Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Weird dreams

I had a quite extraordinary dream last night, which I wasn’t sure was all a dream.

We were watching TV, and they were showing the discovery of a large alien spaceship. The intrepid spacemen who discovered it knocked on the door, and, on getting no response, tried to break in. Eventually they did that by the expedient of shooting through the doors. This broke airtight seals, and so allowed air to escape.

We remarked at how thick they were to do this, and Jethro, or someone in the film, said there were plenty of other sealed off parts of the ship, so it was only making a small part uninhabitable. At this point we began to enter the film, whether fiction or news, I am not sure. Eventually, after breaking through three or four doors in a long metal corridor, they were trying to film through a glass panel one of the remaining ones, and had a picture of a frightened little boy, about 4 years old, dressed like one of the kids in a 1940s concentration camp, and in black and white, like an old photo.

trike1I never dream in black and white, so I thought I was still watching a film. Then another little boy, a bit older, came round the corner on riding a tricycle, followed by yet another child, and the shooting stopped. Eventually a way was found to open the doors, and make contact with the kids, who turned out to be  human, and there were several others, all black and white, all dressed like they came out of the 1940s. At this point I became aware that I was dreaming, but I was dreaming about a film I had seen on TV.

Coke2Then someone came with the news that the spaceship had come from earth — they had explored round the outside of the ship, and discovered it was proudly sponsored by Coca-Cola, and there was an ad for Coke on one side. It appeared that it was a kind of children’s reformatory, except that there was no adult supervision. The children were sent out in the spaceship and abandoned.

At one place there were crosses and symbols in the floor, in a kind of garden, and that was for children who had died. A new one popped up, with an Orthodox cross, and they said that that was because another child somewhere in the ship had died, or was about to die. She was a girl of about 9, a little blonde girl with a bunch of hair on the top of her head tied with a ribbon, again in a 1940s style, in black and white.

trike2We were looking at a photo of her. Then someone discovered a box like a coffin, with a handwritten note in it “Take to Kitt’s” — and it seemed that this was evidence that Kitts were a firm that was used to transfer children to the spaceship.

Then I woke up, still not quite sure if I was dreaming about a film I had actually seen, or whether the whole thing was a dream.

Towards the end several anomalies were becoming apparent. Why were the children dressed as if they were in the 1940s. If they had been sent to the spaceship in the 1940s, why hadn’t they grown up? Were they sentenced to perpetual childhood? The bit about the graves popping up automatically did seem to be inspired by the film of “The hunger games”, or the book.

About 15 years ago there were quite a lot of web sites dedicated to diaries and journals, including online journals that eventually got absorbed into blogs. Some recommended the keeping of “dream diaries“.

I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was 11 years old, and sometimes I’ve recorded dreams in it. About 20 years ago I began keeping my diary on computer, in a database program, and made a field for recording dreams, or such fragments of dreams as I’ve remembered.

From this I’ve concluded that dreams are mostly insignificant. When you use a computer and run lots of different programs, they are supposed to clear the memory used by each program to make that memory available for the next program without the clutter of data from the previous program, and I’ve generally come to think of dreams like this — the brain getting rid of clutter.

The dream I described above seemed different, though. It was a story, one that I first thought was being told in a film, but which I later entered and became part of. Perhaps it could be developed into a kind of science fiction story, and I might do that one day. The illustrations are not what I saw in the dream, of course. They are just to give some idea of the flavour and the period in which the dream was set.

One thing that upsets my theory that dreams are a kind of memory collection and clearing device device is that I have dream locations that recur in several dreams, but are quite different from the actual locations on which they are based. I have a dream Durban and a dream Pretoria, which have a kind of internal consistency, but are quite different from the real world Durban and Pretoria.



The white shadow: an African Bildungsroman

The White ShadowThe White Shadow by Andrea Eames

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I suppose the best way to describe the genre of this novel is a Bildungsroman, set in the time of Zimbabwe’s Second Chimurenga, forty years ago. Was it as long ago as that? And the author wasn’t even born then.

