Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “lifestyle”

The Big Six (review)

The Big Six (Puffin Books)The Big Six by Arthur Ransome

When I was a child, books by Arthur Ransome were the kind of children’s books that adults thought that children ought to read, but which I found rather boring. Our school library was well stocked with them, so I read a few, but if I’d been on Good Reads back then I’d have given them two stars, three at the most.

I can remember little of what I read, and perhaps I read Coot Club, of which this is a kind of sequel, and I suppose my main memory is knowing what the Norfolk Broads were — the kind of knowledge that comes in useful when watching TV quiz shoes like Pointless, until you’ve seen them so many times that you stop trying to work out the answers, and rather try to remember which question is going to come up next and which of the very familiar contestants gets the right answer. But yes, reading about that di help to me form some kind of picture of the place, which recurs in other books, such as The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers.

I also read Missee Lee, from which I learned that typhus was a serious disease, but when I grew up I found that its cousin typhoid was more common.

Arthur Ransome’s books were great for children who liked messing about in boats, but the closest thing we got to that was paying an exorbitant fee for half an hour rowing round the island in Joburg’s Zoo Lake, or the slightly less crowded Germiston Lake.

The Big Six has boats, lots of them. But it is also a whodunit, and that adds to the interest. I don’t remember reading it as a child. I do remember reading a couple of Enid Blyton‘s Secret Seven series, where a group of children outwit the criminals that have the local police foxed.

In this one it is not difficult to guess the culprit, but the child detectives are themselves accused of the crime, and so in order to exonerate themselves they have to find the real culprits. The crime is casting off moored boats, and stealing some equipment — not major crimes worthy of Interpol, but serious enough in a small village where the children’s fathers are boatbuilders, and a bad reputation could harm their livelihood.

Though it takes a long time for the children to identify the suspects, that is not the main problem. The main problem is to collect evidence that points unambiguously to the perpetrator, because so much of the evidence they do manage to collect is open to different interpretations. So as a children’s whodunit, this one is quite sophisticated. Finding a suspect is one problem, getting enough evidence to convict is another.

In addition to being a whodunit, there is an undercurrent of environmental concern, perhaps of wider concern now than when Ransome wrote it in the 1930s. One is conscious of such concerns throughout the book, that, and the price of things. The idea of a lawyer’s fee being 66c makes the mind boggle.

I don’t think I read this one as a child, but if I had, I wonder if I would have been able to grasp that point at the age of 9 or 10. But as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Same-sex marriage: one cheer for Bermuda

There have been reports that Bermuda has rescinded a law on same-sex marriage that it passed a year ago, and replaced it with one on domestic partnerships.

Bermuda legalized same-sex marriage a year ago. This week it abolished it. – The Washington Post:

In an unusual move, Bermuda has abolished same-sex marriage less than a year after it was legalized, replacing the same-sex unions with domestic partnerships.

Bermuda Gov. John Rankin signed a bill into law Wednesday that reverses an earlier Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. The new law gives domestic partners in the British island territory similar rights as married couples — but without the legal title.

The reports are short on details, but from what I have read it seems to me to be a step in the right direction, and one step towards something that I proposed in a blog post 12 years ago: The State should get out of the marriage business | Notes from underground. I’d be glad to see if some countries went the whole hog, and left marriage to civil society, rather than making it a government prerogative.

Divisions of England, then and now

In 1966 I went to study in England, and spent two and a half years there. It took me about a year to get over the culture shock, and to appreciate different aspects of English culture — or rather English cultures, for there are several regional cultures.

Forty years later I visited England again, on holiday this time, and revisited some of the places I had known, and explored some new ones. I found that there were many changes, some expected, some unexpected. I’ve described that, and some of the changes I noticed here.

Then someone posted this graphic, which illustrated some of the changes I had noticed, and some that I hadn’t.

The most startling change to me is the one on chips.

Back in 1966 the area marked above as “gravy on chips” was definitely salt and vinegar.  I never, ever saw anyone have gravy on chips.

Whether bought from Sarah’s or Sweaty Betty’s, it was only ever salt and vinegar.

And in the area marked on the map as “salt and vinegar”, chips were unheard of. No matter where I went in London (and I went to most places on my London Transport free pass), there were no chips, only “French Fried Potatoes”. Chips were strictly north of the Trent.

The area marked “curry sauce on chips” was unknown territory for me, so I can’t comment on that.

So what happened? Did “French fried potatoes” go out with the bowler hats?

