Monday, October 31, 2005

Cracker Jack Books Posted by Picasa

Cracker Jack Books

My friend Nathan in Uganda keeps hearing that Information and Communications technologies are going to promote economic development, but he asks the obvious question, "How?" Even in rich countries where so many people have their own computers, it's taking quite a while for people to figure out useful things to do with them. I'm very optimistic that these new technologies will have many beneficial uses, particularly in education.

I wrote right in the first post that I'm full of half-baked ideas, and Bazungu Bucks is just another one. Believe me, I'm full of half-baked ideas. So far I've hesitated to pull another one out of the oven for display here, but I had fun over the weekend at the Mattress Factory, an art museum in Pittsburgh, and that event encouraged me about an idea I've been mulling over. So I present for your consideration: Cracker Jack Books.

The picture posted is from a site dedicated to dolls and those books are among the Cracker Jack books in the authors collection. I always loved Cracker Jacks, ah yes the molasses popcorn and peanuts are always good, yet the prize really made it special. Among the prizes books never failed to please.

Computers and the Internet allow more people to become aware of small local projects and to support them. This is a wonderful development, but carries some risk, especially in making decisions about charitable donations. I've not added many links to my sidebar yet, because I want to figure out some way of organizing them. All of the links to organizations, save one, are to larger established groups. The exception is Kiva. Kiva is a really good example of how the Internet can be a real boon for very local development in project areas.

Clearly the idea of Cracker Jack books will require quite a bit of development if it were ever to be put in practice. I'm not sure that I will put the effort into it, still I'm convinced that small projects that originate with people in richer countries can be developed and make positive contributions.

One interesting effort I read about is Anywhere Books. The project outfited a van with a laptop and printer and went into village schools in Uganda printing out off-copyright books from the Internet. There's a kernel of a really good idea here, but the project ran into numerous obstcles. Among the most serious problems was the cost of the enterprise.

I wondered how to reduce costs. One of the questions I asked was, "What's the cheapest book I can imagine making?" I recalled Cracker Jack books and thought about how regular paper cut into four lengthwise and the folded acordion style would be something like that. Even allowing production costs of ten cents a page, each book would cost less than three cents a piece.

The big challenge to overcome would be making templates in a word processor to make the production of these books as simple as possible. I use an older version of Star Office, Sun Microsystems version of Open Office the free open source productivity suite. It includes templates for making tri-fold pamphlets, newsletters, and CD inserts, so I guess it is possible to make a template for my book idea. I'm afraid, however that making such a template is beyond my current skill level, so the idea has been lying dormant.

The event at the Mattress Factory was a Media Swap Meet in conjuction with project Mobilelivre. There were all sorts of activites for young and old alike and small business card with Web addresses. I was too busy talking with friends to pick up more of these cards and was astonished to return home with only one or two. There were hundreds of independently produced books at the event. Some of them quite small and produced with ordinary computer printers.

With my idea of little books in mind, my attention turned to the books I might write. And to the idea of others like me in America putting together books to be distributed in anglophone Africa. As Anywhere Books knows there are many off-copyright books and stories available on the Internet, here's an example.

People to people communication is greatly facilitated by the Internet, so there is no reason these Cracker Jack books need only be sent from America to Africa, vice versa works too. And perhaps most importantly of all is they can be produced in Africa for Africans. In order for there to be a reading culture, there must be writers. It was wonderful to meet so many creative young authors at the Media Swap Meet last night. It's easy to imagine African authors like them.

I've got more ideas about Cracker Jack books and I'll write about them as they develop further.

A reminder that PBS will air a six-part program Rx for Survival airing here in Pittsburgh--and many other television markets--November 1--3 at 9:00 PM. Mark Knobil did the cinematography for the episode Delivering the Goods. It looks like that one will be on Wedensday November 2 at 10 PM. Consult your local listings.

Here's a bonus link related to the Media Swap meet and it's fun.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Geoffrey Oryema Posted by Picasa

Africa in the News

Somehow blogger just ate my post. That's the first I've had that happen, but have seen other bloggers mention it. That gives me an opportunity to say straight away that the photo of Geoffrey Oryema has little to do with the main thrust of this post. Mostly I want to mention the untimely death of Tom Masland a Senior Editor at Newsweek.

I would have posted a photo of Tom Masland-- you can see here lots of choices-- but my scrupples about copyright got the better of me.

The photograph of Oryema looks professional, but there were no credits at the Web site I got it from. So I guess that falls under "presumed to be in the public domain."

This is a diversion, part of the ongoing story of learning to blog. I like Oreyma's music very much, and the Web site is an portal for Ugandan music, so I'm happy to promote them both. (I figure if the photographer hasn't found out about the photo being used at that Web site, she'll probably never find out about it being used here.) It's a conflict, at least, I feel people deserve attribution for their work. On the other hand with all the picutres out there on the Internet, I'd like to use some of them for posts. Any comments on the copyright issue would be welcome.

Back to Tom Masland: I was sorry to read, "Newsweek Senior Editor Tom Masland, 55, died Oct. 27, 2005, after suffering injuries from an auto accident in New York City." Masland was African Regional Director for Newsweek for many years and was a fine reporter. Here's a recent article about Sudan he wrote.

I was surprized to see that as part of the magazine's tribute to Masland's work they included a passage from Huckleberyy Finn. There are many currents in American culture and Mark Twain is a main current.

On Peter Okema's Web site you can buy a book by Milton Allimadi, The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created the Racist Image of Africa. Racism is counter the current in which Twain swam, but just as surely a main current. Allimadi's study shows how wrong The New York Times got the story in Africa, not just at the turn of the twentieth century, but well into the sixties.

The Internet does allow for freer exchange of ideas. For example, I often read The Monitor Uganda's independent newsdaily online. Still, I value the African coverage by American news outlets. Journalist and mainsteam media are still awfully important. Masland was different from the racists The New York Times employed too often in their coverage in Africa.

