30 May 2012

Cakes and ale (book review)

Cakes and Ale: Or, The Skeleton in the CupboardCakes and Ale: Or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alroy Kear has been asked by the widow of Edward Driffield to write her late husband's biography, and he asks the narrator, fellow writer Willie Ashenden, for some information about obscure parts of Driffield's life that Ashenden knew something about. But Kear also makes it clear that he plans to censor any stories, since it was well known that Driffield's first wife was unfaithful to him.

The request sparks of Ashenden's own reminiscences of Driffield and his first wife Rosie, and the story jumps back and forth between the 1890s and the 1930s.

The thing that struck me most about it was the class-consciousness and snobbery that pervaded English literary circles and society generally, especially in the earlier period, set in the 1890s. The narrator is roughly the same age as Somerset Maugham himself, and there is no reason to suppose that in writing of these things he is not writing from his own experience. I was aware of the class-consciousness, though what Maugham writes seems totally over the top. That a schoolboy spending his holidays with his uncle and aunt at a Kentish vicarage should be faced with such deeply-felt dilemmas about who he could and could not talk to beggars belief. Yes, as I say, Maugham lived through that period, and so must be writing from experience. I had always had the impression that the clergy, and especially vicars and below, were always rather looked down on by the gentry, but perhaps that only made them, or some of them at least, more determined to look down on all the rest.

Driffield's second wife, who was originally his nurse after an illness, was very much a managing type, and also appeared to want to manage her husband's memory and biography. On reading the book I was reminded of Alan Paton's second wife, who had been his secretary, and seemed to be similarly managing, though not to quite the same extent. She kept him isolated from other people, ostensibly so that his writing time would not be interrupted by numberous callers, but whatever the motive, he certainly became far less accessible after his second marriage.

Some have seen Driffield as modelled on Thomas Hardy, and Alroy Kear as modelled on George Meredith, though Maugham himself insisted that they were composites. That I can believe, because of the echoes in the life of Alan Paton, whom Maugham can hardly have known, and was not a published author when Cakes and ale was written.

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26 May 2012

Up at the villa (book review)

Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A widow, Mary Panton, is staying at a villa near Florence. Her marriage was not a good one, and when she receives several offers of marriage she is aware of the need to choose wisely. The problem is that she is not in love with any of the men who declare their love for her, and a lot more hangs on her choices than she thinks at first.

W. Somerset Maugham was aware of his own shortcomings as a writer, and regarded himself as being in the front rank of the second-raters -- an evaluation with which most critics agreed. Such a judgement is inclined to put one off, and so this book has sat on my shelf for more than 12 years (having bought it at a secondhand book stall) and I've put off reading it until I was desperate.

But the front rank pf the second-raters is not a bad place to be, when compared with some of the drek that one finds on the shelves of bookshops costing over R100 nowadays. So this one was an interesting and enjoyable read, and much better thabn a lot of the "also rans".

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25 May 2012

The da Vinci code (book review)

The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One of the best-selling novels in recent times has been The da Vinci code by Dan Brown, and now the story has been made into a film.

Not only has the novel sold very well, but it has also generated a number of lucrative spin-offs – there are more than 20 books that claim to interpret The da Vinci code. There was a court case in which the authors of some other books sued Dan Brown for stealing some of his ideas from their books. They lost their case, but the publicity did them no harm: sales of their books soared as well.

In many ways the enormous popularity of The da Vinci code is hard to understand. It is not a particularly well-written book. It is a mystery/conspiracy novel, and there have been several other novels of that type recently, some better-written than Dan Brown’s book, but none of them has sold nearly as many copies, or been the subject of quite as much hype.

One feature of the book, which has led to several television programmes and feature articles in magazines and newspapers, has been that the novel puts forward some tendentious ideas on history in general, and church history and art history in particular, which the author has hinted are based on fact. The articles and TV programmes have treated us to quotes and sound bites from experts in various fields, and usually end up by saying that it’s up to the reader or viewer to choose between the various views expressed.

One of the most obvious errors in The da Vinci code concerns St Mary Magdalene, one of the three Holy Myrrhbearers and Equal to the Apostles. Dan Brown tries to give the impression that the Church has somehow tried to suppress all information about her, and to portray her as a prostitute.

