20 September 2012

This blog has moved

This blog has moved to http://ondermynende.wordpress.com/

The foisting of the new user-hostile Blogger interface on users was the last straw. 

In addition, it seems that a lot of the old functionality has been lost. Wordpress was always better for posting graphics than Blogger, but now it seems that the graphics capabilities of Blogger have been reduced still further, so it doesn't seem to be worth continuing.

You'll find most of the posts and comments at the new site, so if you had a link to this blog and want to continue it, please change it to the new one:


I started this blog towards the end of 2005, when Blogger was much easier to use than LiveJournal, though I still occasionally post stuff at LiveJournal.

Then when they began messing around with Blogger on a previous occasion a lot of people moved to WordPress, and I started another blog on WordPress, just to be on the safe side. It was called Khanya, and it has now become my main blog, as it gets about twice as many readers as this one.

For many years I postyed to both blogs, depending on the requirements of the post, and the relative strengths of Blogger and Wordpress -- each one had its own strengths and weaknesses.

But the latest changes are just too much, and it doesn't seem to be worth continuing.

I'll leave this blog here for as long as Blogger is willing to host it, because there are links from other blogs and web sites, and I'd prefer not to break them. Broken links are one of the annoying things about the web, and I don't want to add to them.

But I won't be adding any new posts here.

19 September 2012

Overdone stuff on Facebook

On Facebook recently there seems to be a proliferation of pictures to illustrate sayings, slogans or cliches.

It tends to be the opposite of the "Occupy" movement -- 99% are bad or meaningless, and a waste of bandwidth. The words themselves aren't worth much, but on the principle that "a picture is worth a thousand words" people seem to try to give the impression that something is meaningful when it is actually meaningless by wrapping it up in pictures.

Now perhaps this is all a matter of personal taste. I've occasionally "shared" a picture that I thought was true or witty, and some people have then liked my "status" (status? as in married or single? HIV positive or negative? Employed, unemployed or retired? Refugee? Asylum seeker?).

Here are some of the sillier ones I've seen recently.

The only message I get from this one is that atheists are just as self-deluded as the rest of humanity. Whoever produced this conveniently ignores (and obviously wants to persuade other people to ignore), things like the Butovo Massacre.

And then there is this one.

At one level, the message is much the same as the previous picture, but in a sense it is worse.

The sentiment expressed is true enough, and I have no problem with that. The problem is not with what is said, but rather with what is not said, because the implication is that those, like the person pictured, to whom the saying is attributed, who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of national pride and imperial hegemony will, of course, bring a true and lasting peace.

Bah, humbug!

Like the first picture, it tells you half the story, and tries to get you to ignore the other half.

The next one, however, is the worst of the lot.

The one of Hillary Clinton shows something she said and shows a picture of the one who said it.

But in this one, the words don't matter, because I'm pretty sure the silly-looking git in the purple jacket and bow tie never said it at all. I've seen his face on Facebook dozens of times, with all kinds of opinions attributed to him, some of them utterly contradictory.

At least with Hillary Clinton you know who she is, and you know that she is part of a government in whose name have been done many of the things that she ascribes to the name of religion.

But who is the bloke with the purple jacket and the bow tie? And does he actually know what opinions have been ascribed to him by countless thousands of Facebook posters? They are so contradictory that he can't possibly agree with them all. And why should his supposed endorsement make the sentiment expressed any more acceptable?

I say nothing about the sentiment itself -- in this case the content is unimportant. It's just a question of why this guy's endorsement is thought to be important. It's about as silly as those old advertisements in the 1940s and 1950s that showed an actor in a white coat endorsing a particular brand of toothpaste.

On the other hand, I did think that this one was funny, and probably would not have worked so well without the pictures.

Which just goes to show that it's probably all a matter of taste, after all.

15 September 2012

Dog with a problem

Val was moving bricks from one side of our ruin to the other, but our dog Samwise kept making things difficult by trying to bite the wheelbarrow wheel.

Then he dropped his ball into the wheelbarrow.

"There it is, throw it for me."

Val ignored it and kept loading the bricks, and Samwise got more and more agitated as his ball disappeared under a pile of bricks.

Eventually Samwise could take it no more, and started moving the bricks to retrieve his ball. Once he had it, he retired to a safe distance and looked repoachfully at those who would not throw his ball, but hid it under brioks.

10 September 2012

Postponing the inevitable

I see the message about the new Blogger interface has been reduced from months to mere days. How dreadful!

The old Blogger interface will be removed in the coming days.

We've made many improvements to the new Blogger interface. Learn more

You can upgrade to the new interface at any time.

I did try the new interface, and found it much harder to use, much less versatile. So I went back to the old one. So I'm not switching to the new one until I have to.

Aftermath - book review

Aftermath (Inspector Banks, #12)Aftermath by Peter Robinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book began pretty well, and I thought it was one of Peter Robinson's best. Perhaps that was because i had not read one for a long time, or had read too many Scandinavian whodunits in between. It felt real and believable.

It's more of a police procedural than a whodunit, since you have a fair idea of who did it in the first chapter. It's more a matter of gathering evidence and tying up loose ends, and the story does not lose interest.

It's only in the last couple of chapters that the story seems to come unpicked, with a kind of deus ex machina ending. If the ending had been better, I would have given it four stars, but it felt as though the author had lost interest at that point and just wanted to finish it off quickly.

View all my reviews

06 September 2012

Does Facebook's targeted advertising work?

We are told that Facebook uses our profile information to show us ads that are most likely to be interesting to us. How Facebook Ads Work - Social Ads Tool:
You are what you Like

Facebook Ads are targeted according to your Facebook Profile information: Your age, location, education, relationship status, interests like favorite movies, music and much more are available to advertisers that can access to aggregate data and reach the right audience for their ads.

Depending on their goals and the product that they are advertising, advertisers can set a targeting filter to select which group of people will see their ad. This makes it possible to focus on or target the people most likely to be interested in the product, amongst the 500 million worldwide Facebook users.

Having read that in several places, I expected that the ads that I saw on Facebook might, just possibly, be suited to the kind of demographic group I'm in. But this is what showed up...

Scuba diving, at my age? Living inland?

Shy women? I'm married.

Little black bottle coloured green? What's to like?

Looking for a partner? If I were single or divorced and 25 years younger, I might be, but given who I am, this is way off target.

The BBC recently decided to see how effective this was: BBC Finds Badly Targeted Facebook Ads Don’t Work. No Kidding. | TechCrunch:
the BBC tested out Facebook advertising by running a campaign for the Facebook page of a fictitious small business called VirtualBagel. The investigation was headlined “Facebook ‘likes’ and adverts’ value doubted”. During the week over 3,000 people Liked the ads even though the company doesn’t exist and simply shows you a picture of a bagel. The ‘investigation’ is partly a reminder that Facebook still has issues with fake profiles and Astroturfing, but is also a simple re-stating of the fact that you get what you pay for and if you put up a dumb ad targeted too widely you’ll waste your money.

And there are all those advertisers who ask you to "like" their ads or their produces. Perhaps that means you will see more of their ads, but even more important is that "like" means "Please send me spam".

Is Bravenet going the way of Geocities?

Bravenet, a public web hosting site, appears to be set to follow Geocities into oblivion.