The bit about Greggs, I don’t understand much, but when we visited Cornwall in 2005, pasties were as scarce as chips in London in 1966. We asked at several places, and they sent us somewhere else, until we eventually foudn them at the 6th place we tried. And everyone in Bodmin spoke with Estuary accents.

The most astounding thing of all, however,  is the beer.

Before starting my studies in Durham I worked as a bus driver in London for 6 months. After a union meeting, which was held in a pub (the Telegraph on Brixton Hill), I was accosted by a conductor, who wanted to know about the big buses in Johannesburg that I had talked of at the meeting. Then I bought him a drink and he told me  he was the king of Streatham, and offered to take me on a tour of London and a trip to Brighton. He had been in many jobs before he became a conductor — street sweeper, rider on the wall of death, barrow boy. He had been in the cooler once for three months for scaling a motorbike. He bought me a drink. Then we went round the corner to another pub, his favourite hang-out, it appeared.

There we pooled our meagre resources and bought another drink. He scorned me for drinking cider, and said I should drink bitter. I said that draft bitter was usually flat. He said that didn’t matter, it was the taste that counts. The English like their beer warm and flat. I can think of nothing more insipid or puke-provoking. Then John starts waving and beckoning to his friend Reg, who is over at the other bar opposite. Reg, he tells me, is a tit-tat man. What the hell is a tit-tat man? Well, he’s the chap at the races who stands at one end and waggles his fingers and the bookies then know what every horse is doing. Reg is one of the best tit-tat men there is. Reg comes round and joins us. I like Reg. John introduces me as Steve, and Reg called me “Stephen”, so I called him “Reginald”, which provoked much giggling. Then he tried to guess my age, and said I was 32. Then changed it to 27 (I was actually 25). He said I’d never guess his age to within five years. So I said he was 57. No, he’s 56. He seemed rather amazed. He talked a little more. Then I said goodbye to John and Reg, and slipped away quietly, leaving them talking in a very lively way to someone else. The closing bell had rung, and I came home.

That was London, the area shown on the map as “craft ale”. Does bitter count as craft ale? There was bottled ale, but that was too fizzy. So English beer was either too flat or too fizzy. Nothing in between. Then I went north to Durham and discovered Newcastle Brown Ale. Now that was beer, the best in the world, I thought. Lion Ale, the beer Natal made famous, came a rather poor second, but still way better than bitter, or lager. And in Durham no one had ever heard of lager, except perhaps a few people who had gone to Germany on holiday.

So when did ale move south and lager move north? Was that yet another thing wrought by Margaret Thatcher?

 

 

 

 

How US Net Neutrality affects the rest of us

Those of us outside the US may have observed their debates on net neutrality, and wondered whether it would affect us.

Even if it is something confined purely to the US, however, the loss of net neutrality there will affect people all over the world. But when people speak of the loss of net neutrality, there are many ways in which it has already been lost, or rather, it is an ideal that has never been fully realised.

This article helps to explain what it means for people in the US — Someone Finally Illustrated What The Loss Of Net Neutrality Really Looks Like, And You Won’t Like It:

Net neutrality has become a volatile, high-profile news story, and with good reason: Americans are in danger of losing it. But what is net neutrality, and why is it important? Why are some lawmakers fighting so hard to make it a thing of the past?

The answer is complex, rooted in technological progress, a changing economic landscape, and a society and culture that is seeing greater class divisions than at any other time in our history. Some in our government are determined to make the internet a profit-driven product, and while this may sound understandable in a capitalist society, the dangers are very real.

Aptly illustrated by this picture:

If you live in South Africa, say, and you post some family photos on Facebook, the loss of net neutrality in the US might mean that your cousin in the US may not be able to see them, because their ISP has decided to charge more for access to Facebook.

Of course even with net neutrality your cousin in the US might not have been able to see your photos, because Facebook’s algorithm already decides who gets to see what you post, and who doesn’t get to see it.

Think of another example. An academic researcher in South Africa posts a research query in a blog, trying to verify some fact, or get reactions to a conjecture or hypothesis. With net neutrality, anyone with a web connection can see the blog and respond to the post. But without net neutrality, an ISP can decide to make that particular blogging platform only accessible to some of its subscribers who pay extra for it.