We should be quite clear that the Orthodox Church has never tried to portray St Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. She was healed by Jesus and became one of his disciples. She was a witness to his burial, and was the first witness of his resurrection, bearing the news to the other disciples (for this reason she is called Equal-to-the-Apostles).

After our Lord’s bodily Ascension she continued to bear witness to the resurrection, and it is said that she once met the Roman Emperor, and was holding an egg in her hand. When she told him of the resurrection of Christ, the Emperor was sceptical, and said if someone rose from the dead, the egg in her hand would turn red, and it promptly did – hence the custom of blessing red eggs at Pascha.

St Mary Magdalene worked with St John the Theologian in Ephesus, where she died and was buried, and in the 9th century her incorrupt relics were removed to the Church of the Monastery of St Lazarus in Constantinople.

In the West a very late and quite unfounded legend arose at the time of the translation of her relics that she had gone with Martha and Lazarus to the south of France by sea and was buried there. In his novel, Dan Brown treats this legend as fact.

There is no evidence that St Mary Magdalene bore a child to Jesus, as Dan Brown asserts, or that the descendants of this line were the Merovingian kings of France. Of course The da Vinci code is fiction, and a novelist can make his characters say or do anything he likes.

But Dan Brown got most of his ideas on church history from books that are not novels, but claim to be serious and factual. They are Holy blood and Holy Grail and The messianic legacy by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln.

Since so much of the "factual" material in The da Vinci code is taken from The Messianic legacy, it too needs a review, and the question is, is it history or fiction?

The main theme of The messianic legacy appears to be the way in which a small semi-secret society, the Prieuré de Sion, is seeking to achieve its objective of restoring a Merovingian monarch to the throne of France. The Merovingians apparently claimed descent from the Old Testament House of David, and in an earlier work, The holy blood and the holy grail, the authors put forward the hypothesis that this decent was through Jesus or his immediate family.

The Merovingians (descendants of Merovech) were kings in what is now France from the 5th to the 8th century, and they conquered the Visigoths who had sacked Rome in AD 410, bringing away treasure reputed to include the treasures of the temple at Jerusalem, which had itself been sacked by the Romans in AD 70.

Baigent et al. have written the book in three parts. The first, "The Messiah" deals with the idea of the Messiah in Judaism and early Christianity. The second, "The quest for meaning", deals with faith and symbolism in modern Western society. The third is a bewilderingly detailed account of contacts and connections between the Prieure de Sion and various national and international figures and organisations in the twentieth century.

The connections between the three parts of the book are not at all clear, and nor it is clear how material in the first two parts contributes to the hypothesis. The authors have included a lot of material without bothering to make it clear why they have included it.

The first part, on the idea of the Messiah, seems to be intended to show that a descendant of the Jewish royal line could have gone to the Celtic area, on the Western seaboard of Europe. The authors throw in facts, fallacies, speculations and conjectures, most of which seem irrelevant to whatever point it is they are trying to make. Their knowledge of history seems shaky at several points, and they don't even attempt to paper over the cracks.

Briefly, their thesis seems to be that Jesus went to Jerusalem intending to become king of the Jews. The attempt was foiled by his arrest and execution at the hands of the Romans and Jewish collaborators. The succession passed to his brother James, and then this Jewish royalist/nationalist movement split, with the larger part, led by Paul, severing connections with Jewish nationalism. The nationalist section continued, however, as the Ebionites, who later made an alliance with the Nestorians, who provided a kind of theological halfway house. The Nestorians were influential in Egypt, and from there spread to Ireland, where in some unspecified fashion they were linked to the Prieuré de Sion. There are too many gaps, and much of it is based on false assumptions. It simply does not make sense.

Quite a large proportion of the illustrations in the book make the point of similarities between Egyptian and Irish Christianity. The authors say that Nestorius was exiled to Egypt, and when Nestorius was condemned as a heretic in 451 the Egyptian Church refused to accept the ruling it split with "Roman Orthodoxy" and formed the Coptic Church.

