Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Secret Africa by Lawrence G.; Green (book review)

Secret AfricaSecret Africa by Lawrence George Green

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading or re-reading quite a lot of books by Lawrence George Green lately, mainly because of my interest in family and local history, and I’ve been compiling an index to some of them. He is, or was, a raconteur and teller of travellers tales, which are often interesting and entertaining, if not always accurate. He was a journalist, and his books often read like a collection of newspaper features, which they probably are. He sometimes recycles stories, so that they appear in more than one of his books.

Secret Africa is one of his earlier books, and was rather disappointing. It was written before the Second World War, and reprinted in 1974, I thought I might index it, but discovered that there is nothing much worth indexing. Some chapters read like a lazy journalist’s rewrites of press releases, the sort of advertorials one sometimes sees on TV. The only thing interesting about them was that they are 80 years old, so one gets a view of a different period. The title, Secret Africa is misleading. There is nothing secret about most of it, it’s just PR stuff that people want you to know.

Even the more personal chapters — a description of a trip to Mauritius, for example — have the feeling of plugging a message from the sponsor, and are full of racism and snobbery as well.

The final chapter, a description of gold mining in Johannesburg, is full of statistics, so that it reads in places like a company report — how many tons of ore it takes to produce an ounce of gold, how much bars of gold were worth, how much it cost to sink a shaft, and of course the marvelous accommodation, food, recreational and healthcare facilities provided by the benevolent mining companies for their native mineworkers. Perhaps I’m unduly cynical about this, because at the same time I’ve been reading the biography of Walter and Albertina Sisulu by their daughter-in-law Elinor Sisulu, which describes how they helped to organise a miners’ strike to protest against the poor housing, pay, food and all the other stuff that Green praises from the PR blurb.

Lawrence George Green‘s best work was written in the 1950s and 1960s, and his earlier and later work seems to be dreck. This one definitely falls into that category. It seems to have been written before he hit his stride, and in the later ones he seems to be coasting on empty.

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Visit to Western Cape

friendsWe hope to visit the Western Cape in late August. Unless we win the Lotto or something this will probably be the last time in our lives that we’ll ever go there, and so will be the last opportunity to visit friends and family who live there, so it may be the last chance we’ll ever have to see old old friends, and cousins, some of whom we’ve met, and some of whom we haven’t.

famtreeIf you would like to see us when we are there, please use the form below to give us your contact information, so we can get in touch with you. We would not like to get back home after the trip and have people say, as so often happens, “Why didn’t you get in touch when you were here?”

There are more details about this proposed trip on our family history blog here.

So far the following are on our list of “people to see”:

  • Sam van den Berg
  • Edmund van Wyk
  • Lindsay Walker
  • Michael Preston
  • Sandy Struckmeyer
  • Brenda Coetzee
  • Jean Mary Gray
  • Jeanette Harris
  • Chris Saunders

Here’s How Facebook’s News Feed Actually Works | TIME

facebookLDFacebook is one of the most popular web sites on earth, but most of us have at times felt that we are being manipulated and messed around by Facebook’s algorithms — showing you lots of stuff you have no interest in, and missing out things that are vital.

If you don’t “like” enough things that someone posts, Facebook stops showing that person’s posts to you, so after not seeing anythimng from them for several weeks and wondering if they are ill or have died, you look them up and “like” everything in sight, whether you actually like it or not.

This article suggests that that is about to change.

Facebook is injecting a human element into the way News Feed operates. The company’s growing army of human raters help the social network improve the News Feed experience in ways that can’t easily be measured by “Likes.” A new curation tool launching Thursday, for instance, called “See First” will let any user choose which of their friends they want to see at the top of the feed, rather than having the decision dictated by an algorithm. via Here’s How Facebook’s News Feed Actually Works | TIME.

I have a suggestion for Facebook, to improve this for users.

First, that they should allow one to categorise things that one posts. Categories could include things like:

  • Vital family events – birth, marriage, death, serious illness
  • Other family events – moving/renovating home, graduation, holidays etc
  • Work-related stuff
  • Recreation, hobbies, travel etc
  • Religion, spirituality etc
  • Society – politics, economics etc
  • Art & literature
  • Travel
  • Technology
  • General

And then allow you to say which kind of stuff you would like to see from any particular friend.

That would do a great deal to improve the Facebook “user experience”.

