Saturday, December 31, 2005

Female Anopheles Mosquito Posted by Picasa


One of the good things I've discovered about doing a blog is that I notice other blogs with much greater interest. Strange, I find the same thing with gardens. My garden is weedy, but just trying to garden makes me so very interested to see what other people's gardens are like. Many people don't feel they have the time to pay attention to blogs. That maybe especially true in developing countries where people are paying by the minute. Yet the number of Chinese blogs is really exploding, so it also could just be just be a matter of time. In any case, I encourage people to start their own blogs.

At Nathan's blog earlier in the month he wrote this post:
Malaria Puts me down

Malaria is becoming my biggest problem. My body temperatures rise time to time. My legs pain whenever I go to sleep and I become week but I do fear to take resistant tabulates. Is there any one with another solution for treating it other than tabulates or injections? Malaria
I didn't comment, but I think about malaria a lot. What really excites me are small steps that ordinary people can take to deal with big problems. But I also see the necessity of ambitious programs for big problems too. Of course most people feel it's only worth arguing over the big stuff, so I can't get around the controversies.

Jeffery Sachs writes:
On disease, malaria could be controlled by 2008 using proven, low-cost methods. But, again, Africa cannot afford them. The first goal should be to distribute long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets to all of Africa’s rural poor within four years. The best estimates show that Africa needs about 300 million bed nets, and that the cost per net (including shipping) is around $10, for a sum of $3 billion. This cost would be spread over several years. In addition, Africa needs help with anti-malaria medicines, diagnostic equipment, and training of community health workers.
There's quite a bit of controversy over the right approach to malaria; whether the investments should be basically as Sachs outlines, or whether the investments should be funneled towards vaccines and medicine. The good news is not that there's agreement about that but the fact of the matter is a little of both is happening. The bad news is that a little probably isn't enough.

I was receptive to the We All Have AIDS campaign. A commentator here made the point that preventing AIDS is an individual's responsibility. And I saw that reaction to the campaign expressed in several other places. It's a good idea that The Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria links these diseases together. Many developing countries spend 40% of their health budgets on treating malaria. It's an enormous drain on the economies of developing countries and responsible for so much suffering and death. Beginning to cope with malaria will aid the fight against TB and HIV/AIDS.

TB is spread via the air. Drug-resistant strains are widespread. This is an awfully important fact to realise. The spread of HIV is preventable and surely individual responsibility plays an important role in preventing the spread. It's also important that people have access to information and condoms. HIV/AIDS plays a key role in the development of drug-resistant TB. Even without sympathy for people living with HIV/AIDS their treatment is in our interest because without treatment we only hasten the day when untreatable TB is endemic all over the world. TB is a disease where individual responsibility plays no role.

Both my dear Ugandan friends have gotten a lecture from me to use a bed net. Sleeping under a bed net reduces your chances of contracting malaria by about 30%. It reduces the chances even more for children because they tend to be put to bed earlier and so are protected longer during the hours when the female Anophles mosquito feed. When most everyone in an area is sleeping under a bed net the chances of contracting malaria are significantly further reduced. So bed nets are a very important strategy for reducing malaria, but not a "silver bullet." My friends listen politely to me, but I don't think their sleeping under nets.

There are many good points made in the debates about African Aid. I find it odd that there is a tendancy of politically conservative people to delight in bashing the efforts of the rich and famous in this effort, when I as lefty, not normally desposed to applauding the rich am more sympathetic to their efforts.

Earlier this month Donald G. McNeil Jr. at The New York Times wrote a piece the title, The Rich, Sometimes, Are the Best Medicine made my inner lefty groan. John D. Rockefeller began a drive in 1907 to rid the South of hookworm. "Called "the germ of laziness" because it caused anemia and made victims lethargic and dull-witted, hookworm afflicted up to a third of Southerners." At the time many were arguing that the South could only be rid hookworm when it was rid of poverty. Rockefeller's approach was: worm medicine, latrines, and shoes. It worked.

Programs of that scale and simplicity are what's needed to halt the tragedy of malaria. We are foolish to imagine that disease is something that affects others and not ourselves.

I probably won't call my representatives to support funding for initiatives like The Global Fund because a famous rock star tells me to. But I'm happy that Bono leads in the effort to do just that; I'm glad for the attention he brings to the cause. Somewhere in my gut I still harbor negative feelings about John D. Rockefeller, strange legacy memory. Probably seventy-five years from now people will still recall Bill Gates negatively. Still, you've got to give credit where credit's due. It's quite posible to hold a negative opinion of someone at the same time holding a positive one. At least I can in line with: "Create something good." Horray!

Ethan Zuckerman along with the wonderful blog aggregator Blog Africa and Global Voices has created a short Africa Quiz. Take it, I bet you'll score well. Ethan Z also invites people to comment about the quiz and say how well you did--Where does he find the time?

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

But Let Us Cultivate Our Garden Posted by Picasa

But Let Us Cultivate Our Garden

The trouble with seeing all sides to an issue; well that seems trouble enough. Ah yes, the trouble is committment; being willing to sustain an idea long enough to truly flesh it out. Jesuits and Communists are often stellar scholars. In America it's the clarion call is against moral relatism: "People today just don't want to hear about right and wrong." Yes, and I'm afraid I'm one of the people they're all so steamed about. It's embarassing really, but at this stage in my life what am I going to do about it?

I've been encouraging my friends to start their own blogs. To my great pleasure some of you have taken it up. With a friend in Kampala we decide--maybe I decided and told him about it--to have a blog that's a dialog. My friend is a humanist and recently has become interested in World Transhumanism. I haven't been able to muster as much enthusiasm for Transhumanism as my friend. But I know that he wants to engage many more people in conversations about there in Uganda and have suggested to him that blogs could be instrumental in that. So our dialog blog is sort of a practice blog.

It's off to a slow start, and to get things started I posted a couple of "Sunday Sermonettes." These are a sort of blogging tradition, rather like "Friday Cat Blogging" practiced just enough to qualify as "tradition" but no so much as to be truly grating. The traditon of Sunday Sermonettes is to highlight freethinkers.

Sunday came around and I thought to post, but I couldn't find reference to what I wanted to post about. The result was getting lost surfing pages about freethinkers. To my delight I came across a bunch of Anti-Work--Pro-Leisure Web sites. Now that's my kind of freethinking! At CLAWS (Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery) there's a handy page with answers to the impertinent question: "And what do you do for a living?" My favorite:
I need so much time for doing nothing that I have no time for work. --Pierre Reverdy
Too many freethinkers to choose from, the trouble was that none of them were Africans. What I was looking for was a dialog I saw somewhere that featured an English missionary debating with a Ugandan in the latter part of the 19th century.

I don't want to be patronizing. My freind knows I respect him. But it's quite tricky sometimes due to my cultural presumptions, or maybe presumtuousness. ('Cause we are the champions is blaring in my head. Did you know that Freddy Mercury was born in Tanzania?) It's hard to negotiate conversations intended to reveal cultural differences with people you're very much interested in being friends with; no matter, the differences show up in the darndest ways.

Perhaps on Sunday I'll write about Voltaire, if not then and there at least here and now. It's the end of the year time when the seed catalogs arrive--even though I didn't buy a single packet mail order last year--and it's time for all those grating "Year End" lists.

One of the problems that always having to be worked out in a garden is: What to do in the meantime? So much of gardening is timing, and for many perennials, trees and shrubs, that means a long time. In these latitudes we have the advantage of wintertime for reflection, and pouring over catalogs. I do want to mention one of my favorite catalogs: Nichols Garden Nursery.Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Keane McGee keep the catalog down to Earth, and I can't think of a better compliment for a seed house. For a gardener there's always next year.

