Notes from underground

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Journeys in the dead season

Journeys in the Dead SeasonJourneys in the Dead Season by Spencer Jordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An awaiting trial prisoner reads a book written by an ex-World War 1 soldier. The prisoner is apparently facing a charge of being an accomplice in kidnapping and murder in Leicestershire, while the soldier makes notes for his book while travelling around the same general area visiting his war-time companions, but the events of his journeys are mainly revealed in letters to his father, which the prisoner has apparently not read.

Both the ex-soldier and the prisoner have witnessed scenes of death, and meet with psychotherapists, and both end up wandering around the Leicestershire countryside in apparent fits of madness. It is difficult to make any kind of sense of this, but that seems to be the point, as it made very l;ittle sense to the protagonists. In spite of the apparent pointlessness, it made compelling reading, even though in the end one is left wondering what exactly has happened.

It also left me wondering what has happened to book editors.

I think I would be reluctant to write historical novels, especially novels that contain, as this one does, texts purported to date from a different period. In this case, the letters of the ex-soldier to his father are dated in the early 1920s, and yet they use some anachronistic expressions that I think may not have been used then. Referring to the young soldiers who fought in the First World War as “teenagers” seems out of place. Perhaps they did, but I’m sure that people of that period would have been more likely to refer to them as “boys” or possibly “youths”. I thought “teenager” only came into widespread use in the 1940s of 1950s. Similarly, I do not think people of that period would have been familiar with the 1970s malapropism “parameters”, or with the misuse of “sojourn” apparently popularised by Stephen Donaldson‘s “Thomas Covenant” books. I thought it was only in the last 20 years or so that people have begun to use “proven” instead of “proved” as the regular past tense of “prove” — before that I understood it as a technical term of Scottish law, found in the verdict of “not proven”.

But perhaps this anachronism is all part of the book’s topsy-turvy timeline, in which the personalities of the protagonists from two different periods seem to merge.

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Dreamcatcher: a book review

DreamcatcherDreamcatcher by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m never sure what to expect with Stephen King novels. Some I think are very good, some very bad, and most somewhere in between. The ones I liked best are Needful Things, Pet Sematary and The girl who loved Tom Gordon. I’ve generally enjoyed his supernatural horror stories rather than his science fiction ones or other genres, though The girl who loved Tom Gordon, about a girl lost in the woods, is neither science fiction nor horror.

I read a couple of his science fiction ones, including a UFO novel, The Tommyknockers, which I thought was his worst. So when I picked up The Dreamcatcher at the library, I wasn’t expecting much, but thought that as it was only a library book, I didn’t need to feel I had to finish it. In the end I did finish it. It was a page turner, in the sense that I wanted to see what happened, but it confirmed my opinion that King is better at writing about spooks than about space aliens. Dreamcatcher was better than The Tommyknockers but not much.

The story line was disjointed and made little sense, and thoughout the story telepathy seems to be overused as a deus ex machina. The eponymous “dreamcatcher” is never really explained in any coherent way. The main characters are unreal; we are told virtually nothing about their families, and they hardly ever think of them or miss them when they are experiencing tough times.

But there is also a kind of moral thread running through the story. Stephen King clearly has a lot of sympathy for bullied children, and one could say that there is a moral in the story: be kind to bullied and disabled children.

A possible explanation for this might be that King had been in a serious accident, and appears to have written this book while recovering from it, and one of the characters experiences a similar accident, and goes through similar suffering. The girl who lived Tom Gordon, written shortly before the accident, was a much better book.

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Why do I support Putin?

I was gobsmacked to be told by another blogger recently that I supported Putin.

Tell Me Bill Maher Is Not an Idiot | Clarissa’s Blog: “Yet you support Putin whose belligerent war mongering makes both Obama and Bush look like babes in arms?”

That was news to me, and so I asked what made her think I supported Putin, and it was apparently because I had referred to the conflict in Ukraine as a “civil war”, perhaps in this earlier blog post: Some observations on the Ukraine crisis | Notes from underground.

