Something Else to Do in the Evenving
I enjoy Instant Messaging and had my Yahoo Messenger open last night because I thought I might hear from my friend Micheal in Kampala. But another friend of mine was online. He's a Vietnamese college student and over the last couple of years we chat sometimes. It's quite fun conversing with someone learning English as a second language because it turns attention to interesting things about language we just take for granted. My friend opened the conversation with the standard, "How are you?" and I told him that I hadn't posted to my blog yet. He replied: "something takes place wanking everynight." Whether he knows it or not he's got his finger on what lots of people think about blogs.
He made me laugh. I'm not sure where he was coming from, but he proceeded to ask me if wanking, jerk off, and masturbation where all the same thing. With the answer, "Yes" he asked why we have so many words for such a private thing.
At school one of the projects that really interests him is television production. The last we'd talked he said that one of the programs they produce involves bringing in foreigners living in Vietnam to tell about their home countries. And he wanted me to fill him in on unusual customs and holidays where I live. I told him about the great white people's holiday of the opening day of deer season. He thinks deer are too cute to kill.
I also told him about blogs and even gave him a link to Vietnamese God a blog in English written by a Vietnamese in his own city of Hanoi. It seems wherever he was using the computer had blocked the Blogger site. Blogs give the authorities the creeps, here and abroad. With one breathe blogs are equated with mental masturbation, and the next breathe is a gasp of horror about what people might say if given a chance. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a program to protect Blogger's Rights which I think is a very good thing.
I've been ecouraging both Nathan and Micheal in Uganda to look into blogs. They're both interested in different things, but I can think of many ways that blogs could be very useful to advancing their goals towards improving their communities. At the same time I hunt around for Ugandan blogs and from that limited sampling I can see why governments would want to restrict blogs. Even in America blogs raise the hackles of the powerful and the right of free expression has surprisingly soft support of the populace. Free speech is one of most valuable tools for restraining tyranny. Defending our freedom here and now encourages freedom everywhere.
The picture is of a demostration of a computer for the developing world called the Solo Transportable Computer I saw reported at Timbuktu Chronicles. Nathan is particularly eager to find ways of making the promise of ICT for improving development in his country real. So I'm always interested in reports of people doing it, because the challenges are quite daunting. This computer is made to withstand the rigors of heat, dust, and intermittant electricity. It can be powered by a car battery or solar panel. Unfortunately, it won't do lots of things we take for granted that our computers will do. The subject of computers in the developing world is one I'll return to because there's so much of interest going on in development.
But today I want to say I like the picture very much. Check out the kid in the green, orange and yellow argyle sweater. Can't you see me wearing that? I love the houses too. Even before I developed much of an interest in Africa, I always found pictures of the houses there very appealing. Nathan once sent me a picture of a house plan he admired, it was disappointing because it had none of the appeal more traditional housing has for me. Architecture is a complicated subject. Here's a link to A Pattern Language a Web site that's a portal to the innovative work of Christopher Alexander.
Look at the children in the photograph. Advertisers know that if they want to sell something it's a good bet to put kids or dogs in the ad. I'm such a sucker for that trick. I love gardening, photographs about gardens that include children convey something about what it feels like to be in the garden. Children also make it easy to feel passionately about the developing world; there are so many children in the developing world who could benefit from our nurturing attention.
Tyler Cowen has an interesting post How to choose a charity. I appreciated two points very much:
3. Hardly anyone gives enough to charity and you won't either. Pick a cause or causes you will become addicted to. Tell others you won't back down from your cause, so that you will lose face if you do.The point about being passionate is so right on. And I'm happy to see a hard-nosed economist champion the idea of money transfers directly to real people.
4. My preferred approach is pure cash transfers to rural Mexicans, vis-a-vis Western Union. You don't get the tax break but administrative expenses are very low. Think of Western Union as a for-profit charity.
One of the points so powerful in Rodale's "Save Three Lives" is to imagine doing something achievable; not to save the world, rather to save three lives. There is so much more we can offer than just money when we make our efforts personal. This is one reason for thinking that blogs can have an important role to play in African development. Blogs make it possible for some people in the developing world to describe their challenges, get advice and assistence, and for donors to follow the progress all along. Kiva is on to something very good in including blogging in what they do. I'd like to see this further developed, because many of us have more time than money to devote. And the importance of dialog is that both parties are on the receiving end of things. Charity then is no longer a one way street; can teach and learn, give and recieve.