Oh yes, Voltaire. "But let us cultivate our garden." are the closing lines to Voltaire's Candide. I suppose it's still required reading in schools these days, and it ought to be. And in the spirit of year end lists, high on my list of favorite essays this year is, VOLTAIRE’S GARDEN: The philosopher as a campaigner for human rights by Adam Gropnik in The New Yorker.

Gropnik writes:
“Candide” is not really, or entirely, a satire on optimism. It is an attack on organized religion...

The point of “Candide” is that the rapes and disembowelments, the enslavement and the beatings are not part of some larger plan, not a fact of the fatality of life and the universe, but fiendish tortures thought up by fanatics. They may be omnipresent; but they are not inevitable. Voltaire thinks optimism merely silly. It is the flight from failed optimism into faith that he fears.
There is so much I like about Gropnik's essay, but most of all that it's an essay about gardens and the subject of torture which has made me at times despondant this year.
By “garden” Voltaire meant a garden, not a field—not the land and task to which we are chained by nature but the better place we build by love. The force of that last great injunction, “We must cultivate our garden,” is that our responsibility is local, and concentrated on immediate action.
Gropnik notes that "free-thinking, which inspired Twain and Mencken, has almost vanished from our world." I wonder whether the deference we pay to religion is really the result of pluralism and liberal notions of tolerence? I also wonder why religious people in America feel under assult by secularists? But Voltaire is wise indeed to say: "But let us cultivate our garden." A garden is still an occupation humankind can peacefully undertake.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lions Don't Smile

Lions Don't Smile
Originally uploaded by amalthya.

Lions Don't Smile

Back when I was in school earning my teaching credentials there was some sort of kids festival. The participation of teachers in training may not have actually been required, but anyone with good sense knew to be there. Among the many clues I should have picked up on that teaching elementary school wasn't for me, is that I don't like to get up early in the morning. I showed up at the festival anyway at 8:00 in the morning and to my surprise there were already lots of eager kids there. After doing some lumber work, moving heavy stuff around the auditorium room, I was assigned duty as a face painter.

Nothing in my experience prepared me for the task. I told my first client as much, so we talked strategy about the whole effect. He'd mention ideas and I tell him I didn't think I could accomplish that, so he'd go on to others. Mostly we just had a nice chat, engrossing enough so I didn't notice picture taking going on. There we were on the front page of the Sunday newspaper. Even better, I discovered on Monday that the kid was the son of one of my professors and that I had endeared myself to her. What luck! So this picture charmed me, taken apparently at a similar bon fete for kids in Kampala. I'd be willing to bet the caption was provided by the dour lion upon being instructed to smile for the camera. "Get a grip, lions don't smile."

In the last post I linked to several Web pages advancing the argument that aid to Africa, especially large scale projects has many negative ramifications. I neglected to provide a link to Jeffery Sachs as counterpoint. In Sachs' book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time he writes:
Africa's governance is poor because Africa is poor.
For those trying so hard to improve things by focusing on the governance in African countries this point of view isn't particularly appreciated.

Word Press seems to be down right now, so I'm can't get the links, but Ethan Zuckerman at My Heart's in Accra returns to blogging after a two-day vacation with four interesting African articles he read in the meantime. When Doing Good Also Aids the Devil is one from the Sunday New York Times. The problems of Africa and aid to Africa are complex. Ethan Z also linked to a Zimbabwean friend's blog, Dumisani Nyoni. My experience with Africans is very limited, but in my limited experience I've been very impressed by a talent for debate and discussion. Nyoni is offended by this article in the European editon of Time in late Novemeber. I liked very much how he prefaced his criticism:
If I didn’t believe that debate, dialogue and discussion were by far the best way of learning and bringing about change, I would ask them all to put their pens and cameras down. But debate is informative so let it be.
Debate is informative, and with such complicated issues as aid, more voices are better than one.

I was looking for a story about a conversation between a Christian missionary and an Ugandan elder that took place in the early colonial days of the late 1800's. I can't reamember where I read it, and thought perhaps it was in C. G. Jung's memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections. The section dealing with Jung's travels to Kenya and Uganda are short and the anecdote isn't there. I've had this book for a long time and the cover is eaten around the edges by insects. I've never known quite what to make of it, and perhaps why I keep it on my bookshelf. I continued reading it well after I'd satisfied my search. This made me pause and think:
[E]vil can no longer be minimized by the euphemism of the privato boni. Evil has become a determinant reality. It can no longer be dismissed from the world by a circumlocution. We must learn how to handle it, since it is her to stay...

In practical terms, this means that good and evil are no longer so self-evident. We have to realize that each represents a judgment. In view of the fallibility of all human judgment, we cannot believe that we will always judge rightly...Nevertheless we have to make ethical decisions.
It seems that having to "deal with evil" as Jung suggests is a lot different from slaying evil. And the New York Times article quotes aid officials suggesting that they need to be more public about the bargins they strike.

It occurs to me that the increasing veil of secrecy demanded by the US government in its "war on terror" obscures the difficult ethical judgments that must be made. The propaganda frames the "war on terror" as good against evil. Yet most Americans after WWII, Korea, The Cold War, Vietnam, and the many other military excursions abroad, know that ethical behavior is more complicated than that; Jung really was onto something.

Something I love about the lion face, and his refusal to smile, is of course in the afternoon or before bedtime he'll wash his face and no longer be a lion. Across African societies debates are valued, and there is a tradion that contrary voices be heard. The strong disagreements the likes of Thomas Sowell and Jeffery Sachs are important. I supposed neither is able to wash his face thereby return to who they are again. Still with important and complex issues we can do something like paint our face for a day to get inside one side of the debate. Then wash our face and paint our face the next day with the opposite side. Ethical judgments are difficult and an addiction to seeing things only one way and from a single direction will increase our chances of misjudgment.
Just Another Deluded Hippie Posted by Picasa

Just Another Deluded Hippie

Holy Smokes! What I'm I doing blogging? The wonderful thing about blogs is with a billion pages on the Internet, surely I can't do much harm. Something that motivates my blogging is the notion that something good can come from people in rich countries engaging people in the developing world. Global Voices asks: "The world is talking. Are you listening? That to me seems a very good question, and yet I recognize that lots of very nice people couldn't care less. A part of me wonders why I don't just shut up and listen. The answer seems to be it's easier to listen when I'm part of the conversation. And blogging is a little like hearing myself on tape, somewhat painful.

Through this post at Africa Unchained I came across some discussion about aid to Africa. Emeka Okafor highlights an article by Thomas Sowell this past July during the G8 summit. With regular posts at Timbuktu Chronicles and Africa Unchained Okafar is able to link to his own posts. His writing in those blogs is centered on Africa, still my empression is that Okafor isn't as conventionally politically conservative as Sowell. So Okafor didn't highlight this from Sowell's piece, while I suspect he hardly disagrees:
Today, too many people in the West continue to see Africa as an outlet for the visions and policies of the left that have failed in the West and are even more certain to fail in Africa.
In some ways blogs make it quite possible to read only the what confirms one's own biases. But it doesn't seem so easy to do really, so reading contrary views on politics is something most peopleeventually end up doing when reading blogs.

Emeka Okafor's piece on Sowell links to this post at Enviropundit and from there are several more links on the theme of the corrupting aspect of aid to Africa. John from Therapy Sessions writes in the comments:
I underestimated your blog when I first saw it...I thought: just another deluded hippie.
Okay, I know that's just a throw away line, but still it struck a chord. From Feral Scholar I'd spent a little while yesterday visiting one of David Horowitz's Web sites, and well been reading some rightist pages lately. So I don't mean to pick on John at Therapy Sessions, because actually reading through some posts, he's clearly doing some good thinking and interesting writing. But in reading a little there and a little at his wife's blog, Flightless Hag, it struck me that we might just talk past each other.