Someone asked me for a reference to an academic article I had written and put on the web, but on trying to find it, found a message to say that the site had "expired". As he quipped, it "gave up the ghost in the machine."

I checked, and yes, our web site at http://hayesfam.bravehost.com had indeed disappeared. There was a note saying that one could contact "technical support", but there is in fact absolutely no way to contact "technical support". Though the Bravenet company is still taking money for websites, and still apparently offering new free web sites, technical support is non-existent, and it seems that many other web sites they had hosted have also "expired".

I started my first web page on Geocities back in 1986, and gradually added material, mainly academic and other articles, but then Geocities was taken over by Yahoo, which was the kiss of death for it. It gradually deteriorated and became increasingly unreliable. When it disappeared for two months in 2006, I transferred most of the material on it to Bravenet.

The Geocities site came back, but after the hiatus I stopped maintaining it, and maintained the Bravenet site instead. Finally, a couple of years ago, Yahoo! pulled the plug on Geocities altogether. But, unlike Bravenet, they did give some warning, and some public-spirited people stepped in to rescue much of the material on Geocities.

The main problem is that, especially in the case of academic articles, there are links from other sites to those articles, and the links are now broken -- see here, for example. See also Vanishing Articles.

You can find some of our material in the following places:
One of the articles someone asked about, that was shown as "expired" was Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery. Well, you can find it on some of those sites.

Meanwhile, I'll try to transfer the material that was on Bravenet -- Bravehost -- Bravesites to another site, but that will take some time, and of course it won't fix the broken links.

04 September 2012

Diet, fasting and the environment

I've read a number of blog posts recently about eating and drinking and the environment, and this one suggests that we should drink water to save water The Green Phone Booth: Drink Water!

Well, I have to admit that in addition to drinking plain water, I also drink rather a lot of tea and coffee, though one thing I try to avoid is bottled water, unless it has some flavour added.

I've previously blogged about the strange habit of many people of drinking bottled water, which is expensive, unhealthy, and environmentally unfriendly. Quite a lot of the bottled water that is sold is just tap water anyway, so why not drink it straight from the tap?

Blogger Clarissa gives some reasons for not drinking it straight from the tap here Does Anybody Drink Tap Water? | Clarissa's Blog -- she thinks tap water tastes horrible, and she finds that in every city she has ever lived in.

I have been warned not to drink tap water in some cities -- Mosc0w and Athens come to mind -- but I've been living in Tshwane for 30 years and I don't think I've come to any harm from drinking the tap water yet. The tap water is quite safe and palatable, as it is in most South African cities.

I agree with Clarissa on one point, though. I know some people who are forever banging on about the environment, but even when they are at home they still drink bottled water.

And then, from the same source as the recommendation to drink tap water, comes this The Green Phone Booth: Four Small Changes to Make in Your Daily Life:
Eat less meat. Meat production is a major contributing factor in climate change - in fact, livestock produce as much as 18% of the planet's greenhouse gases. Meat production also uses far more water than growing plants. I'm not a vegetarian, but I have taken steps to reduce my meat consumption. Even one veggie meal every day can make a big difference, and you may even get the chance to try some new recipes while you're at it.

And one of the commenters on that recommended this Meatless Monday | one day a week, cut out meat, which appears to be a new secular fast. Orthodox Christians, of course have meatless Wednesdays and Fridays.

So if the secularists fast on Mondays, and the Christians really observe the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, perhaps meat consumption could be reduced.

But there is also a downside to this: School Districts Take on 'Meatless Mondays' to Support Healthy and Humane Eating Habits:
Schools are in a unique and powerful position to influence students' eating habits for a lifetime to come. These pioneering schools recognize that responsibility, and the many benefits Meatless Monday offers for our health, for our planet, and for animals.
In a country where "separation of church and state" is elevated to a sacred principle, why are they imposing the secular fast on Christians? Should they not be providing the option of Meatless Fridays for Christian pupils? And would it make any difference at all to the secularists if they fasted on Fridays instead of on Mondays -- other than that that would not provide them with an opportunity to stick it to the Christians? This seems to be a case of outright religious discrimination.

But some of the arguments for this need to reduce meat consumption seem a bit odd to me. Why Meatless?:
The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
I've seen other arguments that cattle farts produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, but the same would apply to any other animals on the planet, including wild animals and human beings. If we follow that line of reasoning, we should exterminate all animals, wild and tame, to save the planet -- but to save it for what?

A better argument that I have seen, and one worth considering, is from a book I read recently The long road home: book review | Khanya:
Americans now wanted to eat more meat, and it paid their farmers to feed their cereals to the livestock needed to produce that meat, rather than to human beings. For the first time in history, high meat consumption in one major country would distort agricultural output all over the world.

If you want to be environmentally friendly about meat, then insist that the meat you buy comes from grass-fed and not corn-fed/grain-fed cattle.

And one last little tip: at public events caterers have learnt to be sensitive to religious diversity and provide kosher and halaal food, but most of them have never heard of nistisimo. Perhaps they had better learn it now, and provide nistisimo food on Wednesdays and Fridays for the Christians, and on Mondays for the secularists who observe Meatless Mondays. Oh yes, and even the secularists can Google for "nistisimo recipes".

01 September 2012

Marriage Equality

In Brazil a civil union between a male and two females had been described as "unprecedented". In Brazil perhaps, but not in the world. They need look no further than our esteemed president.

Unprecedented civil union unites Brazilian trio - CNN.com:
  • In Brazil, a notary has granted a civil union to unite a man and two women
  • The public notary who approved the status says they have the right to be a family
  • Others say it is a violation of the constitution and destroys families
  • The notary is now studying unions for another trio and for a quintet
Now that is the kind of thing I have been advocating for years.

Not that I have been advocating that particular form of ménage à trois, but rather that the state should get out of the marriage business and, if it sees the need for it, register various kinds of social and domestic partnerships without perpetuating the illusion that it somehow creates marriages or has the power to define marriage. See here Notes from underground: The State should get out of the marriage business.

I have suggested that the state can register such partnerships, whatever form they take, in the same manner as it registers births and deaths. The state should no more try to create marriages than it tries to create babies. If it treated the registration of births in the way it treats marrtiage in most countries, we would have decanting factories, as in Aldous Huxley's book Brave new world.

30 August 2012

A puzzle for international financiers

The mind boggles...

Let's face it, the Brits and Australians can't even pronounce "boerewors", so what makes British boerewors uniquely Australian?

Or is that something that only international financiers can tell you?

It reminds me of something that happened 40 years ago, back in the old South Africa.

A friend of mine was called up by the army for a military camp "somewhere on the border", to guard against all the "terrorists" who were trying to infiltrate from Zambia and points north.

And one night they were given for supper a tin of

Bull Brand Braised Steak
Specially produced by
Damara Meat Packers Ltd, Windhoek SWA
for the
Cold Storage Board of Zambia
PO Box 1915, Lusaka, Zambia

Now that was at a time that the border was being guarded against people sneaking in from Zambia, and at a time that Zambia was boycotting South African goods (and by extension goods from South West Africa), and had been doing so for years.

But I don't think it beats the uniquely Australian British boerewors.

Or is it kangaroo boerewors, with kangaroo meat being exported to Britain for turning into sausages?

