Friday, December 22, 2006

Five Strange Things

I can't seem to escape this meme of five strange things about me. White African tagged me. People are strange and I suspect I've got "strange" in spades, but for some reason am at a loss to figure out how to play this game.

Yesterday was my fifty-first birthday and a good friend was nice enough to have me and my father over for dinner with some friends. I was pleased to take some of my new hat designs to show them around.

Readers of this blog may recall that I think party hats are a good way to raise money. In my experiments with this hypothesis, the data just don't support it. Still I persist. Paper hats have a good thing going for them, they are very cheap to make and they seem to have some value.

In October I followed a proposal making process at where the Omidyar Foundation was making money available for five proposals generated by member-teams at The proposals were selected for funding by votes from members. I was particularly interested in the WDI--Attacking Water Borne Diarrheal Illnesses proposal. And it was a shock when the WDI proposal wasn't selected for funding. Of course all of the proposals were great, because in each target area the Omidyar member groups vetted and then selected non-profits in the field doing good work. The Omidyar Foundation was so impressed with the quality of the proposals that they have offered to match dollar for dollar donations to the organizations up to $12,500--that's up to $2500 for each of the five organizations identified in each of the target area proposals.

So out came my hats and my perseverating notion that paper party hats are a good way to raise money and awareness about good projects. Hats for Health is a little known and strange result. In the picture you can see a friend wearing one of my newspaper hats.

Okay, so having grandiose ideas that thousands of people will take up making paper party hats to raise money to combat water-borne diarrheal illness is just one strange fact about me.

In my last post, I complained that I had missed the point and started writing my mini-biography around five facts about me. Thinking the better of it I deleted most of the verbiage and simply listed the five things:
1. I'm a Southerner.
2. I used to be a charismatic Christian.
3. I flunked out of university.
4. I love Trudy.
5. I'm a mama's boy.
For today's post I'll copy in what I wrote for numbers 1-3. Surely there are more than five strange things about me in all of it.

I talk too much. If there are little-know facts about me they're probably little-known because I wore out people from talking too much.

1. I'm Southern. I was born in the mountains of Virginia. My parents were both born in Massachusetts and I was the only one of five children born below the Mason Dixon Line. As it turns out I don't think that's really a fact as three of the kids were born in Cumberland, Maryland but some arcane dispute was conjured up to suggest that the hospital where they were born was actually north of the Mason Dixon Line. There was no disputing that Virgina is most decidedly South, so I was often called their "Rebel child." Readers outside the USA might wonder why a line that established boundaries would be so important. I wondered the same all my life and it's drawn my attention to the ethos of America North and South.

2. I used to be a charismatic Christian. In 1964 our family moved to Greenville, South Carolina from Cumberland, Maryland. I was in fourth-grade. First thing, I got beat up for being a damnyankee. This Southern stuff was hard to figure. And you might note that 1964 places me in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. We moved there just before the signing of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. What it meant to be a Southerner was something I wanted to understand very much. A Change Is Gonna Come is a big part of what it means to me. Religiosity is another part of it. I went to an Episcopal school, Christ Church in Greenville. Religious education was one of the few subjects where I excelled.

Then for my ninth and tenth grades in school we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I attended public schools. Just in time for perhaps the most contentious school desegregation plan in the country. We moved in the summer of 1968. For the 1969-1970 school year Charlotte schools were under the new school busing orders and there were protests and security at my first year in senior high. Those years were also years of drugs and rock music. I had received a bit of marijuana, some bright pink rolling papers and a couple of hits of blotter LSD in the school cafeteria. On the bus I rode was a long-haired hippie, a Jesus Freak. The day I got my stash I sat next to him. Part of my being so receptive to his pitch was I was looking for a reason not to play with drugs.

I started going to religious services on Wednesday nights. They were far different from my relatively high-Church Episcopal background with frenzied prayers, fervent singing and speaking in tongues. In addition the meetings kept me out far too late on a school night.