 

Enough is enough: it’s time for Greece to leave the Eurozone

Enough is enough. It’s time for Greece to leave the Eurozone and start issuing its own currency.

Greek crisis: surrender fiscal sovereignty in return for bailout, Merkel tells Tsipras | Business | The Guardian:

European leaders have confronted the Greek government with a draconian package of austerity measures entailing a surrender of fiscal sovereignty as the price of avoiding financial collapse and being ejected from the single currency bloc.

A weekend of high tension that threatened to break Europe in two climaxed on Sunday night at a summit of eurozone leaders in Brussels where the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President François Hollande of France presented Greece’s radical prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, with an ultimatum.

Someone pointed out that the problem is that Germany has too many lawyers and not enough economists, and this leads to a different mindset. Several people have pointed this out, and it is summed up in this article: A Lawyer’s Mindset Where An Economist’s Is Needed? – Forbes:

A Twitter correspondent pointed out a simple fact that makes Schäuble’s inflexibility in negotiations with Varoufakis explicable: though he is a Minister of Finance, his PhD is in law.

So is he implicitly approaching these negotiations as a lawyer would? Because from that point of view, what the Greeks are trying to do is to renege on a contract. And for a lawyer, changing the terms of a contract after you have signed it is a no deal. It’s either carry out the contract, or I’ll sue.

Varoufakis, of course, is approaching the negotiations as an economist. From his point of view, the terms of the Troika’s package are a set of economic policies that have failed. And if policies have failed, the sensible economist tries different ones.

And some have pointed out that this difference in approach is rooted in theology: The moral theology of the Greek crisis – Spiritual Politics:

… behind the moral standoff is a difference in approaches to human error that has divided Eastern and Western Christianity for centuries. It’s the difference between the Orthodox idea of economia and the Augustinian conviction that either it’s right or God brings the hammer down.

Economia recognizes that while all warfare is bad, sometime people have to fight and then get to repent for it. Augustinianism sees wars as either just or unjust. Economia recognizes that while divorce is bad, sometimes a husband and wife have to split up and they then get to remarry (somberly, no more than twice) and remain Christians in good standing. Augustinianism says no to divorce, and no to communion for those who remarry.

The current impasse seems to show that the differences between these two approaches are irreconcilable, and perhaps it is time for a divorce.

The most sensible suggestion that I have seen comes from someone known to me only as “Whiskers”, who said:

Greece could (should, almost certainly will) leave the Euro and revert
to its own currency, without leaving the European Union. Britain never
joined the Euro but is otherwise a full member of the EU – so when world
financial systems began to go haywire at least Britain retained control
over its own currency, including exchange rates and money supply.
Greece, starting from a much weaker base, surrendered such control and
is now unable to manage its own affairs.

Greece is not a poor country, what they lack at present is not wealth
but currency – they have literally run out of banknotes (not helped by
people hoarding as many as they can at home) and the Euro rules mean
they can’t print any more; they have to get them from the Euro Central
Bank which can’t do it without the agreement of all the other countries
which belong to the Euro. Which is fair enough, as the supply of Euros
affects all their economies too not just the Greek one.

The obvious and sensible thing for Greece to do is therefore to leave
the Euro and start controlling its own currency again. This will solve
the ‘money supply’ problem almost overnight – but deciding the exchange
rate to the Euro will be one of the first things the Greek politicians
will have to do, and is something for which they cannot escape
responsibility by blaming anyone else (but they’ll try to do that too).
Greeks will then be able to borrow money again – but not at Euro
interest rates!

Leaving the European Union would be a much bigger decision, and probably
not a good idea for Greece as they would instantly lose nearly all of
what is at present their ‘home’ market (and the freedom to seek work
anywhere in the EU).

Celebrations after the anti-austerity referendum in Athens (Photo by Julia Bridget Hayes)

Celebrations after the anti-austerity referendum in Athens (Photo by Julia Bridget Hayes)

What follows, however, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it could form the scenario for a science fiction novel.

In September 2015 Greece left the Eurozone, and the new drachma, based originally on IOUs issued to pay civil servants, though it started on par with the Euro, depreciated rapidly in value. The Greek government, driven by internally rather than externally imposed austerity, was forced to cut military expenditure, as imported military hardware became too expensive, and thus failed to meet its Nato commitments.