I suppose that would make it uniquely Australian.

29 August 2012

The facility: book review

The FacilityThe Facility by Simon Lelic

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Kafka meets Orwell in contemporary England" says the blurb on the cover.

Well, not quite, but one can see how they arrive at the comparison. Simon Lelic simply extrapolates some trends in British society and politics into the near future, and the picture he gives is generally quite believable. All it needs is the detention-without-trial legislation that some British politicians desperately wanted, but didn't get.

Franz Kafka and George Orwell wrote about dystopian futures in which there are extreme changes in every aspect of society. Simon Lelic writes about a society that is deceptively normal.

In that respect this book more closely resembles A Dry White Season by Andre Brink. For the first 50 pages of The Facility I thought it was about a Britain that resembled South Africa c1968, after the passing of the Terrorism Act. It was a Britain transformed into Vorster's South Africa.

After the first 50 pages the plot is slightly different, and there are a few plot holes that make it fall short of Kafka, or Orwell, or Brink, but it is still a pretty good read. And scary, too. This is something that could happen, and something that some British politicians are on record as wanting to happen.

See, for example, here Notes from underground: The swing to fascism in the USA and the UK, when the British media lauded Tony Blair's attempts to turn Britain into Vorster's South Africa as "the moral high ground". And The Facility shows how very easily that could happen.

View all my reviews

24 August 2012

Is Putin's "secret weapon" going to blow up in his face?

More contrasting views from Russia and the West. According to Time the Orthodox faithful constitute Putin's new "secret weapon". Russia: Pussy Riot and Putin’s Religious Backing | World | TIME.com:
The prison sentence handed down last week against three members of Pussy Riot, a group of activists opposed to President Vladimir Putin, will restrict a lot more than the personal freedoms of the young women convicted. Judge Marina Syrova sentenced them to two years in prison for offending the faithful of the Orthodox Church by performing a crude anti-Putin song near the altar of a Moscow cathedral in February. While many were offended by the gesture, the judge’s verdict has put the state’s seal of approval on the righteous anger of one community, and that anger is proving hard to control.

But according to a Russian source something different is going down Russian Orthodox to Form Party | Russia | RIA Novosti:
Autocratic Russia and the Union of Orthodox Citizens are planning to register an “Orthodox” political party, Izvestia daily reported on Thursday.

The organization’s founders said they see Russia as a monarchy with a special role for the Russian Orthodox Church and the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia as the country’s spiritual leader.

Does that mean Putin is going to leave his own political party, and join this new one?

22 August 2012

On treating miners as human beings

Did 44 people have to die to get people to take striking miners seriously? Are they being taken seriously even now? Are they even regarded as human beings? Writing Africa - Tinyiko Sam Maluleke's Website: Did Human Beings Die At Lonmin's Marikana Mine?:
If the workers are human, government will engage in more than the knee-jerk, poorly thought-out proliferation of publicity stunts aimed at appeasement of investors and mineworkers as well as the saving of face. If they are human, perhaps Lonmin might just realise that expectations of an improved wage, better working and living conditions might just be valid and even reasonable. If the miners are human then Shanduka may wish to contribute to the improvement of the wages and living conditions of the miners instead of waiting till the workers are dead to contribute to funeral costs.

There have been calls for a week of mourning.

Back in the days of hippies and student power there was a saying, "Don't mourn! Organise!"

Mourning, lamenting, wailing and hand-wringing are mere self-indulgent exercises if there is not an immediate and tangible improvement in the wages and living conditions of the miners, as Tinyiko Maluleke points out so eloquently in the blog post I have quoted above.

And, from the point of view of the investors and bosses, even if you don't want to treat miners as human beings, but rather, to use that dehumanising phrase, as "human resources", it still makes sound business sense, as this article points out: Lonmin needs to pay up to avoid another Marikana showdown - Telegraph:
Since the drillers walked out on August 10, all Lonmin’s managers have done is bang on about the strike’s illegality. Sure, they may have the law on their side. But look at the cost. Thursday’s massacre, at the hands of the police, came after a misguided ultimatum that strikers return to work or be sacked.

Even after the bloodshed, there have been two similar ultimatums, rather undermining the sincerity of the condolences with which they were interspersed. Depressingly, here was the main message today from Mark Munroe, executive vice president for mining: “By 7am tomorrow we expect workers to return to work. After that Lonmin has the right to fire them.”
If they say that the mine can't afford it, and that the workers' demands are unreasonable, perhaps they should look to see if they can afford the salaries of the grossly overpaid bosses, whose incompetence and intransigence led to the crisis in the first place.

And even Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu leader, was banging on about the illegality of the strike.

For those who want to have a purpose-built liturgy for such occasions, here are some suggestions:

Jer 22:13-14 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.

Look at the houses of the mine bosses, and the houses of the rock drillers, and weep.

Pro 28:8 He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.

Pro 28:11 The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out.

Pro 28:15 As a roaring lion, and a raging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.

Pro 28:17 A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit; let no man stay him.

Pro 29:7 The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.

19 August 2012

Making political capital out of the miners' strike

Violent clashes between police and striking miners at the Lonmin mine at Marikana in North-West Province, and between members of rival unions, have left 34 dead (at the last count) and many more injured. This has shocked most people in South Africa. After 18 years of talk of transformation, can we say that anything as been transformed from the old South Africa? Are the police that shot striking miners at Marikana in 2012 any better than those who shot protesters against the pass laws at Sharpeville in 1960? What has been transformed?

In such circumstances it's all to easy to join the blame game.

Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in all this?

But the more you learn about what happened and is happening there, the more you realize that it's not at all simple. There are no good guys and bad guys. There's good and bad in all. So before pronouncing judgement, it is wise to learn a bit more about the issues and what is at stake, and what led to the strike. One fairly good article on this topic is here: Daily Maverick - Beyond the chaos at Marikana: The search for the real issues.

I'm sure that it doesn't tell the full story, and things have moved on since then, and much of it has been overtaken by subsequent events, but it is worth reading anyway.

Can this be compared with Sharpeville?

Yes and no. The Sharpeville protesters were unarmed, and most were shot in the back; the Marikana strikers were armed, though most with "traditional weapons". One can hope that there will be a Commission of Inquiry, and that it will not suffer the same constraints as the Sharpeville one.

The miners, we are told, are striking because they want an increase from R4000 a month to R12500 a month. How does R4000 a month compare with 1960?

Back then, when we decimalised our currency, and exchanged pounds shillings and pence for Rands and cents, underground miners used to earn between 15c and 35c a shift. That was roughly about R4.00 a month. If they are earning R4000 a month, that is 1000 times more.

Of course back then the Rand was worth a lot more than it is now. Again, at a rough guiess, I'd say it was worth 100 times more. A Rand today is worth what a cent was worth back then.

How do I measure?

In 1961 an omelet and chips in a downtown Joburg restaurasnt cost 35c, as did a plate of mince and rice. You'd be lucky to get the equivalent for R35.00 today. A bottle of Coke or Fanta or Sparletta cost 5c, as did a cup of coffee or a daily newspaper. You'd be lucky to get any of those for R5.00 today. A hamburger cost 15c -- equivalent to the daily pay of the lowest paid miners at the time (the miners did get food in the hostels).

