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Archive for the category “society”

Yet another reason to boycott Nestlé

Over the years there have been several calls to boycott Nestlé, the Switzerland-based food firm, which was originally known for producing chocolate, but has since branched out, more controversially, into baby food, bottled water, instant coffee and a few other things.

The latest boycott call, however, arises not from their products, but from their advertising and packaging — Orthodox Leaders Call for Boycott of Lidl, Nestle for Airbrushing Out Christian Symbols on Products:

Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church are asking worshipers to boycott Lidl and Nestlé, which removed Christian symbols from their food packaging in an attempt to be “religiously neutral.”

Earlier this month, shoppers noticed that the German supermarket chain Lidl had used photo editing software to remove crosses on top of an iconic Greek church on its food packaging. Swiss food giant Nestlé and the local dairy producer Mevgal have also removed religious imagery from their Greek yogurts.

In response, the Orthodox Church in Athens is urging its members through sermons and on the internet to boycott Lidl, Nestlé and Mevgal, according to The Sunday Times, whom a spokesperson of the Church told the issue will be raised at a special synodical meeting next month.

In this, they seem to be trying to go out of their way to be offensive. The cosmetics firm Dove recently stirred up controversy by racially offensive ads. Now these firms, or at least two of them, are being religiously offensive. Perhaps Lidl didn’t intend their packaging to be offensive, but it was only after it had stirred up controversy that Mevgal and Nestlé introduced theirs as well.

No one is compelling these firms to put pictures of churches on their packaging. If they don’t like churches and what they stand for, then they could quite easily show pictures of something else. There are plenty of picturesque sights in Greece other than churches.

Some, especially those in the secular West, might wonder what all the fuss is about. It is easy for such people to forget that in the 20th century just about every country in Europe with a majority (or substantial minority) of Orthodox Christians was under communist rule until the 1990s. For people who remember that, and especially those who lived through it, removing crosses from churches is a bit like putting up a Whites Only sign in post-1994 South Africa. People will get offended, because they recall that the Bolsheviks removed the crosses from churches (and in some cases replaced them with red stars). Removal of the crosses thus has a flavour of arrogant bullying authoritarianism.

For the Bolsheviks in Russia there was a kind of standard procedure. First they would knock the crosses off, then the bells, and then they would urge (sometimes forcibly) the members of the congregation to chop up the ikons for firewood. Then they would convert the buildings to stables, warehouses, flats etc. Of course they themselves didn’t see it as oppression — in their minds they were liberating the peasants from superstition, but the peasants themselves didn’t see it as any kind of liberation, just as oppression worse than the Tsar’s.

When I visited Russia in 1995 many temples had only recently been handed back to the Church by the government, and most of them were in poor condition, needing extensive repairs. But almost invariably the first step in repairing them was the replacement of the cross on the highest dome. There could be cheap paper ikons stuck up with sticky tape; the paint could be peeling and the plaster crumbling; worshippers could be making their way across an unsurfaced floor all over steel reinforcing and electrical conduits, but at the top of the highest dome was a golden cross. Restoring it was a priority. Crosses were the first things the Bolsheviks broke down, and were the first things that the Christians replaced. For Orthodox Christians, removing crosses from temples is not trivial.

Today many countries in Europe are no longer under Bolshevik rule, but in the Middle East many Christians in countries with Islamist governments are not allowed to display crosses on their churches, and when commercial firms start displaying the same oppressive attitude, yes, it is offensive. And in the post-Cold War world it can also look like a bit of in-your-face Clash of Civilizations oneupmanship.

As one Greek bishop said:

Imagine the same thing happening in Russia, with products parcelled and plastered with pictures of Moscow’s gold domes, only without their crosses. They [the companies] would be paying each and every person there millions in damages. But here, they have not only stolen us of our voice … but they know that the cost of damage caused in this small country will be small.

So you can add this to the reasons for boycotting Nestlé. At least one Christian blogger I know displays this logo, and perhaps others should start doing so too. Here is a reminder of some of the other reasons for boycotting: 5 shocking scandals that prove it’s time to boycott Nestlé | The Daily Dot:

The company’s abuse of California’s resources is reason enough to be angry at Nestlé, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for a firm with decades of controversy behind it. It’s been the target of multiple boycotts and protests, Twitter campaigns against the company, making it an almost irresistible target for ire among Californians angry about water bottling practices in the state.

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The Midwich cuckoos: dresses and mannequins

We go into Woolworths to buy hummus because tomorrow is Wednesday, and there are two mannequins near the door, with little girls’ dresses. Val says that when she was little girl she would have loved to to have a dress like that. I barely notice the dress, I am struck by the mannequins, which look like something out of a horror movie, the Midwich cuckoos or something.

I stopped to take photos of them. As we leave Val mentions the dresses again, and how she liked them. I said I was so struck by the eyes of the models that I hardly noticed what they were wearing, and she was so struck by the dresses that he did not notice the eyes at all.

We walk down the mall, discussing how people rarely make their own clothes nowadays, and think of our family history research, where the occupation of so many people in 19th-century census records was given as “dressmaker”. Back then it was probably rare to buy clothes off the shelf.