Back to Mark Twain: Twain was opposed to American imperialism and wrote numerous articles on the subject. America was the first country to recognize Belgian rule of the Congo during Cleveland's term in office. In the early 1900's Twain was an important figure in The Congo Reform Movement.

That last link and this one are to a really fascinating Web site providing historical documents,, created by Jim Zwick . Zwick was early in developing the educational uses for the Internet, and he's really good.

Reading over the pages Zwick has assembled about the Belgian Congo, I was struck that there were more mainstream reports of the atrocities than I had ever imagined. That made me think of Allimadi's Hearts of Darkness. Of course, one connection is Joseph Conrad who, besides the allusion to his novella, Heart of Darkness, isn't mentioned in Allimadi's book. But the allusion is enough to make the point that racism is a frame in which people perceive the world, and that the media has served to bolster that frame.

Tom Masland loved literature and that love seems very valuable for a reporter to have. I shouldn't have been so surprised that Newsweek includes a clip of Masland reading Twain. Allimadi's point about how the media helped to shape a racist image of Africa is surely on the mark, but it's interesting to realise that there have been influential counter voices too. Journalism isn't simply about getting the facts right, but getting the story right. African issues are very difficult for journalists to cover on both counts. Tom Masland was one of the best. I hope that Masland's legacy will continue at Newsweek, just as Mark Twain's legacy continued with Masland.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Free Your Mind Posted by Picasa

Free Your Mind

That's George Clinton of P-Funk fame. He's always up to something and looks like there's a new record. Go to the Web site to find out about it. The title asks the question: "How late do you have to be before you are?"

In the comments yesterday:
"You are asking us to look at some horrible things. I am grateful that you have the courage not only to look yourself, but have the additional energy and compassion to give us a loving nudge for us to look as well."

Goodness! It's an odd reflection that I have courage.

There's a rather well-known bar owner in town, Lucky. Turns out he's a decorated war veteran. I commented to him about his courage. "Oh Mary!" he said in his inimitable way. I pushed it a little by asking him if he ever got together with his comarades in arms. For a moment he gave me the look; the one people give when you've breeched a wall around a trauma and you wish you could take back whatever you just said. That look only lasted a moment, before he said: "You don't know what they called me. They called me "Shakey."

You might call me Shakey.

Coming to you as I am, I don't presume any displays of courage by my readers. Most of all I'm interested in your creativity. I know you all are creative. Certainly I don't intend to guilt trip either, although telling people what they ought to do seems a blogging hazzard.

A cool blog by an African feminist is Black Looks. There's a post today announcing this year's winners of the "Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought." The post is short and it's worth finding out about who wins that prize.

I'd never heard of the prize, but think it's an excellent one. I wonder if the nominating committee has seriously considered Mister Clinton, George that is? He seems a worthy candidate to me.

Forbes Magazine cover story is apparently about blogs, and it seems a certain segment of the business community think they suck, "big time."

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought this year is shared by Nigerian lawyer, Hauwa Ibrahim, Reporters Without Borders, and Cuba's "Ladies in White." Go to Black Looks for the links, its worth it for the other stuff there too.

Reporters Without Borders recently published a handbook for bloggers to assist people reporting in countries with severe press restrictions. Forbes Magazine notwithstanding, I do value our freedom to express ourselves. And I value listening to others.

I've added a new badge here. I can't figure out how to get it on a separte line so look for it next to the bloglines sub badge. Global Voices Online is a gateway to international voices, bloggers who have both a local and international audience in mind.

George Clinton, you may remember, sang "Free your mind and your ass will follow." That always made me laugh, so I'll have to pop that old cassette in the player and listen tonight. If you're feeling it check out this page previewing a wonderful film Parliament Funkadelic--One Nation Under A Groove

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hope in His Heart Posted by Picasa

Hope In His Heart

I got the picture posted quite a while ago but am not sure what it's all about. In a Yahoo! Group, mostly Kenyans, a member sent out an email explaining that he'd just heard that some realtives were coming to visit. He explained that he had a very small place and asked if anyone would be willing to put them up for a short time. He said he'd attached a picture of them and their luggage so "you'll recognise them when they come."

I'm still reading Ayittey's book, Africa in Chaos, but it's heavy so I picked up Peter Moore's Swahili For The Broken-Hearted. Moore is Australian and his travel books are popular in his home country and in Britain and Europe as well. As far as I can tell only his book No Shitting in the Toilet is available in an US editon. The pages of his Web site devoted to that book are really worth a look. Moore is a keen and truthful observer and very funny.

I like travel writing, because as president Bush would say about travel: "It's hard work." Something essential is learned in traveling and not just about the places we visit. Moore tells grand tales because he never takes his pretentions too seriously. Swahili For The Broken-Hearted chronicles his six-month overland journey from Cape Town to Cairo.

A couple of articles recently, tales of escape and refuge in the USA, surprised me.

In the Current Newsweek Alephonsion Deng from southern Sudan takes his turn at commentary: I Have Had to Learn To Live With Peace: How do you make a new life for yourself when you're consumed with the pain of your past? Deng writes about how his life is not only marked by physical journey but an emotional one as well. He writes:
"Still, I know it is possbible to move on. For all those years Ilived with revenge on my mind. Now I'm a man with the seeds of love, dignity and hope in his heart."

What surprised me was after outlining his own traumatic experiences and the way those shaped him when after many long years found himself in America, he expressed his empathy and concern for returning American soldiers and their families. His concerns were detatched from political commitments. I hope that most Americans share in his concern.

When I was in college, one summer I went to Indiantown Gap where Vietnamese refugees were being held until sponsors could be found. To my everliving shame I sponsored a couple of young men, my age. The result was we were all young and without resources. I lost touch with them a few months after they arrived to live with me. I hope they've done alright. I mention that because I remember how hard it was for them to make contact with other Vietnamese refugees as well as loved-ones at home. The Internet helps in that accord as in this Web site owned by a couple of men from southern Sudan living in Pittsburgh.

