Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise Posted by Picasa

World AIDS Day

Some of you may rembember a warm early September evening in Pingting's lovely garden a little over three years ago getting a slight buzz off marker fumes and fuming about the course of our American politics. Iraq hadn't yet been invaded and the official word was that every step would be taken to avoid it. Still, I remember a sense of resignation we shared. I remember how hard it was even to come up with words to fill the blank sheets of posterboard.

"Monkey the Bush" I didn't understand it then and still don't really, but it sounds good to my ear. I doubt the girl, living as she does in a rural town in Italy, had ever seen reference to Bush as "Chimp," she just called 'em as she saw 'em. (Hey, so did you know that those posters you made were prominently displayed on the parade route? I'm not sure they were, afraid the car was parked just a little east of the presidential fleet.)

I don't remember who said that change always happens on the margins and moves towards the center, but that's it. By the next January more of you along with so many others were in the streets crying out to stop the invasion. Now most Americans feel it was a mistake. But it also feels as if the sense of resignation has only grown in the country.

All those damn ribbons! I won't be wearing a red one on December 1st World AIDS Day. But in some small way I'll try to commemorate the day, at least pause a moment to turn my attention to the worldwide scorge of AIDS.

Today at Talking Points Memo Cafe Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School has a piece considering AIDS means for the military troops in Africa. The piece is worth reading, but what stuck out were the few comments. Nowhere in the post did Slaughter allude to AIDS being the fault of the West or make any recommendations about American action. But the comments bristled with "Who cares about Africa?" and "Why should we care?" Indeed, why care about AIDS at all? And this is at one of those "leftist blogs."

I'm one for pulling my covers up over my head when I don't feel like getting out of bed. But I'm old enough now to know that eventually I will have to emerge from my nest. The problem with a strategy of "Screw it all!" is eventually something will have to be done. I understand being angry and bewildered by American actions in Iraq, but the pendulum swing towards issolationism seems futile; another expression of American exceptionalism.

The slogan for this year's World AIDS Day is "Keep the Promise." It refers to a U.N. resolution a few years back--I don't remember. Here are a couple of links to find out: UNAIDS and World AIDS Campaign.

Politics is very important but too much attention paid to winning and loosing can cause people to resign themselves to inaction. A little focus on little things all along the edges where we can create something good is not futile. When we act to soothe the hurt, when we act to make someone else happy, when we pay attention to the neglected, it's never a hollow gesture. It's always our engagement that matters.

In the midst of the Vietnam War Thich Nhat Hanh travelled to the U.S. to speak to audiences about peace. He told audiences if they could take one peaceful step they could take two. And he said:
Those who are without compassion cannot see what is seen with the eyes of compassion.
My dear friends, will you take a little time on World AIDS Day to imagine what can be seen with the eyes of compassion.

Because of the Gun Posted by Picasa

Because of the Gun

Maybe my posts make a little sense, but my pattern has been to save a bunch of links and then open the Blogger post box and start writing with some idea of stuffing the links into what I write. I'm not sure that's a good plan, nevertheless it's what I've been doing. Oh yeah and there are the themes of Africa and alternative currencies in the back of my mind somewhere. I've blogged precious little about the latter, more about Africa and rather unintenionally about Pittsburgh.

Many people around the world think it quite ordinary that a person have an ideology. Americans have ideologies which tend to correspond rather well with their personal demographics or even postal zip code; but Americans as a rule find any suggestion that they have an ideology anathema. I may be very off base here, surely the observation isn't based on serious research, but I think most Americans don't like to be pinned down or pegged to any ideology.

With online news sources and blogs, it is quite possible to navigate around finding only sites that more or less conform to ones own way of seeing things. It's not so easy to do if like me you're a promiscuous clicker. I think a little promiscuity with mouse clicking is a very good idea. One of the virtues of doing so is one becomes aware that we see the world through the lens of interlocking ideas and not everybody's got the same ideas.

The downside of promiscuous clicking is spending way too much time online and not enough going about productive activities. Oh well, you all know how I feel about working. For example after mentioning the Pittsburghese Web site I spent a bunch of time entering text into the wonderful translator there:
Wit online news sarces and blogs, it is quite possible to navigate arahnd finding only sites that more or less conform to ones own way of seeing tings n'at. It's not so easy to do if like me yinzes a promicuous clicker wit a computer mouse n'at. I think a little promiscuity wit mouse clicking is a very good idea n'at. One of da virtues of doone so is one becomes aware that we see da world through da lens of interlocking ideas and not everybody's got da same ideas.
So I was so pleased to discover a new blog via Firedoglake called Wandering Hillbilly where Buddy Don writes this post in vernacular English. Sometimes ideas resonate so much better when they sound right.

The picture is of The Reggae Cowboys. They're pictured because of a song, Because of the Gun. When I listened to the VOA program on the conflict in northern Uganda, the question was asked, and very present on my mind, "Where do the LRA rebels get their arms." The answers were contradictory and not very informative.

Virtually all of Africa has been engaged in civil war since Independence in the 1960's. The continent is awash in small arms. So far my attempts to try to learn about the logistics of this, especially as far as the conflict in northern Uganda goes haven't been very informative either. Soon after I started this blog a friend wrote and suggested I try to get a screening of Hubert Sauper's film Darwin's Nightmare in a theater near me. In going to various Web sites of organizatins who are active in doing something about small arms trafic in the region the importance of that film is clear.

A post in Marginal Revolution set me off on the tangent about ideologies. First of all, I'm not altogether with Tyler Cowen's economic viewpoint. Of course he's an economist, so an expert, but still I question. In the post he referred to Rudy Rummel revising his estimate of democide, i.e. murder by government, during the twentieth century upward as a result of new scholarship. I had never heard of Rummel and I'd never hear of democide. If you happen to click on the link, you'll see it's going to take me a while to become acquanited with Dr. R. J. Rummel.

It's sort of embarrassing to say it, but my first reaction to Rummel's Web site was: eek possible icky -ism ahead. I'm not sure that's true at all, and something that's plain is Dr. Rummel is very upfront about his ideology and research methodologies. I'm not making judgements just yet, merely pointing out that poking around Web sites can be rather unsettling.

I do want to know more about guns. Opening day of deer hunting was this week, one of our true local holidays. There are hunters all around and even while I don't hunt, I take it as an ordinary ritual. I can't quite get my head around the way in which ordinary activities with guns have gotten so political in the ways they are. It's distressing that "liberty" here in the USA means virtually unfettered running of guns in the poorest countries in the world.

Do you think it's a mere coincidence that the Olin Foundation is such a strong supporter of far-right causes?

Here are a few Web sites of interest in re small arms: The Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers, International Action Network on Small Arms and SmallArmsNet

Dr. Rummel cites the number 174,000,000 people murdered by governments during the twentieth century. These are not armed conflict deaths! The killing industry seems to be booming still in the decade of the Oh's in this new millenium. It's a knotty problem this, so I guess I'm not going to solve it anytime soon. Of course not, it's a problem that will take millions of us to solve together; and that brings me back to ideologies and -isms. Guns distort our best ideas about politics and economy. It will be necessary to cross ideological lines, at least stretch them, to build concensus around this very fundamental issue. Here in America is is about our Congressional-military-idustrial complex, but it also involves directing our attention to small arms too.

This post sucks, my thinking isn't so clear. Still I know the subject of guns is one I must pursue. I hope it's a subject some of you will pursue too.