I'll not run from the label "old hippie," but from my perspective it's not like deluded hippies are a dime a dozen these days. At Tribe I've discovered that "hippie" is a pretty derogatory term among the youngish set. Being of a certain age I harbor none of that negativity. "All we need is love," man. So that's something that contributes to my poor communications sometimes. Another is that I react poorly to threats of violence and fantasies of violence. Maybe it's more complicated than my "old hippie" status, but I'm sure that's connected. Today's go-getters punctuate their rhethoric with violence. James Wolcott takes note in a recent post. Wolcott has a sharp wit, and perhaps it splitting hairs in noting that his insults never involve throat slitting and slow-roasting torture so popular on rightist blogs and Web sites.

I'm not sure what to do really. Something that seems clear to me is that I shouldn't just avoid discussions with that style of rhetoric comes up. I'm surprised that quite thoughtful people enjoy the fray. A very learned nephew several years back shocked me by saying that the TV show Cops was a favorite of his. O'Reilly's and Limbaugh's audiences aren't just knuckleheads--dittoheads? The really difficult thing is to discover something very much like my own revulsion is felt about me.

Ah, so the older I get the more I sound like my parents, and the more I spout cliches. It is helpful for me to remember: "You can't judge a book by its cover." Still a deluded hippie after all these years. I won't be talking of slitting throats, but I won't be running away in horror either.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas Posted by Picasa

Merry Christmas

This morning over coffee I purused my new Jung's Seed catalog. Visions of springtime danced in my head. Christmas comes right before New Year and is a time for consideration of the past and new beginnings.

I finally figured out that with the Sitemeter I can get an idea of who's reading the blog. My assumption, even while I knew better, was that it was being read by my friends. Sitemeter reveals it's being read by friends I haven't met yet.

My intentions for the blog have always been rather mixed and poorly formed. I'll have to think a little more about purposes. But that's for another time.

Now I wish you all a Merry Christmas!

My friend Nathan sent me some Christmas poems so I'll share with you this one:
So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young.

A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so this is Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight.
A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young.

A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over!
If you want it
War is over!

Update: John Lennon War Is Over

Friday, December 23, 2005

Pots Posted by Picasa


Yesterday there were two murders in the Lincoln-Lemington section of Pittsburgh within 48 hours of each other. There's sure a lot of trouble in the world, and don't we all know? Among the many troubles trying to explain Bazungu Bucks is that Africa is a category that lots of us here in the U.S. chuck into that big heap-o-trouble. There are many reasons we do that, and some of them boil down to entrenched stereotypes. Just because I'm happy corresponding with my Ugandan friends doesn't mean that I'm immune from prevelant stereotypes. All I know is that I don't want to perpetuate the negative and spurious ones. And in that heap-o-trouble we all know is as high as a mountain; people reasonably ask: "There's so much trouble here. Let's worry about it first and then tackle over there." I've yet to formulate a good retort to that.

One of the men murdered in Pittsburgh was Nzubamunu Mitete a Pentecostal minister from Kinshasha the captital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). The story makes me sad, for Mr. Mitete's family and all who knew him. I'm sad too for our city. So many of the problems we face seem intractable.

The story of how Nzubamunu Mitete came to Pittsburgh is remarkable. In 1999 he had a dream in which he saw the face of Loran Mann. Loran Mann is a familiar face to Pittsburghers because he was a TV news reporter for many years and still can be seen on TV occasionally. Why Mitete should be dreaming of Mann's face is a mystery to me, in any case "his vision told him to go in search of that face." As well as serving as a minister in Mann's Pentecostal Temple Church Mitete was a jitney driver. Jitneys are unlicensed taxis, which while quite illegal, are also a quite indespensible transportation service in the city.

That has nothing to do with pots. I've been reading John Reader's splendid book Africa : A Biography of the Continent. The book is fat, but the chapters are relatively short and each has a short summary of the chapter contents right at the beginning; those summaries help to keep track of the narrative. The book is perfectly constructed for reading it slowly and it's a big story. All people are out of Africa and Reader explains how the continent shaped how we are as human beings.

Over time the conditions have between favorable for plants and animals, including people, or have been far less favorable. During good times human populations across Africa increased and in bad times diminished. Both periods brought with them new developments, but it's been the bad times where technological advances has been the most rapid. Pots which allowed boiling food were a major technological innovation. One significant reason was that it allowed people to make baby food and therefore to reduce the length of time babies required nursing. The lovely photograph is from a Website for a DVD about African Pottery Techniques.

Most of us are rather disconnected from making a living; what we do are specialized jobs to make money. Reader's journey into human prehistory puts the history in a new perspective. Certainly if you enjoyed Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel you'll love Reader's book.

Most of us are also rather disconnected from our history as well. Something that motivates my interest in Africa is the way that Africans historically came to America created a rent in the fabric of their cultures. Many of the threads are visible in today's culture and it seems possible to reweave the treads back to the continent. So in part I want to know more about African people so that I can know my culture and myself better.

Uganda has a very interesting mix of cultures within its boundaries. Many Ugandans, like many Americans, now feel disconnected from their cultures in this modern world. Because I have an interest in hearing African stories, which has usually be understood as "myths" and "legends," but really what I mean are stories about how their grandparents lived, I've told my Ugandans friends as much. To make the point I talked about Foxfire.

I failed miserably trying to be a teacher. So I have a great fondness for stories about how teachers who are failing somehow succeed. Elliot Wigginton's first year of teaching English and Geography was going very badly until he asked his class:
How would you like to throw away the text and start a magazine?
What's remarkable is that the idea worked, and not just once, the magazine has been published now for more than thirty years. The students are in rural Appalachia.

Pittsburgh is sometimes mocked as "the capital of Appalachia." I don't think we should run from a heritage so rich. Teresa Heinz still calls it home. During the election her sons told stories about how she would kill a chicken for supper. Nobody seemed to believe she'd condescend to such mundane chore. I was curious nobody questioned there'd be chickens running around the estate. There were groans whenever she was refered to as Africn American, but the name is fair enough. I don't doubt she did kill and pluck chickens like she used to at home. Probably lots of Pittsburghers feel the same and that's why it seems like home to her.

In the very first Foxfire Book some of the students visit Aunt Arie in her cabin. They arrived just as she was trying to remove the eyeballs from a fresh hog's head a neighbor had delivered to her earlier that morning. The whole article is so wonderful because it's mostly simply transcribed from the tape recordings they made. Aunt Arie's voice is so magical it's easy to see how the kids became so engrossed. This parenthetical bit in the text delights me:
She takes the first eye to the back door and throws it out. It sails through the air, lands on a nearby tin roof, rolls off and hangs bobbing on the clothsline. All of us are laughing so hard we can hardly see to work on the second eye. Finally, we start again.
Teachers who make students laugh so hard their bellies ache have their rapt attention. It's no wonder that Aunt Arie figured prominently in the early years of Foxfire.

So my Uganda friends enjoyed the Foxfire Web site. They particularly admired the sale of crafts on the site. So far nobody's sent me stories like the one about Aunt Arie. I'd still love to hear some. It's the kind of thing that would make a good blog. It's exciting to think that such a blog might be of interest to Ugandans to learn more about their diverse cultures as well as to many outside Uganda too.