3. I flunked out of college. We moved from Charlotte to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1970. We lived in the suburbs but could take the trolley into the city. It was wonderful for me and my brother to be able to enjoy the cultural institutions of an urban environment. In high school I continued carry my black Bible but my Humanities course introduced me to Western civilization, art, music and philosophy. And for whatever reasons I was able to read fiction really for the first time. I'm not sure but it was like a switch that got turned on; whereas before I had a hard time ever finishing a book I just couldn't seem to get enough. But when it came time to choose a college, I hadn't a clue. I was accepted at the University of Pittsburgh and began attending.

I was a poor student. I had a hard time concentrating. My religious devotion had taken a detour during my final two years of high school. There was nothing like the charismatic Full Gospel group like what I had been into in Charlotte. Plenty of very conservative Christian youth groups were around. And from participation in those groups I got an exposure to a more systematic theology. Pittsburgh was a much more culturally diverse setting too from my Southern background. I took Philosophy courses at attending Pitt. So towards the end of my first semester I had a "crisis of faith" and put my religious certainty in abeyance. Being easily distracted might not have been enough to make me fail in college, but by the second semester of my sophomore year I discovered "partying" and that was the death knell for my academic career.

I was, however very earnestly looking for answers. Five books I discovered in college were especially important to me in finding approaches to answers which made sense to me:

Values and Teaching by Louis E. Raths. This 1965 book is still available but isn't in print. The seven criteria of a value helped me to understand a process for valuing.

Steps to an ecology of Mind
by Gregory Bateson.

Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek.

The Oregon Experiment by Christopher Alexander, et al. I eagerly read other books by Alexander, but this was my first and it had a big impact on my thinking about how democracy could function and why democracy so often falls short as a result of structural assumptions.

The Whole Earth Epilog. I didn't find out about Bateson from the Whole Earth Epilog, nor really about Christopher Alexander but the Epilog helped me to make connections with other fields of study and cultural trends.

There were so many books, but these five were especially influential in finding a way to think about things. Very early on in my freshman year I read Chance and Necessity. I did so because a very conservative Christian author, Francis Shaffer railed against Monad's atheism. I suspect reading the book was a symptom and not a cause of my "crisis of faith." In a conservative Christian view the world was made by God. Shaffer wasn't having any part of Monad's evolutionary perspective where chance plays a crucial part. Reading Monad's book drew my attention to many areas where I was finding my narrow view of Christianity in conflict with the way things really are. Perhaps "context" is a common thread my pick of the five most important books for me in college and with that a change from imaging a universe created to imagine a universe in creation.

I truly doubt I know anyone, much less five bloggers, to take up this meme. Last post I did list five. For the heck of it I'll add Potash just because I think he could do something funny with this meme. I'll even write to him so he'll know he's been tagged. Let Them Talk is great new video blog featuring one of my best friends, Miss Joan Marie Moossy.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 15, 2006


Photo: Ajab's hard work by Ajab

I'm the sort of person who breaks chain letter chains with glee. Blog-tag seems something akin to chain letters. Having said that I was happily reading a post at Beth's Blog participating in this meme:
Publish five little known facts about yourself, and then tag five of your blogger pals to participate.
One of the delightful parts of reading blogs is finding out about people's lives. Young and old alike we're all trying to grapple with the permanent record our Web tracks leave. This piece about data mining and the WOT got me thinking about how tricky it is to make meaning out of lots of data. When bloggers write about things like being kept awake all night by a baby with an ear ache I suppose that doesn't really tell me much about them. But I find it so very meaningful simply to know they're real people like me. Oh, and I like gossip. So I was "happy as a clam at high tide" reading five little-known things about Beth Kanter until at the end of the post I saw my name, John Powers. My face turned beet red and I went directly to bed.