Why does it sound so strange to say that I deplore violence and love life? I really do want people to love one another. It seems our great purpose in life. Through the Internet there is so much writing that's off-copyright and available online. Here's a link to William Saroyan's wonderful essay Seventy Thousand Assyrians.
I think now that I have affection for all people, even for the enemies of Armenia, whom I have so tactfully not named. Everyone knows who they are. I have nothing against any of them as one man living one man at a time, and I know, I am positive, that one man at a time is incapable of the monstrosities performed by mobs. My objection is to mobs only.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Joseph Mayanja Posted by Picasa

Icky -isms

Many of you have been bemused by my enthusiasm for blogs. It's easy to pick-up on what's wrong with them and there are many legitimate questions to ask about the blog phenomenon. My suggestion to "come on in the water is fine," isn't meant as a joke. To my great pleasure at least one of you among us has taken the plunge, although the blog apparently "isn't ready for public consumption yet." Do tell, perhaps when that blog is read along with Bazungu Bucks it will open the flood gates of blog creativity in this whole community. Be sure to pimp your blog here when you get around to it.

One of the criticism of blogs is that they create insularity of ideas and opinions. Dang, I was just reading about a study of blog insularity today and can't remember where. I know that it was academic with comments explained with number thingys, but checking the ususal suspects I can't find the post. So far as I can tell the study's big news was that the "big" leftist blogs and the "big" rightist blogs don't link to each other very much. There may be a problem here, except that people who begin reading blogs often stray from the big sites into territory that's not so easily pigeon-holed. There in lies another potential problem, icky -isms.

Right after I mentioned Richard Heinberg in the post Appropriate Technology I saw several references to him in discussions linking him to neo-Nazi ideologies. Actually, in surfing around the Web about Heinberg, I did note his association with some--how shall I say it?--New Age stuff. I sort of glossed over that and figured that much of what he has to say about global energy use patterns made sense. My post on Kizza Besigye delved a little into the realm of American rightist conspiracy. I am a little bit more than supicious of World Vision, something I feel creepy about because I never want to disparage concern and material help for those in need.

My point is banal: put your thinking caps on and venture into the blogosphere. Sure there's objectionable content and it's not always easy to tell at first glance. Even people you admire may hold views you can't cotton to. Sometimes that makes them all the more interesting.

In an interview with Arundhati Roy she responded to a question about her celebrity status:
I think it’s very unhealthy. This process of iconization is also a political one. That it is a way of making real political resistance very brittle. Because it’s okay to say oh Arundhati Roy, she’s a superstar. And then tomorrow say, but actually you know, she’s this and she’s that and it’s over. But it’s not about me and what a nice human being I am because I’m not a nice human being. I’m not at all playing for saint-hood here. So I think it’s a very dangerous process. It’s hard to know what to do about it. Because all one does is to continue to write and say what one writes and says. Then the rest of it is a fallout that you have to deal with and realize and that the option is to shut up and go away. Is that what I want to do? I don’t know.

But it is dangerous because it does make the whole movement very brittle. Obviously it’s not just me, there are others. But individuals who are picked out – we are very fragile things. I could be ... how easy is it for the propaganda machine to try to discredit me tomorrow?
Her point about making political resistance brittle is a good. One of the advantages to blogs is hearing a diversity of ideas. The blogs we read do sort us in terms of what we pay attention to, but the Internet is vast and, at least in my experience, it seems impossible to avoid coming into contact with icky -isms. To the extent this contact prevents our thinking from brittleness that's all for the better.

Today's picture is of Joseph Mayanja, aka Chameleon. I got it off Music Uganda. I don't know Chameleon's music, I just liked the picture because it reminded me of the picture with my wig hat on. It shows the sorts of things I spend my valuable time doing, like looking through photo ablums of musicians I don't know. Here's an ablum of Pittsburgh Signs. I found that because Pingting sent me a link to an event coming in January about a blog writers workshop at the Mattress Factory. Elizabeth Perry will be conducting it and before you say it's nothing you'd be interested in go to this beautiful blog she's created.

I never got around to writing about what I set out to and I wasn't sure how I'd fit this link in anywhere, I'll just suggest going to this Web animation for Clinton aka Cornershop. It's from 2000 and I just got around to it because the refrain from the song, "People Power in the disco hour" kept running through my head this afternoon. Warning after viewing this clever e-card the same may happen to you.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Computer Center Posted by Picasa


Words can hurt. A friend once called me "a goof" and I don't remember whether I heard it directly from him or whether somebody told me he said it of me. But I do remember that "goof" hurt peculiarly so. It got patched-up with my friend basically saying to me, "Consider the source."

"An incompetent, foolish, or stupid person." There's more truth to that epithet than I'd wish to acknowledge, so it hurt. That incident came to mind today as I was reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where increasingly the opinion pieces have degenerated to name calling. As an "anti-war type" and "moonbat" I feel insulted.

Just where did the term moonbat come from? These days it seems answers are never a click away. It turns out that moonbat and wingnut are the two sides of the political coin. I had thought perhaps that moonbat was derrived from the old insult, mooncalf, which means, well, a goof. Actually it was apparently coined on a Libertarian Web site Samzidata. The minter of the term Perry de Haviland says a moonbat is, "someone on the extreme edge of whatever their -ism happens to be." And apparently it was a play on George Monbiot's name. Monbiot is a columnist for The Guardian newspaper and all around pesky intellectual. Somehow I don't feel so bad now.

Over at The Poor Man The Editors respond to a reader's query:
Every week you give out a “Weekly Wanker” award for the biggest wanker of the week. But the trophy for the Weekly Wanker is the “Golden Winger”, which implies that it’s really an award for wingnuttery. So I’m confused. Is it an award for wanking, or wingnuttery?
They answer the question with a very thoughtful post, The Wanker-Wingnut contiuum. There is a very informative graph presented with the concepts of wingnuttery and wankery represented on x and y axes. Imagining where I might fit on such a graph, I supect I'm rather low on the wingnuttery scale and rather higher on the wankery scale than I previously thought.

Neither wingnut nor moonbat is considered profane, but wanker is. The Wikipedia entry suggest that wanker is much like "jerk" or "jerk off," so I wonder how "jag off" fits? I have done a bit of research of one of the more colorful expressions in Pittsburghese. The research was conducted in advance of President Bush's appearence on Neville Island a few years ago. We were constructing signage and a clever sign was constructed to be unfolded and turned:
Hey Bush
We scoff
Yunz A
From interviews with native speakers of Pittsburghese I was able to ascertain that a "jag off" is not merely incompentent, foolish, and stupid, but cruel as well.

My trouble is that I want very much to like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette but I can't stand the insults their jag offs hurl. There maybe hope for the paper yet, but I'm not holding my breathe. I was pleased to discover an idea wihch gives me a glimmer of hope for newspapers in general. Via Susan Mernit (sorry couldn't find a permalink for the post) I discovered that The Washington Post following in the steps of the BBC is allowing remixes and mashups of their site feeds. This example called News Cloud seems really cool. Note: one of the tags is Pittsburgh.

Today when I opened mail in my various email boxes I saw a note from a Tanzanian I've recently begun correspondence with. As luck would have it he'd almost completed a message to me when the electricity went dead so he lost the whole thing. His time was over so his note told me he'd write again another time. It's a reminder of the realities of using a computer in Africa. In Uganda and I suspect Tanzania the household current is 220 volts and in both countries interruptions are quite common.

The picture is of Nathan in the "Tele Center" of the Igana Secondary School. He's at work but not during class time. The school first got five used computers to set up the computer center. Over the time I've known Nathan the school has been down to a single working computer for the whole school of about 1100 students.

I've gotten a little feedback about the idea of getting Nathan a computer. Opinions vary, and because I'm not very computer savvy I welcome the sugestions. There is much to be said for Mac versus PCs with MS or Linux. My own opinion leans towards a Windows-based PC mostly from the convience resulting from inertia. As always the decision will be made trying to do the best with resources we are able to muster.

I would like anyone who has opinions about which computer for Nathan to be sure to share them with me. If you are so inclined it would be great if you would check out the M-Box. The M-Box makes a computer a mini sound studio. It's something that has some commercial potential for Nathan, for example recording local music. But our interest has primarily been for it's use to produce educational radio spots. Radio has a great potential for dissemination of useful information. Unfortunately Uganda has many press restrictions and is arbitrary in the application of the law. That's a discussion for another time. What's relevant here is to check the specifications of computers compatable with the M-Box as it may provide a baseline for a computer suitable for our high expectations of use.