Now she is Ukrainian, and I am not and I’ve never been to Ukraine. I have read a little of its history, and according to the history I have read, Eastern and Western Ukraine have different histories and this sometimes leads to differences of opinion. Blogger Clarissa denies this, says that there are no differences of opinion among Ukrainians, and all the problems are caused by outside interference in Ukraine’s domestic affairs — from Putin, of course.

Well, to misquote Bob Dylan, Oh, no, no, no, I’ve been through this movie before. We were told during the era of the Verwoerdian dream that black people and white people in South Africa lived in perfect harmony, and any appearance to the contrary was caused by outside agitators from Moscow. And therefore anyone who spoke of differences of opinion was ipso facto a Communist, and was therefore supporting Stalin or Krushchev or Brezhnev or Andropov or whoever happened to be the head honcho of the USSR at the moment. We even had laws that defined “communist” in such terms.

José Mujica, President of Uruguay

José Mujica, President of Uruguay

I hold no brief for Putin. I don’t know what he’s up to most of the time, and I wonder if the citizens of Russia know what he’s up to most of the time either. To all accounts he’s an exponent of Realpolitik, but the same appears to be true or Obama, Cameron, Merkel and the rest of them. So I don’t “support” any of them.

The only political leader I might just possibly support is the President of Uruquay. José Mujica. If we had a politician like that, I’d support him. But in voting in our election earlier this year it was a matter of deciding which was the least of 29 evils, and it was a hard choice.

As for Ukraine, I just wish the Ukrainians would sort out their differences peaceully, whether or not they have any differences, with minimal interference from politicians in other countries, all of whom, I suspect, are using Ukraine as a political football.

 

Independent Scotland: rhetoric and reality

The news and social media have recently been full of this week’s referendum on whether Scotland should be independent.

ScotFlagOne of the things that has struck me about it is the dire predictions of disaster for an independent Scotland from those opposed to independence, yet most of them are not on record as having opposed the independence of several other recently independent countries on similar grounds. Why are they opposed to independence for Scotland, yet not to independence for some of the following countries?

Country Area Population
Scotland

30,265 sq miles

5.295 million

Czech Republic

30,450 sq miles

10.52 million

Latvia

24,938 sq miles

2.013 million

Slovakia

18,933 sq miles

5.414 million

Bosnia

19,767 sq miles

3.829 million

Croatia

21,851 sq miles

4.253 million

Lesotho

11,720 sq miles

2.074 million

Slovenia

7,827 sq miles

2.06 million

I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on whether Scotland should be independent or not. I’m not voting and I don’t live there. But I am struck by the spuriousness of some of the arguments for a “No” vote, and the predictions of disaster. Have such disasters struck the other states on the list above?

I can see some good arguments for a “No” vote: the main one is that Scottish independence would be bad for the rest of the UK, because it would condemn the rest of the UK to having a Tory government in perpetuity. Perhaps the answer to that would be to have independence for Wales for a start, and perhaps Cornwall, Mercia, Wessex, Bernicia, Deira, etc, and and leave London and the “home” counties to do their merry little Tory thing.

Another utterly spurious argument was that the Royal Bank of Scotland would move its head office to London. If it did such a thing, I hope that it would change its name. And if I were a Scot, and had an account with it, I would certainly take my custom elsewhere.

I wonder where Slovenians do their banking?

Iconoclasm and the Reformation

A very interesting post by my blogging friend Terry Cowan, on the real meaning of iconoclasm in the Protestant Reformation and in Islam:

Notes from a Common-place Book: Philip Jenkins on the Reformation, both Protestant and Islamic:

For anyone living at the time, including educated elites, the iconoclasm was not just an incidental breakdown of law and order, it was the core of the whole movement, the necessary other side of the coin to the growth of literacy. Those visual and symbolic representations of the Christian story had to decrease, in order for the world of the published Bible to increase. In terms of the lived experience of people at the time, the image-breaking is the key component of the Reformation. In the rioting and mayhem, a millennium-old religious order was visibly and comprehensively smashed….in effect removing popular access to the understanding of faith and the Christian story.

It’s worth reading, as is the article it refers to and quotes from.

