How to avoid being President.

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Having been overexposed to the election and inauguration of the 45th president of the United States while being simultaneously overwhelmed by last year’s reportage on the president of this fair land I have come to a decision. I hereby give formal notice that I don’t want to be the president of the USA, RSA or any other country,… ever.
So determined am I never be nominated, let alone elected to the office, I have made up my mind to develop the following range of characteristics that will disqualify me from consideration.

Firstly, I will work hard at not being a bully. No matter how much power I may have, I will never use that power to strong-arm people into submission. My money, resources or position will never be a reason to humiliate and abuse weaker people or groups.

Secondly, I will continue to be inclusive of all ideas especially those that differ from my own. Aware that I have learnt most from people who challenge my thinking, I will consciously open myself to hearing views and opinions I don’t enjoy or agree with. I will try to understand how my opposers came to believe as they do.

Thirdly, I am not going to trust my ego to guide my decisions and behaviour. Suspicious of my tendency to be selfish and self serving and aware of how much I like to be liked, I will choose truth over popularity and fame. I will also remind myself that praise and blame are both imposters who don’t stick around for long.

Fourthly, I am going to see women, gay, LGBTQ persons and disabled people as deserving of exactly the same consideration as heterosexual men. Cognisant of my uniqueness, I will afford others the courtesy of being their own unique selves too. I know that gender, sexual orientation and physicality are not the measure of worth in people. Oh yes, and I will not mock or mimic people from these groups in an attempt to be funny.

Fifthly, when I do something to assist another it will not be to get something in return or to privilege someone from my family or friends. My guiding truth will be that every person is equal before the law and should have equal opportunity to compete for positions and profits without prejudice or preference.

Lastly I am going to sustain interest in the diversity of all people on the planet. Their cultures, languages, religions and customs fascinate me and I will try to learn from them without trying to make them conform to my code and my creed.

I believe the six values and habits outlined here are a sure way to avoid being a candidate for president. Being a person like this I know no one will vote for me and I will avoid having what some have described as the most stressful jobs on the planet.

I will never be famous or followed but perhaps I will live peacefully with my soul.

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The past is passed, what new chapter awaits?

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It’s a common practice. No matter the place, no matter the era, humans need to make marks as we pass through the tunnel of time. The days of our birth, anniversaries of significant life events, and even the date on which our lives end are all recorded and remembered. It’s as if the stream of time is too inexorable and its current too strong that without markers on the banks, our lives would seem to be a chaotic flood. As the hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote in 1719, “Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.

Yet in spite of all our remembrances we don’t really know how to explain time. No lesser mind than Saint Augustine was as puzzled as we are and wrote, ‘What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know.’ (Confessions 397-400 CE)
What Augustine hints at it the reality that we each have a unique understanding of ourselves in time. Each person has collected a set of snapshot memories for the year 2016. These memories lie in our minds like a box of jumbled photographs in no particular order. If one were to stack the photographs and flash through them, the sequence would make no sense at all.

Videographer Ti Tracy illustrated this with two YouTube videos.
Both were filmed over a minute just before midnight on 3 June 2015 on the Las Vegas Strip, the videos contain the same set of a few thousand images.

In the first, the time ordering was scrambled; the second shows the images in the original time sequence. The video with the scrambled images makes no sense.

The second is quite logical as the brain can process the flow of images through the traffic in a logical order.

It is a mysterious property of our minds that connects the random events of life and threads them together into a logical flow which can make sense. We sort our memories into story sequences to give life logic and meaning . Eduardo Galeano wrote ‘Out of fear of dying, the art of storytelling was born.’

Tonight 2016 will tick itself to death at 23h59m59s and in the very next second 2017 will be born. In that moment will anything have changed? It’s hard to know. What is clear is how much we need an opportunity at least every three hundred and sixty five days to believe that a page has turned, the past has passed and a new beginning awaits.

Tonight we will paint the past with nostalgia, and bravely face our fears and premonitions of what awaits. We will hope, we will hug, and be as human as all who have gone before us in time.

May chapter 2017 of your life story be filled with meaning and peace.

Happy new year to us all.

A Dolphin Leap of Faith

Photo Credit:http://www.talbotcollection.com/images/posters/lp01.jpg
Thumbnail Image courtesy of the Talbot Collection.com

Being on holiday means being in unfamiliar rooms and staring at unknown pictures on the wall. I had seen the Talbot collection print of a leaping dolphin before, but never attended to the inscription underneath. “Delphinus Delphis” got me wondering why the common dolphin would be named after a Greek site associated with the famous oracle of Delphi? My question led to the Homeric legend in which a dolphin leapt onto the deck of Homer’s ship, transformed into the god Apollo, and instructed the winds to blow the ship to safety in the harbour below Delphi.

