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.


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