31 March 2012

The light at the end of the tunnel

This picture has been doing the rounds on Facebook.

Talk of "the light at the end of the tunnel" always reminds me of an American, Gerry Jud, whom I met about 40 years ago.

I had recently been banned, which among other things confined me to the magisterial district of Durban, where I did not live and had no place to live, and I had no job and no income, and the ban prevented me from doing most of the kinds of work I was capable of doing, or even entering lots of places to look for a job (if you want to know more about what banning meant, see The Banned Waggon).

I was very kindly taken in by the Gilley family. Larry and Carol Gilley were American missionaries working for the Congregational Church in Southern Africa, and had a room in their backyard (originally built, as in so many Durban houses of that vintage, as "servants quarters") where I stayed for just over a year.

They had many visitors (whom I was not allowed to receive, but saw them just the same), and among these was Gerry Jud.

Gerry and Elizabeth Jud were from the Board of Homeland Ministries of the United Church of Christ in the USA (related to the outfit that had sent the Gilleys as missionaries) . They were on an extended self-funded study tour of the world, and had been in Jerusalem and Nairobi before coming to South Africa.

I liked the Juds. Gerry, particularly, talked my kind of language. He knew about demonic powers and spiritual warfare. He asked how people manage to stay on the tightrope.

Many overseas visitors to South Africa at that time (the early 1970s) asked things like "if things are as bad as you say, why aren't you all in jail?"

But Gerry could see that it is because evil is capricious; as C.S. Lewis said in Perelandra, it is like an imbeceile or a monkey or a very nasty child. It is petty, and so it is not consistent at all.

Gerry likened the action of the South African government in banning people and such to Robert Browning's poem Caliban upon Setebos -- choosing one crab in twenty, and twisting off its pincer, in a more or less random and capricious way.

He wanted to know whether I thought the church was the great whore. I said no, thinking of what Bonhoeffer had to say about it, or, in the words of John Davies, "those who are dissatisfied with the church as they find it should take note: 'Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realise; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. He who loves his dream of the community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, for it means that we are throwing God's gift to us, his brotherhood, back in his face. This is what the religious man does, the righteous sectarian. The very hour of my disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one wood and deed which really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ'" (quoting from Bonhoeffer's Life together).

Later that evening (9 February 1973) a whole bunch of people came round for supper. I had made a pot of breyani. Norman and Estelle Hudson were there; Norman was the director of the Methodist Department of Mission, and also brought a guy called Andrew, from Parys, who was soon to join him. Duncan Davidson (another Congregational minister) was also there, and Jean Hendrikse, and Passionate Mdhladhla and Val Greene. It was the kind of social gathering I could go to jail for attending, if the fuzz happened to drop in.

Jean Hendrikse, Passionate and Estelle Hudson early got involved in a women's caucus around the kitchen table. Larry Hall's wife and Val Greene (Val and I were not yet married) stayed with us in the sitting room. Gerry got talking to this guy Andrew, and we continued our discussion from earlier.

Andrew was totally pessimistic and Gerry wanted to find out why I felt there was some hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, while Andrew said he could see no light at the end of the tunnel at all.

I said that I was the only one who controlled the switch to the light at the end of the tunnel.

If you let it go out, then "they" had got you, and the bastards will start grinding you down. But they can't take away your hope. They can put you in prison, but they can't ultimately take away your freedom, your freedom to say no to them.

But I found this difficult to express, and also, I tend to lose my freedom for myself. I sometimes get very hung up on my relationships with other people, and when I am unsure of the love of my friends, then I begin to lose hope. The love of my friends, or the lack of it, is far more important to me than the hate of my enemies.

That's why solidarity is so important.

And that's why, whenever anyone talks about "the light at the end of the tunnel", I think of Gerry Jud.

Gerry also said he had spent some time in an Ashram in India to study Hindu mysticism, and a crow had crapped on him while he was sitting under a tree -- a message from on high that that just wasn't his scene, man.

And so
whenever anyone talks about the light at the end of the tunnel
I think of Gerry Jud
being shat on from above.

23 March 2012

Introducing: The Classics Club

Here's an idea for people who love reading.

The Classics Club is for bloggers who blog about books they have read, to make a list of 50 classic works they plan to read over the next five years, and to blog about them as they read them.