Many thousands of years ago African women found a way to make pots to boil food to feed their families. I'm living now today because ingenious forebears found ways of making a living. I can't quite join together pots and the tragic death of Nzubamunu Mitete. It's strange to me that he was drawn to Pittsburgh by a dream of Loran Mann's face, still he was connected to this place. We all now feel the loss. All of us are connected through the lives of people who lived before us. Reader's book makes plain that people emerged first on African soil and that for this reason who we are in this present owes much to our shared history of Africa.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Overstuffed chair shop, Jinja Road, Uganda.jpg

Exotic Furniture

Morgan Freeman says the concept of a month dedicated to black history is "ridiculous."
I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.
Way to go Morgan! Dealing with difference is a tough nut to crack. Tyler Cowen is an economist and I tend to feel grumpy in the presence of economists because about half the time I think their arguments aren't right and most of the rest of the time I wish they weren't. In a recent post Who benefits from fair trade? Cowen makes the point:
By splitting up the market, we are institutionalizing especially poor treatment for one class of workers. Furthermore the high profits from price discrimination imply that producers will be keen to continue such segregation rather than end it.
I think Morgan Freeman is making a somewhat similar argument against black history month, that is that by splitting it apart from the rest of American history we are institutionalizing discrimination.

A friend of mine calls the inability of men to see what's right in front of them, "male pattern blindness." I like the name and am frequently astounded by what it is that I don't notice. I hope I never have to testify as a witness in court. I wouldn't lie, but I'm afraid my uncertainty might seem like it. I'm not sure, for example what color your eyes are. And what were you wearing last Saturday night? I do notice things and can conjure up a mental image of those I know. It seems as though we can access our memories through lables of some sort, but that it would be extremely inefficient for me to find my mental image of you by lables like: black, white, Chinese, Indian, man, woman, etc. No I'll start with the one that's marked "you."

Over at AlterNet Maria Luisa Tucker posted A Whiter Shade of Christmas about Women for Aryan Unity and the "softer" side of hate. I was chatting with a friend and he told a story of how he rescued a a fellow worker and racist from the clutches of a fish filleting machine while coworkers gasped in horor at the bloody scene. That incident changed the fellow's mind not one iota as far as his views about race goes. I looked at my friend and said: "What's with that?" He grinned and shrugged his sholders. I don't know how it is that stereotypes become so firmly planted in our minds that we fail to see the particulars. I feel quite sure I'd feel gratitude towards the one who pulled my bloody apendages from a machine. I'm also sure I'd be really embarassed about the whole thing. Something about family and friends is they've got a list of our most embarassing moments. It's not really blackmail, but there's something about those secrets which remind us to be kind to them.

I can get lost for long periods of time looking at the pictures at Flickr. I like today's selection, by the very clever Cory Doctorow, because it's along a road that Nathan travels when he's got to go to the bank or do other business. Nathan often remarks about how harrowing the traffic sometimes is. Exotic Furniture indeed, but the business doesn't look all that much different than some of the businesses along Rt. 51, there's nothing in the picture that screems "this is Africa."

What I like about talking with my Ugandan friends is we share many similar interests. Someone at remarked about Africa, It is what I call "The McGyver Society" and that's a bit of the flavor of why I find my correspondences so enjoyable.

Time with Bono, Melinda & Bill on the cover arrived. I was interested to see the pictures of Bill and Melinda Gates in homes of ordinary people all over the world. The photo of Melinda feeding a baby in Bangladesh shows she's fed a baby before: that special facial expression and cooing designed to make babies open wide. Ah yes, the rich are different, but not that much. Our ability to recognise others as people seems so fundamental, it's perplexing that people are so often confused. "What's with that?"

Tucker's article closes with a section Antidotes to Hate and she provides some links. Among them are two links to a Web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This organization is among the many who send me mail solicitations and I've not paid them enough attention. So I was happy to go through some of the pages by clicking the links in Tucker's article. There's so much there that it will take me a while to explore. I particularly appreciated Speak Up:
In the spring of 2004, the Southern Poverty Law Center gathered hundreds of stories of everyday bigotry like these from people across the United States. They told their stories through e-mail, personal interviews and at roundtable discussions in four cities.
The advice of what to say when so flumoxed you don't know what to say is so helpful because it comes out of true stories. Quite a few of the stories are from the perspective of people being jerks themselves, and that makes me feel not so lonely.

Like the Exotic Furniture not looking much different from some store around here, we're not as different from each other as we sometimes think. I love differences, but I don't like hating. provides some smart ways to seperate the two.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My Wig Hat Posted by Picasa

My Wig Hat

I had a wonderful time at my birthday party: a house full of my most favorite people. I've always dismissed it as perfunctory when someone like George Bush gets elected and says they're "humbled" by the fact. Through your very generous gifts I've got a nice chunk of money to get Nathan a computer and I'm feeling mighty humbled.

First off are the actual logisitics of doing it. I have thought about this some, and have done some research. But I always feel as if I'm missing the "best" solution. I've not settled on anything yet, so I'm quite eager to hear any suggestions you might have.

I'm quite used to finding myself rather incompetent in all sorts of things, so I'm not particularly humbled to discover that I don't have a great plan for exactly how Nathan will get a computer. I feel confident I'll muddle through somehow on that one now that I've got some money. I do feel quite humbled by your generosity.

Bono, Melinda and Bill Gates have been named Time's "Persons of the Year" and there's plenty of snark and cynicism about that. Recently in The New York Times Paul Theroux wrote and editorial, The Rock Star's Burden
THERE are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can't think of one at the moment. If Christmas, season of sob stories, has turned me into Scrooge, I recognize the Dickensian counterpart of Paul Hewson - who calls himself "Bono" - as Mrs. Jellyby in "Bleak House." Harping incessantly on her adopted village of Borrioboola-Gha "on the left bank of the River Niger," Mrs. Jellyby tries to save the Africans by financing them in coffee growing and encouraging schemes "to turn pianoforte legs and establish an export trade," all the while badgering people for money.
I'm not wealthy, but have fondness for hats. Still, it's shameful that I've hectored you.

Mother always told me to read Dickens, but I never paid attention. Something exciting about Bleak House is that a character in the novel, Krook, as a plot device, spontaneously combusts. It was interesting to see that Wikipedia has and entry on Spontaneous Human Combustion and that the phenomenon is known so well that it goes by the acronym SHC. I did not know that.

Some of my friends made a lovely donation to the Wangari Maathai Foundation in my name. I'll admit the thought came to mind that'll mean even more hectoring mail in my mailbox. Actually, I don't know that foundation's habits of fundraising, but it seems that forests have been wasted by all the very worthy causes who send me mail solicitations. Because I don't respond to them, I can only imagine some of you receive even more mail solicting money than I do.

I was delighted nonetheless. The Green Belt Movement is a story that inspires me. My emotional attatchments are often quite superficial. When Dr. Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize I was happy that she had studied at the University of Pittsburgh. I thought of the African Students I had meet there and wondered what I might live to know of their accomplishments. And, I hate to admit this, one of the things I like best about Wangari Maathai is that in every picture I've seen of her she's wearing a great big bow in her hair.

Paul Theroux's piece is cranky and he's not without his reasons. He writes:
Mr. Gates has said candidly that he wants to rid himself of his burden of billions. Bono is one of his trusted advisers. Mr. Gates wants to send computers to Africa - an unproductive not to say insane idea.
Wow that stings me a bit, and it's misleading about the work of the Bill & Melida Gates Foundation too. Theroux goes on to say:
It does not occur to anyone to encourage Africans themselves to volunteer in the same way that foreigners have done for decades. There are plenty of educated and capable young adults in Africa who would make a much greater difference than Peace Corps workers.
Nathan works tirelessly to improve the circumstances of his community. Nonetheless the case is pretty clear that it isn't very clear whether or not this scheme of sending him a computer will do any good.

