a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). And one of the main reasons for its spread is sexual promiscuity.

The Roman Catholic Church, however, teaches that sexually promiscuous behaviour, such as fornication and adultery, is morally wrong. If using a condom is regarded as morally wrong, so is fornicating.

So why should people like Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee assume that people who have chosen to ignore their church's teaching by committing adultery will suddenly start observing it by not using condoms while doing so?

They might well not use condoms while committing adultery, but it is highly unlikely that their church's teaching on contraception will influence them when they have already chosen to ignore its teaching on adultery.

Or perhaps they think that Tom Lehrer's satirical song about the Irish lass who murdered members of her family one by one is a serious piece of sociological research:

And when at last the police came by
Sing rickety-tickety-tin
And when at last the police came by
Her little pranks she did not deny
To do so she would have had to lie
And lying, she knew, was a sin, a sin
Lying, she knew, was a sin.

Blood Red: book review

Blood RedBlood Red by Quintin Jardine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read a couple of Quintin Jardine's books before -- whodunits featuring Edinburgh detective Robert Skinner. This one, though still a whodunit, is quite different in characters and setting. Instead of the capital of Scotland, it is set in a small village in Spain. The protagonist is not a policeman but a single mother expatriate who gets caught up in events surrounding a murder, and finds herself a suspect.

It is obviously part of a series featuring some of the same characters, and perhaps if I read the others, I might know more about them, and I found this one sufficiently readable to want to read one or two of the others, if I see them.

And on second thoughts iot has more connections with Scotland than appear at first sight, because it set in Catalonia, which probably has a similar relation to the rest of Spain as Scotland does to the rest of the UK.

View all my reviews

23 September 2011

Facebook Changes Again: Everything You Need To Know

I think Facebook began to go downhill when it introduced "apps" - third-party services of dubious usefulness that tended to be fragmented very often duplicated each other. And it looks as though this is going to get worse.

Facebook Changes Again: Everything You Need To Know:
Facebook apps need only ask permission once to share stories on your behalf. Although not as big a deal as the Timeline, this tweak may be one of the more controversial. Previously, apps had to ask every time they shared information about you in your profile. Now, the first time you authorize the app, it will tell you what it’s going to share about you. If you’re cool with that, the app never has to ask you again.

And that is why, if anyone invites me to something on Facebook, and it asks for access to information about my friends, I back out as quickly as possible.

The last one that caught me like that was a thing called "Branch Out", which at first sight looked a bit like Linked-In.

If you joined, it asked which of your friends you would like to work with in various things. I went through it, thinking it might provide some useful, or at least interesting information at the end of this. It didn't.

Instead, it spammed my friends with a thing on their Facebook "wall" saying that I had said something about them in "Branch Out". But if they went to "Branch Out" they would never find out what I was alleged to have said about them -- they would just be asked to answer a similar series of questions, the sole purpose of which was to collect information so that their friends could be spammed in turn.

In other words, the whole "Branch out" thing is a scam to collect information to spam people. And so it is with a lot of Facebook apps.

If you are one of my Facebook friends, you'll probably see something like this:

Steve Hayes is using BranchOut on Facebook | Facebook.
14 minutes ago

Actually I was trying to see if there is any way of opting out or resigning from "Branch out". There doesn't seem to be.

I'm always presented with several "apps" relating to family history and genealogy, which are interests of mine. Two of the most insidious are MyHeritage and Geni.com. I actually encountered both outside of Facebook, but they too are traps for the unwary. You can see my criticisms of MyHeritage here, and Geni.com here.

I like Facebook for keeping in touch with people I know -- friends and family, especially those who are far away or whom I havent seen for a long time. It's useful for making contact with long-lost friends and acquaintances or recently-discovered members of one's extended family. It's good for seeing what people are up to. But that's about it.

22 September 2011

South Africa Needs Thousands More and Better Teachers Every Year | NGO Pulse

South Africa Needs Thousands More and Better Teachers Every Year | NGO Pulse
An examination of teacher supply and demand leads to the conclusion that South Africa urgently needs more and better teachers and that the country’s teacher management and training system needs radical overhaul.

According to Ann Bernstein, CDE executive director: “Many existing teachers are poorly managed and are not teaching effectively. This is partly because many of them have been badly trained. In addition, SA’s teachers are often poorly utilised. For example, there is a shortage of maths teachers, yet many qualified maths teachers are not teaching maths – despite being willing to do so.”

These are among the key findings of a new report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), Value in the Classroom: The quantity and quality of South Africa’s teachers.