Well, there’s my photo, but the eyes are far less scary in the picture than they were in reality. They look as though they are peacefully sleepwalking, but in the shop the eyes were fiercely glittering. Perhaps I should have turned the flash off.

But it is interesting how people can look at the same things, and yet see something completely different.

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, what saw you there?
I saw a little mouse under a chair.

In a relationship

Nearly 60 years ago a friend, Dale White, tried to explain to me how urban society imposes different kinds of relationships on peope. In small towns and villages, there are people you know — friends and family — and people you don’t know. In urban living, you have many more relationships with people you don’t know. How do you describe them? They are not people completely unknown to you, but you usually only interact with them in one context.

Do you call them acquaintances? Not really, because even acquaintances you might meet in other contexts. These relationships are primarily functional, you meet them solely because they perform a particular function. They are impersonal relationships, rather than personal relationships. Family and friends are personal relationships, and even acquaintances. I call acquaintances people I met at a conference once, perhaps chatted to them over a meal, heard them deliver a paper. Such a relationship is personal rather than functional.

But the cashier at the supermarket till?

That is surely a functional relationship?

In a small village you might meet them in other contexts, at church, or at the hairdressers, or at a sports club, in a pub, or even in another shop where they are also customers. But in the big city, chances are the only time you ever meet them is when they tally your purchases, swipe your card, or take your cash. You are unlikely to meet them in any other context. Sometimes they have a label with their name on it, but I have the uncomfortable feeling that that is mainly there so that dissatisfied customers can complain. And usually it is only their first name so that you don’t even know their surname.

But we have recently learned that two of our neighbourhood supermarkets are to close within the next week or so. The Spar is to become a Pick ‘n Pay, and one of the worries is that we may no longer be able to get fresh bread.

But when we moved here at the end of 1984 there was a branch of Checkers at the Queenswood shopping centre. It was later renovated and became Shoprite, but Shoprite and Checkers are owned by the same company, so it just meant a change in the decor. But now the site is to be redeveloped, and it will close. It will reopen as Checkers again, some time. But then we realised that some of the people who worked there had been there ever since we moved here over 30 years ago. What will happen to them in the mean time?

These are people whom we have seen once a month or more often for the last 30 years and more. Can one really speak of an impersonal, purely functional relationship? We have got used to seeing them, but as a a part of the landscape, but in more than 30 years they should surely be more than merely nameless functionaries. Surely we will miss them?

Samuel Mailula, worked at ShopRite/Checkers in Queenswood for 39 years

So when we went shopping this morning I took my camera along, and we asked where they were going when the shop- closes its doors tomorrow. It turns out that they will be moving to other branches. Two will be going to the Silverton branch, and the third to the Mamelodi branch, which is closer to where he lives, but he only has a couple of years to go until retirement. He is Samuel Mailula, and he has been working for Shoprite/Checkers for 39 years, so practically his entire working life.

Another one is Louisa Molobi. Val remembers her being pregnant several times, and now she is grey-haired, and perhaps one of those babies has now made her a grandmother, and that is how long we have known her. Now she no longer mans the till, but rather goes round to the other cashiers, sorting out their problems.

The third was Wendy Sheshabela, still sitting at the till, and somewhat apprehensive about the changes. The last time the shop was renovated, and made the change from Checkers to Shoprite, it did not close completely, they just closed sections of the store while they were working on it. But this time round the shop will close, and they will all be moved.

Wendy Sheshabela and Louisa Molobi, long-time workers at Shoprite/Checkers in Queenswood, Pretoria

There was a time when I was on the other end of such relationships, when I was a bus conductor in Johannesburg. That was about the time when I had the discussion with Dale White about personal and impersonal relationships, and as a new bus conductor I was a casual, so filled in for other conductors on leave or off sick, so rarely worked the same route twice, or at the same time of day. So I took fares and issued tickets, and passengers were just a sea of faces.

After I’d been there a while we could pick a regular shift in order of seniority, and so I had a regular route, four trips from the Joburg business district to the Turffontein Racecourse early in the morning. The first trip carried few passengers out of town, most were coming in to work, and so I remembered some of the regulars. There was an old night watchman, presumably going home after guarding one of the big dark deserted office blocks. He rather incongruously wore a badge proclaiming him a member of the Pepsodent Youth Club. On the next trip there were a couple of pretty Indian school girls. I only worked on that route for about a year, I only saw them in that context, and I never saw them again. But I still remember them.

It was one of those urban functional relationships, but it was not, surely, entirely impersonal. And when, as in the case of the people at our local supermarket, we have been seeing them regularly for more than 30 years, we probably know them better than our next-door neighbours, whom we hardly see at all, except occasionally driving past in a car, darkly waving behind a window reflecting the sun.

I use a genealogy program called Legacy Family Tree. I’ve been using it since 2002, and in entering information about a person one could tick a box labelled “This individual never married and had no children”. This would then appear on certain reports, so that you could, know that there was no point in looking for possible descendants. I so marked my uncle Willie Growdon, who died in a motorbike accident at the age of 25.