This is simply a gross distortion of history, and shows that the authors did not do their homework. The majority of Egyptian Christians did not accept the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but for precisely the opposite reason that Baigent & Co hint at. They thought the Council was too Nestorian, they and preferred the teaching of their own former bishop Cyril, who was utterly opposed to Nestorius. The reason the Nestorian leaders were exiled to Egypt was quite simple: The Egyptian church was so opposed to Nestorianism that if they tried to preach it there, there would be no danger that anyone would believe them. So whatever was exported from Egypt to Ireland or anywhere else, it was not Nestorian/Ebionite teaching, but the exact opposite.

Egyptian missionaries did go to France, and Christian monasticism was first developed in Egypt. Monasticism was exported to most other parts of the Christian world, and thus provided the chief instrument for the evangelisation of Europe and part of Asia. Between 500 and 1500 most Christian missionaries were monks. Baigent et al., however, make some astoundingly naive statements - for example that the monastic movement in Egypt "represented a form of opposition to the rigidly hierarchical structures of Rome", and that the monks were "tolerant" as opposed to the "intolerant" urban church. In fact the reverse was true. The Egyptian monks regarded the urban church as lax and effete, and they kept out of the cities for that reason.

The second part of the book deals with faith and symbols in Western European society. In some ways it is the best part. The authors are for the most part giving their own opinions, and are therefore not trying to base conclusions on "facts" that (in the first part) often turn out to be conjecture or wrong guesses. They look at the loss of faith in Western European society, and the consequent search for substitute faiths, such as Communism and Nazism. When they get on to some aspects of modern Christianity, they go off the rails again. A notable example is their attempt to make the British Israel theory a necessary part of fundamentalism, and even of South African apartheid. Now while it is true that some British Israelites might be fundamentalists, and that some supporters of apartheid were British Israelites, the British Israel theory was certainly not a part of fundamentalism, nor was it necessarily part of the thinking of those who formulated the apartheid policy. This is a failure in logic as well as in facts.

How it fits in with the third part is not clear, unless it is intended to show that monarchy is a powerful symbol that can be linked with faith. But if that is the intention, it certainly does not succeed.

The third part is a very detailed account of meetings and connections of various members of the Prieure de Sion and possible members with insurers, spies, politicians and others. It seems to bear no relation to the other two parts, and the point it is trying to make is obscure. The authors end up by saying that they are sympathetic towards some of the objectives of the Prieuré de Sion, but sceptical or dubious about others. The trouble is that they have not made it very clear what those aims are. They do seem to think, however, that the Prieuré de Sion might be capable of producing a Messiah of the kind that the authors think Jesus actually was.

But this, like much of the rest of the book, is based on a fallacy.

The Prieuré de Sion, usually rendered in English translation as Priory of Sion or Priory of Zion, has, since 1956, been an alleged cabal featured in many conspiracy theories and works of pseudohistory. It has been characterized as anything from the most influential secret society in Western history to a modern Rosicrucian-esque ludibrium, but, ultimately, has been shown to be a hoax created by Pierre Plantard. Most of the evidence presented in support of claims pertaining to its historical existence, let alone significance, have not been considered authentic or persuasive by established historians, academics, and universities (from Wikipedia).

The real mystery of The da Vinci code

The real mystery of The da Vinci code is how such a mediocre book has managed to sell so many copies. Even in the genre of conspiracy novels, it is far from the best (if you want a good conspiracy novel, try Foucault's pendulum, by Umberto Eco). The da Vinci code is too predictable and unconvincing.

The main characters, supposedly an expert cryptographer and symbologist (whatever that may be) who cannot recognise mirror writing (which Leonardo da Vinci was known to have practised) are just too thick for words. They go on for pages as pages wondering what can be the meaning of some or other puzzle, when the reader can see that the answer is starting them in the face. And this happens not once, but several times in the book. The de Villiers code by Tom Eaton was a much better read, though since it is a send-up of The da Vinci code, one needs to have read that first. It's the only good reason I can think of for reading it.

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24 May 2012

What is this thing called Klout?

Several people invited me to look at a site called Klout, and so I did. I've been looking at it on and off for a month now, and trying to discover if it is of any use, and if so what it was useful for, and the answer, I believe, is "not much".

Some of the ideas behind it are quite intriguing, but I think it misses out in the implementation.