Tinashe is a young Shona boy who grows up in a rural village, ocasionally visited by his rich uncle from the city and his cousin. He dreams of going to school and university, like his uncle, but his cousin doesn’t seem to value these things. Tinashe’s younger sister, Hazvinei, is strange, and communes with spirits. Her brother, and other people, sometimes find her rather frightening, but he feels obliged to care for her, even when it threatens to disrupt his education.

In some ways it is like an African version of David Copperfield or The catcher in the rye, but it is also bound up with the surreal and unpredictabe world of Shona mythology, where the spirits can make people feel invincible at one moment and dash all their hopes the next.

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Incompatible worldviews: The castle in the Pyrenees

The Castle in the PyreneesThe Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder

The book takes the form of e-mail correspondence between two former lovers, Solrun and Steinn, who meet by accident some thirty years after they parted, at a hotel that was linked to the events that caused them to part. They reflect on the events that led up to their parting, which involve a mysterious “Lingonberry Woman”, and the divergent interpretations of their shared experience, naturalistic and supernaturalistic, that eventually caused them to part.

The story is almost allegorical, with the main characters standing for two worldviews, a technique that is shared with some of Jostein Gaarder‘s other books. In the end, neither the philosophical nor the narrative mystery is solved, and both are left hanging. I can understand this in the case of the philosophical mystery of the natrualistic or supernaturalistic worldviews, but in the case of the narrative mysteries it makes the story a bit unsatisfactory.

Perhaps I am missing some literary allusions, but the title is one of the mysteries. All the action takes place in Norway, and none in the Pyrenees — the closest the characters get to the Pyrenees is a trip to Normandy, which is mentioned in passing. And the “Lingonberry Woman” apparently has nothing to do with lingonberries (whatever they may be). She neither gathers them, nor eats them, nor offers them to the characters to eat. It might have been more appropriate to call her the “Foxglove Woman” since the characters are looking at foxgloves when they encounter her.

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Some observations on the Ukraine crisis

Three weeks ago I wrote about the lies that the media were feeding us on the “Ukraine crisis”.

It struck me that when they showed us “breaking news” on Ukraine, it would almost invariably be Barack Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron or William Hague looking stern and serious and admonitory, and warning Russia of severe consequences.

I was a bit hesitant about writing about Ukraine (as opposed to writing about the media writing about Ukraine), since I am no fundi on Ukraine, but if the Western politicians can have their say, so can I. I don’t have a coherent story to tell, or any warnings to give, just some rather disjointed observations.

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

The story coming out of the Ukraine unrest that most impressed me was the story of clergy standing between sometimes-violent demonstrators and sometimes-violent riot police, and praying for peace. I found them much more interesting than  Obama, Cameron, Kerry, Hague & Co (herinafter referred to as OCKH). Unlike OCKH & Co, the praying clergy had boots on the ground, in Ukraine — see In Kiev, Protests Bring Orthodox Priests To Pray On The Frontline Despite Government Warnings. But that was not the kind of story the media like to tell, and so it got little coverage compared with OCKH & Co.

When it wasn’t all about OCKH & Co, then the narrative was all about Putin. He was clearly the bad guy in the Western narrative, which is further evidence for the truth and usefulness of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis (see The Orange Revolution, Peeled | Notes from underground).

But when it comes to Putin, I found some interesting comments in an unexpected place: Russia’s Blunder Needs a Realist’s Response | The American Conservative. Hat-tip to my blogging friend Terry Cowan, who drew my attention to it, and recommended it thus:

Here is yet another excellent analysis from “The American Conservative.” For my left-leaning friends, do not be put-off by the word “Conservative” on their masthead. I know of no other site that so effectively battles that most American of all heresies—namely, the belief in our own exceptionalism. And for my rightist friends, be prepared for views widely at variance with Movement Conservatism. Both are conservative in the same way that Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss are both authors.

For myself, I’m not sure whether Crimea’s decision to leave Ukraine and join Russia was a good one or not. What I am sure of is that the US and UK’s decision to have a hissy fit about it was a very bad one. Basically what they are saying is that mob rule is good in Kiev, but bad in Sevastopol, but they haven’t seen fit to tell us why they think that.