Finally, and it's not fun at all, is a story in The LA Times which made me very sad. I'm very critical of much of our present political leadership, but distressed by what we've become. This story of the suicide of Army Col. Ted Westhusing is heart breaking.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Peeps Posted by Picasa


I was reading the newspaper and my dear mother looked over at me and seeing the steam escaping from my ears, smiled and said, "I've never seen a person have so much fun reading the newspaper." She said that without any irony and her peculiar optimism is yet another reason I miss her so much.

This morning a piece in the National section caught my attention .50-caliber gun controversy. It seems just another in the line of holiday fare promoting the coolest toys for those certain someones. The story of the owner, Ronnie Barrett, founder of the first and largest company making this weapon (which boast the capacity to hit targets over a mile away with armor piercing bullets) is a heart-warming tale of "rags to riches." Barret is shown dressed in a pink outfit holding the gun in question. Some worry that terrorists and other nefarious actors might take advantage of how easy it is to purchase the gun. But Barrett pooh-poohs the danger because the weapons are "too expensive" to be used by criminals. We're safe he tells us because it's only attorneys and movie stars who buy the damn things.

I don't like guns, but I'm really not uncomfortable around people who do. Second amendment--is that the one?--arguments seem over wrought to me. Lots of guns are okay, but I draw the line about the kinds of guns which are legitimate to have and to hold much closer to sporting guns than to WMD than many gun advocates do. But all guns seem terribly expensive to me. It never occured to me that we're safe from criminals because they can't afford them. Yes, we're told, "crime doesn't pay," but because money is one of the major motivations for crime, we all know sometimes it does pay and pay very well indeed.

While I was looking for that link over at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Web site, I noticed a Web-exclusive column Worry Watch. I wonder why they don't print it? I suspect the editors are concerned too many heads might explode. Of course with my morbid curiosity in tow I had to see what it was about. Today's entry is actually somewhat useful in that it provides the list of all the Sony Music titles which contained the malware that customers unwittingly installed on their computers. It turns out anti-virus software companies are encouraging customers not to install the Sony patch because it opens an even larger security hole than the nearly impossible to remove malware Sony started out with.

In other news, Rupert Murdoch maybe eyeing for purchase. That news is rather sad because Clusty is the search engine I use the most. When my Internet Service Provider did a recent software update it broke Internet Explorer on my computer, which I was running with a Google toolbar. I tinkered around, but eventually simply installed the Firefox browser. That was cool enough and Google has a toolbar to use with Firefox, but I couldn't seem to install it. That's how I came to use's toolbar. It's a local Pittsburgh company. I had used it before because it seemed better at finding more current pages than Google, and found the clustering feature useful. Rupert Murdoch--Say it ain't so!

Those little peeps are at my friend Nathan's feet. Yesterday he went to check on the village poultry project that's just got underway. I couldn't be more pleased to see the picture.

I'm very nearly through reading George Ayittey's Africa In Chaos. Today I discovered that I have to get and read Ayittey's latest book Africa Unchained. Over on the blogroll you may have noticed Timbuktu Chronicles one of the smartest blogs I've discovered. Emeka Okafor is a New York based consultant and entrepreneur. I wonder if he's related to the pro-basketball player Chukwuemeka Noubuisi Okafor? Timbuktu Chronicles posts are always very encouraging to me. It was only today that I found out about another blog Okafor writes called Africa Unchained. "A platform for analysing and contributing to the issues and solutions raised by George Ayittey's latest book 'Africa Unchained'."

Africa In Chaos take an "internalist stance" that is, Ayittey argues that the causes for problems in Africa are primarily internal. Last year going to meetings of the African Students Organization at Pitt, I heard this stance argued. I must admit it seemed a little strange to me. Clearly the colonial legacy disadvantages African countries, so I was never able to swallow the internalist position whole. Still I listened with interest and great appreciation for the earnestness of the ASO members from many different countries advancing it. A very good capsulated version of Ayittey's views can be found in an interview by Bill Moyers from a Wide Angle episode.

There are solutions and young people like Nathan are working hard to make them happen. Our support, creativity, and involvement can make a difference too.

Friday, November 25, 2005

old dudes 2

old dudes 2
Originally uploaded by TKnoxB.

Old Like Me

I don't have much of a clue what to write today. Earlier this evening a friend sent me a link to Africa Journal at Voice of America News. I listened to the program with interest because I'd met one of the panelists through my friend. The topic was the long war in northern Uganda.

The problem of what to write isn't having too few ideas, at least so far as can be measured by the list of links I've collected, rather it's making any sense of them. I was pleased to find the photo at flickr using the "northern Uganda" for a tag search. This photographer is really great, he must be professional because he seems to have photos taken around the globe. Certainly his photo abulm is worth a look. He's also apparently a young dude, because these dudes in the photo look to be about my age.

Among the many blogs I read is Dave Pollard's very remarkable How to Save the World. Pollard amazes me that he publishes long, deep and highly creative posts very regularly, while at the same time leading a very busy creative life--obvious by the content of his posts. Where does he find the time?

In a recent post he did three brief reviews of books he's read recently. One of them was Noam Chomsky's Imperial Ambitions. The book is a question and answer session with Chomsky being interviewed by David Barsamian. This question and answer stood out:
Q: At talks with American audiences, you are often asked the question "What should I do?"
A: Only by American audiences. I'm never asked this in the third world. When you go to Turkey or Colombia or Brazil, they don't ask you "What should I do?" They tell you what they're doing... It's only in highly privileged countries like ours that people ask this question. We have every option open to us, and have none of the problems that are faced by intellectuals in Turkey or the campasinos in Brazil. We can do anything. But people here are trained to believe that there are easy answers, and it doesn't work that way. If you want to do something you have to be dedicated and committed to it day after day. Education programs, organizing, activism. That's the way things change.
That exchange makes me a little red in the face as I ask myself: What am I doing?

In the time between I first went to Pollard's blog and when I went back to copy that exchange Pollard had posted again, Nobody Cares About The Creative Class. Like all his posts it's smart and nuanced. I consider my readers members of the creative class; even if we do live in the city that chased Richard Florida away. For all the praises about Pollard, I don't usually laugh out loud when I read his posts. I laughed at this:
So as a result, most jobs in large organizations are jobs:

* selling crap
* making crap
* fixing crap
* blocking customers who complain about crap from getting their money back or getting through to management
* finding people and outsourcers who will do the above crap jobs cheaper
* lobbying politicians to prevent people who are creative from competing with them, and to prevent people from suing them for their crap

It's a vicious cycle, and expecting large corporations to be enlightened and altruistic enough to get us out of it is sheer folly.

I laughed, but it isn't funny in the least. Pollard's proposed solution is to encourage true entrepreneurship. My reaction to that is about the same as my whiny reaction to Chomsky: Wah, that's so hard!

I am bewildered why it's so hard to see the many options available to us. But the viciousness of the visious circle Pollard describes is one good reason options are so hard to see.

Did you see the news today? Thanksgiving shoping mayhem at WalMarts across the country. Day After Thanksgiving sales have never been a part of my holiday tradition; but surely it can't be as bad as they say? Fisticuffs and trampling: O Holy Night! How come stories like this are broadly cast in the good news category?

I keep a window open to with a page to save links for blog posts. These pages last a day or two then I start a new page. I need to save away the one I've got open now and start again, there are just too many links on it which I haven't managed to fit into recent posts. There is one more link I want to share before I do. firedoglake is one of my favorite political blogs. ReddHedd and Jane Hamsher have great insights, especially for those interested in the Wilson affair. They also manage to find really wonderful pictures to post.