“South Africa’s education system is underperforming, especially in terms of maths and science results. When compared to many other developing countries, our expenditure on education is not being matched by results, and research shows decisively that good teaching is vital for better results,” said Bernstein.

Now they tell us!

That should have been one of the highest priorities of the first democratically elected government in 1994 -- the transformation of education.

Children who were born in 1994 will be leaving school at the end of this year, and the education of an entire generation of entire generation of school children has been compromised.

We knew that the education system was underperforming back then, and nothing was done, other than introduce OBE (Outcomes-based education) which makes hugely increased demands on teachers, who were for the most part undertrained and badly trained. Instead of introducing a new system, priority should have been given to training and re-training teachers, but "transformation" was merely a buzz-word in the mouths of politicians, and made little difference to the education system.

Certainly it needs overhauling, but we knew that back in 1994. Why have we wasted 17 years? And what hope is there that we won't waste the next 17 years too?

21 September 2011

Carpenter's Shoes: Fun with Technorati

I've just visited Technorati for the second time this month. and that's probably also for the second time this year.

This time it was the result of reading Carpenter's Shoes: Fun with Technorati
Technorati provide blog ranking stats (www.technorati.com) It's a bit of a mission to find out the rankings of the South African religion blogs that I am interested in, but there are a few that I check once in a blue moon. Blog rankings are based on what Technorati calls authority.

My previous visit to Technorati this month was because I got an email asking me to take part in a survey on the state of the blogosphere. Though the survey wasn't very satisfactory, if you are a blogger it might well be worth taking part in it, as the more who do so, the better the picture it will give of the state of the blogosphere, despite its flaws.

But Jenny Hillebrand's post on Carpenter's Shoes got me thinking about why I only visit Technorati once or twice a year, if that. A few years ago I used to visit the site three or four times a week.

What has changed?

Well the Technorati site has changed.

Back then it had stuff that interested me as a blogger. I could go there to find blogs and blog posts I was interested in. There used to be "Technorati tags", and one could click on them to find who was blogging on what topics. If I was going to blog on a subject, I'd look up tags related to that subject, and if those blogs said anything interesting on the topic, I'd link to them.

Now, however, you can't find stuff that you find interesting on Technorati. If you look at their tags page, for example, you can't search for tags. They only show you the currently popular tags for the last month. Do not expect Technorati to give you what you like. You WILL like what Technorati gives you and tells you to like. There is a kind of arrogant authoritarian flavour to it.

What is going on here?

I suspect that Technorati was started by a bunch of bloggers who enjoyed blogging and tried to produce a tool that would be useful to bloggers and that bloggers would like. And it grew a bit beyond their capacity and they needed a bit of capital injection to keep it going and growing.

But capital injection also means that the marketing people come in and have more say, and in their philosophy giving bloggers what they are looking for is no good at all. What is important is to steer bloggers towards the stuff that brings in the most advertising revenue for us.

So they modify it, and tell you:

Welcome to the
new Technorati.com

The blogosphere evolves and so do we.

And that means they make it harder to find what you are looking for, and easier to find the stuff that brings in the most advertising revenue for them. And finding what you are looking for, as Jenny says, is "a bit of a mission."

And that is why I now visit Technorati only once or twice a year, instead of three or four times a week.

19 September 2011

Naming computer programs

Why do people have to name computer programs or web services with ordinary words?

I'm referring to things like Ubuntu and Android, and one I heard of just today, a social networking thing called Diaspora.

If you are looking for web sites related to ubuntu, or androids, the search engines spew out many totally irrelevant posts.

Computer programs or web sites with unique made-up names have less danger of ambiguity and confusion, like Linux, Facebook, Orkut and the like. Ok, "twitter" is a word, but it's not one that people would really want to look up other than the web site.

15 September 2011

Daily Maverick :: Biko Lecture: Kentridge warns against government meddling in judicial affairs

Daily Maverick :: Biko Lecture: Kentridge warns against government meddling in judicial affairs:
The police officers responsible for Biko's death were not reprimanded. In fact, two received promotions. And despite Kentridge’s efforts, the inquest's verdict found nobody was to blame for Biko’s death.

The reason for the sham verdict, Kentridge reminded us, was that the independence of the apartheid judiciary was undermined by biased judges appointed by the state. At this point there was an almost audible intake of breath from the audience seemingly putting two and two together about recent events around the appointment of the Chief Justice.

Hat-tip to Carpenter's Shoes: Kentridge and Biko 2011.

'Nuff said.