But the newer version of Legacy Family Tree that I am now using has changed the wording, so that it now says that Uncle Willie had “no relationships and no children”. And that looks so very sad. Abandoned by his parents at birth, never knew his siblings, had, no friends, never had a girlfriend, had no acquaintances, no human contact at all. So is our language, and our social networking, devalued.

No, Legacy, you got it wrong. We are most of us in all sorts of relationships, personal and impersona, to varying degrees, but it is only when we are about to lose them that we begin to appreciate them, as we do the staff of the local supermarket, and realise that human relationships are important.

 

 

 

From hipsters to hippies: 50 years

Fifty years ago hipsters got abbreviated to hippies, and the world seemed to change, at least for that generation. Things changed visibly, and sometimes in strange ways. Young people dressed in bright clothes, and the drabness of the postwar years was exchanged for a kind of spring-time exuberance. People spoke of the Prague Spring, but spring was appearing in many places.

Warning: This post is full of boring personal reminiscences of that time, so now’s the time to stop reading if you don’t like that kind of thing.

Steve Hayes at Merstham, August 1967

In August 1967 I was halfway through my studies for a postgraduate diploma in theology at St Chad’s College, Durham, England, and was spending the summer vacation with the family of Mervyn Sweet, who had been the Anglican parish priest when I had been an undergraduate in Pietermaritzburg. They were housesitting a mansion in Merstham, Surrey, for a doctor who was himself on holiday in Spain. The house looked a bit like the house in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — the kind of place where anything could happen.

I stayed in a garret at the top of the house, reading and studying for a supplementary church history exam I had to write, and coming down to swim or play tennis or listen to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We watched top of the pops on television. On 13 August 1967 the cream was on the top: (1) San Francisco, by Scott McKenzie (2) All you need is love, by the Beatles (3) Death of a clown, by the Kinks, and what was underneath was real trash — Tom Jones wailing about something, and Vicki Carr who sang the most incredible mawkish mush about dying because he didn’t phone her. “All you need is love” stayed on top for several weeks and even Mick Jagger was in the audience singing with them, with flowers in his hair.

And on TV (black and white, in those days), a psychologist tried to explain changing styles of dress. As I wrote in my diary on 17 August 1967:

… we watched a television programme on long-haired boys, and a psychologist said why he thought their hair was long and their clothes so colourful — their parents were a hangover from the age when it was fashionable for men to dress like bankers, to show that they could offer security to their wives. Now the state looks after everyone’s security, so there was no longer any need for that.

Also the ratio of boys to girls was increasing, and so boys had to make themselves more attractive to girls by dressing in a more colourful way. They also said the previous generation of Englishmen had had compulsory military training, and so were more likely to fit into society because they felt society needed them, and with the present generation of youth it was not so — an interesting light on South Africa, where more and more whites are being called up for military service and a generation of conformist youth is being bred, and the short back and sides is considered a desirable symbol of young fascist manhood, like at Natal University among the Rhodesians, in whom the process had been more advanced — they were for the most part a close-cropped short back-and-sides rugby-playing type.

They had little to do with girls on a human level, and were happy with their segregated state behind the high wire fence of men’s res. Their attitude to girls was “fuck and forget”. True, they went to more parties and dances than John Aitchison and I ever went to, but meeting the opposite sex in such circumstances is an insulation rather than a catalyst. They only relaxed among males, and so their virility is really a sham. In fact they were afraid of not being able to hold their own in female company, so they relied on the security of that all-male ghetto, William O’Brien Hall. I went to bed and began to read Incognito by Peter Dumitriou.

Whereas in the 1950s the prevailing motif in clothing had been uniformity, especially for males, by the late 1960s diversity prevailed. While The Kinks satirised the “dedicated follower of fashion”, there wasn’t much fashion to follow.

The Beatles 1987

In the December vacation of 1967/68 I spent some time with some Dutch Augustinian friars in Breda and Nijmegen. They thought they were being “with it” by discarding their habits for business suits, and were distressed to find that I didn’t possess this latest item of relevant gear. They sent one of the fathers out with me to the shop to buy me one, and on the way to the shop, trudging through the snow and the slush, I talked him out of it. But on TV a DJ appeared wearing a monastic habit.

Even as a child I hated the idea of business suits, and dreaded the thought of growing up and having to dress like that, and so the “anything goes” freedom of the late 60s was a great relief to me. And it seemed that I was not alone, The hippie spring of 1967 seemed to express the repressed desire of a whole generation. It wasn’t just the Beatles music, they dressed the part as well.

The young Frank Sinatra

Yet this generation seems to be nameless,. People talk about Generation X or Y or Millennial or whatever, but the have no name for this hippie generation, or for the business suit generation that preceded it. But if the Beatles were the musical icon of the hippie generation, the musical icon of the business-suit generation was Frank Sinatra, whose childhood ideal was exactly the opposite of mine. When he was the age at which I dreaded growing up and having to wear a business suit, he was already wearing one by anticipation.