Apollo the son of Zeus is thus the link between Delphi and dolphins. The Delphic shrine is dedicated to the worship of Apollo with the role of the oracle being central to Apollonian worship. One of the human priestesses was appointed to channel messages from the gods. Archaeologists have discovered that the shrine was close to an underground gas vent which emitted small doses of intoxicating ethylene, probably enhancing the oracle’s prophetic abilities!

The shrine gave us the word “music” too, as Apollo was also god of the nine muses and thereby a master musician.
Humans have long been fascinated with these divine encounters which connect our lives to something bigger and offer direction for our uncertain futures.

Seemingly Christmas has nothing to do with Delphi, the oracle, or Greek gods or does it? It is a Middle Eastern story about a god who showed up disguised not as a dolphin but as a little baby. Similar to Apollo this incarnation also had a divine message.

The Gospels record how when Jesus of Nazareth was born, oracular angels appeared in the night skies around Bethlehem and sang to shepherds, “Peace on earth, and goodwill to all people.” The place where Jesus was supposed to have been born is commonly known as the grotto and more formally as the Church of the Nativity. Before the shrine was built in 327 by command of Helena the mother Emperor Constantine, it had been a shrine to another Greek god Adonis, the son of Myrrha who had tricked her father into having sex with her and was punished by being turned into a myrrh tree.
Ironically myrrh was a gift given to the infant Jesus by the three star following kings. Adonis (from the semitic word Adonai meaning Lord) was a most beautiful man and Apollo fell in love with him and they became lovers.

As I mused on the leaping dolphin, Delphic oracles and contemplated Christmas I realised nothing remains sacred for too long. Gassed oracles in Delphi, and incestuous homosexual gods are reminders of just how human we really are.

There is much that is sacred within us. But we are dark and sensual too. Over time we trade our gods for novelty and immediate pleasure. Angels, wise men and birthing virgins are replaced by jolly red Santa’s with container laden sleighs.

Wherever and however you worship this Christmas I trust you will be blessed.

Food or Shopping? Black Friday blues.

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If Black Friday’s shopping frenzy leaves you as frazzled as it does me every year, you may be interested in its counterpoint called, “Buy Nothing Day”?
Founded by artist Ted Dave in Vancouver Canada in 1992, Buy Nothing Day or BND is an international day of protest against consumerism. In North America, Britain and Sweden the day is observed on the same day as Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) and in other countries it is on the Saturday after Black Friday.

Promoted by the “not for profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment”, Adbusters movement, BND wants to raise awareness about the destructiveness of blind consumerism and how it affects people and the planet.
Some of the activities BND participants undertake are the public cutting up of credit cards, dressing up as zombies and wandering aimlessly through malls as a parody of shoppers, as well as public protests.

At this time of year we watch our mailboxes and magazines bulge with advertising flyers all convincing us that we cannot possibly live without the wares displayed within. So we do know just how powerful the search for bargains and special deals is. Do we ever stop to ask, “Do I really need this?”

The BND organisers realise that one day will not change consumer behaviour but they do hope to raise awareness about the insidious power of advertising to manipulate our consciousness and unleash frenetic spending. So in addition to the Buy Nothing Campaign, Adbusters also runs anti-ad campaigns blaming advertising for playing a central role in creating, and maintaining consumer culture. They argue that the advertising industry goes to great effort and expense to link our identity with commodities and brands. “Are you a (product name here) man or woman?”

These movements need to be seen against the recently released figures from the Department of Statistics, Community Survey 2016 which show that 3,3 million South African households reported running out of money to buy food in the past year. The Eastern Cape total for this phenomenon was 464 838 households. The survey also measured the possession of household appliances and stated, “Ownership of household’s goods is crucially important in measuring the standard of living for the household. Ownership of some household goods such as a cellphone, electric stove, TV, fridge, washing machine, DSTV, motor vehicle and a computer have seen significant increases in 2016 as compared to in 2011.” (the last census)
It is great that more people can live comfortably, but one has to ask how many of those appliances were bought on credit? And could debt be the reason that there sometimes isn’t money for food in over 3,3 million homes?

Christopher Lasch the American social critic and author of “The Culture of Narcissism” wrote, “It is the logic of consumerism that undermines the values of loyalty and permanence and promotes a different set of values that is destructive of family life.”

Let’s be careful not to destroy our families while shopping for them.

We can never go back to paradise

flamin-sword-angel-paradiseWe all want to live in paradise. Americans have just voted to go back there. Something in every human heart wants to return to the wholeness of the Garden of Eden. We long for a place where everything is perfect. A utopian kingdom where everyone is at peace and our daily evils are gone.