The stated aim is to show who influences you, and who you influence in social networks, mainly Twitter, and which topics you are most influential in, and to give your "influence" a numerical score. I'm not sure how the score is calculated, but the calculation appears to be based on how many people retweet your tweets, and how many Twitter followers they have.

Does it succeed?

I don't think so.

I wrote about my initial impressions of it here and here, and my initial impressions have not changed much. I did link to a rather scary article, What Your Klout Score Really Means | Epicenter | Wired.com, which indicates that some people take the Klout score quite seriously, and that some people's jobs depend on it. That's about as idiotic as it gets. You might as well decide to hire or fire someone on the basis of their newspaper horoscope.

One of the things that makes me think that it's nothing more than a fun (for a little while) online toy is that its list of topics is altogether screwed up. And so is its way of calculating influence in the topics that it does list.

Among the missing topics that I noticed were:

  • Anglican Church
  • trade unions
  • liturgy
  • missiology
  • icons, ikons, ikonography, iconography
  • art
  • Orthodox Church

Can anyone add to it? If you have looked at Klout and noticed some missing topics, perhaps you could list them in a comment.

To give just one example, one of the people I follow on Twitter is Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions). So if there is one thing he influences people in, it is trade unions. But can you say that on Klout? Not a chance.

It had a rather convoluted and difficult-to-find category of the Orthodox Church, and as I blog about that quite a lot, several people indicated on Klout that I had influenced them on that topic. But yesterday Klout decided to change all my topics around, and removed that one, and a few others, and put in a whole lot of new topics in which it thinks I am "influential". These included:

  • health
  • feminism
  • atheism
  • LGBT
  • celebrities

As I said, I'd love to know what algorithm Klout uses to calculate these things.

OK, I did tweet on a "health" topic today (about organ donation), but that was after I had seen my changed topic list.

Some of the blogs I read (and bloggers I follow on Twitter) are members of the Anglican Church, and have influenced me on that topic. But can I say so on Klout? No.

What it offers for "Anglican" are:

  • All Saints Anglican Church (museum)
  • The Riverina Anglican College (university)
  • Wollondilly Anglican College (university)

That's it.

So which one do I use for the Anglican Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson? His blog is in my blogroll and I follow him on Twitter, but his main sphere of influence is missing from Klout.

What Klout has is sub-sub-topics, but no main topic for people like him.

Out of curiosity I Googled for Wollondilly Anglican College, and found, somewhat to my surprise, that it actually exists. But it is not what I would call a "university". And it's not really a topic on which the Anglican Bishop of Buckingham has influenced me.

But when I looked up Alan Wilson, Klout also noted that both Alan Wilson and I used Twitter as the primary way to spread our influence. That's funny, because two days ago it said that 93% of my influence was spread through Facebook. I think it is sulking because it keeps asking me to invite my Facebook friends to Klout, and for the most part I haven't done so. And one reason for not doing so is that the topics in which they have influenced me are missing from Klout.

A little earlier, I compared Klout to a newspaper horoscope. A more apt comparison might be a toy that we used to play with in Grade 2. I haven't seen one for years, but it was made out of folded paper, and someone would come up to you and ask you for a number between 1 and 10, and they woudl move the paper that number of times and an open it to reveal four coloured flaps, and ask you to choose a colour. Then they would lift one of the coloured flaps revealed and read out your fortune, which they had written there beforehand.

I think Klout works a bit like those.

I might stick around on Klout a bit to see if it improves, but I somehow doubt that it will.

23 May 2012

A guest post on my blog?

Today I have had three (apparently) different people sending me e-mails to follow-up on queries about whether I was interested having them write guest posts on my blog.

I vaguely remember having a spate of queries to that effect about a month ago, and deleting them as spam or a scam. But now there is a follow-up.

I find such requests bizzare.

It is dead easy to start your own blog.

You can do it in about 2 minutes right here on Blogger.

So what puzzles me is why these people (or this person) wants to write posts on my blog. Assuming they are three different people (but why do they all write on the same day?) that would mean three posts by other people on my blog. If they really want to do that, perhaps the three of them could all start their own blogs, and then write guest posts on each others blogs. It would probably really confuse the readers though.