The second article was in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in advance of a new book published in Chinese by Huang Xiang the poet/artist who has covered his home in the Mexican War Streets with poetry. The link to the Post-Gazette article is worthwhile because there are links to other sites of interest about Huang Xiang. But most especially for four short observational pieces about Pittsburgh from the book which the paper arranged to be translated into English.

Huang had been beaten in the face during his incarcerations in China and his injuries, left untreated, healed improperly. As a result his mouth requires reconstruction. A local oral surgeon is providing Huang and his wife with free medical treatment, and one of the pieces is Dentist Owen. Huang writes:
" I benefited from the check-up; he did not. He had to spend time and energy and even lost money to do it. We often want everybody to know that we did something for others, we always want to get something when we provide something; it is anything but pure kindness that drives us to do something for others. Americans have some quality that Chinese lack."

It's sometimes surprising to hear someone talk about American genrosity, but there is something to it. Perhaps a part of it stems from the fact that so many of us here have memories of escape and asylum.

There are many cross-currents in the American political scene. Anti-immigrant sentiment probably corresponds neatly with support for our occupying army in Iraq, but those comittments create cognitive dissonance for so many.

Fear may be what motivates our policies now, we're told and many do believe: "Everything has changed since 9/11." But most Americans hope for a better future, indeed without hope something essential to our national character is missing. It may well be as we are told and so many do believe: "Retreat is not an option." But without "the seeds of love, dignity and hope in our hearts" Americans will be adrift.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

From A Distance Posted by Picasa

From A Distance

Songwriter Julie Gold is perhaps best known for her song From a Distance which for unknown reasons was on my brain when I woke up this morning. Oddly a photo snapshot of me at age 10 or eleven in the church court yard wearing a white vee-necked tenis sweater was too. I've seen that picture fairly recently, but can't remember where. The photo posted is of a younger Kaunda, standing, along with my brother, seated.

By the clothes I'm wearing, you might ask: "What was he thinking?" As it turns out I've got some idea even now from a distance of more than forty years. I was adventuring being "The Man from Alagash."

The question posed by the 2004 movie I Heart Huckabees is : "How am I not myself?" Puzzling enough, and yet most of us have little trouble recognizing our images in photographs even when we're in disguise.

The picture I had in mind--me wearing the tennis sweater--is a little more straightforward because I remember having a pretty good idea of me myself then. I wonder: If we can recognise ourselves at a distance of many years; how is it we so easily lose sight that others in distant parts of the world are people like us?
"From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I can't comprehend
What all this war is for"

What can any of us do from a distance? The song continues:
"From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes thru the land
It's the hope of hopes
It's the love of loves
It's the heart of every man

It's the hope of hopes
It's the love of loves
It's the heart of every man"

I like that Gold uses "the heart of every man." I'm sure she thought of the more inclusive alternatives, but as a man it's nice to know she believes that even male persons have heart.

In this morning's Post-Gazette there's an article, "Children are victims of Africa's AIDS." I'd be happy to link to the article there, but I couldn't find it on the Web site. The article is by Laurie Goering, the Chicago Tribune's foreign correspondent, so the link is there. 12.5 million children across sub-Saharan Africa have lost a parent to AIDS, and a new report suggests by the decade's end more than 18 million children in the region will be orphaned by the disease. International efforts to staunch the spread of AIDS among children are widely short of funding targets.

Elizabeth Rapuleng runs a donor-funded center that feeds 350 children in Soweto was quoted in Goering's article:
"Most are not getting help; they have no one to speak for them. What I'm doing here is just a drop in the ocean."

There clearly is a need for efforts on a massive scale. But, I believe that the small efforts of many may be even more essential. The idea of Bazungu Bucks is to come up with small ways that people from a distance can make a difference for struggling people in Africa; call it "a drop in the ocean" strategy.

I don't believe my heart is any different, rather like the song says: "It's the heart of every man" and woman too. People have the power, so let's use it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Solid Gold Posted by Picasa

Solid Gold

Matthew Wheeland, Associate Editor of the wonderful online publication Alternet posted on his blog today The Real Cost of Gold . It seems his post was inspired by a front-page article at The New York Times. Looks like Wheeland was too lazy to provide a link, and I guess I am too.

Wheeland argues that the enviromental costs of gold jewlery are obscene; for example he points out, "As the WorldWatch Institute announced in 2003, there is roughly three tons of waste created for each gold wedding ring." He provides plenty more evidence for the extreme environmental costs of gold. And also provides a few alternatives, namely recycled gold and old gold jewlery.

I wondered about other metals. I like jewlery, but don't wear it much myself. Surfing the Web for jewlery was a real eye-opener. It's not that I'm totally unaware of current fashion trends in jewlery, it's just that so much of it seems worn in the wrong places. The clerk at the convience store last night told me she was going to see some guy about a tattoo after work. In response to my grimace, I told her, "I'm just old." I thought she laughed a little too hard about that.

The the description of the little number pictured is "Tomb Spiked Nipple Collar" available at Tribalectic. It's made of sterling silver, a very beautiful metal, I think, but we all know it's no substitute for gold for anything that pierces the skin.

Actually sites such as Tribalectic do have many pieces of Jewlery made of alternatives to gold. Titanium is well known for medical implants and is used in jewlery, along with Niobium and Zirconium. I was interested that white gold is often plated to make it shiny, but the plating should be of sufficient thickness because an alergic reaction to the nickel in the alloy is fairly common.

The mention of the costs of gold also reminded me of the history of gold in Africa, much of it quite sordid. And the adventures of one of America's most notorious goldbugs, the reverend Pat Robertson. So much to read about Robertson's interests in African gold; this Ms Magazine article provides a clear window into that room of Robertson's vast empire.

The BBC produces good reporting about Africa, a subject worth of a post on its own. But here's an article about The Congo for a little background about gold mining in The DRC.

The value of gold is almost universally aknowledged. Will attention to the enviromental costs of it change the way the general public values the importance of gold jewlery? It's hard to tell, but just those sorts of changes are ones we know we must make for the sake of humankind. Alas, habits are hard to change.