So if you multiplied the pay by 100 it would be R400 a month today, not R4000. But I don't know if the miners of today who are earning R4000 a month are still getting free board and lodging. And even those who got free board and lodging on the job back then often had families at home elsewhere. So if they had a wife and three children, they could feed themselves on a quarter of a hamburger each per day.

So are the miners justified in striking? Are they justified in aerming themselves? Are they justified in killing those they regard as scabs? Are the police justified in shooting them?

I don't know. If such questions are to be answered, let a judicial Commission of Inquiry look into it.

But there are some things about this that do seem more unequivocally bad -- people who are not directly involved trying to cash in and make political capital out of it.

For example, there's one of those photos doing the rounds on Facebook, which is both disingenuous and malicious.

Why is it bad?
  • The farmers were killed by criminals; the miners were killed by the police who are supposed to be catching the criminals.
  • The miners were killed on one day; the farmers were killed over a long period.
  • If one is going to make a thing about occupational groups, then one might as well acknowledge that the criminals picked on the farmers because the thought they were rich; the miners killed by the police were striking because they were poor.
So that picture is intended to spread disinformation, and to encourage the uninformed to spread disinformation. It's not that murdering farmers is not a bad thing, but rather that those who are ostensibly campaigning against it are trying to promote their cause by using thoroughly dishonest pictures like the one above.

Another example of someone trying to cash in on the situation to make political capital is here: Malema at Marikana: 'Many will die' - Mail & Guardian Online:
Julius Malema wasn't pulling punches, when he spoke to several thousand Marikana mineworkers on Saturday. President Jacob Zuma should step down, he said, as should Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

ANC National Executive Committee member Cyril Ramaphosa came in for a drubbing as well – with the implication that he was partially responsible for the deaths of the strikers killed this week.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were sellouts, he said, and police had no excuse for using live ammunition.
Julius Malema seems to see this as his ticket out of the political wilderness.

Not your average Scandiwegian whodunit

Between Summer's Longing and Winter's Cold (The Fall of the Welfare State, #1) Between Summer's Longing and Winter's Cold (The Fall of the Welfare State, #1) by Leif G.W. Persson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Over the last 10 years or so Scandinavian crime fiction has come to dominate the genre in the English-speaking world. Many of the books in the genre have a gloomy boozy divorced (or about to be) detective as protagonist. This one is different.

There is no protagonist. We are given glimpses into the lives and loves and hates of members of different branches of the Swedish police as they are touched in some way by the apparent suicide of an American journalist who fell from the 16th floor of a student residence.

The book is not well-written; in many ways there seems to be too much irrelevant detail. Describing in detail how a single protagonist spends Christmas is one thing; doing it for five or six different characters seems to be overdoing it. Some of the problems in the writing may be problems in translation rather than in the original. The writing sometimes seems stilted.

One of the more disconcerting things is that it takes one a while to work out the period the story is set in. The book was first published in 2002, so one expects it to be at around the turn of the century, but the technology doesn't fit -- there are no personal computers, only typewriters. No cell phones. The technology used would seem to date it to about the mid-1970s, but the story also concerns the investigation of a possible plot to assassinate the Swedish prime minister, which links it to the assassination of prime minister Olof Palme in 1986. Though the prime minister in the book is not named, there are sufficient resemblances in the story to make that a possible period as well.

One of the minor characters is a South African student with an improbable name, and there were stories of South African connections to the assassination of Olof Palme, and in Totale aanslag by De Wet Potgieter this is presented as historical fact. As an aside (this is not mentioned in the story, and is rather a personal anecdote), in 1988 my wife worked in a factory and the office next door to hers was used by a company that was indirectly linked. Sometimes she could not help overhearding conversations in the next door office, and she got the impression that they were involved in some shady business -- money laundering, illicit diamond buying, or something like that, and possibly the assassination of the Swedish prime minister. At about that time we had a break-in at our house, and the house was thoroughly ransacked, cupboards and boxes were emptied, but the only things that were taken were the cheap loudspeakers for our radiogram, which had been carefully unscrewed from their cabinets (the cabinets themselves were left behind), and some food. We had the impression that the thieves were looking for something very specific, which they didn't find, and the usual things that thieves took, cameras, computers etc., were left behind.

But, to get back to the book, in spite of its deficiencies, it was an interesting story, even if it was not well-told, and ultimately worth reading.

View all my reviews

13 August 2012

Olympic Ideals: Truer, Deeper, More Humble

In spite of all the commercialisation, the professionaslisation and the patriotisation, something of the true Olympic spirit survives, as these pictures show.

Hat-tip to Red Horse Down: Post #310 - Olympic Ideals: Truer, Deeper, More Humble

And three Russian gymnasts (Afanasyeva, Komova and Mustafina) give thanks for their achievements in the Games:

12 August 2012

Cowboys & Aliens

I laughed when I saw the trailer of Cowboys & Aliens (2011) - IMDb the other night. It looked like yet an other B movie to watch for a few laughs when there is nothing else on TV.

But actually it didn't turn out to be quite as bad as that. District 9 it wasn't, but it wasn't bad as a piece of no-brain-strain entertainment. And in the end we didn't even laugh at it. Though it was a blending of genres, unlike District 9 and Avatar, it didn't satirise either genre. It just combined them.

And it was the combining of the genres that seemed to make it worth blogging about. When I saw the trailer it seemed as if it would be anachronistic and a kind of "jump the shark" thing. Westerns are set in the 19th century, and space aliens are set in the mid-20th century, and that's where they belong, in human culture anyway. But if you think about it, if there are intelligent races from other planets or other galaxies, whiy should they visit Earth just at the time when we, or some of us, are culturally ready to think that they might? They could conceivably visit earth at any time. One could just as easily make a movie about Vikings and Aliens, or Aztecs and Aliens, or Julius Caesar's Alien wars. And then there are people who are convinced that the prophet Ezekiel was describing an alien spacecraft in Ezekiel chapter 1.

06 August 2012

Pussy Riot: crossed wires

I've been reading many differing opinions about Pussy Riot, the punk rock group whose members are on trial in Moscow after inturrupting a church service in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral with a political song.

Reading different opinions is one thing, but reading different facts is another. For example the US branch of Amnesty International is claiming that it was a case of mistaken identity, and that the three facing trial are not the same people as the ones who sang the song in church. Take Action Now - Amnesty International USA:
Three young women are being detained by Russian authorities for allegedly performing a protest song in a cathedral as part of a feminist punk group "Pussy Riot".

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich were arrested in March 2012 and charged with "hooliganism". If found guilty, they could be jailed for up to 7 years.

The three women deny any involvement in the protest although even if they took part, the severity of the response of the Russian authorities would not be a justifiable response to the peaceful - if, to many, offensive - expression of their political beliefs.

Tell the Russian authorities to drop all charges and release them!
Where did Amensty International get their information from, or are they deliberately trying to mislead people?

Forty years ago I got thousands of Christmas cards from people all over the world, thanks to Amnesty International. It must have kept the Security Police quite busy back then. But in this case they seem to have come up with "facts" that are known only to them, and that don't seem to be known even to the defendants in the case.