Recently a post by Jane Hamsher Why I Blog used a photo of an African mother with AIDS holding her emaciated child. It's not the sort of photograph normally used, so I took notice. Hamsher wrote:
When I think of all the suffering of so many that could be eased just by education and a few condoms being denied them by a passel of snake handlers and thieves who thrive by perpetuating fear and deceit I just want to scream.
Can you hear me screaming now? I often weep. Still, old as I am, Chomsky and Pollard point in the right direction. The real idea of Bazungu Bucks: Create Something Good.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Pittsburgher on Safari

Terenh in Narobi is a blog by a Pittsburgh native studying at Kenyatta University in Nairobi Kenya. This Post about her first safari is a great read illustrated with awesome photographs she took.

Ancestry Cover Posted by Picasa

What's the Difference?

My anti-virus software somehow couldn't load its driver, that set me off on fixing a computer-related problem. So I've been offline for a couple of days. I'm the sort who wants the thing just to work, so I always resent the time spent and the time away from doing what I want to be doing. But, hey it's Thanksgiving, and I'm very grateful for computers and the Internet.

I'm much more thankful for all of you my dear friends.

On Tuesday I delivered a paper "blog" to a friend. It's just a booklet I rather crudely crafted and entiltled If I Knew Then What I Know Now. The idea is to put something on an open page of the booklet, that's two facing pages. Clearly we all know much more than can fit in such a small space. So it doesn't much matter what you choose when the booklet comes around, just choose something and don't take too much time dithering about it before handing it off to the next person. I'm looking forward to getting the booklet back and eventually sending it to my friend Nathan for his community to see.

Marie Daulne, the Zaire-born visionary behind Zap Mama is pictured on the cover of a new Zap Mama album. I haven't heard it yet, but I love Zap Mama. Here's a blurb about Ancestry:
The American beat is a revolution all over the world," she says. "Everybody listens to it and everybody follows it. But the beat of the United States was inspired by the beat coming from Africa. Not just its structure, but the sound of it. This is the source of modern sounds, the history of the beat, starting from little pieces of wood banging against one another, and arriving on the big sound-systems today. It's genius. So I wanted to create an album about the evolution of old ancestral beats, how they traveled from Africa, mixing with European and Asian sounds, and were brought to America.
One of my favorite pieces of writing is Invocation which prefaces Stephen Vincet Benet's John Brown's Body. It begins:
American muse, whose strong and diverse heart
So many men have tried to understand
But only made it smaller with their art
Because you are as various as your land,

As mountainous - deep, as flowered with blue rivers,
Thirsty with deserts, buried under snows,
As native as the shape of Navajo quivers
And native, too, as the sea-voyaged rose.
Bringing up this "diverse heart" often seems to set black Americans off because I seem to present a lack of appreciation for my white priviledge. Possibly in the same vein, appropriation of culture emerging from the experiences of black people in America is regarded as "theft."

Liberal is a word that's gooey. I do share a view with many others, esecially the trenchant Frances Moore Lappe, that we must be willing to examine our premises, including classic liberalism. So I'm willing to hold the word at arms length for examination, but unwilling to cast liberalism into the depths of hell, as so many of my fellow Americans do.

In Harpers Garret Keizer wrote an essay Life Everlasting: The religious right and the right to die brimming with awful and wonderful observations about our culture. He writes that bills in favor of Physician Assisted Suicide rest on two principles: The first that "we are owners of our own lives.
The second principle, without which liberal individualism always devolves into preciousness, is that we are collective owners of the culture we produce collectively.
So many of us are alienated from one another, our community and culture. Discussing issues cross-culturally with my African friends the reflected view of American culture is often surprising to see what is best in it.

Marie Daulne's father was Belgin living in Zaire (now called DRC)and her mother African. He was killed by people who hated white people, a hatred understandable given the history of the place. She along with her mother and siblings escaped into the bush and finally immigrated to Belguim to unite with her father's family who didn't know they existed. Yet through this great trauma in childhood, Daulne looks at the beauty in the world. She points to it in places most never look. So it was exciting for me to discover that she'd lived for a while in Philadelphia to explore the sound of American popular music. Being of "a certain age" that she chose Philadelphia pleases me.

In the year of my birth James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son was published. An essay in the book, Stranger in the Village Baldwin observed:
This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.
What a difference that makes.

Monday, November 21, 2005

What I Want for My Birthday

Birthday presents: what I want for my birthday is a computer and printer for my friend Nathan in Iganga, Uganda.

In What are Bazungu Bucks? I alluded to how in contemplating my fiftieth birthday my attention turned to presents. And that my first thought was a computer for Nathan. In typical style, I piled it on, lengthening my list to include whatever you could think of doing to spend your time in service to African people.

I still believe that the gift of time is extraordinarily valuable for people living in poor parts of the world. I think giving our time is a little like giving a box of chocolates to your mother; you know she will share the gift with you, even let you choose your favorite. A gift of time is a gift that gives back. I'm not sure which is more important: what you will give or what you'll receive back. Nevertheless, I'm sure that sharing between people the world over is an appropriate response the awful challenges we people face, because indeed we all face these challenges together.

Getting down to brass tacks about presents for me, there are lots of presents I'd really like,but what would truly make me the happiest this time around is to do something significant for my friend Nathan.

Nathan is about twenty-five years old and a serious young man. He works at a computer center at the Iganga Secondary School, a high school for girls in Iganga, Uganda. The school is connected to the Internet through a very significant program called SchoolNetAfrica which received funding by the World Bank. Nathan was able to get his job because he received training in using Microsoft programs. In his position he has shown many others how to use computers; how to set up email accounts and the like. He also does such tasks as entering grades into spreadsheets and managing to keep the computers running smoothly. He studied a correspondence course in Computer Management and received his certificate.

Nathan an I have been able to correspond because of his position at the school. His job pays about $40 a month in addition to his room and board. Nathan is very interested in community development in his community, an interest he shared with his late brother John. Soon after Nathan and I began corresponding he formed a Yahoo! Group called Jinja Youth. The problem with a Yahoo! Group was that at the time there was no public Internet Cafe in Iganga, so the Internet group had limited usefulness as an organizing tool. However this Jinja Youth Group was instrumental in forming a community-based organization on the ground there called the Busoga Shining Light Association.

Nathan has been diligent about making the BSLA useful for development in his community. The organization has secured an office and a telephone. Soon after the group was formed they combined with a local adult literacy group. Numerous projects have been undertaken: tree planting, health education, a youth drama group, and the development of vegetable gardens in villages, and other projects.

Nathan has worked very hard to get financial support for the BSLA, which is a daunting task for any new organization. I have at least ten proposals for programs he has sent me over the last couple of years. Most of these haven't gone anywhere, but I want to point out the big investment of time each of these proposals represents.

A year ago Nathan began correspondence with AWISH. That NGO located in the U.S. had a project for the Iganga locale which was on hold. A member of AWISH, Paul Barkley, who had served several years in the area, had drawn up the proposal but funding for it had not been secured. In the meantime Paul studied for his CPA credentials and secured a position with a top ten accounting firm. Just about the time that Nathan contacted AWISH, Paul felt he was ready again to turn some of his attention back to Uganda.

In the spring Paul ventured to Uganda with his wife. They wanted to attend the wedding of a man who along with Paul during his Peace Corps service had started a market for corn trading in the region. Storage facilities, accurate market information and quality control enable small farmers whose production of corn is economically competitive with mechanized farms to receive fair market prices for their produce. Paul also met with Nathan.

Paul Barkley has most generously worked with Nathan and the BSLA to secure a little funding for a pilot program. This is an extremely important development because it will allow the BSLA to point to a proven track record for the management of a project and a proper accounting of funds. Such a track record should make securing funding for future projects easier. Earlier this month Mr. Barkley sent money for the implementation of a small-holder poultry project run by the BSLA.