And then there is the question whether it was Russia’s “blunder”. In what way was it a blunder?

Well, if I were President Putin, and if I were thinking in a purely secular political manner, I would see it as desirable to have Ukraine as a friendly neighbour, one that was willing to trade with me on advantageous terms and so on. To judge from news reports, the protests in Kiev were precisely against such an advantageous trade agreement with Russia, and the protesters would have preferred 0ne with the European Union. Why they think closer ties with the EU would be a good thing is a bit of a mystery to me — they just have to look at the fate of Greece to see the down side of that. But it’s their bed, and they will have to lie in it.

But if Crimea leaves Ukraine and joins Russia, it tips the balance of power in the rest of Ukraine to the western Ukraine, which is far less sympathetic to Russia, so it does seem to be a bit of a blunder on Russia’s part, and the alacrity with which they accepted Crimea’s request for incorporation seems a little short-sighted. But it has probably boosted Putin’s popularity, and hence his chances in the next election, and that kind of thing tends to carry more weight with politicians than long-term interests. It’s one of the draw-backs of democracy that we have to live with.

But I don’t live in Russia or Ukraine, so such mundane political considerations don’t concern me directly.

I suppose my concern is more ecclesiastical, and there other considerations carry more weight. This article can help give one a clue: RUSSIA – UKRAINE Crimea annexation frightens Patriarch of Moscow – Asia News:

When last March 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the federal parliament in impassioned defense of Great Russia, to justify the annexation of the Crimea, the expressions on the faces of the front rows of the assembly betrayed an unusual concern. Amid the Imam’s turban and the rabbi’s hat, the absence of Patriarch Kirill’s white tiara. Two rows behind the veiled miter of his vicar, the elderly Metropolitan Juvenalij, nodded uncertainly. He was sent to represent the Patriarchal Church, whose blessing was essential to confirm the necessary re-appropriation of the “holy land” of the Crimea.

Kirill’s absence was justified by his spokesman with uncertain references to his state of health (but the day before he had regularly presided over a long celebration) and the devout silence of Lent (but this should also apply to Juvenalij) . In reality, the absence of Kirill’s blessing demonstrates the extreme embarrassment of the Moscow Patriarchate over the Ukrainian crisis, which threatens to upset even the structure of the same ecclesiastical institutions, and obliterate the enlargement projects pursued with great tenacity by Kirill himself in recent years. It seems that Putin has gone too far for his spiritual fathers.

Now that is from a Roman Catholic source, and has its own (Western) axes to grind, but it does show that the Church is not necessarily cheering on the latest political developments. This is in part because of the complicated history of Christianity in Ukraine, as the Wikipedia article on the topic shows: History of Christianity in Ukraine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Currently, three major Ukrainian Orthodox Churches coexist, and often compete, in the country: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Additionally, a significant body of Christians belong to the Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and a smaller number in the Ruthenian Catholic Church. While Western Christian traditions such as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have had a limited presence on the territory of Ukraine since at least the 16th century, worshipers of these traditions remain a relatively small minority in today’s Ukraine.

If you want to know more, read the full article, but one reason for the “Orthodox” divisions in Ukraine is the idea that ecclesiastical boundaries should follow ethinc and political ones.

This idea is a bit strange to Orthodox Christians in Africa, where we are all, east, west, north and south, under the jurisdiction of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa. Orthodox Christians in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa, in spite of living in different countries, under different flags, with different languages and cultures, are all part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, under one Pope and Patriarch[1]. But Europeans, especially, seem obsessed with the idea that if one country becomes independent from another, it must have a separate church jurisdiction.

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Orthodox bishops around the world are preparing for a Pan-Orthodox Council — the first such gathering since the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. It would be a pity if it were to be dominated by such nationalistic considerations as have given rise to the divisions in Ukraine, which the present political turmoil is only likely to exacerbate.