This doesn't count as one of my five things, but I discovered today that cabbage patches make me happy. Nathan sent a group of pictures from a program the BSLA is working on to help improve the incomes of widows caring for dependent children orphaned as a result of AIDS. The BSLA is providing training and inputs like improved seed varieties and fertilizer so the women can get more money from their gardens. One of the BSLA members, Ajab took the pictures and also included a few pictures of his cabbage patch. Seeing such a well-tended garden just made me feel good. I hope today's picture makes you feel good too.

I talk too much. If there are little-know facts about me they're probably little-known because I wore out people from talking too much. Good grief! Days after I started this post, that bit about talking too much has become absurdly obvious. I picked five "facts" about me and tried create a relevant narrative around them. The result was a mini-biography. I just deleted all of that.

Back to the drawing board. Already I've posted two little known facts: 1. Cabbage patches make me happy. 2. My name is John Powers.

On the latter many people have questioned what in the world I was thinking when I chose "Kaunda" as a screen-name. It was an accident. I had thought to post as Muzungu but someone is already blogging under that name at Blogger. I don't remember my second and third choices, but do remember scrambling to think of a name. At the time I was very hopeful that Yoweri Museveni would step down at the end of his constitutional limited term as president of Uganda. I saw a piece where Kenneth Kaunda urged Museveni to step down. Julius Nyerere had once given Kaunda similar advice. However much Nyerere's advice played into it, Kaunda did resign. So yes, in a way I was thinking of Kenneth Kaunda, but mostly was just looking for a name that hadn't been chosen yet.

Here are the five "facts" I chose and ended up bloviating about so much that it bored even me:

1. I'm a Southerner.
2. I used to be a charismatic Christian.
3. I flunked out of university.
4. I love Trudy.
5. I'm a mama's boy.

Someway I'm going to have to find a way to provide some context for those facts, but right now I don't have a clue how to do it.

As far as someone actually playing tag with me, I'm dubious; I don't really have any blogger pals. I'll just list five blogs I read and would be interested to know more about the bloggers behind them.

I'll tag:

1. Drima
2. Afromusing.
3. Steve Buchele.
4. Fola.
5. Who is Vasslesssmudge?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Imagining Ourselves

There are lots of cool Flickr Toys and by way of Beth's Blog, a truly indispensable resource about non-profit technology, education technology, ICT in the developing world, creativity and much more, I learned about the newest toy: the Warholizer. It's fun to make pictures with the Warholizer, but some pictures are better than others.

The one I've chosen is perhaps one of the worst. Last autumn just before Halloween a friend, who always looks great in costumes, spied an Afro wig at the drug store. She wondered who would be fool enough to wear one, and so that's how I ended up with an Afro wig. Even at the time I knew it was a rather dangerous gift, but I immediately put it on and spent the evening picking it out with my fingers so it was really big. Now of course I have this really big wig that sits atop a pie safe in my little room with the rest of my hats.

It's easy to imagine me in melt-down mode, but I can't imagine myself following into Michael Richard's racial tirade. But then again I've got pictures of myself wearing an Afro wig. In a discussion forum a person of color asked: "What's with white people dressing as a person of color for Halloween?" It was a thought provoking question and discussion for me. The portrayal and amplification of stereotypes has pernicious effects. And white people like me can be unbelievably oblivious about racial stereotypes. A visit to The Jim Crow Museum can be rather startling. But perhaps even more unsettling is how familiar so many of the images are.

After playing around with the Warholizer I went to Yahoo to play around with my avatar. I guess I didn't play with paper dolls enough as a kid, but it's easy to see their attraction in making, dressing and locating your avatar. I'm fifty, and so far all of the face shapes available are rather too youthful; still I'm able to pick a face and hair style bearing some resemblance to me. And today I cycled through the skin tones. There is a tension between making an avatar which looks like you and making an avatar how you'd like to look. To my eye changing the color of the skin tone really seemed to have little effect on how much the avatar seemed to look like me. That is, until it came time to save the avatar, and then the idea of how others would see me came more into the fore. How will others respond if I say, I think I look good in dark brown skin?