Pro-choice and pro-life

At first sight, the use of the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" to represent opposing ethical viewpoints seems a little strange. Are "choice" and "life" necessarily opposed to each other?

When they first came into general use I assumed (on no evidence) that people settled on those terms in order to avoid negative stereotyping in debate. Saying someone is "anti-" something sounds so negative, and it is generally better to say what one was for rather than what one was against.

The illogicality of the implication that "choice" and "life" were antithetical was regarded as the price one had to pay to avoid negative stereotyping.

Or at least so I assumed thirty years ago when "pro-choice" and "pro-life" first began to be bandied about in public debate.

But now I am not so sure.

It seems from recent debates that they really are antithetical. There's this US Senator Ron Paul. I know nothing about him except that American libertarians (or at least those American libertarians whose blogs I sometimes read) seem to like him.

Now if there is one thing that seems to characterise American libertarians, it is that they are pro-choice. They seem to elevate choice to a supreme value. The essential freedom is the freedom to make choices (provided, of course, that you are rich -- but that is an unspoken condition).

And in a recent TV debate, it seems that "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are indeed antithetical. GOP Tea Party Debate: Audience Cheers, Says Society Should Let Uninsured Patient Die:
"What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn't have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? Are you saying society should just let him die?" Wolf Blitzer asked.

"Yeah!" several members of the crowd yelled out.

Paul interjected to offer an explanation for how this was, more-or-less, the root choice of a free society. He added that communities and non-government institutions can fill the void that the public sector is currently playing.

This has led to an interesting discussion in the Progressive Orthodox Christianity forum on Facebook, where I first learnt about the incident.

And in that discussion I suggested that if Christians were to adopt the "let them die" attitude, then the story that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) would have to be modified to the effect that the rich man, in Abraham's bosom, seeing Lazarus burning in hell, would say to him "it's all your fault -- you didn't have health insurance."

I've written about that aspect of it in more detail in other blog posts, so I won't repeat all that here.

But what I have discovered from this recent incident is that pro-choice and pro-life are indeed antithetical, and that "pro-choice" is mainly about the inalienable right of the rich and powerful to choose when those poorer and weaker than they are should die.

13 September 2011

I lose my zest to look my best when I read the daily news

The heading is a line from Jeremy Taylor's song Confession

Well one fine day I'll make my way
to 10 Downing Street
Good day, I'll say, I've come a long way
excuse my naked feet
But I lack, you see, the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest to look my best
when I read the daily news
'cause it appears you've got an atom bomb
that'll blow us all to hell and gone
If I've gotta die then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren't on?

If the daily news was depressing fifty years ago when Taylor composed his song, it's just as depressing today, though for a somewhat different reason.

Back then it was depressing over things that mattered, like atom bombs.

Now it is depressing over things that don't matter so much.

Back then there were important issues at stake, life and death issues, one could say.

Now it's just about the personalities of politicians jockeying for position.

Three years ago Julius Malema was saying he would kill for Jacob Zuma. Now it seems there's nothing he'd like better than to step over Zuma's dead body and into his shoes.

The two big stories for the last fortnight have been Julius Malema's disciplinary hearing for bringing the ANC into disrepute, and Zuma's appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice.

But what are they about really? are there any really important issues at stake?

I don't think so.

I think that the central issue in both is Jacob Zuma's attempt to curb ambitious or potential rivals, to surround himself with yes-men and distance himself from potential no-men. Thabo Mbeki was accused of doing the same thing when he tried to slap down and discredit Zuma. Zuma bounced back, and perhaps Malema will too.

About the appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice, I think veteran journalist Allister Sparks put his finger on it when he wrote BusinessDay - ALLISTER SPARKS: At home and abroad:
Zuma has bypassed Judge Dikgang Moseneke, the deputy president of the court, whom the legal profession is almost unanimous in regarding as the obvious choice, and named a highly controversial figure instead.

Why? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the president has a personal prejudice against Moseneke. This is the second time he has bypassed the most respected legal mind on the court, who also happens to be in pole position for the senior job.

Moreover, it is believed Zuma approached three other judges before turning to Mogoeng, and that all declined the job. Could it be they, too, recognised Moseneke as the obvious candidate and were uncomfortable about accepting it ahead of him? If that is the case, it means Moseneke didn’t even figure among the top four potential candidates in the president’s mind. In fact it means Zuma has blackballed him.