I like to blog about books I have read, and usually do that by noting them here Goodreads | Stephen Hayes's bookshelf: currently-reading (showing 1-12 of 12) (sorted by: date added). Good Reads also makes provision for a list of books to read, and I suppose one could add the 50 classics one intends to read to that Goodreads | Stephen Hayes's bookshelf: to-read (showing 1-29 of 29) (sorted by: date added). Not all of those on the list at the moment are "classics", so I'd probably have to add a few more to the list to have it include 50 "classics".

But it seems like an interesting idea -- hat-tip to Classics Club | Clarissa's Blog.

If you're interested in taking part, you can find the info at Introducing: The Classics Club | A Room of One's Own:
At your own blog, list 50, 100, or 200 (or more, if you’re so inclined) classics that most interest/scare/excite you, alongside your goal date for finishing this list. You can either make a straight list of titles (what I’ll be doing), or explain next to each title why you’ve chosen it. You could also explain a few of your chosen titles, but leave the others explanation-free. It’s up to you.

The goal? To read every classic on your list at your blog, and write about each one at your blog. Each time you write about a classic from your list, hyperlink the discussion post at the main classics list on your blog (The one you will link here to join.)

20 March 2012

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Apart from anything else, I hate travelling on buses with painted-over windows like this.

Wildrose campaign bus raises eyebrows - CBC News:
Alberta's Wildrose Party confirmed that the questionable placement of party Leader Danielle Smith's photo on the campaign bus will be changed.

A photo went viral on Twitter Monday shortly after the party unveiled the bus during a pre-election event in Edmonton.

17 March 2012

St Patrick's Day

It is said that St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, which is why there are now no native snakes there.

There have been various explanations of this, and of how it was done. I rather like this one, hat-tip to Casher O'Neill.

Here's another one, with a more scientific explanation: nourishing obscurity | St Patrick’s Day mood setter.

On a more serious note, there's this:

Saturday 17th March 2012
* Tone 6 - Third Saturday of Great Lent
* Memorial Saturday
St Alexius the Man of God, in Rome (411)
St Patrick, Bishop of Armagh, Apostle to the Irish (?461)
St Withburga, Solitary at Holkham and East Dereham (c 743)
Martyr Marinus, Soldier, at Caesarea in Palestine (260)
St Ambrose, Deacon, and disciple of St Didymus (400)
Monk-Martyr Paul of Cyprus (767)
St Macarius, Abbot, Wonderworker of Kalyazin (1483)
Hieromartyr Gabriel of Mtsyr (Georgia) (1802)
Revised Julian (New Style) Calendar

And, from Orthodox Church in America: lives of the saints:

Commemorated on March 17

Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland was born around 385, the son of Calpurnius, a Roman decurion (an official responsible for collecting taxes). He lived in the village of Bannavem Taberniae, which may have been located at the mouth of the Severn River in Wales. The district was raided by pirates when Patrick was sixteen, and he was one of those taken captive. He was brought to Ireland and sold as a slave, and was put to work as a herder of swine on a mountain identified with Slemish in Co. Antrim. During his period of slavery, Patrick acquired a proficiency in the Irish language which was very useful to him in his later mission.

He prayed during his solitude on the mountain, and lived this way for six years. He had two visions. The first told him he would return to his home. The second told him his ship was ready. Setting off on foot, Patrick walked two hundred miles to the coast. There he succeeded in boarding a ship, and returned to his parents in Britain.

Some time later, he went to Gaul and studied for the priesthood at Auxerre under St Germanus (July 31). Eventually, he was consecrated as a bishop, and was entrusted with the mission to Ireland, succeeding St Palladius (July 7). St Palladius did not achieve much success in Ireland. After about a year he went to Scotland, where he died in 432.

Patrick had a dream in which an angel came to him bearing many letters. Selecting one inscribed "The Voice of the Irish," he heard the Irish entreating him to come back to them.

Although St Patrick achieved remarkable results in spreading the Gospel, he was not the first or only missionary in Ireland. He arrived around 432 (though this date is disputed), about a year after St Palladius began his mission to Ireland. There were also other missionaries who were active on the southeast coast, but it was St Patrick who had the greatest influence and success in preaching the Gospel of Christ. Therefore, he is known as "The Enlightener of Ireland."