I was leafing through a book, Five Centuries of American Costume by R. Turner Wilcox recently. In the section of nineteenth century military costume I came across Zouaves and was quite surprised that regiments in the Civil War donned bright uniforms based on some imagination of what French regiments in Algeria looked like. I've since been told that these units suffered heavy casualties because their outfits made them easy targets.

One of the rationalizations of the American government for abandoning more than two centuries of precedent, law and convents surrounding the treatment of prisoners of war is that the enemy nowadays don't always wear uniforms. It's so inconvenient that "them" could look like any of "us" an therefore secret profiles must be made and list constructed to identify "them." The mathematics involved in such procedures are certain, there will be false positives, and given the apparent scale of these activities more of "us" will become entangled in these dragnets than them. Ha! Why do they bother? We know what "they" look like don't "we"?

What interested me most about the Zouave costumes were the pants, actually I think they're pantaloons. I wondered whether I'd like wearing pants like that, and thought I probably would. I like wearing my Utilikilt. Well, actually, I have two complaints: it's rather heavy, and my legs get cold in the winter. In any case looking at various combinations of outfits, skin tones, hairstyles and backgrounds at the Yahoo avatar site, the kilt didn't seem to push the buttons like the American Indian outfit did. I live in the suburbs and something that I notice while wearing my Utilikilt is nobody seems to notice I'm wearing it in the suburbs, but when I go to the city in it sometimes I'll get a glance. Rather the opposite of what I expected. Once when I got invited out at the last minute and had nothing clean to wear I wore a Sarong to the city and nobody seemed to notice.

I don't know where I'm going with this, except I'm sure I don't want to multiply enemies. I do wish that people could look at others as "us" not "them."

By way of Egyptian blogger Tarek's Green Data I learned about a global movement scheduled to coincide with the winter solstice. My birthday is December 21st, so I'm always on the look out for celebrations. This year is special because it will be the first ever synchronized global orgasm. Mark your calenders and you can follow the anticipation on The Global Orgasm Blog. Imagine Peace.

At TEDBlog is an important story about photographer Kristen Ashburn's first public exhibition of her photographs showing the human faces of AIDS in Africa, Bloodline. There is also a beautiful video. In it, Paddington Mazurura, a career professional infected with HIV from Zimbabwe remarks:
But we are not only talking of numbers here. We are talking of people.
It seems frivolous of me to juxtapose Global Orgasm with Ashburn's photos, even more so in the context of my silly fashion ideas. People are complicated; we're peculiar. There are so many ways of imagining ourselves. The people in Ashburn's photos are easily recognized as people. I see me in them, my sister, my mother, my father, my brother too. How can I not be moved by the distress so many people suffer? To do something requires imaging, and I'm not the only one.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day

Support World AIDS Day

December 1st is World AIDS Day.

I'm cranky about all the days. I remember as a kid being interested by church calenders where almost every day was a Saints day. Something that might be said of Christianity is how much graphic violence is contained in the collective memory. The calender of Saints Days is a rather lurid list of gruesome ways of death.

In Sunday School we very often sang I Sing a Song of the Saints of God. I think the money line is:
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
Perhaps it was simply my own morbid personality, but the line that always caught my childish attention was:
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast
And maybe it was the fact of singing this hymn so close to Sunday dinner that being a "saint of God" and a "big roast beef" are pressed together in my mind.

There is so much suffering in the world. That much is as true as it ever was. Yet there is great splendor in being alive and that, I suspect, is as true as it ever was. Looking back from my decidedly un-churched present, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God seems a rather good choice of hymns for children to sing. It doesn't spare them the suffering in life, but encourages them to imagine their lives as significant.