One is left to assume this is probably because Moseneke is not a member of the African National Congress (ANC), but was once a protege of the ANC’s great rival, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

If Moseneke were Chief Justice, there might be the danger that he would exercise an independent judicial mind, and not be swayed too much by the interests of the ruling clique of the ruling party. It wasn't so much that Zuma was desperate to have Mogoeng, but rather he was desperate not to have Moseneke.

That's what's so depressing about the daily news nowadays. It's not about big issues any more, but only about the ambitions of politicians to retain or grab power, and the shifting alliances as they do so. Oh yes, Julius Malema talks of nationalising the mines and the spirit of the Freedom Charter. But it might be more in the spirit of the Freedom Charter if the RDP were to be revived. Nationalising the mines might have been a viable option in 1955. All it would achieve now would be to saddle the taxpayers with nearly fully amortised assets, and the liabilities of solving the problems of acid water. So I suspect that is just empty rhetoric to try to gain support.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Steve Biko. Would it have made a difference if he had lived? Or would have have immersed himself in a medical career, as Dikgamg Moseneke has immersed himself in his legal one?

Are todays politicians like children dressing up in their mothers' clothes, going around saying "I'm the king of the castle, you're the dirty rascal"? Trying to walk around in shoes several sizes too big for them, shoes once worn by people like Oliver and Adelaide Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu?

When I read the daily news it certainly looks like it, but are the media telling us the truth?

Perhaps we should follow Bishop Nick Baines when he says, "And most of us have a life to live and work to do and will leave this media game (for, entertaining though it obviously is, that is all it is) to the media."

Is it just a media game, part of the entertainment that the media provide for the masses?

Bishop Nick writes (Game off | Nick Baines's Blog) about a different setting, a different group of newspapers, and a different group of people, but perhaps what he writes is true of the media here too.

And, as he says, "Despite the accurately vague language that is used in these reports, it is sadly inevitable that many people will think them credible. I don’t blame the writers for amusing themselves in this way, but the readers need to ask themselves a few questions."

12 September 2011

Quid pro quo

Several US politicians have been demanding that Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted and jailed for murder in the Lockerbie plane bombing, be extradited to the USA for a new trial. For exmple Bolton: State Dept Was 'Complicit' in Release of Lockerbie Bomber:
Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton says if Libyan rebels want to show “gratitude” to the United States for helping to oust tyrant Moammar Gadhafi they should extradite the man accused of masterminding the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Bolton also told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren Monday he believes the State Department was “complicit” in Abdel Baset al-Megrahi’s release from Scottish imprisonment.

Bolton thought that trial by Scottish law was not enough, because Scotland did not have the death penalty.

I agree with John Bolton.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi should be extradited to the USA for a second trial, and he should be sent there the moment that William C. Rogers III is extradited to Iran from the USA to be tried for a similar crime.

After all, it is most appropriate, according to Bolton's standards, since Iran has the death penalty.

11 September 2011

I'm getting tired of this

I'm getting tired of this.

For the second day in a row I've lost all Internet access from my desktop computer. No mail, no news, no web.

It works fine on my laptop, which runs Windows 7. It works fine on my wife's laptop, which runs Windows Vista. But on my desktop, which runs Windows 32-bit XP, it's stopped two days in a row. In order to be able to write this, I had to do a System Restore back to the state on 8 September, and it took half an hour to find where among the forest of menus one could do that (but if it continues much longer I'll be able to go straight there - practice makes perfect). But doing a System Restore every day takes about 10 times longer to shut down and boot up, as it shifts files into and out of archives.

Oh, and it's also works fine on the same machine when I boot it into Linux Fedora 14, so it's not a hardware problem, or an ISP problem, and the mice haven't chewed through the Ethernet cable.

It's a Windows problem.

And the only change I've made to the system since Sept 8 was to install an update of Avast antivirus.

Is anyone else having similar problems?

Any ideas what might be causing this?

09 September 2011

Media, Schmedia

Bishop Alan of Buckingham writes some interesting stuff about social media in the vein of Mashall McLuchan, extending McLuhan's thoughts to things McLuhan never knew, and writes about the uses of Facebook, Twitter and other things. Like him, I haven't quite worked out what to do with Google+, but I like what he says about blogs: Bishop Alan’s Blog: Media, Schmedia:
Where does that leave the humble Blog?

As what people used to call a commonplace book, with occasional comment, it’s unbeatable. I need to invest more in it. Some of the comment threads it stimulates turn are fascinating, and it becomes a focus for a form of community. It’s brought great joy this summer to meet a few of the people whose comments I most respect and like. That and the occasional diary or policy reflection does make it worth some effort.