A similar problem is the people who write long comments that have absolutely nothing to do with the posts they are commenting on. I don't mean spammers, I mean people who have a preach coming on. And with them, too, they could easily start their own blogs and air their views to their hearts' content.

But guest posts? I don't get it.

If someone writes something that I think is interesting, I'll link to it and blog about it-- that, after all, is what blogs are for. But why would they want to write it on my blog? I just don't get it.

But what makes me really suspicious is that they all three came on the same day. That seems to be the kind of stuff conspiracy theorists should be interested in.

Has anyone else been getting odd requests like this, in threes?

22 May 2012

Blind fury (book review)

Blind FuryBlind Fury by Lynda La Plante

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If, in the field of crime novels, one distinguishes between sub-genres like whodunits and police procedurals, this book definitely falls into the latter category. Whodunits usually have lots of suspects, and the search is to find which one committed the crime. In this book, however, the emphasis is on how the police go about gathering evidence, first of all to charge, and then to convict a suspect.

In this story a young woman is murdered, and her body is dumped beside a motorway. It seems similar to some earlier cold cases, and the police try to find whether the same person committed all the crimes. There are no real surprises in the story, and much spaces is taken up by the police reinterviewing witnesses who did not give full information the first time they were interviewed. It all gets a bit tedious after a while, and the book (at 501 pages) is about 200 pages too long.

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21 May 2012

Politicians' genitals: private or public parts?

In the same week controversy has erupted in both Canada and South Africa over the depiction of the genitals of politicical leaders of those countries in works of art.

In Canada 'Well hung' nude Harper painting sparks mixed reactions | Toronto SUN:
A nude painting of Canada's prime minister has politicians and Tim Hortons employees cracking jokes, pundits crying foul and one federal department reportedly offering up cash.

Titled Emperor Haute Couture, the portrait hanging in a Kingston, Ont., public library shows a full monty Stephen Harper, leaning back on a chaise lounge chair surrounded by a doting team with a terrier at his feet, about to sip a steaming Tim Hortons coffee.
In South Africa, on the same day, came the news that ‘Portrait of Zuma is below the belt’ - Politics | IOL News:
The ANC is outraged at a portrait that shows President Jacob Zuma, in the pose of Lenin, with his genitals hanging out. And the party is headed to court to force the artist Brett Murray, the Goodman Gallery and the City Press newspaper to remove the portrait.

The Goodman Gallery said Murray will not comment and will let the art “speak for itself”.

The 1.85m-high piece, priced at R136 000 and titled The Spear, was first reported on by City Press and a picture of the portrait was printed and displayed on its website.
Perhaps conspiracy theorists will see something significant in the fact that both the above newspaper reports were published on the same day.

In South Africa attempts to have the Zuma painting removed have been criticised as attacks on the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The Bill of Rights states:

16. Freedom of expression
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes ­
    1. freedom of the press and other media;
    2. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
    3. freedom of artistic creativity; and
    4. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

  2. The right in subsection (1) does not extend to ­
    1. propaganda for war;
    2. incitement of imminent violence; or
    3. advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
But in this case there is an earlier section of the constitution that might be in conflict:

10. Human dignity

Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

So if the matter ever gets as far as the Constitutional Court, it will be interesting to see which constitutional principle prevails.

But it is certainly not the first time that politicians' genitalia have been the subject of political satire. Back at the time of the Rainbow Warrior affair a newspaper cartoon depicted French President François Mitterrand with his fly open and a very erect nuclear missile protruding. He was flanked by the leaders of other nuclear powers, and I think the caption was "Mine's bigger than yours." I forget which newspaper it was in.

And of course in South Africa there is the political cartoonist Zapiro, who for a long time depicted Jacob Zuma with a shower protruding from his head, after Zuma had said that having a shower was his way of taking precautions against HIV/Aids.

But last week's art offerings seem to have been of a somewhat different order.

And, like the Bill of Rights, I find myself in two minds over the whole thing.

On the one hand, I think that both as the State President and also as a human being, Jacob Zuma has the right to dignity and privacy guaranteed by our constitution. Even though he holds public office, he has the right not to have his private parts treated as public and exposed to public view.