Englishman Thomas More coined the word “utopia” when writing his book by that name, creating the word from the Greek, “ou-topos” meaning “no place” or “nowhere”. He was punning on the almost identical Greek word “eu-topos” meaning “good place”. More’s little joke that there is no place that’s a completely good place.

More was also finance minister (treasurer of the exchequer) to King Henry VIII who beheaded him 1535 for opposing his divorce plans. No public protector back then!
Written in 1516 More’s utopia was an elaborate democracy without hierarchies and corruption, similar to the biblical paradise where Adam “walks with God in the cool of the day”. What wonderful equality and freedom!

Just as Thomas More’s utopia referred to no possible place, our dreams of returning to paradise somehow ignore that in the biblical narrative there’s an angel with a flaming sword guarding the entrance. A sad reminder that we can never go back home.
How evident that is in South Africa’s life right now! With almost everything we fear being expressed in some trending hashtag, it seems #paradisehasfallen.

How did South Africa come to this? The rainbow nation in 1994, we were the world’s newest and most envied democracy with an equally enviable economy too. Now we teeter on the edge of being rated with the world’s junk both in economics and political ethics.
Were we deluded in 1994 to think in Milton’s words that we had “regained paradise” from the hell realms of Nationalist Apartheid? Was the “New South Africa” an illusion? Are the 101 ANC stalwarts who back Pravin Gordham against King Jacob, just nostalgic old folks trying to salvage our non-racial democracy? And was Mandela, the ultimate utopian idealist whose dreams made sense on an island off Cape Town, but couldn’t survive the relentless heat of the African sun?

If we aren’t deluded utopians, exiled from the paradise of our democratic dreams, who are we? And how far will we wander into this political wilderness before we become another Zimbabwe ruin? Interesting to archaeologists, but with no practical currency in the unfolding global story.
How the hell we get here? Simple. We gobbled the forbidden fruit of self interest, croneyism and greed.

There is an old joke about Adam and Eve’s sin that got them expelled from the garden. When God called them to account, Adam blamed Eve. She blamed the snake, and the poor serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.
Outside the gates of our Saxonwold paradise the blaming has just begun. The axe is swinging and who knows who will slither away when it’s over?

Diabolical definitions

newdevilsdictionaryDuring the 1870’s, French novelist Gustave Flaubert had a custom of creating humorous definitions for words. These were eventually published as a “Dictionary of Received Ideas”.
Here are some examples:

  • Absinthe – Exceptionally violent poison: one glass and you’re a dead man. Journalists drink it while writing their articles. Has killed more soldiers than the Bedouins.
  • Architects – All idiots; always forget to put staircases in houses.
  • Omega – Second letter of the Greek alphabet.
  • Waltz – Wax indignant about. A lascivious, impure dance that should only be danced by old ladies.
  • Englishwomen – Express surprise that they can have pretty children.
  • Old People – When discussing a flood, thunderstorm, etc., they cannot remember ever having seen a worse one.
  • Sex – Word to avoid. Say instead, “Intimacy occurred…’.

Simultaneously, American Ambrose Bierce a columnist in the “San Francisco Newsletter” from 1869 onwards produced definitions titled “The Devil’s Dictionary.” These were later gathered into, “The Cynic’s Wordbook”.
Here are examples of his work:

  • Conservative – A statesman who is passionate about existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
  • Cynic – A scoundrel whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.
  • Egotist – A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
  • Faith – Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
  • Lawyer – One skilled in circumvention of the law.
  • Marriage – A household consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in total, two.

Pretending to be a writer of similar calibre, I came up with my own “Diabolical Definitions”. Somewhat more colloquial and provincial. Enjoy!

  • Phone – a device filled with apps to distract you from actually making calls.
  • Taxi – a life threatening vehicle less concerned with transportation than disrupting orderly traffic flow.
  • Radio – used by people who want to look elsewhere whilst being informed.
  • Television – used by people who don’t want to do anything else while being misinformed.
  • Public protector – an historic office used to protect the Constitution from abuse by government. Currently under reconstruction to reverse that process.
  • President – historically a person of morality and honour leading their nation. Currently in USA and SA, the person best able to embarrass themselves and all citizens.
  • Judiciary – a sacred fortress against chaos. Constantly under attack from dark forces of government.
  • National Prosecuting Authority – a collective of legal minds and tools.  Some being applied inappropriately.
  • SARS – the body tasked with collection of state funds to be used by government without accountability to the funders.
  • Springbok – an emblem previously used to designate the best rugby players in the country.
  • Investor – a person to be completely ignored when formulating Presidential decisions.
  • Constitution – a historic document like the Bible, intended to guide and protect life. Largely ignored by those in power.
  • Social Media – a forum for conducting the trial of accused persons before they reach court.

Do you have some to add?