I'm not sure how to make links live in the comment section, so from the comments here are the links. First an article about reducing the spread of AIDS among children and treating infected children. Second an intersting article about what shows up at pawn shops these days. Third a "must see" site about "Darwin's Nightmare" a film by Hubert Sauper.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Mongrels At The Gate Posted by Picasa

Mix It Up

According to Harpers Index there's a new blog created every second. So it's probably only a matter of time before everyone has a blog. There's something odd about writing posts here for an intended audience who don't spend much discretionary time on the Internet. And maybe I'll have to wait a long time to read blogs by my friends.

I'm surprised I compose mostly in the word processing client that blogger provides; rather different from my habit of writing offline, except for email. My posts are too long. What luck! there's a good way of handling too many too long posts for all of us too busy people.

One good way to read blogs is to read them in a reader. I'm quite computer-challenged so I don't really understand this. But on the sidebar is an icon for bloglines. If you click on that you can sign-up for a reader which where you can read the feeds from multiple blogs--there are many other readers of course. Another feature of bloglines is a handy subscription link so when you find interesting blogs you can subscribe to the feed with just a click of the mouse. In the reader you'll see short feeds of the recent posts in your subscribed blogs. When something seems interesting you can click to read the whole post.

I read about a half-dozen blogs daily and have links to them bookmarked. I've also subscribed to some blog feeds with the too easy to subscribe feature of bloglines. Somewhere along the line I subcribed to Marginal Revolution economist/author Tyler Cowen's blog. It's wonderful, but I have no memory of how I happened upon the blog. Although Cowen has written several books, I hadnt read any of them or even heard of him.

I won't go on about Tyler Cowan except to mention that he's written about the mixing of cultures through commercial culture. I was reminded about that because last night I went to the Safari Club in the Strip District. Saturdays are African Nights and last night was all about Zambian Independence Day--or was it Gambian?

I occasionally use the term African American for black American, but it's a tricky term. Last night there were plenty of Africans in the house at Safari and African American probably would suit some of them just fine. There were also black Americans in the house and probably some of them would like the mantle too, others would ask: "Why can't we be just American?"

In a forum lately discussing "political correctness" a poster wrote:

I was at a pool party once, sitting at a table with 5 white guys. One guy made a witty comment, something like, "Don't mess with me! I'm German!" -- or something like that, and the next thing you know, they were asking each other about their backgrounds. I watched and listened as each guy at the table was asked about his ethnic background -- except me.

So, just as the conversation was shifting to another topic, I said "Why didn't anyone ask me about my ethnic background?" An awkward silence followed. So I continued. Each of my mom's parents had a black parent and a white parent. The white parents' backgrounds were Irish, French, and German. The black parents were of Cherokee and African ancestry.

...So I'm just as much a "mutt" as some of the other guys at the table were. But no one even thought to ask me about my background, because, well, isn't black just "black"?

Something I like best about Americans is that we're all mixed up, "mongrel" is a term used by historian Ann Douglas pointed out by Caetano Veloso in his story about Tropicalisimo Tropical Truth Veloso critiques Samuel Huntington's Clash Of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order The short version of his critique is America is less the zenith of white European culture and more the antithesis of it.

Black isn't just black. The frustration so many Africans have about Americans is they seem to think Africa is a country. That we as Americans are so often oblivious to our own multiple origins contributes to our stereotypes we'd to well to transcend.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Child Soldiers Posted by Picasa

African Peace and Human Rights Education

I hide my eyes for the scary parts of movies. I'm not sure I've actually recovered from seeing the "Exorcist"--eeh gads! how long ago. The same protective defense comes into play when I think of all the troubles in the world today; I don't want to look. Children's drawings about war make me look.

I paste children's drawings up at home and pour over them--probably something having to do with not having children. When kids draw something and then hand the paper to me to see, they seem quite pleased for the attention to it for the first minute. But then give me the look that says "it's just a picture; don't read too much into it" Something like that, kids throw themselves into the experience of drawing and want the adults around them to experience the right-here-and-now too.

Drawings such as the one posted have a different purpose and effect, but cast the same spell over me as other children's drawings do. So I look and see what I wish to avoid seeing. Granted they're done by older children, but kids nonetheless. The purpose in making them is to find a way to put their experiences in a place, a safer place we all desire.

This drawing is one of many that a friend of mine here in Pittsburgh has. He's collected them and hopes to publish a book to aid the children of this war weary place. The drawings were done by children abducted in the long largely unreported war in northern Uganda. The kids were rescued and drawing is a way for them to reestablish themselves in normal life.

Peter Okema was born in Gulu, northern Uganda in 1978. I met him after reading scathing editorials about Uganda's president at The Black Star News and then seeing from his contact information he was at Pitt. Meeting up with him also introduced me to the African Student Organization at Pitt. The ASO is really cool. I suppose I'd probably find most student organizations so, but the ASO is particularly interesting because it brings together students from many countries. I've told Peter he's the hardest working activist I know.

African Trans Atlantic
is his Web site. From there you can learn a little about his work. Because it's local you can easily become involved. Please tell me if you do and maybe you'll help get to get up and stand up too.

If you are one for clicking the links check out this story in the current online edition of The Black Star News. The New York City Gulu Walk was today, October 22. UNight organized it and now the page is about this event, but who knows what the future will bring? Maybe we can walk here in Pittsburgh too.

There are so many ways for us to give our time. Share what you do and what you dream up. Our actions don't have to be coordinated, but there is strength in togetherness.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Thanks David Posted by Picasa

A Rat's Ass

In the Oct. 24 “The New Yorker” is an article by Michael Specter: “What Money Can Buy: Millions of Africans die needlessly of disease each year. Can Bill Gates change that?”

Bill Gates is one we all seem to love to hate. That's mostly because of the behemoth Microsoft is and hardly about his charitable work, although many are convinced much of his charitable work is also good business. Bono on the other hand is widely loathed because of his charitable work, especially by the more left-leaning punditry.

I'm a poor fool and know it so don't think criticism will hurt me much. Still, I tend to go against the tide of opinion against Gates and Bono and admire their work.