And this is akin to the principle behind the recent phone hacking scandal in the UK, in which the former newspaper executve, Rebekah Brooks, has been charged with perverting the course of justice.

Can one by-pass this principle by calling it "art"? And where does one draw the line between the work of artists and that of paparazzi?

On the other hand, I recall the trial of Johannesburg artist Harold Rubin for "blasphemy" back in 1963. The Wikipedia article, however doesn't do either him or his work justice, and omits to mention that his exhibition was opened by Brother Roger, CR, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection, who was later pulled off a train to give evidence at his trial, and whose evidence probably played an important part in his subsequent aquittal. The picture in question, with the title "My Jesus", did not, as the Wikipedia article claims, have the head of a monster, but showed a human being on a cross undergoing extreme suffering. This is not the way Orthodox Christian ikons depict Jesus Christ on the cross, but Harold Rubin was not a Christian, but a Jew, though the life and death of Jesus possibly had more significance to him than it did to most Jews, something that he tried to express in his picture.

The legal system at the time certainly did try to curtail Harold Rubin's freedom of expression, but then at that time we had no Bill of rights. And the Bill of Rights we now have explicitly guarantees the freedom of artistic expression. But Harold Rubin was no paparazzo, and I believe, as did Brother Roger (who knew much more about art than I do), that it was a genuine work of art. I'm not so sure about last week's offerings.

20 May 2012

Old Blogger interface - a huge improvement

Recently my Blogger dashboard switched from the old interface to the new one, which I've been struggling with for the last few weeks.

Now someone has explained to me how you can get the old one back.

If you have had the new and degraded Blogger dashboard foisted on you, you can (at least for the time being) get the old one back.

There's a little cogwheel thingy up in the top righthand corner of the new and degraded Blogger dashboard.

Click on it and among the options that are revealed is the option to revert to the old and improved Blogger interface.

Hat-tip to a commenter on nourishing obscurity | Google/Blogger/WordPress’s kindergarten coders

Ah, bliss!

If the new interface is foisted on us, I predict another huge move to WordPress.

16 May 2012

Cosatu, the DA and the youth wage subsidy

This week I lost a lot of respect for Cosatu.

Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) objects to the idea of a youth wage subsidy. The DA (Democratic Alliance) supports it. A couple of months ago Cosatu refused to meet DA leaders to discuss it, so the DA leaders decide to march to Cosatu headquarters to to hand over a memorandum on the topic. Cosatu objected to this, and said that the DA should engage properly, and not march. Yet when the DA leaders did try to engage properly, Cosatu rejected this. Then Cosatu supporters attack the DA marchers phyically. It's a sad day for democracy in South Africa.

I dislike the DA, and would never vote for them. I have grave doubts about the value or usefulness of a youth wage subsidy. But in a democratic society they should have the right to express their views on this and discuss it with those of differing views. This week, Cosatu attacked democracy.

That does not mean that the DA is blameless. Remember the Democratic Party's (one of the partners in the Democratic Alliance) 1999 election campaign, when they had posters all over the place, exhorting voters to "fight back" against democracy? Even if they made a public apology for that, I still wouldn't vote for them -- politicians love apologising for other people's mistakes, but never for their own (remember Tony Blair's apology for the slave trade, which ended two centuries ago, but he did not apologise for bombing Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq).

I think the Sowetan got it right when they said The time to talk is now - Sowetan LIVE:
Zille's party is taking the march very seriously, and will be accompanied by Parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, youth leader Makashule Gana and national spokesman Mmusi Maimane, in protest against what they term Cosatu's bias against the unemployed and in favour of those who already have jobs. But what we are concerned about is the tone set by the parties ahead of today's march. When the DA first mooted the march, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said then the opposition party would never understand what it would be like to be a young black woman who earned a minimum wage.
Both parties have been behaving like kids in a primary school, though Cosatu have taken on the role of the playground bullies.

To be honest, I first learnt of the march on Twitter,  mostly from tweets objecting to it. I googled to find out what it was about, and discovered that it concerned the proposed youth wage subsidy, which I had not heard of before. So I googled for that, and what I read sounded rather vague, but it was enough to make me think I'm agin' it.