For this I would give Mr. Paul Barkley three cheers, but wait there's more. Paul is very keen that the management of accounts for the corn store be computerized. He saw in Nathan with his experience using spreadsheets from the school that Nathan could play a role in increasing the success of the corn project. So he has been instructing Nathan on using QuickBooks accounting software. Also in preparation for BSLA poultry project, he patiently went step by step through the process of making a business plan using spreadsheet software. I'm afraid that numbers aren't my forte, but I'm know enough to know that Paul Barkley's teaching Nathan about modern computerized accountancy is a great gift.

For a long time I've wanted to get Nathan a computer. I've never had the money to do it, but it's something I've very seriously considered. I asked Nathan the open ended question if me and my friends could raise $500 to send to him to help what would he use it for. Nathan responded:

First of all my brain drove me to a computer which I have a long dreamed to get, because there is a lot of work I can do with it to generate income since it has became my profession.
• Printing course work for University students
• Typing, CD burning and selling
• Scanning
• Designing card e.g.; wedding cards, invitation, and Posters, etc.

A computer for Nathan as a business is not a “slam dunk” as former CIA Director Tenet was so fond of saying. There's so much s*$#! that can happen and s*$#! always does. Still, I've got a half-dozen or more ideas for what Nathan could accomplish with a computer. And most importantly, I'm sure that his having a computer will advance him professionally, becoming expert with QuickBooks alone is very valuable. Remember, that Nathan works a full-time job six days a week, so any work he does will be at night. Already he works with students at the local University to help with their papers, but now doesn't receive any money for that because they have to go elsewhere to pay to have the papers printed out.

Five hundred dollars is a lot of money and may not be enough to get a computer and printer for Nathan. Still it seems an achievable goal. Even if you can't spare any money towards this goal, you may have important information that can make the goal of getting a computer and printer to Nathan a reality. What do you know about computers and software? Who do you know that may know something important about this project? Any and all the attention you can pay to this goal will be a great gift to me.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Kenyan I-Pod via Pilgrimage to Self

Have I told you lately that I love you?

Bazungu Bucks are a half-baked idea, but the idea grows out of a very significant idea that one way or another we share, and that is the idea of communities of caring. Okay, maybe you don't call it that, but there is an idea we all share something like that. All of you, my friends: Have I told you lately that I love you? Bonds of affection need frequent minding and mending. In our busy lives it's so easy for me to be remiss.

I saw this wonderful picture posted at Black Looks a blog I really love. The author also runs Afrotecnik. She tells about herself: "An African fem living on the margins of Andalucia Spain." Somewhere along the line I had her name. I lost it and keep looking for it as if it's a prize. That's quite silly really because her blogs are what I know of her. And I know there is so much more to her that's really quite outside my community.

My screen name was chosen quickly and with frustration that all my previous choices were already taken. Some of you know me by my given name and that makes me happy. It also makes me happy to share the Kaunda part of myself; facets and flaws I suppose we're all like that.

Tracking back to A Pilgrimage to Self I was very excited by this post What I Know Now I Wish I Had. The idea is for a shared journal mailed among a community with each member filling a spread, an open two pages of the journal, and then sending it along.

I want to do this too. First of all it's a way for us to strengthen our bonds of community together. And Second of all it might be a way for us in our community to share ourselves with a community in far away Africa.

Another half-baked idea. I can see that some might like the first half, i.e.; sharing a portion of theirself among people they know, but not liking the second half, i.e.; sharing with people they don't know halfway around the world. That second part is hard; it's why it's so hard to think up ways to earn Bazungu Bucks.

I'm going to contact my friend Nathan and see if he might start a similar shared journal where he lives that would be shared with us here. I suspect that the same kinds of misgivings may arise there. But I also imagine that there is something very worthwile we can gain by sharing our communities of caring together.

I do not feel hopeless, but in so many ways I think we as people are screwed. Not very eloquent way of putting it, but how to express the knowledge that we're in a heap of trouble? I saw Kurt Vonegut on TV and his perscription was that people form little groups and love one another. He pointed out that one man and one woman plus 2.2 children is not a survival unit. Well, something like that. I don't know what a survival unit really is, but I feel sure that the "loving one another" part is essential.

Other links on my list: I've got quite a few on camels. I was interested in camel reproduction, in particular the challenges of artificial insemination. What I found out is there is plenty of information out there, free, but only if you're a veterinary health professional. It's just as well, because as it turns out artificial insemination for camels is a tough nut to crack. Nevertheless, if "news of the weird" is one of your guilty pleasures in Internet surfing, I do recommend the subject. Otherwise here is a page, All Camels for some fascinating information about camels.

One of the blogs I saw on Pittsburgh Bloggers was i hate the new yorker. I heart The New Yorker but this blog seems really cool. In this post the author introduces a new widget to the blog, library thing. I love widgets, but I suspect the blog author isn't a native Pittsburgher, else would have called it appropriately a "thingy."

In the most recent The New Yorker is a review of Flashman on the March. The review of George MacDonald Fraser's lastest in the line of The Flashman Papers is by John Updike. That Updike reviews is a little reassuring because Flashman is a guilty pleasure of mine, like camel porn. The latest installment finds Flashman on secret assignment in Abyssinia, what roughly is nowadays Ethiopia. I'll wait for this installment to come out in paperback.

Fraser's window into Empire and imperialism are quite accessible. Flashman reminds that if we're making history we're not making it all up. So many of the really crucial events in history are decided by things nobody ever pays attention to; like how a general got out of bed on the wrong side or digestive upset calling the day. But our baser humaness can also be quite tiresome. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan I was keen to read Flashman in the Great Game. I almost wished I hadn't by the time I finished; almost because as depressing a view of human nature Flashman reveals, his adventures are entertaining.

Ethiopia is in the news currently. The history of the place is so very interesting. I was unfamiliar with the military campaign there Flashman participated in. So I consulted my copy of The Penguin Atlas of African History by Colin McEvedy. McEvedy has a number of very useful atlases of history, they're all very handy and fairly inexpensive. They are wonderful references for putting historical events into some context. The maps are spare, but easy to understand, and McEvedy's writing is pithy.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Child Soldier Posted by Picasa

Children Soldiers

I would like to give you a message. Please do your best to tell the world what is happening to us, the children. So that other children don't have to pass through this violence.
A 15-year-old girl who escaped from the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

That quotation is taken from Amnesty International's page on child soldiers. And on that page is a photograph worth clicking the link to see: guns on the dirt and the backs of former child soldiers walking away from them.

In my ongoing education about blogging, I find myself once again posting a photo without credit. I'm not sure where I found this photo, not even sure where it was taken, and I'm still using it. In the world today there are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers, anonymous as the boy in the photo.

I was reminded of that picture, which I've had saved for a while when I read a post in Black Looks today. She offers a brief review of Uzodinma Iweala's Beast Of No Nation. Bloggers are so smart and she links to her source Moorish Girl:
The preteen protagonist is molded into a fighting man by his demented guerrilla leader and, after witnessing his father's savage slaying, by an inchoate need to belong to some kind of family, no matter how depraved. He becomes a killer, gripped by a muddled sense of revenge as he butchers a mother and daughter when his ragtag unit raids a defenseless village; starved for both food and affection, he is sodomized by his commandant and rewarded with extra food scraps and a dry place to sleep.
From the reviews it seems Uzodima Iwela writes wonderfully, but I'm not sure I can face reading his book.

Those of you who know me, know that my grasp of adulthood is tenuous at best. Still, if there is anything core to my being an adult, it is that we should act to protect and nurture children.

How important it is for people to belong, and children sometimes painfully remind us of this. Yesterday in an online forum a poster on the way to making a point about something else, related how his teenaged daughter was living on a half a tuna sandwich a day in an effort to look like the other girls in her cheerleading squad. As parents they told her she had big hips and those other girls when they are in their twenties will wish they had hips like hers. Another friend had recently told me a very similar story and the rather dramatic way her mother had told her essentially the same thing when she was a girl.