Stephen Magesa, an entomologist with Tanzania's National Institute for Medical research commented about Gates:

“Every year, a million more kids die. A decade ago, they were saying, 'Let people die; there's nothing we can do. Then Gates came along and said this is not acceptable. That was more important than his money. He put malaria back on the world's stage.”

With an endowment of more than 28 billion dollars The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is putting considerable resources in play, so Magesa's observation of what's most important about Gates stuck out.

Kent Campbell, a former chief of the malaria branch at the Centers for Disease Control brings the issue into greater relief:

“I don't think most Americans give a rat's ass about the death of millions of African kids each year. I don't think they ever have.”

Well, that's one reason for admiring Gates: he cares about global health. The article points out that when Melinda first suggested that they concentrate on global health:

“Gates didn't get it: he was interested in population control and thought that improving the world's health might even run counter to that goal. (“It was only when I dug into it a bit that I came to understand that better health leads to lower populations with more resources,” he said)”

Both the “rat's ass” comment and the conclusion that Gates reached when looking into the matter that better health will help not hinder global population growth were subjects swirling around in my nearly incoherent post “Turtles All the Way Down” Specter's article provides some good reasons for not imagining world-wide deaths to preventable disease as a good thing.

When I was a boy visiting my grandmother out in the country there wasn't much to do; no kids to play with. The hillside behind the house was very steep and the remnants of more than a hundred years of trash dumping were visible with bottles sprouting form the ground. My grandmother was quick to point out that at no time had they ever dumped their trash there, so it was garbage of a generation once removed. She also alluded to the previous inhabitant's of the place heavy drinking. I found little evidence of that, but what I did find were medicine bottles, some with the word “Consumption” on them. My mother informed me that consumption was TB, tuberculosis. And I also got a whiff of the shame attendant with that disease.

The first apartment my parents ever had was upstairs in a house. The owners lived downstairs, a mother and daughter. The daughter was my parents' age and they socialised with her often. My parents lived there about a year and before the year's end my father was a pall-bearer at the daughter's funeral. She died of TB. There were other ways that as a boy I came to learn about TB; one was that my mother had to present an x-ray of her lungs every year to her local school board as a condition of her employment. She'd been exposed, but never developed the disease.

I don't have the citation, but I've read that more than a billion people have died from TB since 1700. Malaria like TB is an ancient scourge. I fail to see why we here in the USA think we are immune to these diseases running rampant across the globe. I'm happy that “Bird Flu” is in the news, but a bit perplexed that there's no similar foreboding about TB and malaria.

People often take Darwin's “survival of the fittest” personally; that is as a measure of their own fitness, instead of seeing that it's the survival of the species that's the crux of the matter where individuals are of slight significance. Diseases are human problems that demonstrate our interconnectedness better than anything else I know.

As far as giving a rat's ass, I'll admit that my attention to malaria was really only piqued by knowing the suffering of my friend Nathan. I've been thinking a lot about Kabanda John, Nathan's brother since he died. Something that comes to mind is the time he was summoned to the school to collect Nathan, so sick with malaria no one expected him to live. John wrote to me and cared for his brother until he got well.

Nathan matters to me very much because he is my friend. But it's also very easy for me to understand that Nathan's life is very important to his community. I've corresponded with a number of very nice people who live near Nathan. With the ups and downs of what we've been trying to improve the situation there, Nathan is the one who never gives up when others do. How hard he works only to see one project after another come to naught and he only works harder. Nathan is indispensable.

Millions of deaths annually are not merely unfortunate, they hasten humanity's own demise even here in America. With drug-resistant TB we are but one drug away from untreatable TB. Malaria was endemic in every major city in the USA at one time. We've no magic bullet against it; should it emerge again here the death toll will be great because partial immunity is not widespread here. So give a rat's ass.

Our friend Mark Knobil did the cinematography for an important series on PBS “Rx for Survival” The six-part series begins Nov. 1 and airs at 9 PM.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah Posted by Picasa

Our Time

Friends have asked me to put up suggestions for how they can spend their time in service to African people. I'm lazy, I'm afraid; and loathe to admit, perhaps, that I don't have many good ideas about the matter. I'm hoping to hear some good idea from you.

I was going through Harper's Index for October and a couple of entries jumped out:

Estimated amount of African wealth held in foreign accounts, expressed as a percentage of African GDP:172.
Minutes that NBC and CBS spent covering the Darfur genocide last year:8


Here's a list of some facts at the Village Enterprise Fund Web site "The Cycle of Poverty Kills Through Hunger And Preventable Diseases:"

34,000 children die every day of hunger and preventable diseases.
Bread for the World Institute, Hunger 1997
17 million people die every year from infections and parasitic diseases that we know how to prevent
United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1995
1.3 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
World Bank study released in 1996
3 billion people live on less than $2 per day.
Bread for the World Institute, Hunger 1997
1.45 billion people have no access to health services.
1.33 billion people have no access to safe (clean) water.
United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1992

Distribution of resources and time are seriously out of wack. But what can a body do? This morning a friend sent a link to a review of a film/DVD Emmanuel's Gift Here's the link my friend sent. The film is about Emmanuel born in Ghana with a severely deformed leg. All but his mother ready to give up on such a child, and yet..

The difference any one of us can make is bound to be little, but little isn't nothing. All of us have unique interests and talents. And too often we don't share them with each other. A gift of time is sharing. It's possible to share with individuals all over the globe now. The slogan: "Think globally/ Act locally" sounds pretty good; afterall local actions are the ones we really can have some dominion over. It's in our sharing we can begin to redress the insane maldistribution that affect us all wherever we live.

Emmanuel Ofoso Yeboah demostrates how one person can make a difference for many. We can make a difference too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Time Is Money?

I don't know that many of the people I've been telling about this blog actually come here or read it. Generally there's skepticism about Bazungu Bucks.

A friend sent me an email:

i was doing some research this morning & came upon this quote from edie tsong (she made the life size sculpture of her pregnant-self in the new MF show)
she also copied the complete roswell, nm phonebook name for name with a #2 pencil on lined school paper.