Dalai Lama again refused entry into SA

The Dalai Lama has again been refused entry to South Africa, this time for the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the Cape Times reported on Thursday

The Dalai Lama’s representative in South Africa Nangsa Choedon said officials from the department of international relations had phoned her office in the past week to say the Tibetan spiritual leader would not be granted a visa. The office had yet to receive written confirmation.”For now the Dalai Lama has decided to cancel his trip to South Africa,” Choedon was quoted as saying.

The summit, an annual gathering, is being held in Cape Town next month, with arrangements being made by a local organising committee formed by the foundations representing four South African laureates — Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk, and Albert Luthuli.

via Dalai Lama again refused entry into SA – Sowetan LIVE.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

And this happens in the year when we are supposed to be celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy. Our “freedom” is beginning to look a bit tattered around the edges.

In 1968 the South African government excluded the cricketer Basil d’Oliveira from coming with the MCC team on a cricket tour, and the result was the exclusion of South Africa from world cricket for more than 20 years. Now it seems that the young dog is learning the old dog’s tricks.

It means that, as in the bad old days, South Africa is not a suitable place for international gatherings, because people can be barred from attending by arbitrary government decisions.

If the people arranging the gathering of Nobel Laureates have any integrity, they will move the venue to a free country (Botswana for instance), which will all ow all those invited to attend.

If the organisers of the gathering are not willing to do that, then the other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates should refuse to attend. Their attendance in such circumstances would make a mockery of the Peace Prize.

 

Out of touch with pop culture

In an online discussion the other day, people mentioned Martha Stewart. I thought I’d heard of her — there was a bit of a stir in the media because she went to jail, and so if you asked me, “What do you know about Martha Stewart?” I would say, “She went to jail.” I mean, that’s what she’s famous for, isn’t it?

But it turns out that I was wrong.

It seems she was famous before she went to jail, and that was why the media made a fuss about her going to jail. They just assumed that everyone knew who she was and what she was famous for, and that that would make them interested in reading about her going to jail.

So now I need to look up Martha Stewart, to discover her main claim to fame, apart from going to jail.

But it seems I’m not the only one. Someone else thought Martha Stewart was Martha Graham. I can’t say I’ve heard of Martha Graham either, but I don’t think I read about her going to jail.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

A quick Google search tells me that Martha Stewart is an American businesswoman, writer, convicted felon, television personality, and former fashion model. So I’m not quite as out of touch as I thought I was. “Convicted felon” is up there with the rest of the stuff, it was just the only bit I knew about. And Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on the modern visual arts, Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture. It seems that she was not a convicted felon, so perhaps that was why I hadn’t heard of her.

But that’s my problem. I just don’t do celebs, so I’m out of touch with pop culture.

That was rubbed in this week when I saw the name of Mark Driscoll all over the social media. There were Tweets about him, for and against him. There were numerous posts on Facebook, and numerous blog posts devoted to Mark Driscoll, and everybody seemed to know who he was. He seemed to be as famous as Roman Pope Francis, in all sorts of circles. Perhaps he was the Protestant Pope.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Churcfh

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Churcfh

But it turns out that Mark A. Driscoll is an evangelical Christian pastor, author, and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch in Seattle, Washington. Well, it seems that Mars Hill Church is a bit more than a big church in Seattle. It seems to be a new denomination that extends over 5 states in the US. Someone told me that he was well-known in neo-Calvinist circles. All I can say is that there must be an awful lot of crypto-neo-Calvinists among my Facebook friends, and people I follow on Twitter, and on my blogroll, because people who live half a world away from Seattle have been talking about him. Even some Orthodox Christians have mentioned is name in posts.

So, OK, he’s a celebrity pastor, and because I don’t do celebs, I’m surprised when people all over the world are talking about him, in a way that they have not, for example, talking about Fred Modise, whose church seems to have more followers than that of Mark Driscoll.

So, being so out of touch with pop culture, is there any hope of getting back in touch, and rectifying the deficiency?

Cultural catch-up films: Fantastic Mr Fox

Cultural catch-up films: Fantastic Mr Fox

And it seems yes, there is hope for people like me, who had a deprived childhood and youth. The answer lies here: The 55 Essential Movies Your Child Must See (Before Turning 13) | PopWatch | EW.com:

This isn’t a list of the 55 “best” kids movies, nor a compendium of hidden gems. Rather, it’s a survival-guide syllabus of films that we all need to know to be able to speak the same pop-cultural language, listed in order by when they might be best introduced. It starts with a film that is a perfect introduction to the cinematic universe and ends with one that is an ideal capper before graduating into the world of PG-13 and R movies—and the age when kids begin to make their own theater decisions.