Seems like small potatoes compared to child soldiers, or to the children who migrate into Gulu and other towns in northern Uganda to escape abduction at the hands of Kony rebels. But people need to belong. And even the short review of Iwela's book probably would have put me in a funk the whole day long had I not read the post in All Africa (Self-Help) Bazaar today. The ways of providing a reasonable sense of belonging to children, even in the most dire circumstances is easily within our understanding.

Now, doing it is a harder matter. Education for children all over is so clearly needed and in this, people all over can assist. There are many implications to the demographics of rich countries and poor: too many old in rich countries and too many young in poor ones. Surely older people can act on behalf of the young and together all may benefit.

Phil at Blahsploitation alerted me to a post Charitable Computer Nerds Drawn to Africa. Here's the idea in a nutshell:
When an average person is charitably inclined, the objects of that charitable impulse are most likely to be local.

For American computer nerds, this relationship is reversed.

How to explain this difference? Perhaps the average person has a lot of emotional ties and uses these to guide his or her giving. Whereas the computer nerd has mostly been isolated from other humans in his or her community. When the time to do something charitable, he does a Web search for "unfortunate losers" and finds out that there are lots more in Africa than in Seattle or the Bay Area. If you have no personal connections and the people to be helped are mostly just statistics, it is just as satisfying to help people far away as geographically close. When the people far away are in worse shape than the people nearby, it becomes more satisfying to help them.
I'm not sure I buy the stereotype about computer nerds. But as people have reacted to the idea of Bazungu Bucks the importance of doing things locally has come up over and again.

Does my work a hospice count? Does my development of diversity traning for school teachers count? I'm trying to keep up on African news to earn Bazungu Bucks. Oh, and lots more. As I've said I'm the Bazungu Buck banker and can pretty much decide when to give them out. And I'm not giving them out nearly fast enough for my liking! The bridge between local and far away Africa isn't so easy to build. Bless you all for asking me these sorts of questions. Go ahead and hit me up for some Bazungu Bucks, at least I can see some utility in having them floating around out there. It does seem true to me that communities of belonging are the what we need to begin to address complex problems.

My friend Peter sent me an email with information about a planned protest in Washington D.C. on Monday:
Join us express our support for Dr. Besigye and demand for his immediate unconditional release. We have secured permission from the US authorities to stage a peaceful protest on Monday November 21, 2005 in Washington DC starting at 9:00am Eastern Standard Time at the locations of State Department corner of 23rd and C Street. This is a peaceful protest and please invite all Ugandans, your friends and supporters of freedom and democracy to join us at this important event.
I won't be able to attend, but if you are, please contact me, as I may be able to connect you with others from the area who will be there. The Forum for Democratic Change Web site provides some good coverage about the situation in Uganda.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Uganda pepsi fruit shop

Uganda pepsi fruit shop
Originally uploaded by iicdpics.

This Modern World

A friend writes:
I think your blog would be more attractive and
interesting if you have more time to have a good
That's probably true, but doesn't seem to be the blogging way. I'm just feeling my way about blogging and am looking forward to the days where many of you too are blogging. It's so easy nowadays.

Yesterday I discovered a list of Pittsburgh blogs. They have a fancy little button--chicklet--I want for this blog. It may be that I have to be an approved Pittsburgh blog before I can add it, or it may be I'm just being dense about how to add the thingy. All that button would do is to take you to the site anyway, which the link above will do very nicely. There are over 300 blogs there, so chances are you know some of these people.

I've mentioned Bloglines before, and there is a button for it on the sidebar. Reading blogs with that reader is a real timesaver. It's easy to subscribe to feeds with it. So you can subscribe to blogs you think might be interesting and see what happens there over a few days or a week to see whether you want to keep reading it. Nobody is going to be interested in 300 Pittsburgh blogs, but chances are there are a handful that will interest you.

The matter of feeds sounds confusing. It is confusing to me, especially about the feed for this blog. Something is funky. I don't know why the body of the post gets so mangled and my attempts to figure it out have led me smack in the face of my own ignorance.

I had been posting photos using Hello a picture sharing site. Last night their server seemed to be down so I used the photo software right in Blogger. That was easy. Tonight I went over to flickr the premire photo-sharing site. I had searched through photos there before, but hadn't signed up. Tonight I did and discovered that it's Yahoo so all my Yahoo ID stuff worked. That great photo is from flickr. There are something like 80 million pictures there, most public and searchable. With a click of the mouse I sent that photo right over here. That's very cool, don't ya know.

Looking over my list of links for tonight, I see there's little cohesion between them. I'm still so worried about the situation in Uganda. My friend Micheal in Kampala said there were people disappearing at the hands of "Mafia bands" something I also saw reference to in news reports. All that's pretty heavy and I want to follow the situation more closely. I've no love for Museveni, but I don't wish to see Uganda in flames. I noticed through the miricle of the Internet that Global Voices, see the button on the sidebar, linked to my post on Besingye's arrest. Obviously my take on things, that is the connection between ultra-conservative Christians to the Museveni regime, is a little idiosycratic. The snippet Global Links used was comment my Ugandan friend here made.

So to wrap up a post which most certainly be more attractive and interesting with more preparation, I'll just add a couple of links: First from Blahsploitation a link to a blog One Red Paperclip where the blogger chronicles trades beginning with a red paperclip with hope of eventually trading for a house. Second an oldie but goodie post by Majikthise. Most of the blogs that I claim to read are by men, that is not to say most blogs are by men. But the real reason for the link is the subject of the post is Tai Solarin, a beautiful Nigerian Hummanist who's passed on now, but worth knowing about.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This Corn Not For Eating

Some of you may know that in the past I've written about gardening as the Incompetent Gardener and thinking up posts for Bazungu Bucks doesn't seem much different. It's difficult to have a coherent thought when thoughts seem to circle rather wildly. I'm just good that way: the incompentent blogger.

Today's post was inspired by a Letter to the Editor in yesterday's Post-Gazette by The Honorable Maurice B. Cohill of the U.S. District Court, Africans starve, while Iowa cornfields overflow. In the letter Judge Cohill remarks that he's been to Malawi because of an affiliation between his local church and a church in Malawi. He expresses his distress and sympathy for the people suffering there, a result of drought and the failure of the corn crop.

Judge Cohill references this article dateline Chikwawa, Malawi and presents the cognitive dissonace he felt in seeing a picture of "a mountain of corn stored outdoors in an empty lot in Manchester, Iowa."

Rather off the subject of corn, that last link is to The New York Times. Times articles are not available on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online Editon. The Times conviently makes the picture of the "mountain" of corn an easy to copy JPEG. But copying it would be wrong! Well, at least that's an issue that blogging is bringing to my attention. The picture I'm using is just as illegal, I suppose. It's a USDA photo and the caption on the Web page was "This corn not for eating."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation
is running a campaign now to protect bloggers rights. MyDD has a good post about some of the issues at stake and how too many Democrats are on the wrong side of the issue. My ideas about intellectual property rights are being changed by blogging, and I'm afraid my thinking about them isn't up to date. Clearly my preference is for a liberal interpretation of fair use.

Judge Cohill asks: "Why can't we get that corn to Malawi and elsewhere in southern Africa?" At least part of the answer is right in the article he references: the corn is stacking up because the shipping routes along the Mississippi River are disrupted by Hurricane Katrina. In a larger view famine is often the result of inadequate distribution rather than food shortages per se.

Rodale's Save Three Lives looks critically at Africa's dependence on corn. He observes that most parts of Africa so dependant on corn are too dry for the crop. But it's not easy to stop doing what you're accustomed to doing, as the newspaper article from Malawi notes:
In a recent episode of the radio soap opera "Zima Chitika," which translates as "So it Happens," a character asks his wife to cook dinner. Although their village home is stocked with sweet potatoes and vegetable gravy, she issues a testy rebuke. "We won't eat tonight. We have no nsima."