A couple of days ago a college friend from those days, Robert Gallagher, sent me this reminder of what else was going on at that time:

More of 50 years ago, in 1967

  • The number of American troops serving in Vietnam increased to 475,000
  • Peace-rallies and Protests increase
  • The Boxer Muhammad Ali stripped of his Boxing World Championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army
  • Israel goes to war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the Six Day War and occupies more territory
  • Rioting in Detroit with America’s National Guard brought in
  • Charlie Chaplin opens his last film, ‘A Countess From Hong Kong’
  • Twiggy becomes a fashion sensation and mini-skirts became shorter with paper clothing a short lived fashion
  • The Discotheque
  • While The Beatles release ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band’, The Rolling Stones are involved in various drugs’ busts (thanks to ‘The News of The World’) and imprisonments, and release the single ‘We Love You’, with prison-door-slamming sound effects
  • The ‘Summer of Love’ and the birth of the Hippies
  • Donald Campbell killed on Coniston Water
  • Britain’s second Polaris nuclear submarine ‘HMS Renown’ launched at Birkenhead
  • The first North Sea gas pumped ashore
  • The supertanker ‘SS Torrey Canyon’ runs aground off Land’s End and bombed by the RAF
  • Anguillan-born Norwell Roberts the first black officer in London’s Metropolitan Police Force
  • ‘Puppet on a String’ by Sandie Shaw wins the Eurovision Song Contest
  • Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ Old Vic premiere
  • Harold Wilson announces the United Kingdom has decided to apply for EEC membership
  • The Roman Catholic Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King Consecrated
  • Celtic F.C. becomes the first British and Northern European team to reach a European Cup final and win it, beating Inter Milan 2-1 in normal time, with the winning goal scored by Steve Chalmers, in Lisbon, Portugal
  • Francis Chichester arrives in Plymouth after completing his single-handed sailing voyage around the world in his yacht, Gipsy Moth IV, in nine months and one day
  • The first scheduled Colour-television broadcasts on BBC2, with Wimbledon Tennis
  • Parliament decriminalised Consensual Adult Male Homosexuality in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act
  • UK Government announces closing its military bases in Malaysia and Singapore (Australia and United States do not approve)
  • The Welsh Language Act allows the use of Welsh in legal proceedings and official documents in Wales
  • The British Steel Industry is Nationalised
  • Astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish first to observe a Pulsar
  • The Inquiry into the Aberfan disaster blames the National Coal Board for the collapse of a colliery slag-heap which claimed the lives of 164 people in South Wales in 1966
  • Pink Floyd releases debut album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Dunsop Valley Lancashire enters the UK Weather Records with the Highest 90-min total rainfall at 117 mm (As of August 2010 this record remains)
  • The ‘RMS Queen Elizabeth 2’ (the QE2) launched at Clydebank by Queen Elizabeth II, using the same pair of gold scissors used by her mother and grandmother to launch the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Queen Mary’respectively
  • The Abortion Act, passed in Parliament
  • Charles de Gaulle vetoes British entry into the European Economic Community again – British troops leave Aden, which they had occupied since 1839, enabling the new republic of Yemen
  • Tony O’Connor the first non-white head teacher of a British school appointed head of a primary school in Smethwick, near Birmingham
  • Concorde unveiled in Toulouse, France
  • BBC Radio 4 panel game ‘Just a Minute’, chaired by Nicholas Parsons, first transmitted (still running under the same chairman 50 years later)
  • Ford Cars announces the end of ‘Anglia’ production to be replaced by the ‘Escort’
  • Liverpool poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri’s poetry anthology ‘The Mersey Sound’
  • Hilary Annison and Robert Gallagher Marry.

And now?

The last of those who were in their twenties in the Summer of Love will be reaching their seventies and retirement.

Remember the motto?

Don’t trust anyone over 30.

 

 

Random thoughts inspired by Enneagram

This morning Duncan Reyburn spoke about Enneagrams at TGIF, and here are some connected and some disconnected thoughts inspired in part by what he said.

For those who don’t know, Enneagram is one of those personality type thingies, and you can get a sample of it here to find out roughly where you fit in.

If it’s any help, my main type is 5, with 9 and 4 as subsidiaries. And on the Myers-Briggs scale I’m INTP (I find the Myers-Briggs one more helpful, as these things go).

As we sat waiting for Duncan to begin Val recalled that I had been rather disconcerted to find myself labelled as a type back in the 1970s. It was actually a jocular piece written by a journalist in the Sunday Tribune for women who felt the need for a piscine cyclist in their lives.[1] She described varieties of nubile males and what I found disconcerting was that her description of one of the types fitted me right down to the last detail. The detail I remember best was the car I drove — an ancient rust bucket with an empty cold-drink bottle rolling around on the floor (picture here). I think it included a beard and scruffy clothes as well. Actually it was rather flattering, in that she said that was one of the better catches available in the pond, But it was the thought that there were enough of us around to be so closely described that I found disconcerting.

But that was totally unscientific, so back to the Enneagram, and more unscientific thoughts inspired by it.

Duncan spoke about mythology and mythical monsters.: The contrast in Genesis 1 between the forces of chaos and the forces of order, and the notion of mythical dragons symbolising chaos. Duncan cited psychologists like Freud and Jung showing that myths and dreams of dragons represent our unconscious, and that the monsters are not really out there, but in our heads.