In April 2016, at the instigation of Germany and France, Greece was expelled from Nato, which encouraged Turkey to invade and occupy the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Rhodes in May 2016.

Encouraged by the lack of resistance, in June 2016 Turkish forces invaded eastern Thrace, and defeated Greek forces at the battle of Xanthi. This opened the way for ISIS agents to stir up the Muslim population to turn against their neighbours, and ISIS thus established control of most of the towns and villages in the region outside Xanthi itself.

France and Germany assisted Turkey, their Nato ally, with arms and other material to defeat ISIS, but most of these were used to make further conquests in Northern Greece…

 

Charleston massacre: a mirror of our conflicted society?

Last week, as most people will know, a man called Dylann Roof was arrested and charged with murder for shooting several people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

The killings and the reaction to them, show something of the strange kind of society we live in. A comment that a friend posted on Facebook seems to encapsulate it:

Charleston killer says “I almost didn’t go through with it, because they were so nice to me.” It is very hard to know what emotion is appropriate when one hears this. I wish Roof could have been exposed to these parishioners of Emanuel a bit earlier in his life, in which case we might never have been reading about him at all.

Lord, have mercy!

Mass murders of this sort seem to have become so common in the USA that they no longer make front-page news, or have an impact on social media in South Africa. The news of Jacob Zuma’s question time in parliament and the Roman Pope’s encyclical on the environment seemed to provoke much more comment.

RoofDThe killing in South Carolina did spark off some discussion in South Africa because the man accused of the murders, Dylann Roof, appeared in a picture sporting two flags that represent racist regimes of the past — South Africa before 1994, and Ian Smith’s UDI Rhodesia. That seems to indicate that he regarded white racism in southern Africa as a source of inspiration. So that throws the spotlight on South African white racism too.

The question of why he did it, and how you describe it has become a talking point. Was he a terrorist? Was he a lone loony? Was he mentally disturbed? Was it a “hate crime”? These questions, and the answers that people suggest, become a mirror of our society.

In South Africa we might say that he went te kere.

“Going te kere” is perhaps a strange expression, because it can mean anything from a parent giving a teenager a bollocking for staying out too late to mass murder. But “going te kere” means snapping, losing one’s temper, doing one’s nut. And the comment attributed to him at the beginning of this article indicates that he didn’t actually go te kere. He didn’t lose control. He had to force himself  to carry out the killings that he had planned to do beforehand. The people were so nice to him that he had to deliberately suppress the temptation to be diverted from the task he had set himself, to repay love with hatred. In that sense, yes, it was a “hate crime”. But if that is so, it was not a crime inspired by an emotion of hate, but rather by a cold calculating effort of will, a dedication to an ideology of racial hatred.

Does this make his actions those of a social misfit, a lone wolf, someone so at odds with the values of society that he must be seen as a social menace, to be locked away?

I think that in many ways he is a reflection of the values of society. US President Barack Obama does the same thing as Dylann Roof is accused of doing, not as a once off attempt, but every week, sending out drones to kill people. He is not going te kere. It is a cold, calculated deliberate act. It is something that permeates society from top to bottom.

If we dismiss Dylann Roof’s actions as the acts of a madman, a social misfit, someone mentally disturbed, we can comfort ourselvs with the thought that we aren’t like that. There are people like us and there are people like him, and we are better off without people like him. But that is just the kind of thinking that drove him to do what he is alleged to have done.

All we can really say is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

GunCont2Such events also seem to provoke strange American rants about gun control. Graphics like those on the right start appearing on Facebook and other places on the web, and people rant about the evils of gun control.

I must confess that I don’t understand their point, and especially the point of images like the one of smashed cars. One would assume, from these pictures, that they think traffic control is as evil as gun control, that they are asking for the repeal of all traffic laws. I suppose the difference is that the US Constitution doesn’t guarantee people the right to own and drive cars.

GunCont1But if you don’t object to traffic control, why object to gun control? They are actually very similar. I simply cannot understand why people apparently put up with one, and strenuously object to the other.

In a way that is incidental to the question of mass murder, except that whenever there is an incident of mass murder by shooting, the gun control freaks seem to come out of the woodwork. And in this case it is perhaps stranger still, because it seems that one of the charges against Dylann Roof is that he was in illegal possession of a firearm, which suggests that there is already a certain amount of gun control, at least in Chartleston, South Carolina.