Then a wise village grandmother intercedes. "We can eat whatever is available, there is no need to have just maize!"
This dependence on doing what we're used to doing is not just a problem for Africans.

That "mountain" of corn maybe destined to be made into ethanol. Many people here imagine that alcohol will take the place of gasoline as our primary transportation fuel. It's not so simple, because it takes an awful lot of petroleum to raise a bushel of corn. But it's quite comforting to imagine that technology will find a way for us to keep doing what we're accustomed to doing; although most widely adopted new technologies are praised as "disruptive."

Wes Jackson has spent his career trying to envision and implement a vision of sustainable agriculture. The Mission of The Land Institute takes a view of agriculture that is unfamiliar to our ususal way of thinking:
Mission Statement

When people, land, and community are as one,
all three members prosper;
when they relate not as members
but as competing interests,
all three are exploited.
By consulting Nature as the source
and measure of that membership,
The Land Institute seeks to develop an agriculture
that will save soil from being lost or poisoned
while promoting a community life at once
prosperous and enduring.

A few posts back I listed some of the blogs that I read. It was a short list, probably a little embarassed to acknowlege the full scope of my blog addiction. One of the blogs I didn't mention is Ed Kilgore's New Donkey. He's of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization that left-leaning Democrats love to hate. I don't really have an opinion about the DLC, but I like Kilgore. A lot of liking him has to do with loving southern liberals, and Kilgore is a good example of that species. Earlier in the week he did a post reviewing two recent books on Africa, Africa: Politics and Despair. Kilgore links to a recent review in The Nation that references Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa: From The Hopes of Freedom to The Heart of Despair. Thank goodness for reviews.

I've been reading George Ayittey's Africa In Chaos and although I'm very recpetive to the ideas in it, it's hard going. My shorter Ayittey--admittedly incomplete as I'm only a third into it--is that traditional African values correspond with classical western liberalism and the roots for a functional civil society in African countries can be planted in African soil. Rather less despair than Meredith and rather more African-centric than Jeffery Sach's The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Ourtime also reviewed in The Nation piece.

Politics is very important, but it's not the viewpoint I generally begin with. I was happy to see Judge Cohill's letter in the P-G. But even with compassion his approach seems very much in the vein: "we're a great country and should help lesser countries." Ed Kilgore writes about American politics; his blog piece resulted from research for an article he's working on for Blueprint Magazine. Kilgore knows that U.S. involvement in Africa is often motivated by reasons far from altruism. Politics is his beat and politics is important.

Wes Jackson is native to his Kansas plain, but the wisdom in becoming native to our place has much to say about the dire situation across much of the African continent. The wisdom of the village grandmother, "We can eat whatever is available, there is no need to have just maize!" is profound. Mountains of corn in Iowa aren't a permanent solution for African famine. Distribution problems make them an unlikely short-term solution as well. An African solution may mean less dependence on the corn they're so used to eating.

We in the West also face the prospect of learning ways we're not used to in order to survive and prosper. The specifics of our predicaments differ, but it seems in recognizing we face a predicament too, that we may make our exchanges with African people more honest, more human, more productive.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dr. Kizza Besigye Posted by Picasa

Ugandan Opposition Leader Jailed

Dr. Kizza Besigye pictured here with his wife Winne Byanyima is a political leader and president of the Forum for Democratic Change in Uganda. Without going into details he was arrested this week on charges of treason and rape. His arrest sparked rioting in Kampala.

Many of you know that I have friends in Uganda, so this news is important to me. But for so many reasons I'm relucant to blog about stories like this. For one reason my interest is for more people outside Africa to consider what they can do, and it seems that there is wisdom in in Robert Rodale's approach to focus on local empowerment: to Save Three Lives. I also find solution-oriented information a whole lot more interesting. I tend to like people, so stories of ordinary people doing good, or at least the best they can, fits my positive imagination of African people. I'm also hardly informed enough to really follow politics abroad.

Still, this news of Besigye's arrest is very worrisome to me. The more eyes on the situation the better.

One of the great features of the Internet is hypertext, the ability to put links right into documents. I spend far too much time going clickety-clickety visiting pages as I think up further inquiries. So part of doing this blog is collecting a list of links for the post. But how the links on my list are related is somewhat convoluted, and that's sure true with the list I have for this post.

A Ugandan friend in Pittsburgh wrote to me last night in re the Besigye arrest story:
Museveni is desperate and drunk with power. He is ready to kill or get killed in order to remain in power. He is also closing the Monitor newspaper again! People used to think that people like me who always say Museveni is a tyrant that i was crazy or didn't know what I was talking about. That guy is a sad story -- he kills and has killed many. Watch for worse news coming from UGANDA.
Museveni is the president of Uganda and has often been a darling of the West, even among left-leaning observers. I never thought my friend crazy, but certainly took his dire warnings about Museveni with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the more I learned about Museveni, the more I came to see my friend was right--little wonder.

What really cinched my negative view of Museveni is a bit idiosycratic. In April of this year many Western governments were agressively encouraging Museveni not to run again. Museveni's presidential term is limited by the constitution and his running again has entailed some fancy political footwork. So in April Senator James Inhofe visited Uganda and gave Museveni money for Uganda's intelligence network. You may remember Inhofe's "outrage over the outrage" concerning U.S. torture of detainees. In any case, I had that in mind when I read about this transfer of money.

Going off on a tangent, I looked for the news report I had read and found that was behind the subscription wall at All Africa, a Web site that aggregates African news sources. All Africa is very useful for current news stories and if I weren't so cheap (poor) I'd subscribe for the archives. Anyway in the search I saw that my comments in an online forum were on the first Google page. So if Senator Inhofe is interested, I guess he knows, I don't like him very much.

Molly Ivins is a wonderful political writer. Something that I like is once she's found a good line she's unembarassed about copying it into various pieces she does. I've read this one about the Midland Petroleum Club in several of her pieces:
You can have dinner at the Petroleum Club anytime with a bunch of them and you'll come away saying, "Damn, those are nice people. Sure glad they don't run the world."
I lifted that from a Mother Jones article The Uncompassionate Conservative.

So yeah, I like people, but some very nice people really do give me the creeps. It goes back to growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, home of Bob Jones University, during the mid-1960's. Then by way of Charlotte, North Carolina, where I had embraced Jesus Freakdom, we moved to Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The result is that as a teen I got a taste for the conservative Chrisitian network(s). In the South, I had little conception or care about the links to politcal power and money interests, but in Mount Lebanon these links were very apparent even to a naive kid. My take on Molly Ivin's line is: "Damn these people run the world!"

It's easy with all the pages on the Internet to read lots of conspiracy theories, and even to become a conspiracy theorist your own self. It's a little comforting for me to remember just how incompetent I am at most things and I don't think I'm unusual. Most conspiracies assume a kind of "togetherness" among all the operators my own incompentence suggests is impossible. But John Kennedy Toole provides a useful model for understanding consipracy in A Confederacy of Dunces. If you haven't read the novel yet, please do, if for no other reason than to know what it means to miss New Orleans.

Oh heavens! I know that I've just about reached the maximum number of words even the most ardent reader will allow, and still haven't gottent to the point of this post: why Senator Inhofe's April meeting with Museveni cinched my overwhelmingly negative impression of him. And darn it, it all has to do with those nice people Molly Ivins talks about. So if you are intrepid, here are some links to pursue.

Inhofe and Museveni are good friends brought together by a very influential Christian group you may never have heard of called The Family. Jeffery Sharlet of Killing the Buddah fame did a great piece in Harpers awile back, Jesus Plus Nothing. If that gets your interest you might also be interested in this interview with Sharlet.