For instance, according to a report of the trial in Rapsi News:
Defendant in the Pussy Riot case Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has called the "punk prayer" performed in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior an "ethical mistake," stressing that she had no intention of offending anybody, the Khamovnichesky District Court told the Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI/rapsinews.com).

Tolokonnikova's defense attorney Violetta Volkova read out her response to the indictment. The defendant noted in her address that her conduct had only political and artistic motives.
How could they have had "no intention of offending anyone" by their conduct, if, as Amnesty International maintains, they weren't even there in the first place?

There have been wildly conflicting accounts of what they are charged with. According to one news report they are charged with "disorderly conduct", for which, we are told, they could face up to seven years in prison.

According to another report
On February 21, five girls wearing brightly colored balaclavas stormed the altar of downtown Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral to perform an anti-Putin protest song entitled, “Holy Sh*t.”

Prosecutors have maintained that the Pussy Riot members "inflicted substantial damage to the sacred values of the Christian ministry…infringed upon the sacramental mystery of the Church… [and] humiliated in a blasphemous way the age-old foundations of the Russian Orthodox Church."
Other reports hav said that they sang "Mother Mary, save us from Putin".

Since the incident has been widely publicised on YouTube, surely there must be some place, somewhere on the web, where what they actually sang is accurately reported?

I asked if anyone knew what they were actually sining, and my daughter found a link that provided a translation:

Punk-Prayer "Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away"


Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
Рut Putin away, put Putin away

(end chorus)

Black robe, golden epaulettes
All parishioners crawl to bow
The phantom of liberty is in heaven
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend His Holiness
Women must give birth and love

Shit, shit, the Lord's shit!
Shit, shit, the Lord's shit!


Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist

(end chorus)

The Church’s praise of rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
Go to class - bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, better believe in God instead
The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings
Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!


Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
Рut Putin away, put Putin away

(end chorus)

01 August 2012

The Absolutist: book review

The AbsolutistThe Absolutist by John Boyne

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm in two minds about this book. The plot and the story line are quite good, and it is a very sad story. But the manner of its telling is not so good. The basic story is set in the First World War, where two new recruits, Tristan Sadler and Will Bancroft, stike up a friendship of sorts at Aldershot training camp. But they have different perceptions and expectations of their relationship, which sours when they go to the frontline trenches in France.

Tristan survives the war, but Will doesn't, and after the war Tristan goes to see Will's sister in Norwich, to take her the letters she had written to her brother, but also to tell her something about the manner of Will's death, which had brought disgrace on his family.

But the narrative seems unconvincing.

The blurb on the front cover says, "If you loved Birdsong, you'll love this."

Well, I read Birdsong, and I did find it a good read. But The Absolutist falls a long way short of Birdsong. It is not nearly as well or convincingly written. Sebastian Faulks, who wrote Birdsong had a feeling for the time and the place, and managed to give a convincing picture of what things might have been like during the First World War.

But in The Absolutist the time and place are fuzzy. I got the feeling that there was anachronistic slang on just about every couple of pages, and the dialogue felt as though it belonged to the 1980s rather than 1916 and 1919. For example, I can't imagine people saying, in 1919, "We were an item". Or perhaps they did, and I'm just not aware of how old that idiom is, but there are a number of other idioms that seem anachronistic, and this detracts from the story. If the dialogue is unconvincing, then one wonders how accurate the descriptions are.

I suppose such anachronisms are one of the pitfalls that writers of historical novels need to be careful to avoid, and John Boyne seems to fall into too many of them, and too many of them seem too obvious. An author does not need two write all dialogues in contemporary idiom, which might require too much research. But then it is best to avoid slang, and to write in more neutral English. Some writers, like Georgette Heyer, don't hold back from contemporary slang, but the more successful of them go to some trouble to make it seem authentic.

The book might be much more enjoyable to people who have no interest in history, and don't care if the atmosphere and setting are not authentic -- just badly-painted stage props for a story. And the story is quite good, and holds interest to the end. It's just a pity that it wasn't told better.

View all my reviews

31 July 2012

Recurring issues

Tip of the day: if you can't work out what to do to stop an issue from recurring, you probably haven't found the root cause.

Someone posted that on Twitter recently.

Two issues that I find keep recurring are abortion and homosexuality.

Wherever I look in online forums people keep discussing them ad nauseam and ad bored-I-am.

American Evangelical Christians seem to be obsessed with the former, while Anglicans everywhere are obsessed with the latter.

And it is indeed quite probable that I have not found the root cause.

If anyone has found the root cause, please let me know.

29 July 2012

Bling bling, it's bling they say

Blogger Clarissa recently wrote this account of the popularity of religious symbols among the Russian nouveau riche The Russian and His Gymnast | Clarissa's Blog

So I’m snoozing on the beach, right? And I hear a man’s voice that says in Russian, “Come on, girls, stop climbing the railing. What will people think? That everybody walks on the footpath like normal people, and only the Russians have to act all weird? Remember that people see us as representatives of our country abroad.”

Obviously, I was eager to see this defender of the image of Russians, so I opened my eyes. I saw a family: a man, a woman, and two precious little girls who were, indeed, trying to climb the railing. The man was a huge, burly Russian in minuscule shiny speedos that were smaller than even those worn by aging Italian gentlemen. He was also wearing a gold chain that was as thick as my finger. I have very small, dainty fingers, but still just imagine a chain like that.

Hanging from this chain there was a huge gold gymnast. A gymnast is a big golden cross that the Russian nouveau riche used to wear to show off their recently acquired wealth.
You have to see it, though, to believe it.

I was aware that something was going on 20 years ago, when our parish in Johannesburg was visited by Bishop Viktor of Podolsk. He was brought to South Africa by the Russian Chamber of Commerce to bless their new office in Johannesburg. I was mildly surprised that they would bring a bishop all that way for such a thing, and attributed it to inexperience. They weren't familiar with chambers of commerce after 70 years of Bolshevik rule, and were probably even less familiar with bishops. But they all seemed to be wearing securocrat suits just like their South African counterparts. The bling must have come later.

Hat-tip to my friend Plamen Sivov who provided the link the the picture, and also some more explanation:
The whole gymnast thing comes from a popular Russian joke about the "new Russians", the low-culture nouvelle riche. The story goes like this: a "new Russian" goes to a jewelry store and asks for a golden cross that would fit his social status. The store keeper brings a big golden crucifix. The rich guy looks at it and says: Take down the gymnast, wrap up the rest.

...and the gymnast association is probably related to the finishing position of any gymnastic performance - with hands stretched out and all. Those mafia-type guys from the joke (we have them in Bulgaria too) were known to be closely related to the sports clubs in the early years of post-communist transition.
And here I was thinking that our tenderpreneurs were bad. They've got a long, long way to go to catch up with the Russians or the Bulgarians. Kitschy kitschy koo.

27 July 2012

Extremely loud and incredibly close: book review

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rather strange book about searching, pain and loss.

Oskar Schell loses his father in nthe attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, and finds a key among his father's posessions and spends the next couple of years searching for the lock that it opens. His grandparents have also suffered loss, and lose each other, and the ability to communicate. Letters are written and never delivered, and the paper that fails to communicate are symbolised by the fluttering leaves of paper bursting out of the twin towers when the planes hit them, and fuel for the fires that follow.