Even without legal protection of “net neutrality”, there have been all kinds of attempts to corral users into a closed system. Facebook’s Messaging app is an example. Get people to use that, and people have to join Facebook to communicate with you. Others may have attempted the same thing, but it might have backfired on them. In an earlier post, The decline and decline of tumblr | Notes from underground, I noted that tumblr had gradually reduced the functionality of their site to make it a closed world. Perhaps they did this in the hope that they, like Facebook, might be able to lock users in to their site, though the actual effect was to remove the incentive for many people to visit their site at all. To lock people in successfully, you have to be big like Facebook, not small like tumblr.

We had something similar in South Africa. A few years ago people who used MWeb as their ISP found it difficult to access certain web sites, because MWeb was trying to lock them in and steer them towards its own offerings. I don’t know if they still do that, but there was quite an outcry at the time.

Something similar was seen back in the 1990s, when dial-up BBSs were popular. Telkom, whose phone lines were being used for it, wanted to charge more for data calls to BBSs than for voice calls, but the counter argument was that Telkom was a “common carrier” — their job was to provide the connections, for which they could charge, but the content of the calls was none of their business. The “common carrier” principle is the same principle as net neutrality — an ISP charges you for the internet connection and the band width you use, but the content of your connection is none of their business.

The “common carrier” principle provided a great deal of freedom, because anyone could set up a BBS, and so BBSs were a great enhancement to free speech. It was one of the factors that helped to topple a lot of dictatorial regimes in the annus mirabilis of 1989. It was how news of the Tianamnen Square massacre in China reached the rest of the world; pro-democracy activists used a BBS conference called ASIAN_LINK to communicate with each other and the rest of the world.

So the loss of New Neutrality takes the USA another step further away from the “free world” that it once claimed to be the leader of.

 

 

 

Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion?

The Scrivener: Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion? writes entertainingly about about a view of Western converts to Orthodoxy, which sometimes turns out to be conversion to a subculture.

Orthodox Monk writes about Pentecostalism and the Orthodox Tradition of the Philokalia.

I was unable to comment on their posts in their blogs, so I thought I would combine my comments on both into a new post, though it might make more sense if you read their posts first.

Orthodox Monk says

We really are out of our depth. We really know nothing about Pentecostalism and it would require a degree in religious doctrine and sociology to sort out the different currents in Pentecostalism…

We do know that none of the Elders of the Orthodox Church has ever endorsed Pentecostalism. That is important for there are clearly charismatic elements in the Orthodox tradition of the Philokalia: an Orthodox Elder is normally revealed to the body of the Church through his gifts of clairvoyance.

And he goes on to compare reports of different kinds of Pentecostal and charismatic worship, including the Toronto Blessing, and worship in an American neopentecostal church.

I may be able to help in some ways, as I have had some experience of Pentecostal and charismatic worship, mainly in an Anglican setting, though also among traditional Pentecostals such as the Assemblies of God, and also among neopentecostals. Before I became Orthodox I was in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, where a charismatic renewal movement started in the 1940s, propagated by the Iviyo loFakazi bakaKristu (Legion of Witnesses of Christ).

In the 1970s the charismatic renewal movement swept Western denominations, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians and others. It also gave rise to new denominations, called “neopentecostal” to distinguish them from traditional Pentecostal denominations. This happened not only in South Africa, but it was a worldwide phenomenon. In South Africa it led to the dramatic growth of a community of Anglican nuns, the Community of the Holy Name, especially in Zululand. It led to a new ecumenism — a Pentecostal choir singing in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Durban and a new optimism in the face of the intractable problems of apartheid and oppression and racial divisions. The South African Defence force was pitted against the liberation armies, and the charismatics proclaimed “Jesus has not come to take sides but to take over.”

The founders of the Iviyo movement, Bishop Alpheus Zulu and Canon Philip Mbatha, were not, as “Orthodox Monk” implies, demonised. They were the nearest thing to Orthodox spiritual elders I found in the Anglican Church, men of wisdom and spiritual discernment. Many young men in Zululand went to the sisters of the Community of the Holy Name as I saw young people in Bulgaria visit sisters in an Orthodox monastery outside Sofia, for spiritual counsel and advice.

But not all involved in the Western charismatic renewal were as disciplined as those involved in Iviyo. There were plenty of spiritual “lone rangers”, who wandered around convinced that the new teaching revealed to them must be heard, and supersede all others. Some came up with fanciful theories of the revival of apostolic ministries, and proclaimed themselves to be the embodiment of that revival, claiming that they were the new apostles.

At Iviyo conferences, on the other hand, while there may have been 2000 people yelling and jumping and praying in tongues, there would be, out of sight, in the crypt of the church, or a school classroom, a group of about 20, mostly priests and nuns, praying all the time. If anyone claimed to have a revelation from God to give to the main meeting, they had first to take it to those who were praying, who might say that no, that was not a revelation from God, but a spiritual delusion (for which Orthodox Christian have a technical term, plani or prelest.