This event is not something exceptional. It is something that the President of the USA does regularly and frequently with drones strikes. It is something that members of our South African Police Service did at Marikana, showing how little we have been transformed since the time of the apartheid state that Dylann Roof apparently admired. Transformation is something we talk about, but don’t often see.

So these murders are not the exceptional acts of a madman; they are a reflection of fallen human nature, a nature that we all share. And if that were the end of the story, there would be little hope for any of us. When we look at Dylann Roof, we cannot condemn him as an exception, and distance ourselves from him as if we were not like that. We pray before receiving holy communion, recalling that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, “of whom I am first.” I am the first, not Dylann Roof, not Barack Obama, not Vladimir Putin, not Jacob Zuma, not Adolf Hitler. I am the first.

But fallen human nature is not the last word, and we can catch a glimpse of transformed human nature in the response of the families and survivors of the church shooting A Lesson on Forgiveness from the Families of the Charleston Shooting Victims- ‘We Forgive Him’:

The victim’s kins [sic] spoke to the killer and did something that most people would not have been able to do less than 48 hours of their loved ones murder- which was forgive Dylann.

Viewers watched as one, by one, sisters, children and grandchildren of all victims extended an olive branch from the depths of their souls, while they each forgave their late loved ones’ killer

Lord have mercy.

Telkom upgrade: lots of freebies, but what are they for?

One of those Telkom salespeople phoned a couple of months ago and offered us a faster Internet connection for an extra R100.00 a month, and it included free datadownloads between midnight and 6:00 am.

Since one son does computer animation which requires regular huge program updates, and the other likes to watch videos of motor racing, that seemed like a useful deal, so I signed up for it.

It came with a lot of other benefits. One was that it included Telkom-Telkom calls 24/7 instead of just during “CallMor” time. We don’t make many calls anyway, so it’s not really a benefit, but nice to know in case we need it.

But there were a lot of physical goodies too, which came in a big box.

The trouble is that there were no instructions, and only the barest descriptions, so we don’t know what half these things are, never mind how to use them, and for what.

So this is a plea for help: can anyone tell us what these things do, and if they are at all useful? Or do they just incur more liabilities?

Can we use any of them, or should we just advertise them for sale on an online auction site?

You can see the web page with the list of goodies here: Telkom Smarthome Premium ADSL.

And here are the goodies that came in the box:

  1. D-link ADSL Wi-Fi Router
  2. 3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router
  3. Huawei Wi-Fi Range Extender
  4. Microsoft Office 365 (x2)
  5. SIM 1 with 1GB Data Every Month
  6. SIM 2 with 1GB Data Every Month
  7. SIM 3 with 100min Talk Time Every Month
  8. SIM 4 with 100min Talk Time Every Month
  9. Free DStv Explora

(1) The D-link ADSL Wi-Fi Router may be useful if our existing router gets struck by lightning.

(3) The Huawei Wi-Fi Range Extender may be useful for using laptops away from the router — is that what it does? How do we get it to work?

3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router

3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router

(2) 3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router — Am I right in assuming that this could be used to connect to the Internet while travelling or during load shedding, using SIM cards (5) or (6)?

If so, it could be the most useful thing in the box. We’d just need to learn how to set it up and get it working.

MS Office 365

MS Office 365

(4) and (9) —Microsoft Office 365 and Free DStv Explora seem to be the gifts that go on taking, since it seems that you can’t use them without paying expensive monthly subscriptions. Should we try to sell them on an online auction site?

(7) & (8) the SIMs with 100min Talk Time Every Month seem to be useless without extra cell phones, or are they the kind that you can transfer your existing number to when your present contract expires?

Any ideas/comments/suggestions anyone?

 

WordPress, please fix this bug!

I sometimes want to make a comment on a self-hosted WordPress blog, and I’m asked to enter my e-mail address, my name and my web page address.

When I do, I get this message:

Are you Steve Hayes?

You are being asked to login because shayes@dunelm.org.uk is used by an account you are not logged into now.

By logging in you’ll post the following comment to The Anniversary Gift:

So I log in, and it takes me to the dashboard of my blog.

I navigate my way back to the blog I wanted to comment on, and enter the information again, and it responds:

Are you Steve Hayes?

You are being asked to login because shayes@dunelm.org.uk is used by an account you are not logged into now.