I think his analogy with the commonplace book is spot on. That is certainly what the best blogs have mutated into. In that way they have combined two different ideas into a third, so the word "blog" is something of a misnomer.

Ten or fifteen years ago years ago there were blogs and there were online journals. There were web sites devoted to journals and journaling, and it became quite a popular pastime. Then there were web logs, which soon got shortened to "blogs" - people kept lists of web sites they visited. Some early blogs were just that - lists of links to sites and nothing more. But then people began to add comments on the sites they visited, and so blogs became a kind of review, and people began readingt the treviews of others to see which sites to visit. In some cases the reviews expanded and became articles on their own, sometimes without any reference at all to another web site.

And so in blogs today the idea of the journal and the idea of the web log have merged into what is, in effect, an electronic commonplace book. Indeed, one of the blogs that I like to read is Notes from a Common-place Book.

So what is a commonplace book?

Wikipedia puts it rather well, I think. Commonplace book - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

"Commonplace" is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek topos koinos, see literary topos) which means "a theme or argument of general application", such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of such sayings, such as John Milton's commonplace book. Scholars have expanded this usage to include any manuscript that collects material along a common theme by an individual.

Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interests.

Not as personal as a journal, not as impersonal as a web log, the electronic commonplace book has a unique value.

I'm nore aware of this since I'm trying to rebuild my blogroll, after the demise of social blogrolling sites. MyBlogLog was culled by Yahoo! last May. Blog Catalog is waiting for the last rites. And another one spectacularly imploded last week, causing me to delete all my blogrolls.

So now I've lost touch with most of the blogs I liked to read, and am beginning to reconstruct the blog roll, which makes me think of why I liked reading certain blogs. Not that I necessarily agreed with the authors; very often I didn't. But the ones I liked most were usually the ones that were like commonplace books.

Bishop Alan also has some interesting things to say about other social media. He sees Twitter as useful for news, and perhaps it is, if it has links attached. But I find I just do not have the time to wade through dozens of Tweets, so I like the "Daily Paper" digest of the Tweets of the people I follow that have links in them. Its selection sometimes is not brilliant, but it is usually adequate. If you haven't seen it, mine is here.

One thing that Bishop Alan hasn't mentioned is mini-blogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous. If Twitter is microblogging, then Tumblr and Posterous are mini-blogging, and if you want a tool for liveblogging at a conference or such, please please please use one of those rather than Twitter. The contextless linkless tweets that emanate from such events are the height of frustration.

But back to the theme of the commonplace book. A blog is useful as a public commonplace book, but not everything I want to keep is really of much interest to anyone other than me, and there is also software for that. One of the best I have found is askSam. I've heard that Microsoft One- Note can do similar things, but it doesn't come with documentation so I don't know how to use it, but askSam might even be a boon to busy bishops.

03 September 2011

Linux fundis -- please help

After years and years of struggling I finally managed to install Linux on my computer -- Fedora version 14.

Now, I thought, I'll be able to play with some of that open source software people keep telling me about. So, following instructions, I tried to install the genealogy program Gramps.

All seemed to go well, and easier than I expected, until I got stuck here:

It popped up a window showed me a list of programs that need to be updated and other programs that need to be installed because of the dependencies. It is expecting me to tell it something, but I can't see what, because the instructions or whatever are hidden below the bottom of the screen, and there seems no way of moving that window up, or scrolling down, in order to be able to see what it wants me to to.

Are their any Linix (Gnome) fundis who can help me to force that window up so I can see what is hidden tantalisingly out of site below the edge of the screen? You can click on the screenshot to enlarge it.

What do other Gnome users do when they see that? Surely someone must have managed to install a package with dependencies and updates?


End of blogrolling, end of blogging?

This morning I got a message about a new comment on my blog, so I went to have a look at it, and my blog vanished. There was just a message saying that the page could not be displayed and I must contact the administrator.

The comment I tried to look at was from "Anonymous", so, thinking it might contain some malicious redirecting code, I deleted it.

But still the blog would not display. I went to the Blogger forums and found that others had had similar problems, which appeared to be caused by blogrolling widgets. They either had bugs, or were being hacked, it seemed.

So I deleted all the blogtolling widgets.

But now my blog is isolated.

It was bad enough when MyBlogLog disappeared, and BlogCatalog was "improved" so that it became almost useless. But I still had blogrolls of blogs I liked to read, and I could see when they were updated, and so could read new posts on them.

But now I've had to remove them too.

Someone really does seem to be out to kill blogs and blogging.

I liked to read "The poor mouth", but can't remember the URL, and the same with lots of other blogs.


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