Some American charismatic leaders were aware of the dangers of this lack of discipline, and to counteract it, people like Derek Prince and others started the “shepherding movement” but this in turn led to excesses in the opposite direction.

Orthodox spiritual elders like St Seraphim of Sarov spent 17 years praying under the guidance of his abbot before he began active ministry among others

In the Orthodox Church, the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit never ceased to operate, but they were always exercised under the guidance of clairvoyant spiritual elders who were themselves guided by their own spiritual fathers. This meant that there were not wild swings between the individualism of the freelance spiritual lone rangers and the authoritarianism of the shepherding movement. And it is this that constitutes the main difference between the charismatic elements of the Orthodox tradition, and those found in the Pentecostal movement in the West.

Those who have been involved in Western Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal movement can often appreciate Orthodoxy when they see it. One of the leaders of the Anglican charismatic renewal in England, Canon Michael Harper, is now the Dean of the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery in the UK. I have taken Pentecostal friends to Orthodox services and they have appreciated them more than other Protestants who are hung up on “the word”. Pentecostal/charismatic worship tends, like Orthodox worship, to go beyond merely “hearing the word”.

Older Protestant hymns did sometimes mention experience, but tended, especially in the 19th century, to be individualistic and introspective, describing the feelings of the author of the hymn rather than praising God. By singing them, the worshippers might get ideas about how they ought to feel, but it was not really worship.

Back in the 1960s I once organised a service, led by an ecumenical group in an Anglican church, that included many of the elements that “Orthodox Monk” describes as demonic — loud music, flashing lights, dancing, etc. One result was that the Anglican bishop of Natal fired me as an Anglican deacon. Another was that the bishop preached in the church soon afterwards, and told the congregation that their church had been profaned (and this appeared on the front page of the local newspaper the following day). A third result was that I and the other Anglican members of the group that had led the service, feeling that we had been excommunicated from the Anglican Church, went to the Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church, where we were received sympathetically by the priest, who said, in effect, that the Anglican Bishop of Natal was an old square. I might have become Orthodox then and there, had not another Anglican bishop asked me to go and work for him, so my conversion to Orthodxy was delayed by 15 years.

My point is this: that many things in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement are things that Orthodoxy has had all along, but which had been neglected in Western Christianity. The Pentecostal/charismatic movement was in some ways a correction of the imbalance, though it has tended to become unbalanced the other way. Now that I am Orthodox, I would not be at all tempted to organise a “psychedelic service” in an Orthodox Church, because Orthodox worship does not have the deficiencies of much Western Protestant worship that makes people feel the need for that. Where there are deficiencies (from a human point of view) in Orthodox worship, they can be corrected not by scrapping it and replacing it with something else, but by restoring it.

What about The Scrivener: Orthodoxy as Boutique Religion??

This is a response to The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity: Western “Eastern Orthodoxy” as Boutique Religion, who says, among other things, that “If anything, it is for the most part an exotic spirituality that ignores the patrimony of the Western Church and seeks to replace the struggles at the heart of Christianity with escapism.”

I presume that the problem to which it is not the answer is “the struggles at the heart of Christianity”. And the Sarabite concludes with “Not taking this in its most integrist reading, we can say that the West does not need Eastern Orthodoxy to restore it. It can surely help, but the West itself has all that is necessary for the restoration of the Church.” And that is a kind of “tu quoque” argument that needs to be taken seriously. One of the great complaints of the Orthodox in the Second World in the early 1990s was that they did not need Western Christians to come and help them restore Christianity in the East after several decades of state-sponsored atheism. Yet many Orthodox Christians in the West appear to believe that Orthodoxy is needed to rescue the West from the forces of secularism and modernity, in a kind of postmodern restoration of premodernity. But that is perhaps a matter for another debate.

For me, however, the question was slightly different. A senior Anglican priest in South Africa, Walter Goodall, writing about the drift of Anglicanism away from the historic Christian faith, said that the solution would be for Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church, since the Pope of Rome “is, after all, the Patriarch of the West”.

I wrote to him pointing out that South Africa was part of Africa, and that therefore in South Africa Anglicans with such concerns should rather look to the Pope of Alexandria, who is, after all, the Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa.

Boutique religion? I don’t think so. Orthodoxy has been African since the first century.

Post Navigation