Now I may have misunderstood or be misrepresenting Duncan at this point, but I question that assumption. I think that it is a peculiarly white, Western and modernist way of looking at it. This business of seeing things as taking place “in here” in our minds, as opposed to “out there” in the world is very much culturally conditioned. Should we let Western psychologists like Freud and Jung have the last word to say about it?

As J.V. Taylor (1963:44f) puts it, in his book The primal Vision: Christian presence amid African religion:

But though these [dreams, thoughts etc] may infect the body with sickness and delude the senses with hallucinations, we believe them to be rooted within the sufferer’s mind. Dreams are only dreams, for we know their fantasies are confined within the wall of the dreamer’s brain.

We are in danger of forgetting that all this is only a figurative way of speaking. The spatial concepts of inside and outside cannot be used literally of something so elusive and abstract as the self; yet in Europe we have allowed them so to dominate our imagery that we have almost identified the mind with the brain and imprisoned the self within the walls of the skull.

But there have been other ways than ours of picturing this unimaginable Self. Some philosophies, notably the Hindu Upanishads, include on the ‘inside’ much that we can only imagine as being ‘outside’, so that even the transcendent Absolute is to be sought only within the innermost cave of the heart. But in the imagery of primal religion, on the other hand, the self is thought of as spilling out into the world beyond the confines of the experiencing body, and echoing back again from other selves. Africans would assert with St Augustine that ‘we live beyond the limits of our bodies’.

So I think that just as physicists something think of light in terms of waves, and sometimes in terms of particles, so we can sometimes see things as inside, and sometimes as outside our heads. Mythical dragons may refer to things within us, but they can also refer to things outside.

As Anderson (1990:256) puts it:

An experience that a premodern person might have understood as possession by an evil spirit might be understood by a modern psychoanalytic patient as more mischief from the Id, and might be understood by a postmodern individual as a subpersonality making itself heard – might even, if you want to get really postmodern about it, be recognized as all three.

And that’s something I do like to get really postmodern about. I’ve said more on that in this article Sundkler deconstructed: Bethesda AICs and syncretism.

Duncan spoke of films of sea monsters, like Jaws. They give chills to audiences in Pretoria, though they are dry and far from the ocean. Why? Because the monsters represent our Unconscious, which threatens to swallow us. Hence the need to face our monsters, because the monsters are not necessarily evil, but can sometimes take us where we want, or need to go. Jonah, for example, was swallowed by a sea monster, but the monster put him back on track.

St Jonah

Films like Jurassic Park are apparently about land based monsters, but are really about divorce. The external monsters force dysfunctional families to face their internal monsters and become reconciled, and in the end it is the biggest, strongest and most fearsome monster, Tyrranosaurus Rex, which keeps the real threat, the velociraptors, at bay.

And that made me think that yes, it was the Tyrannosaurus Rex of apartheid that kept South African Christians on track before 1994. It was opposition to apartheid that made many Christians and Christian bodies more conscious of their core business. And after 1994, they lost their way, and started floundering, and were caught unawares when the velociraptors of corruption charged in. One evil spirit exorcised, but seven others rush in to take its place. But apartheid was not unconscious, and was not simply in people’s heads. It did not remain within the confines of the skulls of theorists. Apartheid changed the landscape of the country and moved thousands of people from one place to another. It was not simply the Freudian unconscious. So yes, we do need monsters to keep us on track. But monsters and the track are not just inside our skulls.

And Val said that while Duncan was speaking about Jonah, the Ode of Paschal Nocturns was running through her head.

Jonah was caught but not held fast in the belly of the whale. He was a sign of Thee who hast suffered and accepted burial. Coming forth from the beast as from a bridal chamber, he called out to the guard, “By observing vanities and lies you have forsaken your own mercy.”

And it struck me that Duncan had cited someone as saying that Christianity belonged to No 2 on the Enneagram, but really needed to practise the other 8. And I recalled that there are nine odes in the Canon, but we only ever sing eight of them. We never sing Ode 2.

 


Notes and references

[1] The current saying was “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

Thabo Mbeki: Now it can be told

I’ve just been spending a very interesting hour watching the recording of the interview of Thabo Mbeki on Power FM, and he told lots of “now it can be told stories”. I think this link may lead to a recording of it, if you can afford the bandwidth. WATCH: In conversation with Thabo Mbeki:

Former President Thabo Mbeki sat down with Power FM chairman Given Mkhari for an interview.

Mbeki has warned against the term white monopoly capital.

“Let’s understand properly what is happening to the SA capitalist economy so that we can intervene to do the right thing.

“Because if we misdiagnose the problem, the cure is going to be wrong,” he said.

It was all quite fascinating, and because he was no longer in a position of power, or vying for support, he could cut the political obfuscation and tell it like it is.

He was asked how he could have had friendly relations with so many different world leaders, like Bush, Blair, Castro, Gaddafi and others. He said that it was in the interest of South Africa to remain on good terms with other countries even when we didn’t agree with them. He gave the example of George Bush phoning him before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and saying that he didn’t want to invade, because he didn’t want to tell American families that their children had been killed over there, and he needed to be sure that Iraq didn’t have WMD. Thabo told him that South African teams had be there and submitted reports saying there were no WMD there, and Bush asked for assurance, and he promised to ensure that he got the report.