Yet the witness of Christians in Ukraine to a more excellent way of love and peace is important for the rest of the Church, and the world. And I hope it is that, rather than the divisiveness, that gets reflected in the Pan-Orthodox Council.

But all this makes the antics of OCKH & Co even more bizarre.

Fifteen years ago Nato, at the urging of Clinton and Blair, the predecessors of the OCKH cabal, bombed Yugoslavia in order to divide it — see 15 years on: Looking back at NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Yugoslavia — RT News. Some 3000 people were killed. Yet they castigate Putin as evil for dividing Ukraine, without raining death from the skies. This resembles nothing so much as Orwell’s 1984 where good causes become evil at the whim of the authorities. They tell us it was a good thing to divide a country by massive bombing killing thousands of people, but that it is a very bad thing to divide another country by holding a referendum. That sounds like the Orwellian chant: War is Peace and Peace is War.

I prefer religion in the public square, boots on the ground, praying in Maidan.



Actually it’s not quite as simple as that — there are actually two popes, both with the title of Theodore II, arising from a schism in the 6th century after disagreements at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but that is a different story.

Under the weather

Posting on this blog has been a bit erratic of late because we have been a bit under the weather.

For details see: Back to the Dark Ages, or the heat death of the universe?

Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek (book review)

SplinterSplinter by Sebastian Fitzek

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I began reading this book, it reminded me of The double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, with the atmosphere of Kafka’s novels thrown in.

Marc Lucas is a social worker, miserable and grieving because he has lost his wife in a motor accident. He does, however, succeed in saving the life of a suicidal teenager. He sees an advertisement for a clinic that claims to be able to remove painful memories, and decides to visit it. He discovers that they are conducting memory experiments, and will give him complete amnesia, and then reload the pleasant memories, and decides not to participate, and leaves without signing anything. Then his nightmare begins.

It seems that his identity has been stolen. All the addresses have been wiped from his cell phone, his credit cards no longer work. He goes home to get medicine he needs to take because of the after-effects of the accident in which his wife dies, and the keys of his flat no longer work, but his wife answers the door, alive and pregnant, but no longer recognising him.

He is befriended by a woman who claims that she too is a victim of the same conspiracy, but then she appears to betray him, making him believe that she too is part of the conspiracy. The things that happen to him become more and more irrational and arbitrary, but the end, when all is revealed, turns out not to be like Dostoevsky or Kafka at all, but something far more prosaic, and far less believable. After reading the first few chapters, I was thinking that this would be a five-star book, but by the end it had dropped to three.

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The final reckoning by Sam Bourne (book review)

The Final ReckoningThe Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I picked up this book from the shelf in the book shop I read on the cover the blurb, “The biggest challenger to Dan Brown’s crown.” Normally that would have been enough to make me put the book back on the shelf and look for something else, but I recalled that I had just read another book by Sam Bourne and it hadn’t been nearly as bad as anything written by Dan Brown, so I thought I’d take a chance on it anyway. It was remaindered and going cheap so I wouldn’t lose too much if it was a serious contender for Dan Brown’s crown as a writer of trash.

But the cover blurb certainly influenced the way I read the book — looking for comparisons with Dan Brown.

There are some superficial resemblances to The da Vinci code (the only Dan Brown novel I’ve read). The main characters are a man and a woman who meet and get hooked into travelling around ostensibly trying to solve a mystery together. Unlike Dan Brown’s characters, they have more believable professions — a doctor and a lawyer. And though it turns out that they are investigating a conspiracy, it is based on a real historical one, and not an imaginary bogus one.

Though the characters and many of the incidents in the story are fictitious, the historical setting is for the most part real. Like The da Vinci code, the story has several plot holes, but they are not as numerous and obtrusive as those in The da Vinci code. There are a couple of points at which the reader’s credulity is strained, a sort of “this kind of thing just doesn’t happen” moment, and then one thinks of former US President George Bush’s “extraordinary rendition”, and one realises that of course it does happen. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Truth is always stranger than fiction, because fiction is a product of the human mind, and therefore congenial to it.”