What more can one say? One has to read it to see what it's about.

View all my reviews

26 July 2012

Bloated job titles and other examples of diseased language

There's an outfit called TGIF (Thank God It's Friday, in case you didn't know) that holds weekly Christian discussion meetings in the Seattle Coffee Shop Brooklyn Mall at 6:00 am on Fridays. I've been to a few of them when the topic has interested me, and I get the weekly notices of topics to see whether they may be of interest. This week's notice had some comments on inflated job titles, which I thought were worth sharing:

Job title inflation: It started when the guy who fixed my washing machine introduced himself as the Maintenance Engineer, only to be trumped by the plumber who became a Drain Surgeon. Run-of-the-mill assistants are now Facilities Administrators, 1-person organisations are headed by CEOs or Presidents, and Churchianity has seen a few (self-appointed?) Apostles of Faith and Anointed Prophets. The herbalists whose pamphlets you get given at the traffic lights are all "Dr" or "Prof", except for the one who promotes himself as "Almighty Healer, Spirit from the Mountain and the Head of all Healers Herbalists in Africa" (sic).

Job title stuffing has resulted in descriptors like Chief Executive Twitterer, Manager of Deep Web Research, Central Interactions Architect, Lifestyle Design Coach, Person-Centred Transition Facilitator, Global Troubleshooter, Head of Knowledge Creation, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, and Dynamic Paradigm Orchestrator. Soon, movers and shakers might become (respectively) Location Change Management Specialists and Arthymic Oscillation Technicians. [1]
While on the topic of language and usage, I also recently saw this on Facebook:

And while we were on holiday recently we stopped for lunch at Maxi's Cafe in Bethal in Mpumalanga, and there we saw this sign.

I used to know that as the "greengrocer's apostrophe", but Maxi's isn't a greengrocer.

Oh well, at least I'm not seeing "a waist of time" as much as I used to see it online in the early 1990s, so some things are improving.

As the saying went in the early 1990s, "Put knot yore trussed inn spell chequers."

16 July 2012

Weird words: closure

I first learnt the meaning of the word "closure" as a student, in the context of student debates. When something was being discussed in a formal meeting, and a lot of people were repeating a lot of similar points, someone would say "I move closure", and the chairman/speaker could put it to an immediate vote. If it was passed the chairman asked all those who wished to speak to raise their hands, and made a not of their names, and then no one else was allowed to speak. Closure meant that debate was closed.

More recently a new meaning has appeared.

When someone dies unexpectedly, and in an newsworthy manner, journalists ask how their family or friends how they feel, and they usually say, "We just want closure."

This is duly reported by the media, and everyone seems to be satisfied.

If the bodies of those who were disappeared by the police during the apartheid era are recovered and reburied, journalists ask their family and friends how they feel, and they say "Now we have closure."

This, too, is duly reported by the media, and everyone is satisfied.

I was never quite sure what this closure was, but clearly it was something people had or did not have when someone else had died.

Now here's a new datum, which sets the cat among the pigeons: By Reader Request: Closure | Clarissa's Blog: A reader asked the following question:

Is closure an American phenomenon? Do other cultures just say “piss off” and go on their merry ways?

And Blogger Clarissa replies that "closure" is indeed an American phenomenon, and is unknown in Russian or Ukrainian culture.

That leaves me wondering whether Ukrainian funerals are seen as an opportunity to tell the "dear departed" to "piss off"?

12 July 2012

Liberalism and old liberals revisited

Yesterday, while on holiday in Pietermaritzburg, we visited old friends Colin and Mary Gardner, whom we had not seen for a long time, and one of the things we talked about was a proposal by Paul Trewhela for a new history of the Liberal Party of South Africa, and also Paul Trewhela's notion that the Liberal Party ought to have gone underground in 1968, instead of disbanding when the Improper Interference Act became law.

(the picture shows Val Hayes, Colin & Mary Gardner)

I've blogged about Paul Trewhela's proposals before, so I won't repeat everything that I said there, but Colin Gardner came up with a new slant on it. He was a member of the national executive of the Liberal Party at the time the decision was made to disband, and he said that they had considered ignoring the Improper Interference Act (which prohibited multiracial political parties) and just carry on as if nothing had happened, and decided not to. One of the reasons for that, that I had not been aware of, was that some Liberal lawyers, who were in touch with some National Party lawyers, said that that was what the government was expecting, and if it happened, they would declare the Liberal Party a "white" party, and prosecute the black members for contravening the Improper Interference Act. Basing political decisions on what was, in effect, idle gossip over tea at a Law Society meeting, or something similar, may seems strange, but that was one way of gaining intelligence of the intentions of the government.

And as for Paul Trewhela's idea, which he still seems to be pushing, that the Liberal Party ought to have, or even could have, gone underground, it would have been impossible, for reasons I have already noted (Notes from underground: A liberal underground in South Africa), namely that, having operated openly and publicly for 15 years, all active Liberals were known to the SB (Security Police), and any such activity would have been reported to them immediately by their izimpimpi.

Colin Gardner also remarked that one of the things that followed the passing of the Improper Interference Act, though not necessarily caused by it, was the rise of Black Consciousness. At first the National Party government welcomed BC, because they saw it as their policies bearing fruit, but it didn't take them long to realise that it was independent of their control, and not at all what they had in mind by "own affairs". Steve Biko's declaration of himself as a "non-nonracialist" could initially be mistaken for what the National Party government had in mind when it passed the Improper Interference Act, but eventually they learned that it wasn't.

Colin also thought that Steve Biko was using "non-nonracialism" as a tactic, and would, if he had lived, become nonracialist, though whether he or his ideals would have survived in the current South African political climate might be questionable.

Steve Biko didn't have a good word for what he called "white liberals" (which continues to be a swear word in South Africa), but I suspect that what he had in mind when he used the term "liberal" was Nusas (the National Union of South African Students), rather than the Liberal Party. And, as have pointed out in Notes from underground: A new history of the Liberal Party?, the word "liberal" is still misused, and still misunderstood, as much as, if not more than, it was 45-50 years ago.

04 July 2012

Facebook email switch continues causing problems - latimes.com

About 10 days ago Facebook showed its utter contempt for its users by changing their e-mail addresses without warning, and without even telling them afterwards. Perhaps it's time to jump ship. Facebook email switch continues causing problems - latimes.com
After causing a raucous week by changing users' listed email addresses to ones ending in @facebook.com, Facebook's switch is causing yet another embarrassment for the company and problem for many users.

The email switch has gone beyond the walls of Facebook, according to various users, who are saying that the change is affecting the emails listed in their contact books.

Across the Web, people are saying the emails listed for many of their contacts in their address books have been replaced by @facebook.com emails.
One of the things that got me using Facebook was that it enabled me to keep in touch or get in touch with old friends by finding their conact information, and they could get in touch with me by finding my e-mail address. But Facebook went and destroyed that functionality by replacing my real e-mail address with a bogus one, because the @facebook.com address that they replaced it with doesn't even work. I've sent a few test e-mails to it, and none of them have shown up on Facebook.

OK, I've changed my bogus e-mail address back to my real one, but most of my friends haven't, because most of them probably don't even know that Facebook has changed their addresses.

So Facebook have destroyed their own most usefulm function.