He then phoned Tony Blair, and asked him to ensure that Bush got the reports, but later found that Tony Blair had not done so, which suggests that the push for war was really coming from Blair, not Bush. Blair was not Bush’s poodle, it was the other way round. That was something we didn’t know at the time.

Juju Malema then mentioned that there were two things the EFF thought were important, corruption and land. The minority owned most of the land and something had to be done about that. And Thabo Mbeki said that it was important that we debate the issue, but he did not agree with the EFF’s view. He said that the Freedom Charter said that the land should belong to those who worked it, and who worked the land? He himself did not work the land, he lived in the city. Those who worked the land were farm workers, farm owners and and people living on communal land in the rural areas. He said he asked his mother why great tracts of land around the place where he grew up were lying fallow, and she said that they would need a tractor to plough it, but people could not afford a tractor or a plough. Also, even if they did plough it, back in the old days young boys used to herd the cattle to keep them away from the gardens, but now they were all in school, so the land would have to be fenced, and they could not afford that either.

Former President Thabo Mbeki

He mentioned Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s autobiography, where he mentioned that the people had been driven off their ancestral land at Magoebaskloof in the 19th century, and there had been some land restitution, but the people simply fought over it, and eventually his own family had left the area. So it was important to discuss the question, but all these things needed to be considered.

He also gave a lesson in economics. Tagging “white” on to monopoly capital, as people in the ANC were currently doing, was meaningless. He said that if there were a thousand small enterprises, they would not be able to influence the market, but as capital tended to accumulate in fewer hands, and when the thousand were reduced to six, they would be able to influence the market, and that was monopoly capital. It was not necessarily everything in the hands of one company, even though that was what the word “monopoly” means, but a few companies big enough to influence the market. But if you looked at the JSE, how much of the investment could be described as “white”? Much was investment by pension funds for all workers, black and white.

As he was speaking I was thinking of IT firms like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, which are good examples of monopoly capital, and booksellers like Amazon.

It was good to hear him speak freed from the constraints of political office.The interviewer asked him, now that he is 75 years old, what advice he would give his 52-year-old self, taking office in 1994, and what mistakes were to be avoided. One of the most important piece of advice, he said, was to be more watchful for those who wanted political office for personal gain rather than to serve the people.

When he was president I thought we were lucky to have such a president. When I looked at the leaders of other countries — Tony Blair, George Bush, Vladimir Putin, Robert Mugabe and others — I thought we were much better off. And most of the present-day leaders are unspeakable, so I won’t mention their names.

Guptas’ troll armies trying to infiltrate Orthodoxy?

Some time ago I started a Facebook group for Orthodox Christians in South Africa to share news of events and happenings, so that people could learn about things that were happening in parishes other than their own.

Last week there was a flurry of requests from people wanting to join the group. Most of them were from outside South Africa, though they appeared to belong to several other Orthodox groups on Facebook.

Eventually I posted a request in some of those other groups asking that people not ask to join the Orthodoxy in South Africa group unless they had personal connections with the Church in South Africa, otherwise the South Africans in the group would soon be outnumbered by people from other places. There are plenty of worldwide groups they could join.

Some people from other places have joined the Orthodoxy in South Africa group and then post little devotional articles, which you then see several times a day, so that every Orthodox group on Facebook looks just the same, and you can’t see the real news for the padding, and eventually no one bothers to put any real news up at all.

For example, I heard rumours of a monastery being started in South Africa, but nobody said anything, even though several members of the group probably knew about it. That was real news, so why did no one in the group see fit fit to mention it? Why didn’t anyone post photos of it? Yet people post photos of monasteries on the other side of the world.

But something more sinister than devotional spammers has come up. On one of the groups where I pleaded with people not to ask to join the South African group unless they had real South African connections someone suggested that I Google “Putin’s troll army”

I Googled it and this came up — Invasion of the troll armies: ‘Social media where the war goes on’ | Media | The Guardian:

You can hire your own troll army if you have the cash. In 2011 the PR firm Bell Pottinger told undercover journalists that they could “create and maintain third-party blogs”, and spruce up Wikipedia profiles and Google search rankings. Indeed marketing has a rich history of so-called “astroturfing”, which is laying down fake grassroots. Take Forest, “the voice and friend of the smoker”, which at least admits in nearly invisible small print that it is paid for by the tobacco industry.

It’s that ubiquitous PR firm of Bell Pottinger again. PR firm Bell Pottinger ‘exposed’ as masterminding Gupta plots | The Citizen:

The extraordinary emails released on Sunday by both the Sunday Times and City Press have once again cast a light on the role played by British PR firm Bell Pottinger.

The firm dropped the family as clients last month in the wake of protests against their company for allegedly driving the attempt to repair the Gupta family’s image in South Africa.

Could it be that Gupta’s troll armies are trying to infiltrate our Orthodoxy in South Africa group? You’ve got to wonder when someone who asks to join says they live in Venezuela and come from Arizona, and belong to several Orthodox groups and 679 other groups on Facebook.