I won’t say too much about the actual story, because of the danger of spoilers. A suspected terrorist is shot outside the UN headquarters in New York, but turns out to be an apparently harmless old man. Lawyer Tom Byrne, who formerly worked for the UN, is hired to offer hush money the victim’s family so they don’t make a fuss about it, but gets a crush on the victim’s daughter, which complicates things. It seems that shadowy people are looking for something that they suspect her father of having had, possibly his World War II memoir of persecution of the Jews and resistance movements against Nazi occupation, which the old man had been involved in.

The book also raises some moral issues about justice and the pursuit of vengeance. Is vigilante justice ever justified? When does the pursuit of justice cross the line and tip over into vengeance?

It’s not outstanding, but it’s quite a good read, and the tale is quite well told. In that respect, Dan Brown doesn’t come anywhere near challenging it.

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The right to be illiterate

In a democratic society a person has the right to be illiterate.

Thus spake the Dean of the Education Faculty at the University of South Africa on 13 October 1993.

I thought I’d heard it all, until someone posted this on Twitter:

Embedded image permalink

One was in South Africa and the other in the UK, but in both cases it is people responsible for speading education seeking to limit its spread.

Disabling NoScript

I recently found that I could not edit WordPress posts, but managed to do so when I used Internet Explorer rather than Firefox.

I have now tried again with Firefox, with the NoScript add-on disabled, so it seems that the culprit was NoScript. There must have been something wrong with a recent update. It also seemed to have weird effects on some other sites, with menu options taking one to the wrong place etc.

It’s a pity, because I found NoScript useful when visiting news sites and others with bandwidth-hogging video streaming etc.


Dead phones and the power of Twitter

Our phone is working again after being dead for 12 days.

We reported the fault to Telkom as soon as we noticed that the phone wasn’t working, and when it hadn’t been repaired within a day, I posted a message on Twitter & Facebook (via cellphone) to let people that we had problems, so they would understand that we would not be able to respond immediately to e-mail messages and such things. Something similar had happened about 6 months ago, when the phone line was down for a similar period, and when the service was restored I found lots of messages saying “Did you get my previous message?”

Occasionally the ASDL Internet connection worked, even when the voice line was dead, It worked for an hour or so, perhaps once every 3-4 days, and then would die again.

On the Twitter messge I used the #hashtag #Telkom, and was interested to see that it was picked up by @TelkomBusiness, who asked for the phone number, and then followed up with the technical department, and after we had been without the phone for 10 days asked them to “escalate” our fault. Whther as a result of that or something else, the phone started working again today, and with it the Internet connection. So thanks to @TelkomBusiness for the role they played in that. It just goes to show that someone out there keeps an eye on the hashtags, and picked up the #Telkom one, and followed it up. It also shows the power of Twitter. Thanks to the people at @TelkomBusiness for their readiness to help.

It will take some time to deal with all the accumulated mail: when I downloaded it in the brief windows when the ADSL was working I would sort it into various “To Reply” folders, sometimes with a quick note that I would deal with it when the line was working again, and delete the spam. Apologies for the notes that were perhaps curt and abrupt, or full of typos. I was typing fast to try to get it off before the connection died again.

Gideon Iileka, Steve Hayes, Thomas Ruhozo, at Kamanjab, Namibia, 5 October 1971And here’s a picture that shows the bloke who was sending the notes; that’s me, in the middle.

The picture is over 40 years old, but then some of the people I send e-mail to I haven’t seen for 40 years, and so they will be more likely to remember me looking like that. And the two other blokes in the picture I haven’t seen for 40 years either. But I like the picture, and I’d like to see them again, and perhaps take a follow-up picture.

There’s one other thing to add.

I posted this to let people know that our phone line is working again, and over the next few days I’ll be working to deal with the accumulated mail. But when I tried to write this, I couldn’t. WordPress would not let me.  The WordPress editor simply would not let me type the text. So I thought I’d try to write the message on my Tumblr bloglet, Marginalia, but that wouldn’t let me edit it either. So eventually I tried loading Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, and that seemed to do the trick. So it looks like the current edition of Firefox is broken, and needs an update.


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