"My dedication to killing time is a refusal to equate value with a dollar amount. To value something not as a commodity, but as an experience."

-Edie Tsong

Later that same day he sent me a link in an email with the subject: blog,Blog, blog to a Portuguese language blog apparently about American comixs. I'm not sure as I don't understand Portuguese.

I'm missing the point so it made me laugh. But I surmise the notion of Bazungu Bucks or Time Dollars seem aesthetically suspect to him.

I'll admit that I'm a little disappointed that there's little buzz or eagerness to collect a script that can be redeemed with hours of my time. Hardly surprising because everyone knows I'll give it away anyway. I'm curious to see whether the script has any value for encouraging time spent in service to African people. But at the core, I believe that hours spent in this way are valuable expereinces, Bazungu Bucks or no.

Kabanda John Posted by Picasa

Nathan's Brother John

Nathan's brother John died and was buried today. John had been suffering from brain cancer for over a year. He was treated with radiation, but that treatment didn't stop the cancer. He was cared for at home by his sister Hilda and his brothers Joseph and Kenneth. Caring for him was very difficult because he lost his sight, and at times became confused and angry.

John and I occasionally sent email to each other. John also wrote me letters on paper. His handwriting was very neat and he shared his questioning mind and philosophical bent with me. Once I sent him a taped course on religions of the world, but they never arrived. I always regreted that because I was looking forward to sharing discussions about them with him.

John was very interested in micro-lending projects and business development. He participated in business workshops and was instrumental in forming the Jinja Youth Group that eventually became the Busoga Shining Light Association.

John was a very kind man. He had a special interest in promoting health and had hoped to study medicine. He encouraged his friends and comrades to get tested for the HIV virus and enncouraged AIDS prevention.

All who knew Kabanda John will remember him fondly.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My Friend Nathan

My friend Nathan works at a computer center at the Iganga Secondary School, a high school for girls about 75 miles from the capital of Uganda, Kampala. Nathan works full-time at his job and spends much of the rest of his time working on development in his community.

He was instrumental in forming a community based organization called Busoga Shining Light Association. The BSLA has instituted many projects in areas of health, education and agricultural work. Nathan has been working hard on a poultry demonstration project with a dedicated American volunteer with A W.I.S.H.

He also has a blog. Visit it to learn a little more about Uganda. Leave a comment there and I'll give you a Bazungu Buck.

Turtles All the Way Down Posted by Picasa

Turtles All The Way Down

Last night I was talking to a friend, having given her a little tri-fold pamphlet about Bazungu Bucks. She had the same question everyone asks: When you say a gift of time, just what do you mean? Friends are so good to indulge me.

First what I mean is to direct a little attention to the idea of giving your time in service to African people. And the way to begin that is to begin to find some information about African people. Efforts to inform are certainly one way to earn Bazungu Bucks; most especially when you share what you discover. It would be nice that you do in in the comments here, or in conversations with others you know.

There's lots of smart conversation on the Internet, at least that's what I try to convince my friends. But because most of them don't look for conversation on the Internet, I've been talking about Bazungu Bucks in person.

After talking a while with my friend, she said that what she tries to do, and will do, is to try to heal the wounds that racism inflicts in American society. “After all you can't get people to care about Africa when they hate Blacks.” And then she asked: “Can I earn Bazungu Bucks like that?”

I was temporarily stunned, not because I know nothing of racism; it's that racism doesn't make sense on some pretty deep level inside me. I recalled another conversation with different friend; I don't really don't remember the specifics, talking rather generally about race and politics in America, but I do remember the punch line: “We love black people.” That's true for me. As an American there is so much that I love and claim for my own created by black Americans. The threads of the African Diaspora are woven through the fabric of American culture. Sadly too are the coarse threads of racism woven through our history.

Conversations about my African adventures predate Bazungu Bucks, and this same friend has encouraged me to seek out black American organizations in regards to African aid. It's a suggestion I've certainly taken to heart. And in a more general way I've tried to put myself into situations to listen to views expressed by black Americans.

Racism is, I believe, a terrible and destructive idea.

I started out this post thinking about “Turtles All the Way Down,” an anecdote I've seen in various contexts. I was pleased to see Wikipedia has a wonderful entry on it, and it's a parable that's even entered the realm of Urban Legend. There are multiple versions on that page. This published version is found in an essay by Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Towards an Interpretive Theory of Culture," in his 1973 book The Interpretation of Culture:

“There is an Indian story — at least I heard it was an Indian story — about an Englishman who, having been told that the world rested on a platform which rested on the back of an elephant which rested in turn on the back of a turtle, asked (perhaps he was an ethnographer; it is the way they behave), what did the turtle rest on? Another turtle. And that turtle? 'Ah, Sahib, after that it is turtles all the way down.'”

Anecdotes are subjects for many interpretations. What I was thinking about was how people require a worldview, a set of interlocking ideas by which we make sense of the world. The sort of “Russian doll” quality of the Indian's retort to the Englishman's question makes me wonder about the qualities of my own worldview.

I suppose just the fact of wondering about my worldview distinguishes it from dogma an otherwise popular way of considering the fundamental nature of worldviews. Because to me it seems necessary to examine premises and to probe the parts of the interconnecting system of ideas. Indeed I consider my worldview as something subject to change and improvement. It's a little like the disagreements which come up regarding Supreme Court nominees and justices: between textural literalists and those who have the idea that the Constitution of the United Sates of America is a living document; where I find myself on the side of the Constitution being a living document.

Christopher Alexander is a brilliant theorist of architecture. In the mid-1970's when I was busy flunking out of college, a roommate had cheated a book club out of a book by Alexander called “The Oregon Experiment.” The ideas in that book greatly interested me and I was eager to learn more about him. Alexander's work included study with Jerome Bruner at Harvard's Center for Cognitive Studies. Those of you who know me know that after many detours and much delay, I finally managed to fulfill the requirements for a B.S. In Elementary Education. Bruner's work has a very lofty stature in the world of education. So Alexander's work isn't so far from my academic pursuits as they might at first appear.