And there are the yahoo-yahoo boys who spam our email boxes. I cleaned out my Yahoo! mailbox today and among the emails I deleted was one of those infamous Nigerian email scams. Even if you've never opened one of those emails, you probably know about them. Some people are taken in and the frustrating thing is knowing the flimflammer's getting the upper hand. That article notes the popularity of a rap in Nigeria:
The scammers' anthem is a popular song called, "I Go Chop Your Dollar." A tongue-in-cheek comedian and singer named Osofia belts out, in local slang, a song that translates to, "419 is just a game. You are the loser, I am the winner. White people greedy.... I take your money and disappear.... You be the fool, I be the master."
I feel so humbled because I know many of you have misgivings about this enterprise, and yet you willingly and generously contributed. I'm old enough and have known many of you long enough that there's no pretense about my track record: I've gone from one ill-formed plan to another. It's not trust that motivated you, so it must be affection. For your affection I'm forever grateful.

I also know how kind you all are. We all do notice and care about all the suffering and wrongs in the world. We all know too there are no simple solutions. What any of us can do to repair the world is only a little. I have a naive faith like the parable of the Mustard Seed, which probably isn't far from the best parts of Theroux's editorial.
I am speaking of the "more money" platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief.
Wouldn't the world be a better place with pictures of Bono and Gates in Afro wigs? That's my obsession with hats. I'm more willing to give Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates plaudits for their genuine engagement in finding solutions. All of us are daunted by the challenges which face the human family. Our two medicines are laughter and tears. I've got to laugh and I'm moved to tears that you've given me the best birthday present ever. Thank you.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Party Posted by Picasa

Saturday Is Party Day

In the face of the disorder of this household, I froze and didn't do a lick to clean up. In fact this party has been one big mental block. Nevermind that, do come if you can. Many are bringing food and drink. Bob came over with some firewood so there'll be a fire outside. And I've got the stove burning in the summer kitchen.

I moved snow all day, still parking will be a bit of a challenge, but Bob and John thought there'd be plenty. Did I mention snow? Make sure you wear boots and some warm clothes. Stay the night if you drink too much, or just because you want too.

My friend Nathan sent me a couple of poems for the occassion, and here is one:
wish for you to have
people to love
people in your life who will care about you
as much as I do
blue skies and clear days
exciting things to do
easy solutions to any problems
knowledge to make the right decisions
strength in your values
laughter and fun
goals to pursue
happiness in all that you do
My friend
I wish for you to have
beautiful experiences
each new day
as you follow
your dreams
What he said, I wish for all of you too.

We'll see how many of my extraneous ideas for the party come off, but there is one little game I hope everyone will paticipate in:

The Green Stone

The green stone is a token of friendship. Passing the green stone to another is a sign of friendship. To receive the stone is also a blessing. Pass it one to another so that everyone here receives grace and good fortune. Once everyone has exchanged the stone, return it to me. Contained within the green stone are the good wishes of my merry friends.

As I shoveled snow today, I thought of my dear friends; the many happy times we've shared and the sad and painful ones too. I haven't heard a word about the whereabouts of that "paper blog" I handed off, If I knew Then What I Know Now. I suspect it's circulating. I certainly didn't know what I was in for when I first met all of you. What wisdom! Deep down inside, I gotta whole lotta love for you all.

Peace on Earth. Good will to all.
We All Have AIDS Posted by Picasa

If One of Us Does

This ad in The New Yorker caught my attention. These are the two Web sites the ad directs to: Know HIV/AIDS and We All Have AIDS. One hazzard of blogorrhea is revealing a little too much, so now you all know that I get teary-eyed at the drop of a hat. Yes, my reaction to the ad was to shed a tear. I also thought about an intersting piece I read recently via Dave Pollard about consumer angst. The shorter version: if it's advertised; it's crap you don't need. What about ads like this? What's this, "We all have AIDS" business?

I suppose I'm a leftist, mostly because people say I am. Lately people have been calling me a liberal, and that's certainly what I remember being called as a kid. For a while there I participated in mocking liberals, a period I perhaps ought to examine more carefully. The father of a friend called me a liberal recently and I quickly owned-up to that. But my friend said: "I would have thought you're considerably left of liberal." As long as I'm being revealing, does it come as any surprise I don't remember left from right, up from down?

I support human rights. I like unique people. I understand that my values are strongly shaped by the liberal tradition. Yet I also want to support strong communities and the common good. I know my destiny is intertwined with my fellow human beings everywhere. I'm not sure how I know; only that I know the construct deeply resonates within me. Walter Mosely took a short break from writing his popular fiction in 2003 to write, What Next: A Memoir Towards World Peace. The book was excerpted in The Nation. Mosley wrote:
I would like to put forward the following universal ideas as the rules of fair treatment that I personally would like to live by:

§ First, I cannot be free while my neighbor is wearing chains.

§ Second, I cannot know happiness while others are forced to live in despair.

§ Third, I cannot know health if plague and famine thrive outside my door.

§ And last, but not least, I cannot expect to know peace if war rides forward under my flag and with my consent.

I believe the institution of these simple statements would halt the rampant onslaught of the haves--in whose numbers many of us are counted--against the have-nots. Murdered and enslaved children, no matter what their color or gender or faith, suffer because of our failings. Starving millions go hungry so that we may dine in comfort, creating new enemies.
AIDS is a huge issue. I remember giving a speech in the mid-1980's about AIDS. I was embarassed. I think I must have been red in the face the whole time. It is a measure of a greater consciousness that famous personalities would lend their names and faces to this ad. I like Larry Kramer in the back row because he's a cranky and difficult person. Completely impatient with wimps like me red-faced in classrooms making speeches. ACT-UP made us all more courageous. And read Bishop Desmond Tutu Homophobia equals apartheid:
A parent who brings up a child to be a racist damages that child, damages the community in which they live, damages our hopes for a better world. A parent who teaches a child that there is only one sexual orientation and that anything else is evil denies our humanity and their own too.
The Web sites the "We All Have AIDS If One Of US Does" sends you have some useful stuff. There's a picture with even more famous people and loads o'links. There's a box to put your zip code in to find a place where you can be tested. There's even crap you can buy--for a worthy cause.

I've got bunch of "liberal-type" blogs to link to today, and yet I'm feeling a little squeemish about them. What I hope for is that you might take just a moment to consider the premise: I have AIDS when one of us does. We aren't accustomed to thinking outside our own skin. We are responsible for ourselves, and just as surely we are social creatures. Always what any one of can do will be small, but small isn't nothing. Whenever we reach beyond ourselves, extending loving care for others, it creates more love for all of us to share. I'm a leftist of the campfire Kubaya sort. And while never as cranky and effective as people like Larry Kramer, I wish I'd thought up Kumbaya Damnit before that liberal did.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Story Quilt Posted by Picasa

More Stories

The picture is of a famous African American narritive quilt dating from 1886 and made by Harriet Powers. This Bible quilt is a part of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. I got the photo from a book Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. I enjoyed the book very much, although the thesis has been often criticized and even the authors conceed that much of it is speculative. Here's a critique and a link to one of the author's comments on methodology. I suspect that the only people reading this who will be interested in those links are already aware of the book and controversy.

I first started reading blogs in the lead-up to the last presidential election. The local Dean Democracy For America group has a blog. I hadn't visited there for a long time because they also have a Yahoo Group that I subscribe too. And in visiting the site now I see they've trimmed the blogroll. What intriqued me way back when was that so many people interested in fiber crafts were bloggers. Anne's blogroll at Creating Text(iles) is a good example of that. Fabric crafters are serious.