His autobiographical Confession tells of the many trials and disappointments he endured. Patrick had once confided to a friend that he was troubled by a certain sin he had committed before he was fifteen years old. The friend assured him of God's mercy, and even supported Patrick's nomination as bishop. Later, he turned against him and revealed what Patrick had told him in an attempt to prevent his consecration. Many years later, Patrick still grieved for his dear friend who had publicly shamed him.

St Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland, but the conversion of the Irish people was no easy task. There was much hostility, and he was assaulted several times. He faced danger, and insults, and he was reproached for being a foreigner and a former slave. There was also a very real possibility that the pagans would try to kill him. Despite many obstacles, he remained faithful to his calling, and he baptized many people into Christ.

The saint's Epistle to Coroticus is also an authentic work. In it he denounces the attack of Coroticus' men on one of his congregations. The Breastplate (Lorica) is also attributed to St Patrick. In his writings, we can see St Patrick's awareness that he had been called by God, as well as his determination and modesty in undertaking his missionary work. He refers to himself as "a sinner," "the most ignorant and of least account," and as someone who was "despised by many." He ascribes his success to God, rather than to his own talents: "I owe it to God's grace that through me so many people should be born again to Him."

By the time he established his episcopal See in Armargh in 444, St Patrick had other bishops to assist him, many native priests and deacons, and he encouraged the growth of monasticism.

St Patrick is often depicted holding a shamrock, or with snakes fleeing from him. He used the shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Its three leaves growing out of a single stem helped him to explain the concept of one God in three Persons. Many people now regard the story of St Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland as having no historical basis.

St Patrick died on March 17, 461 (some say 492). There are various accounts of his last days, but they are mostly legendary. Muirchu says that no one knows the place where St Patrick is buried. St Columba of Iona (June 9) says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that Patrick was buried at Saul, the site of his first church. A granite slab was placed at his traditional grave site in Downpatrick in 1899.

15 March 2012

My love-hate relationship with my Android cell phone

A few months ago I started getting notices that my cell phone was due for an "upgrade". I had "upgraded" it two years ago, found that it was in fact a downgrade (the camera on the new phone was completely useless), so I kept the old one, and gave the new one to my son, who didn't care whether the camera worked or not.

This time I looked at what was on offer, and was after the one with the best camera specification. And the only one that fitted the bill was an HTC Cha Cha, which had, so it said, a 5 megapixel camera, which was the same as Val's old Samsung, which I had inherited last time she upgraded. So that's what I went home with.

I also bought a magazine-sized book on how to use an Android phone, since that's what it was. It seems that the more complicated the phone, the less they tell you about how to use it. So i bought the extra book and began to read it.

I've had my new phone for about 3 months now, and, book or no book, I'm still battling to use it.

This one has a QWERTY keyboard. That looked nice. I could get an "s" by pressing once instead of four times. What was not apparent at first sight, though, was that unless I was using the phone lying flat on my back in bed, with the bedside light on, I could not see the number buttons. Presbyopia and all that. And since some numeric key pads have 789 on the top row, and others have 123, you can't really learn to do it by feel. That was probably the most stupid design decision of the 20th century.

It has a special blue button for sending pictures to Facebook. That looked as if it could be nice, except that it only worked about one time in 5. It has a button on the screen that you press to take a photo. It works about one time in five too. I once took a photo and then pressed the Face book button to send it, and it took a photo of the floor when I pressed the Facebook button and wanted to send that.

It did send the photo I took in church last night, while waiting for the service to begin. It never did begin; our priest, Fr Athanasius, was stuck in traffic for two hours, so we had the agape meal and went home.

But still, It should be possible to get the photos off it with the cable, if it takes them in the first place, that is. And, for all that it is supposed to be a 5 megapixel camera, the quality of the pictures isn't much better than the cheap Nokia I traded in for it.

Then this morning it rang. I pressed the green button to answer the phone and lifted it to my ear. It was still ringing. Pressed the button again, lifted it to my ear, and it was still ringing. Pressed it again, lifted it to my ear, and heard a remote phone ringing. So maybe it was a missed call, and was calling back. No, it was calling back to someone who had not called me today.