Education degrees are socially suspect; “Those who can't do, teach.” Until fairly recently many colleges were “Teacher Training” institutions, something important but not considered academically rigorous enough. There is a great effort to advance and apply scientific knowledge to the practice of teaching. But like all the other behavioral sciences, education suffers from being what Thomas Khun in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” calls “immature” sciences.

Alexander is very interested in making beautiful things, and he's very concerned to try identifying the processes which are likely to create things revealing a quality “which is the root criterion of life and spirit, in a man, town or building,” which he considers “exact and precise, but it cannot be named.” The two-step is familiar to education majors as they are told “teaching is both an art and a science.” Alexander is adept at it; both as a creative artist and scientist.

I bring up Alexander because “turtles all the way down” makes me wonder about worldviews and mine in particular. Alexander for a time nearly bankrupted himself with a hobby of collecting Oriental carpets. His obsession stemmed from noticing that some carpets had the quality of being more “alive.” Alexander's ideas about this quality of being “alive” are quite nuanced and I won't go into them here, merely provide another anecdote. Alexander writes:

"There are some periods in history— the high period of Sephardic art in Persia, for example— in which the main artists of the day— painters, architects, tile makers, rug weavers, etc.--were completely connected to science. For example, the Arabic mathematicians who were aware of the discussions going on in Italy about Copernicus retained the idea of a centralized cosmos— even after the discussions had moved into the realm of Newton, Leibnitz,and the infinite universe— on the grounds that those discussions constituted bad art.”

“...So the Arabic mathematicians who were insisting that this was bad art meant that an image which is fundamentally incomprehensible at the human level must be incorrect because all of science is actually as much a description of what is in us as what is out there— and that a correct description of the universe has to be faithful at both ends.”

Alexander makes the case that art which becomes disassociated with truth becomes nonsensical. But that science has gotten into some pretty absurd subject matter too; there is a feeling that science doesn't have anything to do with what life is all about.

We all seek coherence in the ways our values fit together. But we operate largely unconscious about our worldviews, so examining them is a somewhat separate exercise from operating with daily with the presumptions our worldview provides. Far more so than most of the people I know, and certainly most of my friends, I don't have much of a clue about religion; certainly not hostile to it, I just don't know. On matters of science, I'm rather mystified by the anti-scientific sentiment, indeed anti-intellectualism, so widespread nowadays.

Africa seems so far away from the more local and personal concerns that I and my friends try to cope with daily. The news of calamities: natural disasters, war, hatred, disease, and evils of many sorts, rattles our sense of security and optimism. We count on the challenges Africans face are over there and not here. Nevertheless, Americans aren't so naive so as not to understand that our way of life is premised on abundant oil to fuel it; even as we aren't so fully prepared to acknowledge the increasing evidence that oil is a finite commodity. At least when the subject is oil, Americans know that their attentions must be global and not just local.

Gregory Bateson pointed out in testimony on behalf of the University of Hawaii committee on Ecology and Man, in 1970, published in “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” as the chapter “The Roots of Ecological Crisis” that the threats to “humanity's survival are traceable to three root causes: a) technological progress, b) population increase, c) certain errors in the thinking and attitudes of Occidental culture. Our values are wrong.” His diagram is reproduced at the beginning of this post showing how all three causes are self-reinforcing systems.

Values seem the only part of this interacting system of ecological crisis that we as lowly individuals can do much about. The infinite progressions of turtles is hardly convincing in bolstering “flat-Earth” ideas, and yet the very Russian doll character of the defense resonates with a hunch I cannot quite shake that it's just the sort of coherence I require of my own worldview. Fundamentally values of kindness, compassion, cooperation, tolerance, etc.; spiritual values broadly associated with love are the turtles upon which my worldview is built.

That's a long way around thinking about the question my friend posed whether or not she can earn Bazungu Bucks by doing something about racism in America. The long way is quite silly really because something I know from boorishly making my friends go online to view this blog is that they'll never read long entries; but that's a matter for another time. Meanwhile as I've been doling out Bazungu Bucks sparingly, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that my friends can easily tell I'd be happy just to give lots away just to see if we can't find ways to spend them among ourselves. Ah, and that's a matter to take up another time too. So for now, my answer to the question my friend posed is: Yes. Changing minds about racism is indeed something of service to Africans, and in service to all humankind. I'm eager to learn more about the ways she comes up with to do just that. Certainly those hours spent will be worth the bucks.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Babtunde Olatunji Posted by Picasa

Beat the Drum

Okay, my friends don't do blogs. Last night I visited some friends with my printed brochures about this page and even got the teenaged son of my friend to bring the blog up online to show to a friend.

The best suggestion was "Simplifiy your presentation." What I want still isn't very clear, and that lack of clarity begins with me. And so the coversation goes.

My dear friend who hates computers, but humoring me looked at the blog, began engaging me about what she might do. She said that what she'd do would probably begin with music.

She recalled how when she was a child she saw Olatunji on Captain Kangaroo and he'd made quite the impression on her and her brother. After watching the show she and her brother went outside and started banging on things.

Amazing that Olatunji was on Captain Kangaroo. I found it hard to believe really, so I did a Web search. In 1959 Olatunji had a hit record Drums of Passion! That's about the right time period.

Musicians are so smart to appear on children's TV shows. Emanuel Ax has a big following among the younger set at Pittsburgh Symphony concerts. I wondered aloud why that was at a performance and the person sitting next to me said: "It's because he appears on 'Sesame Street.'"

I've got to start adding links on the sidebar and one that I'm sure to add is for African Voices a foundation Babatunde Olatunji founded to aid Africa.

My African friends are amuzed when I tell them of my get togethers with friends and how we gather around a bon fire to drum and sing. I know now that Babatunde Olatunji is one of the reasons there's drumming. My friend's life was changed all those years ago when she saw a beautiful African man making fantastic drum music on Captain Kangaroo.