The Underground Railroad is a difficult history to tell and one of the reasons is that it's such a good story lots of people want to get involved in telling it. On the PBS show Antiques Roadshow a standard bit is getting the owners of objects to tell the family lore about it only to have the expert appraisers tell them, "Sadly no." Who likes to be a villain? I think that adds to the motivation to tell family stories about their involvement to help escaping slaves. It's impolite to question such stories, so historians find them selves in an awkward spot. Another problem is brought out in the book, Hidden in Plain View and that is that the success and security of the Underground Railroad depended on secrets.

Patchwork quilts seem to be an Uniquely American craft. Certainly quilted coverlets were not the innovation, but rather the patchwork designs. Naturally the history of these designs is a ball strung together with lots of family stories. There were many influences and the craft was adopted in different ways. When living in Florida I was very interested that Seminole patchwork is a man's province. Seminole patchwork is more tangential to American patchwork quilt designs than is the tradition of African American quilt design. One of the very interesting and convincing aspects to Hidden in Plain View is the connections of traditional African designs and symbols in American patchwork patterns.

When I first went to the University of Pittsburgh there was a Black Studies department. What was once Black Studies is now Africana Studies a change that was accompanied with some acrimony. I hardly know the story about that, but was questioned vigorously by a Nigerian Pitt student while giving her a lift. The history of black people in America often seems as mysterious to Africans here as it does to many Americans.

The critique of the book I linked to earlier is made by Giles R. Wright is the director of the Afro-American History Program, New Jersey Historical Commission, Trenton. And Wright makes this point:
Neither of the co-authors is a black historian. In order to write knowledgeably about the UGRR, you must first be a student of the larger black historical experience in which the story of the UGRR is located.
It may be obvious, but when he refers to "a black historian" he's not making the case that the historian need be black. Although that's a condition that many seem to think is important. Wright's point is about the difficulty of interdisciplinary research; or maybe it's partly defending his turf as a black historian. I think Africana Studies is a good department for a University, but also have a great deal of sympathy for the hard feelings its creation caused. Too much of the history of black people in America is neglected or misunderstood.

Chicken Bones: A Journal is a wonderful online resource. I should mention that they are currently having a fund raiser for needed technical upgrades. There are very many good Web sites for exploring African American history. I particularly like this site dedicated to Uncle Remus. But a part of the difficulty in online adventuring about black history is crossing over the various academic boundaries.

One of the great aspects to many blogs is the comment feature. All the blogs about fabric crafts make a agreat deal of sense to me now. These crafts often touch on important history, not much written about, and these crafts retain stories told. Blogs are a wonderful place to discover voice, a point made at John Pederson's blog today. I linked to that blog for the first time today, and I saw this quote of David Warlick:
Rather than trying to master technology skills, I believe that teachers should be working to understand this new information environment and the new literacies that it requires. As they seek to understand and harness it, they should teach from that information environment and its literacies. Integrating that literacy will get us further toward making classrooms more relevant to today's students, than efforts to integrate technology.
For those of us involved in life long learning, these literacy skills are important too.

I suspect that as people, not just students, use the Internet more for research and learning, that critiques like Giles R. Wright's pointing out basically "they're in the wrong academic department" are going to be harder to make. People who are interested in black American history are more likely now than ever before to read works from musicology, women's studies, African studies, literary criticism, and on and on. I don't have a clue about the ramifications of this for various academic disciplines and otherwise. But one thing for sure, the debates are extrodinarily interesting right now. And it's easy to find them an become involved.

I just love the Internet. Ha, ha, and many of you, my friends think I'm a little nuts for being so eager to hear you start telling stories online too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Contortions Posted by Picasa


I do love photos and I want to become better about finding them. It looks like this one is available to publish and I'll tell you a little about it in a roundabout way. Yesterday I read a post in America Abroad at Talking Points Memo Cafe, Beyond Humanitarianism: Another "Year of Africa". Maybe next year I'll kept better track of year, months and days--yikes. The piece is about a report done by The Council on Foreign Relations with Anthony Lake and Christine Todd Whitman heading up the task force. The short story is that the U.S. hasn't yet got the Africa policy right.

One of the comments caught my attention; it just peeved me. The comment doesn't seem to still be there, I'm not sure why. What bothered me is the commenter basically said not to call him racists for pointing out that America doesn't get Africa policy right because nobody cares about black people. I'm not arguing that's not true, just that it upsets me. Then I read a post at Feral Scholar who linked to this post on Jezebel Stereotype. I'll get back to the site where that article is published in a moment. For now I'll that the article made me so sad not only about the objectification of black women, but the extended stereotypes about women in general.

Back in school one of my education professors, Maryann McLaughlin, area of research was discipline and classroom management. Several of her papers were entitled with variations on the theme "myths of discipline." I encouraged her to use the word "stereotype" instead of "myths;" sophomoric suggestion. I see by searching for some of her papers that in the field "myths" win the day. I still see a distinction, but really can't articulate it well. In any case today's picture comes from doing a photo search "African myths." The picture is of a contestant on the South African version of the television show Thirty-Seconds to Fame. It came up in an article about "contortionist myths." And, well, the guy's South African--How does he do that?

Something I do not want to do is to contribute to negative African stereotypes. One thing about going to the African Student Organization meetings last year at Pitt, is I've got a really high opinion about Africans. Obviously, the students studying from abroad are a pretty select group, still I feel so privileged to know them. Reading Emeka Okafor's Timbuktu Chronicles is a great way not to feel cynical about Africans. I also read a few blogs written by young Africans. Maybe I am a bit jaded headed into my fifties, but I surely do enjoy being around supple young minds.

Searching around with this nebulous distinction between stereotypes and myths led into some interesting territory. Back to Dr. David Pilgrim the author of the Jezebel article. Pilgrim has assembled a collection of artifacts to create The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. The physical collection is at Ferris State University, where Pilgrim is a professor, but go to the site and click enter. I'm of an age where I'm familiar with such racist stuff, but there's something overwhelming about going through the pages Pilgrim has put up.

A few years ago I went to the Warhol to see the exhibit Without Sanctuary. I had read the reviews of the exhibit of postcards made from photos taken at lynchings, and even seen one reproduced in The New Yorker. I thought I was prepared, but no. I was almost immediately overcome and felt as if I was about to faint. I went into the ajoining gallery space where they had old Pittsburgh Courrier articles blown up along the walls and at the tables, I just had to sit down, were journals where people wrote their impressions. Mostly these were written by high school aged kids, and before long I was sobbing.

There is a remarkable creativity visible in the objects in The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorablia. I rather see evidence of myth in the creations. One of the important functions of myths as presented at this Web site:
Is to justify an existing social system and to account for its rites and customs. One constant rule of mythology is whatever happens among the gods reflects events on earth. In this way, events such as invasions and radical social changes became incorporated into myths. Some myths, especially those from the Greco-Roman and medieval periods, also serve to illustrate moral principles, frequently through feats of heroism performed by mortals.
Racist memorabilia served to enforce the social order. It served as the happy propaganda to terrorism of Jim Crow.

But myths are slippery things which like songs can pass freely across divides. One of the African myths that has slipped over is the "tokoloshe is a short, hairy, dwarf-like creature from Bantu folklore." I found tokoloshe here and this caught my attention:
(White) maids would often raise their beds by placing the legs of their beds on bricks. It was an almost universal belief, among white people, that this was to keep the occupant of the bed out of reach of the tokoloshe.
Alright, I was afraid of what lived under my bed as a child, but I don't think it was quite the same thing as what I found a very common fear among women in the South growing up there. I suspect the tokoloshe stories got assimilated, as so many African tales did.