I hear the phone beep, and it tells me there is an SMS. I press the message to read it and it tells me to pull the ring to unlock the phone. I [pull the ring, but then the message disappears. But there is a little thing telling me that there is 1 message. I press it. Nothing. I press it again. Nothing. I press it again, and get a message to say that I can move the button that is telling me that I have a message that I want to read. But it won't let me read the message that I want to read, just move the button telling me that there is a message.

And if want to send an SMS? The old Nokia Dumbphone would give me a list of contacts in alphabetical order, and I could send a message. If they were lower down in the alphabet, I could press the first letter of their surname and it would take me there. But not this one. This one gives me everything in no order, and lots ofpeople it has pulled in from Facebook and Gmail, who I don't have phone numbers for because they live in other countries.

My daughter hears I have an Android phone and phones me and tells me of all the wonderful apps that I can download. Apps? Who needs apps? I'd be happy just to be able to make and receive phone calls, and to send and receive SMSs without being asked if I want to move buttons first. And to take decent photos.

And then, to crown it all, I get an SMS, from Vodacom, my service provider. They say that they hope I have enjoyed using the PROMDATA service, and that I can continue to use it by paying the regular rates.


I never heard of this PROMDATA service, and have no idea what I am supposed to be enjoying.

I go to their website, and got and make a cup of coffee while it loads. I search for PROMDATA, and go and clean my teeth while waiting for the answer to load. Not found. It seems that their Website has never heard of PROMDATA either.

I search around and click on a link to email them. After getting tired of waiting for it to load, I went to the kitchen and made a couple of slices of toast. Got back to the computer, and see that the page still hasn't loaded, so call up my e-mail program and dash off an e-mail asking about PROMDATA to help@vodacom.co.za, and cc it to support, info and a few other possibilities.

A slice of toast later the e-mail page has finished loading, so I copy the mail message I sent with my e-mail program, and paste it there. Send it. Ten minutes later it's back with a problem. It must have a 10-digit cellphone number. I count the digits I entered. Ten. What now? Oh, perhaps it doesn't like the dashes. Remove dashes and resend.

Ten minutes later it suggests that before sending I should look at their help pages to make sure that they don't have the answer to my question. One must not waste the precious time of the underpaid people at their call centre, you know. I look through some of the irrelevant questions to which they have given splendidly accurate answers. None of them say what PROMDATA is, and if they did, surely their search function would have found it 40 minutes ago? Surely? Surely?

So eventually it sends that too.

It has taken me about an hour to ask the meaning of one stupid SMS that they sent me. Not to find the meaning, just to ask about it.

In the mean time, if you have tried to phone me, and I haven't answered, then it may be because I didn't hear the phone ring (because I forgot to switch it back from "vibrate" after church), or because I heard it ring, and pressed the answer button, but it kept on ringing, or because it was waiting for me to move some button around the screen, or trying to determine whether I was at the gasworks.

Just send me an e-mail instead.

And preferably in plain text, without all those trade mark Euro thingies in it[1].

I just love 20-year-old technology, like e-mail. It's so much quicker and easier.



[1] The trade mark Euro things are another problem, and nothing to do with cell phones. It's just that some people send e-mails full of Trade Mark and Euro symbols, sometimes in the middle of words, which makes their messages hard to read.

13 March 2012

Modernity's Debased View of Woman's Equality

Responding to a claim that the equality of the sexes was established by a technological advance, the invention of the contraceptive pill, The Pittsford Perennialist: Modernity's Debased View of Woman's Equality quotes St Gregory of Nyssa (4th century):
The gracious gift of likeness to God was not given to a mere section of humanity, to one individual man; no, it is a perfection that finds its way in equal measure to every member of the human race. This is shown by the fact that all men possess ‑ mind. Everybody has the power to think and plan, as well as all the other powers that appear distinctively in creatures that mirror the divine nature. On this score there is no difference between the first man that ever was and the last that ever will be all bear the stamp of divinity. Thus the whole of humanity was named as one man, since for the Divine Power there is neither past nor future. What is still to come, no less than what is now, is governed by his universal sway.