Babatunde Olatunji died 7:30 Am April 6, 2003 at the age of 75.

Beat the Drum

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Gift of Time

I like blogs, unfortunately that's not an affection many of my friends share. Since the idea of Bazungu Bucks is primarily intended as a way to share— to create a network of sharing among friends, this blog may be a waste of time. Ah, and wasting time is one of the sound reasons my friends give for not having any interest in blogs.

So far, I know that at least one of my Ugandan friends has visited this blog. And a visitor familiar to me from other venues happened upon it. He made the good point: “to make a real connection still needs a lot of time and commitment.” That understanding is is another good reason to this project maybe folly. My friends simply don't have the time or commitment.

Perhaps deep in my heart I wish for many to develop a deep commitment for restoring the health of Africans, and thereby the health of all people. But closer to the surface what I hope for is that I and my friends would not habitually avert our attention when it comes to African issues. I hope we will take a little time to look and to try to understand.

I'm reading “Africa in Chaos” by George Ayittey. On the cause of Africa's crisis, Ayittey cites two camps of opinion: Externalist, who place the blame on external factors, and Internalists who believe Africa's woes are due to internal factors.

Clearly it's not very important for people in the West, who only have a little time for paying attention to what's happening in Africa, to take one side or the other in this divide between externalist and internalist. Nevertheless, it's very useful to know that there are serious people like Ayittey who argue the internalist position. It's important if for no other reason for understanding many of the Africans who live among us in our communities.

Ah, there's another problem that hampers understanding that's not really on point, but now is probably as good a time to mention it as ever: “Africa is not a country!” I've heard Africans here many times over say to well meaning Americans. Africa is four times the land mass of the continental United States and more than three times the number of people inhabit Africa than inhabit all of the USA. There are over fifty countries in Africa. It's a diverse continent.

It's often surprising for ordinary Americans to discover that African immigrants to the USA have on average the highest educational attainment of any immigrant group. But among African immigrants here in the USA are political refugees and many more who have fled from political turmoil. Africans in America have diverse views about the politics of their home countries.

Americans, especially liberal Americans, are accustomed to hearing and perhaps tacitly accepting the externalist position as the cause for crisis. “That's another fine mess you've gotten us into.” is yet another reason why we turn our attention away from African issues. It seems yet another situation that's somehow our fault without any clear way we as individuals can correct it. So we don't understand that this or that African president meeting with our president might well be a dastardly tyrant and kleptomaniac. But such meetings do not escape the attention of many Africans among us .

When I was in the tenth grade, hum let's see, about 1970, I was going to school in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina. The schools were complying with an extraordinarily controversial court-ordered desegregation plan. Among the black teachers there, most were quite middle of the road or even conservative, I suspect, but a few were more militant. (That description is best understood in the context of the times, hard to do even for those who lived through them; for example in my year book is the photo caption: “Mrs. Brewer sets a precedent by being the first teacher at South to wear a pant suit.”) Most of us kids, me anyway, found this latter group more to our liking. Ms. Thomas tearfully told her class that the pictures of starving Biafran children populating the news magazines in the day were a hoax, saying, “Africa knows how to feed their people.”

The Nigerian Civil War was real and those photos no hoax. But Ayittey in a chapter “How the West Compounded Africa's Crisis” describes a 1995 campaign spearheaded by Randall Robinson, TransAfrica's director against Nigeria's infamous military dictator General Sani Abacha. Three cheers for TransAfrica. Nevertheless the campaign fell short largely as a result that many black American leaders simply failed to see what a bad guy Abacha was.

Inept and horribly corrupt regimes escape our attention; it's too hard to keep track. Still America's collective blind spot about Africa allows our homegrown scoundrels free reign. The intersection of filthy lucre and politics is something perhaps we here in America are being to scratch the surface of. FEMA, after hurricane Katrina, listed Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing at the number two spot for donations on their Web site. Juan Gonzelez provides a little background on Operation Blessing and Robertson's lucrative connections to African despots. The Haliburton Nigeria bribery scandal has faded from the news, in fact never seemed to garner much attention. But I wasn't surprised to see Jeb Bush seemingly involved in the matrix too.

What was I supposed to be talking about? Ah yes, time, our time to focus on Africa. Ayittey charmed me with a personal story in the Prologue to his book:

“Pure, unadulterated mischief was our credo in those early years. My younger sister, Sherry, who was in the same class, outperformed me academically. She often placed ninth in the class while I struggled at twenty-eighth position. Of course, I was never found wanting of a battery of self-serving rationalizations. “The teacher liked her,” “My dad gave her more pocket money,” “You can't learn much with only one textbook to share with thirty-one others,” “A class under a tree is ridiculous” were some typical excuses. But then there occurred an event that completely changed my life.

One evening, an uncle named Paul came to visit us at home. Uncle Paul was an affable but stern type. He shepherded an older brother, Caleb (who is now deceased), and me into a room to teach us spelling. The grumbling and foot-dragging were not muted. To overcome that reluctance, he promised the equivalent of 25 cents to the one who could spell “Mississippi” and “hippopotamus” the next day. Back them, in the 1950's that would buy two meaty candy bars or a whole meal of fried plantains and bean stew.

The following day Caleb failed the spelling test. He had lost his exercise book, he lamented. Upon being called, I stumbled a couple of times but successfully managed to spell the words. Much to my astonishment, Uncle Paul, true to his word, gave me 25 cents.”

Dr. Ayittey completed his Ph.D. Studies in Economics at the University of Manitoba (Canada) with an overall grade point average of 4.00. Ayittey goes on to make the more general point that: “[G]iven a carefully crafted system of incentives and a conductive intellectual environment, the black African mind can develop."

Most of us probably easily relate to his personal story. Uncle Paul was a family member. But the families of so many African children are so stressed that too many children don't have someone to pay them such attention. Could one of us make a such a difference in a child's life?

The ways of earning Bazungu Bucks are limited only by your imaginations. Don't underestimate what a little of your time can mean. And by all means tell us about what you do and discover.