Stories and stereotypes are connected, and I don't quite know where to slice them apart. I like stories very much, and I use stereotypes more than I'd like to admit. I'm not sure how to avoid the pitfalls that can come from them, especially stereotypes and stories that foster hate and division. The best I can think of is to keep a wary and skeptical eye out.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Combo Posted by Picasa

Let's Get It Together

One thing I've got to get it together about is photos. I like posting them here, but I'm not doing a very good job of following the rules. I got this photo from the accumulated pictures in the Funky Music Tribe over at One of the things I like about the photo is it looks like these guys(anyone know who they are?) are "of a certain age," shall we say. Being from an era of "Don't trust anyone over thirty" it's an ironic pleasure to still be interested in what the Rock idols of yore are doing these days. Apparently (because I'd never shell out the money to find out) Mick Jagger still dances and prances incessantly on stage. Some of us have slowed down a bit. I'm glad most of us still love to dance.

"When We're Sixty-Four" doesn't seem so impossibly distant now turning fifty as it did low those many years ago when we first heard it. Music still makes me want to move. I've been experimenting lately with moving more slowly. How to find those few moments of grace which those hips don't quite shake like they used to?

When I was a kid growing up in South Carolina, there was a building off the frontage road near our house, The Ghana Club. It was a black club out in the middle of nowhere then and many took it to be quite sinister. I was intriqued to see what would come up on a search for it. The Jazz saxophonist Lenny Price listed it as one of the venues he's played. Then there were some court records regarding a homocide there in 1999. Maybe that put it out of business. Sometimes before falling asleep at night I would imagine I was hearing the music being played there. Probably I was remembering Sweet Soul music I'd heard on the radio. But my memories of those dreamy moments, half awake, are of being a "fly on the wall" at the Ghana club. I think I saw that combo playing once.

Louis Menand
in a recent The New Yorker reviewed Philip Tetlock's book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?. Surprize! The short answer is it isn't very good at all. Hardly an expert on anything myself, my predictions have been off the mark. Back in the Seventies, I thought this oil civilization had just about reached its apex and it was all down hill from there. The thoughts of that scared the bejebus out of me. I haven't done anything the "right" way, and besides my native laziness, a part of that has been a bad bet on my political prediction years ago.

Tetlock is a psychologist and social scientist for whom apparently, quite unlike me, the understanding of statistics sunk in. His study of political prediction was long-term, lasting over twenty years. Some forecasters do better than others:
Low scorers look like hedgehogs: thinkers who “know one big thing,” aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who “do not get it,” and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters, at least in the long term. High scorers look like foxes: thinkers who know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible “ad hocery” that require stitching together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess.
Of course that nobody likes to be wrong, and most certainly don't like it being pointed out they're wrong, tend to make our predictive observations even worse. Can I admit to being a "hedgehog?" I'm not sure, but I still think we're up the creek with this oil civilization. And I'm still worried about it.

Something I find intersting about ideas for Africans to improve their situations, is that many of the strategies seem like a good fit here too. Time Dollars, for example, are a way to make the networks of social obligation a little larger and more flexible. Microcredit is also something that would seem to have some applicability here. As well as my favorite, Susu, a kind of money pool or guarenteed lottery popular in Africa and in many imigrant communities in America.

Did you know this is The International Year of Microcredit? Who gets to declare these sorts of things anyway? Well the year is almost past and it's escaped my notice so far. There's still time of course. I came across a good Diary at The Daily Kos regarding Kiva, an organization I've mentioned before. I recomend the diary because it places Kiva's microlending as a tool among many in the toolbox.

I have deliberately not imagined a computer for Nathan as a loan, but rather a gift. Rules provide that microcredit only be offered through accredited microlending institutions. You'll note that's the case in Kiva's program. However Kiva depends on a network on the ground in where they opperate to provide training and support to increase the likelihood that the microcredit loans will support viable businesses. The gift to Nathan is an investment in his development as a community leader. Already he is learning Quickbooks to faciliate AWISH-Uganda's exsiting programs, and such accounting skills will serve him well in his endeavors with his BSLA programs. I hope he can also make a little money to supplement his low income.

As we are getting older, many of us are paying more attention to investments--at least those of you who have done approximately the "right" thing. Investments are a kind of prediction about the future. Mostly we focus on the anticipated returns. Supporting a microcredit loan at Kiva will not accure any interest, and an account at Oikiocredit provides a low rate of return (2%). Nevertheless they're both rather "safe" investments in terms of the good outcomes they're likely to provide. Certainly not a place to sink a huge portion of retirement savings, still worthy of consideration for a small portion of ones investment portfolio.

Over the years many of us as friends have talked about the idea of building intentional communities; let's face it, with ourselves in mind. Dave Pollard has written extensively about the subject; here's one example and you can use his handy search box for more articles if you're interested. My sense about our discussions is they never really get off the ground because we all treasure our autonomy too much. From our Hippy days, and even historical research, we know communes have a checkered history. Nevertheless, some of the schemes for development in poor countries provide a model for baby-steps we could take in this direction. In a fox-like manner small investments in our social security could make sense.

I'm particularly interested in Time Dollar ideas because the focus is on time in service rather than money. This Bazungu Buck proposition still hasn't taken off, but perhaps it's planted a seed. Prediting future profits is hardly ever a "slam dunk." We might be wise foxes to consider our view of investsments from a broader perspective, not only as our investments relate to the developing world, but to our our future well-being as friends.

Let's get it together like the band says.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Human Rights Day Posted by Picasa

December 10 Is Human Rights Day

Somewhere on the Internet there must be a great calender to keep track of days like this and what color ribbon to wear. After I said I would not, on AIDS Day I did indeed wear a red ribbon. Not that anyone noticed. So far as I can tell Human Rights Day doesn't involve wearing ribbons at all. It seems some kind of world-wide custom is in order to commemorate the signing on December 10 of 1948 the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

First things first, I appropriated the photograph from a page from a Japanese University. I'd be more specific except I don't have Japanese characters loaded on my computer and it wouldn't do any good if I had. I like the picture.

That December 10 is Human Rights Day might have escaped my notice except for an an placed in The Christian Science Monitor by the United Nations Association of the USA. The Monitor is a wonderful newspaper and their online presence is worth checking out for series like this one, African Peace Seekers. They also have a subscription to the Friday edition only which is what we take. I'm very fond of The Monitor because when I lived in Clarion I couldn't get NPR and didn't have a TV so the newspaper kept me in touch. I liked very much the humane perspective of the paper. I'm also fond of the UN Association because my brother and his wife were active in Model U.N. Assemblies when they were in high school. The Post-Gazette's Michael McGough writes on these student groups from time to time, for example in this wonderful piece.

Secretary-General of the U.N. Koffi Annan cuts to the chase in his remarks for this Human Rights Day:
"Let us be clear: torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror. [...]

Today, on Human Rights Day, let us recommit ourselves to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and let us rededicate ourselves to wiping the scourge of torture from the face of the earth."
Torture is obscene and so much favorable discussion of it, and how else to call it, our government's bald-faced hypocrisy gives me the creeps. It does seem helpful to take Annan at his word and to become acquanited or re-acquanited with a document that the United States of America vigorously championed. The U.N. has a wonderful page of the Thirty Articles with photo illustrations. The Preamble begins with this important truth:
Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
Count down through the Thirty Aritcles, won't you, I feel certain you will register approval for each and every one. The time is now to rededicate ourselves to these priciples, especially so for Americans because the better nature of our identity as Americans is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here's the page for Human Rights Day at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Roadside market

Roadside market
Originally uploaded by noisymonkey.

Grumpy and Uninspired

Sometimes I'm just grumpy. I don't know why and it makes me laugh to mention it. I don't have anything to say today, but then I think: When has that ever stopped me?