No one who joins that many Facebook groups can be legit, and I’m sure they don’t want to join the Orthodoxy in South Africa group- because they want to know about Benoni parish’s panigyri or the open day at Saheti School. It does make me wonder why they are members of all those other Orthodox groups as well.

Remember the 1990s TV series Pinky and the Brain, where in every episode they were planning to take over the world? Maybe Bell Pottinger have already taken over the world. Maybe they planted these trolls in all those other Orthodox groups on Facebook as well.

In South Africa Bell Pottinger came up with the phrase “white monopoly capital” as a diversionary tactic to try to take people’s minds off the dangers of Indian monopoly capital, where the Gupta family had their fingers in every pie. The ran a campaign of promoting naked racism, deliberately trying to stir up racial hatred in South Africa because they were paid by the Guptas to do so.

Maybe all this is turning me into a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but never forget the old adage: just because you’re paranoid it doesn’r mean that they aren’t out to get you.

Black Hats and White Hats: American Stereotyping

Nearly 50 years ago I had an American friend, Dave Trumbull, whose father, Howard Trumbull, a missionary, was the treasurer of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, and came to a youth meeting to represent his son, who couldn’t be there on that occasion. Before the meeting he asked me who were the black hats and who were the white hats.

Seeing my bemused expression he explained that in Western movies (in the pre-spaghetti Western days) it was a convention that all the “good guys” wore white hats, and all the “bad guys” wore black hats. Audiences apparently needed these cues as to who were the heroes and who were the villains.

He said (in a rather ironic self-deprecating way) that it was something Americans always wanted to know about every situation they were involved in.

And I said that in the particular situation we were facing, it was not an easy distinction to make. It was rather a matter of good guys making bad decisions. He made some comment to the effect that Americans didn’t like messy situations like that.

I was reminded of him and his comments last week when I posted some links to a blog post and a few newspaper articles on Facebook, and the response of American commenters on them was immediately to look for the “black hats” and put the blame on them.

One of the articles was on my other blog, on The Death of Liberalism in the West, which was mainly about the leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party in the UK feeling compelled to resign because he thought his faith was not accepted in the UK political arena. Two American friends responded with comments on Facebook rather than on the blog post (so I don’t know if either of them actually read the blog post, much less the statement by Tim Farron, the Lib-Dem leader). One identified the Black Hats as right-wing bullies, and the other identified them as left-wing bullies.

I was rather disappointed, as I was trying to understand a phenomenon, rather than looking for scapegoats.

The other thing was that I posted links to some articles about a recent fire in a block of flats in London, in which many people had lost their homes and some had lost their lives. One thing that was clear from the articles was that there had been a lot of bad decisions by various people and organisations, including commercial firms, political parties and and local authorities. But some American commenters were specifically trying to pin the blame on particular people or firms. But not only is the jury still out — it hasn’t been summoned yet to hear the evidence. All the reports show is that there is prima facie evidence of the need for some sort of judicial enquiry. Yet Americans seem to feel an immediate need to pin the blame on someone, to identify the black hats.

I mentioned this to Val on the way to church this morning, and she said, but isn’t that typical of Americans — they love to identify the “bad guys”, and sooner or later go in and bomb them. They did it in the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s, where there were no good guys. The Americans appointed the bad guys, put black hats on them, and then bombed them. A few years later they did it in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, and then in Libya. Now they are doing it to Syria and Russia.

This legalistic American tendency to look for scapegoats and find them before the evidence is available is probably the biggest threat to world peace, and has been for the last 60 years.

It’s more than 50 years since the publication of The Ugly American, which dealt with this phenomenon, but it was so effective that most people don’t realise that the eponymous ugly American was the good guy. He was the guy in the white hat.

A few years after my conversation with Howard Trumbull a couple of friends of mine met a US foreign policy boffin by the name of George Kennan. He had the reputation of being one of their biggest fundis on foreign affairs. They came back from lunch with him thinking that he was so naive that it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. He asked them who the good guys and bad guys in Namibia in the early 1970s were, and seemed to believe that a flick of a switch in the depths of the Pentagon would eliminate the bad guys and solve all the problems.

But most of the American I’ve met have been like the ugly American in the story. I’ve met them outside America, because they don’t have this binary opposition attitude. Many of them, like Howard Trumbull, are, or have been, Christian missionaries. So not all Americans are evil scapegoaters.

So, in conclusion, I think that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t, and there are even some Americans in the latter category.

 

How NOT to sell something to someone of my generation

About ten years ago a woman phoned me, and gabbled something so quickly that I couldn’t hear it. I asked her to repeat it, but still could barely hear what she was saying. Eventually I managed to gather that they were doing a health survey in our area, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to answer some questions. I said sure, as a public-spirited citizen, I’d be willing to help with a survey.

A little later the guy who was doing the “health survey” came, and turned out to be a snake oil salesman.