I know that's prejudice on my part, because I don't know enough about the proposal or how it will work. But it reminds me of what I learnt in History II about the Speenhamland System, which ended up exacerbating the problems it was intended to solve.

But the issue will not be resolved by thuggery in the streets. Children bullying children in schools is bad enough. Adults bullying adults in the streets is worse. 

15 May 2012

More dysfunctional e-mail - Gmail

Is anyone else having problems with this annoying pop-up in Gmail?

It covers several menu items, and half of it seems to be hidden behind the browser tool bar, so there is no way of knowing what it is about and apparently no way of getting rid of it except by saying "OK" to something that one does not understand.

And Google have really shot themselves in the foot with this one, because of the things that is behind that stupid pop-up is the menu item for their much-hyped Google+. I normally go to it through Gmail, after reading my mail. But now that they've blocked it off, I don't go there any more. 

06 May 2012

The Troubled ManThe Troubled Man by Henning Mankell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've recently read two of Henning Mankell's books one after the other (bought on a book sale). The previous one, The man from Beijing was not one of the Detective Inspector Kurt Wallander series, and I did not enjoy it as much as this one, which does feature Wallander.

It seems to me that Mankell is, in a way, dominated by his own creation. When he tries to write books without Wallander, they seem to be patchy, with the plot not hanging together, and the characters become unconvincing.

In this book Wallander is involved in a case that affects his own family -- his daughter Linda's boyfriend's parents. The boyfriend's father, who lives in Stockholm, is a retired naval officer, who disappears, and, because of the family connection Wallander gets involved in the case.

Quite a large part of the book is devoted to Wallander's own reflections on the aging process, as he nears retirement himself. He reviews his life, wonders what happens to people he was at school with, wonders if he is becoming like his father and so on. I can understand that, since I am ten years older than Wallander is in the book, and I too wonder what happened to people I was at school or university with. I tend to use things like Facebook for that, but that doesn't seem to occur to Wallander. He has a computer, but doesn't seem to use it much.

The main story also recalls the past, with its roots in the Cold War. To say much more than that would reveal too much of the plot. If you like your whodunits to get on with the story and not have much introspective reflection, then perhaps you'd better wait for the Readers Digest condensed edition to come out. But I thought this was one of Mankell's better books.

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04 May 2012

The loved one lives again

Evelyn Waugh's 1940s send-up of the American funeral industry, The loved one seems to have taken on a new lease of life, and entered the digital era. There's a site you can join, called "My Send Off" where you can plan your own funeral. It doesn't say so, but I suspect that it is sponsored by the funeral industry (hat-tip to a tweet from BBC_WHYS).

Why do you need a funeral for a proper send-off? Read all about it here mysendoff.com | Blog | Mourning-Avoidance: Why Everyone Deserves a Funeral Sendoff.

As befits our secular age, it's an entirely secular plug for an entirely secular funeral: a secular humanist funeral to be exact, because the attitudes it argues against are just as secular, but not really humanist.

The site gives a lot of information about the various kinds of funerals that people can have. Apparently Star- Trek-themed funerals are quite popular. Oh, and if you register on the site, you get the opportunity win a pre-paid funeral. I wonder if it's valid in South Africa?

If you register on the site you can also create your own "bucket list". I clicked on that one to see what a bucket list is, and why I would need one, but it seems you have to register just to find out that. I assume it relates to the bucket that you kick when you die, but I didn't see a section for "My Clogs List", for the clogs that you pop.

Anyway, for my sendoff plans I want a proper Orthodox funeral with all the trimmings, but no kitsch supulchral haverdashery from the undertakers -- no plastic grass, no fancy gadgets for lowering into the grave, just ropes from the same rural general dealer where I hope the coffin can be bought. Oh, and the Russian, not the Greek melody to "Blessed art Thou O God, teach me Thy statutes", and not omitting "Thou only art immmortal".

01 May 2012

May Day odds and sods

In the intervals in which the Internet was working I managed to pick up a few snippets from Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, which seem worth recording in a more findable form.

Someone posted this saying of Rebecca West on Facebook

After battling for some time with an erratic Internet connection, and Blogger's new and improved and totally dysfunctional interface, I gave up and posted this on my Wordpress blog -- you can see it here: May Day odds and sods | Khanya.


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