By logging in you’ll post the following comment to The Anniversary Gift:

And so on, ad infinitum.

This bug has been reported before, long ago, and it is extremely annoying. And its one reason I think self-hosted blogs are a bad idea.

 

 

Crumpets!

One of the most confusing things about different cultures is differences in food, especially when the name used for food in one culture is applied to something different in another culture. Among the most confusing items are cumpets, scones, pancakes, muffins and similar items. I have no idea what the difference between an English English muffin and an American English muffin might be.

This morning Val made crumpets for tea, and so I took a photo. You may not be able to taste them, but this is what South African crumpets look like.

Crumpets or pancakes

Crumpets or pancakes

We both grew up in or near Durban in the middle of the 20th century, and this is how our mothers made them. I suspect that they were taught to do that by their mothers — my Scottish granny and Val’s Cumberland granny. So the recipe, and perhaps the name may originally be northern British.

My mother sometimes used to call them pancakes, but whether you call them pancakes or crumpets, the look and taste are identical.

If you are familiar with these things, what do you call them? And if they don’t look like your crumpets or pancakes, what do yours look like? If you comment, please say where you grew up.

 

Rose, by Martin Cruz Smith (book review)

RoseRose by Martin Cruz Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve read several books by Martin Cruz Smith, all whodunits featuring detective Arkady Renko, mostly set in Moscow in the late 20th or early 21st century. This one is different, as it is set in 19th-century England, in Lancashire, in the mining town of Wigan to be precise.

Some of the Renko books felt a bit surreal to me, but no more so than Bulgakov’s The master and Margarita, but this one felt a bit more jarring. I’ve been to Moscow, and I’ve never been to Wigan, but somehow the Wigan setting seemed less authentic than the Moscow ones, not so much the place itself, as the people in it. The story was interesting enough, and made me want to read on to see what happened, but it somehow felt inauthentic, as if it was set in some alternative universe, like Philip Pullman‘s His dark materials.

The descriptions of coal mining were authentic, but it was the events and conversations on the surface that seemed out of place. A coal miner in Lancashire in 1872 likening something to a volcano? How many of them would have seen a volcano, or even a picture of one?

A zealous Evangelical clergyman speaking of Low Mass, or any kind of “Mass” at all? Such a thing would have been anathema to any Church of England Evangelical in that period. It’s a bit like Pullman’s use of terms like “Magisterium”, which clearly means something different in an alternative universe.

One is left wondering whether the surrealism is intended or not. The protagonist too is a bit surreal, an Indiana Jones-like character, but some of the other things in the book give the impression that it is intended to be a historical novel, authentic in time and place. It feels like 20th-century characters transported into a 19th-centry setting.

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Growing up in apartheid South Africa (book review)

The Persistence of MemoryThe Persistence of Memory by Tony Eprile

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Bildungsroman about growing up in apartheid South Africa — a white boy at school, then an army conscript, and afterwards.

I would like to be able to say that this book “tells it like it was” in the same way that Andre Brink‘s A Dry White Season does, but two things make me hesitate to say that. One is that I never served in the army, so I cannot say that the middle section, which deals with that, is accurate. Secondly, there are several inaccuracies about known things in the book, which cast doubt upon the accuracy of some of the other parts,

The inaccuracties bothered me. One of the most egregious errors is a reference to the Australian national rugby team as the All Blacks. Another was a reference to a Xhosa chief, Makhana, which goes on to say that Makhana wasn’t his real name, but a reference to his left-handedness. There is a footnote to the effect that his real name was Nxele. But it is Nxele, and not Makhana, which is a referwence to left-handedness.

At first sight these errors (and there are several more) are not about matters central to the plot, and one might attribute them to careless writing and editing. But on second thoughts, they relate to something that is central to the plot and is embodied in the very title of the book. The protagonist, we are told, has an excellent memory, and at one point, when he testifies before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the reliability of his memory is both demonstrated and brought into question.

If the protagonist’s memory is crucial to the plot, then perhaps these errors scattered through the book (told in the first persion) are intended as hints that the protagonist’s memory was not as good as he claimed it was, and therefore, far from “telling it like it is”, the book is a kind of bizarre fantasy, reminiscient of Jean Genet‘s The Balcony.

So though I wanted to give it four or five stars, in the end I gave it only three.

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