12 March 2012

Jack Kerouac's American journey (book review)

Jack Kerouac's American Journey: The Real-Life Odyssey of On the RoadJack Kerouac's American Journey: The Real-Life Odyssey of On the Road by Paul Maher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the road is not my favourite book by Jack Kerouac so I might not have bought this book if it had not been going cheap on a sale. I'm glad I did buy it, though, because I found it more interesting than On the road, and it explains how that book was written.

I recently read Neal Cassady: the fast life of a beat hero (review here), and found several details in this book that threw more light on Cassady's character and behaviour than his biography did. Perhaps Paul Maher had access to more sources. After reading the biography, I was at a loss to know why people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were attracted to Cassady, though in Ginsberg's case the initial attraction was sexual. Maher manages to explain it better, though he still does not portray Cassady as a particularly attractive character.

That still doesn't explain why I liked this book better than On the road itself. Perhaps it is because the real life of authors is often more interesting than the characters they write about. My favourite among Kerouac's books is still The Dharma bums, and perhaps that is because it is more about the influence of Gary Snyder than that of Neal Cassady, and Snyder is a more sympathetic character.

One thing that almost put me off reading the book was odd errors in language. I suppose having been an editor makes me rather intolerant of slip-ups (even though I make plenty of my own). One of the more egregious ones was on page 133, "Carolyn Cassady received a letter from her husband, postmarked January 11. In it he promised her regular installments of cash from working two jobs in New York, neither of which he had yet to procure." I presume the author intended to say either "both of which he had yet to procure" or "neither of which he had yet procured", but as it stands it is a strange piece of nonsense. There are other similar errors, writing "principal" where "principle" was meant and so on. But I'm glad that these didn't put me off, because the book is worth reading, at least to anyone who has enjoyed reading any of Kerouac's books.

View all my reviews

08 March 2012

Two evils for the price of one: abortion and pro-lifers

I think that wilful abortion is evil, and a violation of human rights. But there are times when I think pro-lifers are just as evil, especially when I come across things like this, found via a link on Facebook.

The person who posted it on Facebook introduced the link by saying "The Obama administration rules that stock holdes aren't really owners and have no real say in the operation of the business they hold shares in."

I was curious and had a look at the site.

Obama agency rules Pepsi use of cells derived from aborted fetus ‘ordinary business’ | LifeSiteNews.com:
In a decision delivered Feb 28th, President Obama’s Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled that PepsiCo’s use of cells derived from aborted fetal remains in their research and development agreement with Senomyx to produce flavor enhancers falls under “ordinary business operations.”
I became curious about "President Obama's agency", and discovered that the site that mentioned it couldn't even get the name right. I think they were referring to this:

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (frequently abbreviated SEC) is a federal agency[2] which holds primary responsibility for enforcing the federal securities laws and regulating the securities industry, the nation's stock and options exchanges, and other electronic securities markets in the United States. In addition to the 1934 Act that created it, the SEC enforces the Securities Act of 1933, the Trust Indenture Act of 1939, the Investment Company Act of 1940, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 and other statutes. The SEC was created by section 4 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (now codified as 15 U.S.C. 78d and commonly referred to as the 1934 Act).
Was Obama even alive in 1934, when this particular agency was created? Will it cease to exist when his term of office ends? This really is a prize piece of vicious and malicious misreporting, and with such standards of dishonesty and lack of integrity I would not trust anything found on that site.

Yes, I'd boycott Pepsi too, if it were available and if the report were true, but it is wrapped up with so much deliberate misreporting that I wouldn't trust anything in that story.

Fifty years ago folk singer Jeremy Taylor did a rap piece called Joburg talking blues, in the course of which the supposedly American narrator said, "In America there's two things we can't stand: the one's segregation, and the other's niggers."

When I read pieces like this, I feel a bit like that narrator. There are two things I can't stand. The one's abortion, and the other's pro-lifers.

06 March 2012

Good question

What is the difference between what the Syrian army did in Homs and what the U.S. military did in Fallujah? And why?

What Happens in Homs ... LewRockwell.com Blog:
What is the difference between what the Syrian army did in Homs and what the U.S. military did in Fallujah? And why?

Hat-tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: The Syria Narrative.

A good question.

And it prompts another:

How loud were the calls from "the international community" for military intervention to stop the US Army doing what it was doing in Fallujah?


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