But it's worse than that, they've changed the address books on lots of people's mobile phones, if they were linked to Facebook, and as a result people are losing important e-mail's because Facebook have hijacked their address books. Perhaps that should be the subject of a class action lawsuit, sueing Facebook for interfering with people's mail.

The Facebook Email Fiasco Might Be Worse Than We Thought (Updated)
CNET reports a multitude of user complaints after the big obnoxious switch-over, citing claims that Facebook is "changing their address books while intercepting and losing unknown amounts of e-mail." Some Facebookers are seeing messages (inadvertently) sent to their @facebook accounts vanishing into nothing, while others have noticed every email address in their phone overwritten by Facebook:

So maybe it's time to bail out of Facebook.

What is the alternative?

Well there are things like Linked-in, and Google+, and for the academically incline, academia.edu but perhaps it's time for Google to dust off their little-known and well-hidden alternative to Facebook: Orkut.

They don't show it any more in the Google menus.They don't publicise it at all, but it has thousands of users in Latin America and Asia, where it has been very popular.

So how about joining Orkut now, and then leaving messages on Facebook asking all your Facebook friends to meet you there?

I'll be visiting Facebook a lot less frequently now, but I'll still let my Twitter tweets be posted on Facebook -- I just won't see many comments that people make on Facebook.

30 June 2012

What's trending on Twitter?

This morning I noticed that the "trending" box on Twitter had changed, and was now "tailored" for me, and these were, preseumably according to whatever algorithm they are using, the trends that I would be interested in watching:

Most of those meant nothing to me, so I changed it back to "South Africa, Johannesburg", which is what it was before.

I wonder what the difference is.

The one "tailored" for me lacks #RASA but includes Bar9, neither of which mean anything to me. I have heard of Tom Cruise, but have little interest in him, and have heard of MNet, but have little interest in that either.

Perhaps I'm just too out of touch with popular culture, even when its especially "tailored" for me.

Am I missing anything important?

28 June 2012

Blog and browser popularity

A couple of months ago I read in a news report that Chrome had overtaken Firefox and Internet Explorer as the most popular web browser. Not among readers of this blog, it hasn't!

Here are the latest stats for web page browsers used to view this blog:

A couple of months ago I also noticed a surprising increase in the number of readers of this blog apparently coming from Ukraine.

I thought that there might have been one or two posts that appealed to Ukrainian readers, but no, the trend has continued.

At first I thought it might be because I sometimes blog about the Orthodox Church, and there are Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and Russia, but I actually blog far more about the Orthodox Church on my other blog, Khanya, which had only five Ukrainian reader in the last month -- there were many more from other countries with substantial numbers of Orthodox Christians, such as Greece, Bulgaria. Serbia and Russia.

Visitors to Khanya blog for 30 days ending 2012-06-28

I haven't seen any comments from anyone from Ukraine to say why they like reading this blog rather than the other.

Or perhaps Blogger's statistics are just screwed up.

27 June 2012

Ridiculous beliefs

I came across this when someone retweeted it on Twitter, with the comment "Ridiculous beliefs".

I agree.

The problem is, though, that I cannot recall ever meeting anyone who actually believes that.

Can you call something a "belief" if no one believes it?

If any member of the Orthodox Church said they believed such things, they would, sooner or later, be told that they were heretical. The whole thing is heretical, and every single clause is heretical.

The Roman Catholic Church, I should think, would have a similar reaction. I don't know if they still have the Inquisition, but they'd revive it pretty quickly if lots of people started saying that they believed that stuff.


Well, it's a bit harder to say with Protestants , because there are so many different varieties of Protestantism that it is conceivable that there is some sect, somewhere out there, that might believe one or more of those things. But, as I said, I haven't actually met anyone who believes them.

But, in one sense, that would be beside the point. It's obviously a caricature, and it's not meant to represent any beliefs that anyone actually holds.

So what is it meant to represent?

What is it supposed to communicate, about what, and to whom?

Perhaps we could try to deconstruct it.

Here are some of my attempts at deconstruction. If anyone can come up with other ideas, please add them in the comments.

1. My first thought is that it is a piece of "feel good" propaganda by militant atheists for militant atheists. By caricaturing Christian beliefs, and presenting them as ridiculous, they can feel smug and superior when comparing themselves with Christians. So it enables them to feel good about themselves. Some may be aware that it is a caricature, others may not, but that doesn't matter much, because the main point is to feel superior.

2. The second one is a little more sinister. This is that it is propaganda by by militant atheists for ordinary don't care atheists, for agnostics, for anyone who is not a Christian, and who is ignorant about Christianity, with the aim of getting them to reject Christianity because they reject a caricature. It is possibly calculated to stir up hatred for Christians. In other words, it is a caricature verging on "hate speech".

But in deconstructing it, we need to go a bit deeper than that.

Where did the caricature come from? What is its source?

A friend of mine, now a retired Anglican bishop, once wrote the following about Christian mission:
The Church exists for mission, not merely by words, but by representing Christ. Its work is not to convert, that is the Holy Spirit's work; ours is to preach (Mark 16:15). `Think not of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.' We bear witness, whether they hear or whether they forbear' (Ezekiel 2:5 etc.). Our task, and it is quite sufficient to keep us going without bothering about the consequences, is to make sure that if people reject Christ, they reject Christ and not a caricature of him, and if they accept him, that they accept Christ and not a caricature. If they reject, we remember that Christ got the same treatment - in fact half our problem is that we require something better than the success of Christ. We are not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) - we are not to try to `fix up' people's salvation against their will; `to try to force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea which did not appeal to it'. This is the way we seek Christ's success. The Church is not to be like a mighty army, pressing on regardless; it is more like a bloody doormat - a phrase which could even fit the Master of the Church himself, for it is only by the cross and precious blood of Christ that we are what we are, and he himself is the way on which we must tramp and maybe wipe our boots as we come to the Father (John 14:6). This is the kind of Saviour we represent.

And I suggest that in many ways the caricature has come from Christians themselves, from Christians who have done some of the things suggested in the paragraph I quoted -- tried to fix up people's salvation against their will, tried to make the living word of God into a mere idea, tried to present a caricature of Christ rather than Christ himself.

And that is in fact the original sin, because it goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve presented a caricature of God to the snake.

God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden but one. And the snake asks what God said, and Eve said that God had told them not to eat from that tree, but also not to touch it. That is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. An ogre God sounds more impressive than the true God. And right up till now there have been Christians who have presented an ogre God.

I was once at a church youth group where an evangelist was speaking. At the time there were some popular bumper stickers on cars that had a picture of a smiley face, and the legend, "Smile, God loves you."

The evangelist denounced these in no uncertain terms.

"That's wrong," he said. "God doesn't love you, he is very angry with you because you're a sinner. He was so angry that he killed His Son."

That was presenting an ogre God, a caricature. And one doesn't have to take the caricature a whole lot further to get to the statement, in the picture above, "I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself."

So I would say that if atheists want to reject Christ, then it is better that they reject Christ rather than that they reject a caricature of him, or even accept a caricature of him.

But it is much more important that Christians should not present a caricature in the first place.