The Family and all those prayer breakfasts we are always hearing about bring together Inhofe and Museveni, but there are many local Pittsburgh links too. One of the interesting links is World Vision. Christian charities do very good work and I'm not trying to discredit this organization or their good work, rather to point out how connected the world of Bible quoting politicians is.

John W. Hinkley was the CEO of World Vision. You may remember there was a sad incident involving his son and a former president. It's always surprised me that the senior Hinkley's close connections to the former president Bush were not brought to light more during the news around the attempted assasination of president Reagan. In any case World Vison and the nexus of Pittsburgh conservative politics go way back. More here if you're intersted.

James Carroll writing in Time (April 11, 2005) about Pope John Paul II offers insight as to how pious Christians, Senator Inhofe and President Museveni countenance torture. Carroll's piece referred to the Second Vatican Council issuance of “Digitatis Humanae,” “commonly referred to as a declaration on religious liberty.” He wrote, “[W]hat made this document revolutionary was its total renunciation of the use of coercion in defense of the truth.”

Carroll hit on a reason why I so often find such very nice Christian people so creepy. It's the willingness to countenace unspeakable acts with a smile and smug piety.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Whole Earth Epilog Posted by Picasa

Whole Earth

Doing a blog is fun and I'm looking forward to reading more blogs by people I know. The regularity of output is something I admire. I suspect there is some sort of rhthym involved that I haven't yet discovered. What to write is still something of a mystery to me.

For some reason the image "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." came to mind, probably in the fog of just waking up. I knew that the photograph was on the back cover of the 1974 Whole Earth Epilog, but not a clue as to why I would think of it, or even what it's supposed to mean. I dug deep into the recesses of my closet to find the box where my yellowed copy of the Whole Earth Epilog was stashed.

I loved the Whole Earth Catalogs and the Epilog too. Stewart Brand is an important intellectual. His book How Buildings Learn: What happens after they're built is really fascinating. It has some of the same appeal of The Whole Earth of engaging readers in subject they didn't know they were interested in yet.

It's a serious book about architecture. When Brand asked permission to use a 1797 sketch by Benjamin Latrobe of Washington's Mount Vernon Piazza, the curator of Mount Vernon refused, deciding that his book was an inappropriate place for it. Such is the taint of the counter-culture. I suspect that a perk of getting old is the notion that somehow just in age we might gain at least a little respectability. In some strange way, the "no" answer is reassuring. Digby points to some who are saying the current polarization of politics goes right back to the old fights of the sixties and seventies; man that seems like it's getting old.

Brand writes at the beginning of the Epilog:
Where the insights of Buckminster Fuller initiated the Whole Earth Catalog, Gregory Bateson's insights lurk behind most of what's going on in this Epilog.
Brand became convinced that much more of wholes systems could be understood than he previously thought. The contents of theEpilog are both very dated and thourghly modern.

Something that dates the whole thing are the prices of the books. The Epilog costed four bucks and as I remember the Catalog costed seven. In 1974 the cost of a paperback was less than two bucks. And there are some books in it that I still want. A wonderful resource is Advanced Book Exchange , a searchable database of books available for sale by independent book sellers. One of the books I searched was Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! by Edmund Carpenter. I was pleased to discover that today's price via a bookseller linked to ABE is only a nickle more than what I'd have to pay in 1974.

If you remember, one of the great aspects of the Whole Earth approach to book reviews were a few sentences and then a few snippets from the books themselves. Here's the snip from Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! that makes me want to read it still:
We assume the role of our costumes, our information. The public figure's image, detatched from his body by electricity, is transfered to ours. His spirit enters us, pocesses us, displacing our private spirit. We wear his image, play his role, assume his identity. When Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, the stock market fell. On Moratorium Day in Washington, April 1971, tens of thousands of marchers clothed in collective guilt, wore Lieutenant Calley masks.

In the prelitterate world, spirit possession is thought to occur rarely, under circumstances fraught with mystery & danger. With us, it occurs daily, without wonder, free from examination.
The quote from the book is split by a photograph of two of the marchers looking like twin Calley's.

I wonder if there's a place for a new Whole Earth Catalog or whether the Internet makes it passe? Big books have a great appeal. I was at a friend's house last night and she showed me the old Atlas she used as a kid. The maps representing colonial Africa were informative. But what impressed me most were the pages of corrected homework and the hand-drawn maps she'd crafted as a child. I got the impression that big Atlas held sway as much as the oldtime Sears catalogs with their extensive pages of brassieres had held so much of my attention as a kid.

No, no it wasn't just those pages. It was the window into worlds that I didn't fully understand: guns, tools, and elastic undergarments. The same jumble is a big part of what made the Whole Earth Catalog so engaging. That's a big part of what makes the Internet so engaging for me too.

The best advice about blogging is to stick to a single subject. In this case it's service to Africans. But what the heck, I've collected a few links in anticipation of this post, and I think I'll tack them on.

The Epilog reminded me of Kenneth Boulding. The photograph of him of that page makes me think that old people can look good, and encourages me that others might appreciate my graying looks. Opps, the photo is at this link. What I was happy to discover by searching for Kenneth Boulding was that he was married to a very remarkable Elise Boulding. They were peace-builders together.

Using Global Voices to find "bridge" bloggers, that is, bloggers whose intended audience expands beyond the blogger's national borders, is quite fun. Global Voices has an aggregator that will be familiar to everyone who's subcribed to Bloglines feeds, with folders of various countries. In the Vietnam folder are several that seem mostly to do with cuisine, probably because it's still best to avoid overtly political topics in Vietnam. Check out Vietnamese God if you're bored or curious. The author is Vietnamese and his handle, God Knows, is sweet.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hippo Roller Posted by Picasa


This blog is surely a vanity project, and blogging has been more gratifying to me than I imagined. It's great to hear from you all, both here in the comments and via email.

Today I got this:
I've read your's
not very interesting for me, indeed, but the picture
is, you're wearing a wig, right?
Yes, I'm wearing a wig.

Why I should be happy about knowing the blog isn't very interesting is beyond me. Interest is sometimes inscrutable. And just how you're supposed to earn Bazungu Bucks seems something lots of you have been scratching your heads about. The main way is through sharing.

A friend mentioned to me yesterday that the way she was trying to earn Bazungu Bucks was by paying attention to African news. That's a great way to earn bucks! What came through in the conversation is how hard it is to get a handle on the news. Africa is a big continent and lot's going on. I learned quite a lot just by our brief conversation and I look forward to more conversations.

I've not been very good about adding links to the sidebar. There are many sources on the Web for African news and news about development in Africa. Someday soon I'll add some. Today I added two new links in the Blogroll. The first is Hactivate and that's where I found out about Hippo Roller. The second is Timbuktu Chronicles which I just discovered and am so excited about. Just from intellectual curiosity the technologies and social networks involved for development are fun to read about. Tumbuktu Chronicles rocks!

Water is essential for life. From a natural history stand point human dependence on water is an inescapable reality that will shape and has always shaped our history. Guns, Germs, Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond is a wonderfully entertaining read and places our being as human beings in natural history. Water technologies are so crucial and Hippo Rollers a very important new technology.

Going to the Hippo Roller Web site is worthwhile. A couple of pages seemed particularly interesting to me. The first is the Franchise page. The point is that shipping buckets of full of air is too expensive, so regional manufactoring of Hippo Rollers is required to make them economically viable. A Franchise costs $100,000. That's out of my price range, but I hope not out of the range of some. This method of water conveyance is a big deal. The second page answers the question what happens if a person rolls over a landmine with a Hippo Roller. The good news is the person pushing it would probably survive, the bad news is that landmines are such a factor they would need to address it.

Our imaginations are our under-exploited resource. Still, they're not so hard to spark. Keep the ideas coming and keep sharing your ideas. I'm sure we'll all be the winners when our imaginations are flowing.