It I watch one of those films every week, in a little over a year I should have caught up.

 

The Waves (book review)

The WavesThe Waves by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is different from most novels. It’s about six friends, Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Louis, Neville and Jinny, from childhood to old age, but it says little about their external circumstances. It is told entirely from the viewpoints of the people concerned, and is an internal description of how their friends and life affect them.

Describing it like that, it doesn’t sound like much of a story. Seeing the world through six pairs of eyes, moving from one viewpoint to the other, sounds as though it will be like living in six separate boxes, but it isn’t. It is a marvellous evocation of friendship. The trouble is that it is so evocative that my mind kept wandering, every paragraph at least, if not every sentence. When it describes the feelings of one character when leaving school, I was taken back to when I left school, aznd got so absorbed in the vivid recollection that I must have remained stuck on the same page for about 20 minutes or so,

It was the the same with the description of their leaving university, and I was taken back 46 years (gosh, was it as long ago as that) when I took the train from Grahamstown to Alicedale, and waited on Alicedale station for the train to Johannesburg, and the realisation suddenly struck me that I would never be a full-time student again. I hadn’t been a student all the time before, but even working for two years full time I was still saving up to go to university, and suddenly it was all over. And Virginia Woolf captures that “it’s all over” feeling brilliantly. To one character it’s a drop of water gathering and growing, and then suddenly it drops, and life changes, irrevocably.

But at the same time there is a continuity. As the characters move from youth to age, so there are interludes describing, quite impersonally, the course of a day, the sun rising and setting over the sea shore, with the waves continuing to crash down, so there is also a repetition, and it reminded me of the verse of Psalm 41/42:

Deep is calling to deep
as your cataracts roar;
all your waves, your breakers
have rolled over me.

Actually there is a seventh friend, Percival, who was at school with the boys. We hear of his unrequited love for Susan, and Neville’s unrequited love for him, and he goes to India and is killed in a fall from a horse. But his viewpoint never appears, he is seen only only through the eyes of the others, and the effects of his life and death on them.

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Spring is early this year

In our garden the first sign of spring is the budding of new leaves on our mulberry tree. They usually make their first appearance on 20th August, but they are early this year. They first appeared about a week ago, and now they are quite big.

When we first moved to this house, nearly 30 years ago, there was no mulberry tree. There was one over the road by the railway line, and when the children kept silkworms, they used to collect the leaves to feed them, and the fruit as well. One of the seeds must have germinated, and the tree is now far larger than its parent. The fruit comes in October, but we rarely get any. The birds eat most of it while it is still green, and what drops on the ground the dogs eat avidly.

Spring is here. Our raised garden is gradually taking shape, and leaves have already appeared on the mulberry tree

Spring is here. Our raised garden is gradually taking shape, and leaves have already appeared on the mulberry tree

Meanwhile, the other trees are still bare, except for the jacarandas, which haven’t lost their leaves yet.

Juju outshines the sun

I was rather puzzled by the sudden popularity of a post on my other blog: Zuma witchcraft story goes viral in right-wing media | Khanya. Lots of people seemed to be finding my blog using search terms like “Zuma” and “witchcraft”. So what were the evil right-wing media up to now? The Daily Sun is notorious for its stories of witches, zombies, tokoloshes and the like, and, to judge by their sales, people love reading about such things.

Mermaids allegedly found in President |uma's swimming pool

Mermaids allegedly found in President Zuma’s swimming pool

So I did my own search on the search terms that people were using to find my blog, and found that this time it wasn’t the right, but the left — Julius Malema was apparently accusing President Zuma of practising witchcraft by having mermaids in his swimming pool! Who would have thought that Julius Malema would outshine the Daily Sun?

A quick Google search reveals that this story does not seem to have hit the mainstream media yet, not even the Daily Sun, or the UK Daily Mail, but it nevertheless seems to have stirred up enough public interest to promote a significant increase in traffic to my blog.

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