He started wittering on about us not getting enough oxygen because of pollution, and so we needed to replace it with ozone. I tried to recall chemistry lessons from high school, and was sure that ozone was O3 and oxygen was O2, so supplementing oxygen with ozone was a bit like supplementing diamonds with pencil lead. Also, I seemed to remember that ozone was poisonous.

I was getting bored and restless, and wished he’d get on with it, do his survey, and leave. I didn’t want a long and extremely boring lecture about dubious chemical processes.

He went on about ozone therapy, and I could hardly wait for him to leave so I could check Wikipedia for the properties of ozone. Eventually I asked him to get on with it, and tell me what he was selling and how much it was. So he showed a sort of vacuum cleaner contraption and a bathmat, which he said cost R10000. I said there was no way I had that kind of money, and then he said “Do you have a credit card?” and said if I bought it with that I could pay it off over three years at R360 a month, and what could I buy with R360. I said I could fill my car with petrol, and he said “How far will that get you?”

And then I said I was tired of his bullshit and had a lot to do, so I said there was no way I would buy it because I did not have that kind of money and anyway I wasn’t convinced of the benefits, and so he was wasting his time and mine. He packed up his gadgets with a bad grace and left.

He made no effort to hide his annoyance, but he had come to see me under false pretences, and tried to sell me something I didn’t need and couldn’t afford and tried very hard to persuade me to use a credit card to buy it when the price was more than double my monthly pension.

So I think The Oatmeal hits the nail exactly on the head with this.

I may be an old fogey, but I really detest buzzwords like “marketing” “brands”, and “entrepreneurship”, and I’m not really interested in “monetising” my blog.

If you want to sell me something, tell me upfront what it is and what it does and what it costs. Don’t come to my house under false pretences, bore me and waste my time with bullshit lectures, and only then tell me what you’re selling.

Borderliners

BorderlinersBorderliners by Peter Høeg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Borderliners is the second book about “abnormal” children I’ve read this week, the first one being The outcast, so I can’t help comparing them.

The Outcast is about a privileged child from an upper middle-class background, and the action takes place at home, in the school holidays. Borderliners is about an orphan, a ward of the state, with a legal guardian who had more than 200 other children to care for. He has no home to spend holidays in, and the action takes place at the school.

The Outcast (my review here) was about my contemporaries, those who were at school in the 1950s. We had or rebellions, too. I was at Mountain Lodge Preparatory School in Magaliesberg, and when I was 11 the whole school went on strike to protest against an unjust and authoritarian teacher. When the strike ended the headmaster lined us all up outside the classroom and made each of us bend over at the door for two cuts with his cane (I think more for the ringleaders), and once we were all inside he made a little sexist speech about the teacher, saying women were sometimes like that. Even at that age I thought it was sexist. I’d known other female teachers who weren’t authoritarian. But she did not return to the school the following term, so the stiike achieved its purpose.

Borderliners, however, is about those at school in the 1970s, and I remember the 1970s quite well. What do I remember about the 1970s? I saw the film If, which was also about a rebellion in a boarding school. I was on the board of governors of St George’s School in Windhoek. I was manager of several farm schools in Northern Natal. But never did I come across a school that was anything like the one in this book.

Borderliners is set in Denmark. What did I know about Denmark? When I was at school our geography teacher Steyn Krige told us the story of a South African visitor to Denmark who threw an empty packet out of a car window. After driving several miles a traffic cop stopped him and gave him the packet and said “You dropped this.” “Oh I don’t want it,” said the South African. “Denmark doesn’t want it either,” said the traffic cop.

In the 1960s I was a fan of Kierkegaard, and was impressed by the bourgeois morality and dull conformity of people in Denmark that he described. But that was in the 19th century. In the 1970s my impression of Denmark was that it was free. It was the model of the “permissive society”. But Borderliners gives an entirely different impression. Both books reminded me of my own schooldays, but Borderliners impressed me by how regimented it was, far more than any school I attended in the 1950s — especially the lengths they went to to stop pupils talking to each other or having friends, with never-ending surveillance. It was 1984. Could a Danish school in the permissive society really have been like that? No social interaction permitted. Pupils forbidden to talk to each other or even be seen together?

This is never explained in the book. Perhaps for a child at school, it needs no explanation or interpretation, but the book is written from the point of view of an adult looking back and an adult would try to make sense of childhood from the point of view of the wider world. So I’m left wondering why a school in Denmark in the 1970s should be worse, far worse, than a concentration camp. In a concentration camp people are locked away and for the most part forgotten about. The aim is to isolate them so that they can’t influence others. The perimeter is guarded to prevent them from escaping, but there is not, as in this school this constant surveillance, this prohibition on talking to other pupils, a kind of solitary confinement in the company of others.

In the book Peter Høeg links it all to a perception of time. I suppose in any school one becomes aware of time. There is a timetable for classes and other activities, so one’s life is regulated by bells ringing to mark the end of one activity and the commencement of another. But no theory of time can explain the concentration camp character of this school.

So it seemed a very strange book. It also seems to be at least semi-autobiographical, with a good measure of teenage solipsism. That I could identify with. It seems that many people toy with solipsism in their teenage years. Perhaps all do, or perhaps only those who go to boarding schools where time is strictly regulated.

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