25 June 2012

Weird requests for blog guest posts

Over the last few weeks I've been inundated with weird requests from people offering to write guest posts on my blogs. The following is typical of these requests:
I'm getting in touch with you because I'm interested in writing an article
for your blog. I came across your blog post khanya.wordpress.com while
writing for a website on hospitality management - specifically the field's
trend towards sustainability design. During my research, I've found that
incorporating green aspects to hotels, restaurants, and other service
industries has not only contributed to a healthier planet but in some
cases increased revenues.

Please let me know if you'd be interested in an article about both the
design and/or business aspects of sustainable design. Thanks, and I look
forward to hearing from you soon.
To begin with I just deleted them, but then they started sending me reminders, and asking for my response.

So I replied to a couple of these reminders, and asked for a sample of their proposed guest posts, and there was no response to that at all.

Has any one else been getting these offers?

Why would people offer to write a guest post, then remind you of the offer, and then when you take them up on the offer and ask to see the guest post, just not respond?

Are these people who have so much time on their hands that they have nothing better to do than waste other people's time be generating needless correspondence?

Or are they just harvesting e-mail addresses for the purpose of spamming? If that's the case, it seems a lot of trouble to go to -- to insert the name of the blog and all.

Or is it some kind of hidden scam, like the messages I used to get a year or so ago inviting me to a conference in some US city and in Dakar, Senegal?

After getting several of those, I tried to find more about what it was about by sending enquiries asking for further information about these conferences, but none was forthcoming. I assume that the conferences were all bogus, but I wonder why someone would go to the bother of sending out invitations to bogus conferences. They don't seem to be looking for any kind of response, because they never respond to the responses.

Another similar thing seemed to come from one persistent guy who called himself or herself Laure Norman. He said he had important information for me. Eventually I asked what the important information was, and the reply was that the important information was that there was important information. In the end I set up my e-mail program to simply bounce back anything received from that source, and I now see that my ISP (whose addresses this "Laure Norman" impersonated) is now marking it as spam at the server, so it never reaches me.

What puzzles me about all this, though, is what's in it for the people who do it. They're not asking for money, so there is no obvious scam involved. Does it give them some kind of satisfaction to waste other people's time and bandwidth?

24 June 2012

Luddite theology

Last week I was at the Joint Conference of academic societies in the field of Religion and Theology, and I was struck by the almost complete absence of comment on the conference in social media, or in other electronic forums.

Only last year one of those learned societies, the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS) held its annual congress in Pretoria, and there was a continual stream of tweets on Twitter with the #SAMS2011 hashtag. WiFi was available at the venue (a local church hall) to facilitate this, and there was even a screen set up to show the Twitter stream as it was occurring.

This year, in a far bigger conference, with 16 different societies participating, held on a university campus, there was almost no electronic sharing with those unable to attend. Though there was a good WiFi network available on the campus, conference participants were not given access to it, even though the conference was very expensive to attend. So the most we could manage during the conference was the occasional tweet from a cell phone, and the occasional picture on Facebook (and I still haven't managed to work out how to make the cell phone do these tricks, so I was never sure what was posted or not). But as far as I could see only three people tweeted using the #JCRT2012 hashtag, and one of those tweets was simply a remark that I seemed to be the only one tweeting on the conference.

Does this indicate that academics in the field of religion and theology have gone off the use of digital technology, and that SAMS 2011 was merely a flash in the pan, an incongruous exception?

There were digital projectors in all the venues where papers were presented, but I didn't use one for my paper because I didn't know beforehand what provision would be made for that, and in many cases when they were used they were distracting, as there was much fiddling with the equipment, and sometimes the wrong slide was shown, with interruptions while the right one was found, and where the equipment was used it was often only to show the text of the paper anyway.

While the lack of WiFi can be blamed on the organisers of the conference, I'm not sure that the blame lies entirely with them. If there was access, would anyone have used it?

Abstracts of all the papers being read were made available to conference participants beforehand, and I thought that that might be an opportunity of sharing what was being said and what was happening with those unable to attend. I posted a few of the abstracts in some electronic forums in the hope that they might elicit some comments or questions, but the response was zero. Perhaps that is an indication that academics in the field of religion and theology are technological luddites, and are simply not interested in using electronic media to communicate, or perhaps it was because they thought that the quality of the papers, as reflected in the abstracts, was so poor that they weren't worth reading, much less commenting on. I posted several abstracts in the missiological forum, since missiology is my field, but I also posted some in the general religion forum, the new religious movements forum, and the African Independent Churches forum. There didn't seem to be any responses in any of them.

I don't think Twitter is the best medium for commenting on or sharing what is happening at an academic conference. I think live blogging is better, as it can give more idea of the content, but without WiFi live blogging is not an option, and so we had to make do with Twitter, but it seems that most people didn't even use that.

I wonder if anyone will even read this!

I suggest that the next joint conference (in three years' time) take the form of a bosberaad, where the venue will be cheaper, with no electricity, and people can read their papers by the light of paraffin lamps.

13 June 2012

Western Media-Appointed Good Guys Strike Again

In the civil war going on in Syria, the Western media have appointed the rebels against the Assad regime as the good guys, and woe to those who disagree with their judgement. Among those who disagree are probably most of the Christians in Syria, who fear what will happen to them if the rebels take over.

The appointment of the good guys by the western media is not merely a wrong opinion, they seem to have got the facts wrong as well. Western intervention in Libya's civil war last year did not bring good results, and the same thing seems to be happening in Syria as well.

The Pittsford Perennialist: Western Media-Appointed Good Guys Strike Again:
If you were paying attention you would not be surprised about these "attacks on the people of Tawargha [that] are so severe that the United Nations has labeled them 'war crimes'" — After Libya's War, Acts Of Vengeance.

Now, if the official "bad guys" had been accused of this, this "one more fact about the town that was destroyed" would not have been buried at the end of the article: "In this overwhelmingly Arab nation, most of Tawargha's population was black." No, if the actors were reversed, that bit would be front and center, and the phrase "ethnic cleansing" would have rightly been used in the headline.

Not that the Assad regime are the good guys. But while it is desirable to get rid of a bad government, it is better to replace it with something better rather than something worse.

As my blogging friend The Pittsford Perennialist also points out
Likewise, news that "the infamous Houla massacre in Syria, which the US and NATO hoped would be the casus belli for their planned invasion, was in fact carried out by rebel forces" should come of no surprise — Implosion of The Houla Massacre Story — Is Anyone Paying Attention?

For the other side of the story, see Syrian Christians fear Islamist rule if Assad goes.

Russian Church Opposes Syrian Intervention - NYTimes.com:
It is clear by now that Russia’s government has dug in against outside intervention in Syria, its longtime partner and last firm foothold in the Middle East. Less well known is the position taken by the Russian Orthodox Church, which fears that Christian minorities, many of them Orthodox, will be swept away by a wave of Islamic fundamentalism unleashed by the Arab Spring.

In his warnings, Patriarch Kirill I invokes Bolshevik persecution still fresh in the Russian imagination, writing of “the carcasses of defiled churches still remaining in our country.”
The western media have criticised the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church for their non-interventionist approach, and accuse them of sitting idly by and failing to act to "stop the killing". But the question is, who is doing the killing?

In Syria, as in Libya, the killing has been, and is being done by both sides. What is needed is not military intervention, but peacemaking intervention.


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