I like the picutrue of a roadside market in Uganda very much. But the picture I liked best was a picture of the owner of the photo at Flickr, noisymonkey with her Ugandan friend, Peace. I don't know what noisymonkey was doing in Uganda, but I'm sure it was something good. Among her other pictures is one of Peace's parents. There's no mistaking real friendship.

Over the time I've known Nathan, I've been very keen to discover programs and activities that link together people inside and outside of Africa. There's a group of medical students who have a project in the area near Nathan called the Ugandan Village Project:
The Uganda Village Project is a sustainable volunteer initiative in eastern Uganda. This project is sponsored by the IFMSA-USA and is involved in coordinating volunteers and funds for projects in the areas of health and development in villages in the Iganga district of Uganda. Our main areas of focus are: healthcare, education, scholarships, and clean water.
The UVP is connected with two great organizations The International Federation of Medical Student's Associations and Village Concept Projects.

Something about turning fifty is that it's a sure bet I won't have any kids; I'm no Tony Randall (warning a good head shot of Randall, but serves to intice to click to see "rare nude photos" of him). In my single state I'm free to imagine all the things I'd prohibit my kids from doing if I had kids: driving or riding in all-terrain vehicles, playing high school football, bb guns, all sorts of stuff--they'd be in bed by 8:30 by gosh. I also know I'd indulge them a lot more than I suspect. Still when I see pictures like noisymonkey in Uganda, and I feel pretty sure she's a young adult, my over-protective parent perks up. In many European countries kids take a gap year between high school and college. I've seen some programs for kids to visit Africa where there's a nice mix of supervised service and touring. And I've also read blogs and posts of kids on such adventures.

It's a mixed bag, like everything. Some of you may remember Pitt's program in Afghanistan back in the 70's. A friend of mine came back from that adventure miserable. It was the first I'd ever heard the words proctology and procotoscope as he came back with amoebiasis. While others were positively transformed. Whether young or old many who venture to Africa come back with a passion for the place and a determination to encourage connections.

When I first set out to discover as much as I could about Africa I corresponded for a while with a fellow who went to Africa with the Peace Corps and found himself still living there some thirty years later. His first advice was for me to come there. And his second bit of advice was to read John Nichols The Milagro Bean Field War also a movie. I'm not sure why and when I asked him he said it was because he thought the book hilarious. Ah, but actually from other things he said and had me read, I know that he also was turning my attention to how important connections are, sharing the bonds of humanity. John Nichols says it well about his writing:
I've always believed, if you're involved even in a very small struggle--in some sort of infinity in a grain of sand--in your local neighborhood, that every action has universal implications. I believe that if I struggle for the rights of an acequia in Taos, New Mexico, that the ripple effect [will spread] from that tiny struggle.
I've linked to the Invisible Children site before, but the story these young filmmakers tell is so wonderful. They've made a good film and a movement, without blanching at their niavete or youthful idealism.

If I had kids, I don't know if I'd ship them off for a gap year in some far off land. I'm sure I'd be boorish about my pride in them if they went. That won't be an issue, but I read with stories of kids who spend a year or so serving others abroad with great interest.

Per ususal I've got some links left over I don't know how to squeeze in. I'll just mention the BBC and a wonderful series of blogs called Africa Lives.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

ONE EKO Posted by Picasa

Half Cocked

Over the years my parents lived in many old houses and as it turned out Mother was the fixer-upper in our household. Of course that meant enlisting us kids, all except my younger brother who was so adept in feigning incompetence at such things he even largely escaped doing dishes. She always was proud of her "Scotch" heritage; I don't think there's any evidence for her Scottish anscestry. But she was thrifty, so projects were done as money became available and with clever scavenging for resources. At one house she made two really large brick terraces, most of the bricks for the first one were dug out of the neighbor's over-grown backyard. But all of the bricks for the second were found here and there. It was back in the day of a single family car. I rather get the impression my father wasn't too keen on the idea of the dirty bricks in the car because these trips always seemed a little furtive. Perhaps she was worried about the owners of the bricks? In any case she got enough of them for me to ride the tricycle around, a triple-sized tricycle!

Then there was the house at Large. Those stories will take me too far afield, so just the one I have in mind for now. Somewhere along the line we got a caulking gun, but instead of one that accepted a cartridge of caulk, it was a solid cylinder with leather gaskets that you were somehow meant to stuff caulking into. Along with the gun we got a couple of ancient gallons of red colored caulking. The product was so old that most of the stuff on the top was hard, and the useable product was quickly used up with plenty of holes yet to fill. Rather than take her lumps and buy a regular caulking gun to use with cartridges, finding caulk in gallon paint cans became a quest taking her to hardwares and industrial supply companies all over. She'd stride right up to the clerks, who were always dressed in flannel shirts and ask:
Do you have bulk caulk?
This embarassed me greatly, but the frustrating part was not having the nerve to explain to her why I found it so.

So to this day I'm always going off half cocked. The picture is of a One Eko note part of the Findhorn Eco-Village currency. There are many alternative currencies. Ekos actually convert ot regular currency at a fixed rate, so they must be purchased. The purpose is to encourage trading with local businesses. It's an interesting idea and the bills themselves are very good looking.

There's still a great deal of confusion about what Bazungu Bucks are. A good deal of the blame for that is that I'm a bit confused too. The best news is that while nobody that I know of has actually tried to redeem any they have, I haven't heard of anyone throwing one away. Long before I started this blog I'd talked to Nathan and Micheal about time dollars, and even sent them the Time Dollar book. Neither of them could see that it was something they could imagine implementing.

Then Katrina came along. Something in my head requires New Orleans for the universe to be whole. So I immediately thought of the task of rebuilding. When I thought about that a couple of issues stood out. First from all my experience with fixing up houses, I knew there were lots of jobs you wouldn't want kids anywhere near. Child care seemed like a really important issue. Second, I thought about all the schools and libraries damaged and how great the immediate need for books and school materials might be. It struck me that alternative currencies like time dollars could be very useful in making a flexible system for coordinating volunteer efforts. The moms and dads who'd be pleased to have a few hours after school to work on what was left of their houses might welcome organized after school programs which they could pay for in time dollars which they in turn could earn in doing community service. Big Easy Bucks! Good idea, but who's going to organize it?

The reason for mentioning this history is tell you what I was thinking about when I started the blog and came up with Bazungu Bucks.

In today's Post-Gazette Clarke Thomas has a column about local connections to a micro-lending organization called Oikocredit based in the Netherlands. John Coventry Smith was pastor of the Mount Lebanon Presbyterian Church in 1968. Attending a World Council of Churches meeting in Sweden he heard a lot about large-scale development schemes and wondered what about projects for regular folks? With that question in mind he sketched out a plan for churches to support credits to cooperatives in the developing world. Something that made the idea develop so well was the idea that the money would be lent out with a low interest return rate. Low , two percent, but enough to encourge investments and ensure excellent fiduciary oversite.

As the program has grown and other microlending institutions have come on the scene, Oikocredit now provides some loans to individuals in developing countries and now allows individuals,instead of only churches or church groups, to make investments. The minimum investment is $1000 and with either a one or five year maturity.
Oikocredit now has 114 million euros ($134 million) outstanding with 400 projects around the world.
The U.S. information page is here where you'll find a nice downloadable pamphlet.

John Coventry Smith never came off as half-cocked as me, but like Bazungu Bucks, Oikocredit started with a small idea. I'm passionate about Africa and so related Bazungu Bucks to service to African people. All of you probably have some charitable work you feel passionately about too. Perhaps the idea of a currency that could be redeemed among our community based on time in service to a broader community need not have a specific focus on Africa. Then again this whole idea of an alternative currency may be out to lunch. I don't think so, at least I want to continue the experiment further.