Tomorrow I will be attending a fund raiser at the Brew Haus at the Iron City Brewery for The Africa Project. I'll wear a red ribbon. I'll wear a ribbon to remember all those suffering because of AIDS and I'll wear a ribbon to remind me to try to do something to solve and ameliorate this crisis.

I'm old enough to remember when we first began hearing about AIDS. I have not always been brave about talking about it. In the mid 1980's I went back to school to finish my college degree, having flunked out the first go at university education. I had to present a speech in one of my classes and chose to speak about the importance to public health of confidential HIV screening.

In between my flunking out of college and my return I had tried to renovate a house in a very poor community. I had lots of ideas about energy efficiency and romantic notions fueled by a Whole Earth Catalog aesthetic. I was "run out of town on a rail." To this day I don't really understand the dynamics of it all. I was never physically injured, but there was quite a little violence directed towards me by way of property theft and destruction. One evening sleeping in my bedroom some sort of explosive was thrown on my porch blowing out all the windows in my bedroom. Harassment centering around the taunt "Hey, gay John" was more or less continuous. That's only part of the story because in so many ways my relationships with my neighbors and the people in the community were very warm and cordial. More than anything, I suspect it was my earnestness which made me a laughingstock. And in truth I look back at those days with some amusement.

However, giving my speech to the Public Speaking class, my face was red and sweat poured down my brow. I injected nothing personal into the speech. I did not tell them that much of what I knew about AIDS came from giving blood and fluid samples as well as all sorts of other tests twice a year at the Pitt Men's Study. The study is still ongoing as part of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study. I gave my speech and was graded well, but in hindsight what I remember most about it is how weak my knees were.

A very big obstacle in the way of confronting the challenges of AIDS is shame.

We are social creatures, so ostracism is rather universally feared. When ends are used to justify means it always seems to lead to trouble. There's no doubt that avoiding shame is a very powerful motivator, but attempts to control people with shame are fraught with danger. My sister would sometimes taunt me as a child telling me that I really wasn't part of the family, but rather delivered by aliens with a stern warning they had to keep me. Power over others is somehow delicious. About those who seek to defend all that's good, right and proper through shaming others, one is often left wondering whether they themselves have any shame at all.

Standing up to bullies is very hard. It's not because bullies tend to have lots of allies, nobody really likes a bully. But bullies use as their shield and weapon norms and mores which nobody really wants to challenge. But when challenged bullies often do step down with less resistance than expected; probably because bullies know as well as the rest of us they're not really liked.

There is a saying about courage: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act despite fear." which I can't seem to find a reference for whom originally said it. A similar quotation is credited to Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon who is remembered by some of us Americans "of a certain age" as the manager of a psychedelic rock band, Quicksilver Messenger Service. Redmoon was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1966. He was a writer, but not much of his writing was ever published. In a 1991 issue of the magazine Gnosis an essay, No Peaceful Warriors, he wrote:
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one's fear. The timid presume it is lack of fear that allows the brave to act when the timid do not. But to take action when one is not afraid is easy. To refrain when afraid is also easy. To take action regardless of fear is brave."
Observing World AIDS Day requires the courage to believe that the lives of our fellow humankind are valuable and the bravery to take action on behalf of people who live in shame because of AIDS. World AIDS Day is not an obligation rather an invitation to be brave. I think it's very much like the hymn of my childhood; where despite "fierce wild beasts" a'slaying, saints are portrayed as a joyous lot. It's in that sense I wish you a merry World AIDS Day.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Create Hats

Created by Daisuke Yamamoto

I'm always full of ideas, but rather consistently fall down in the execution of them; oh most of the time too lazy to try. Creativity requires both imagination and perspiration. Often it seems some people are willing to exert the effort, but worry too much about getting the ideas straight; rather the opposite to my temperament. Either way we all forget too often what fun it is to make things creatively. This beautiful Youtube video and the others of RinpaEshidan capture some of the joy in creating: mashing up ideas and something physical.

Recently I joined It's a wiki and platform for people to come together to do something good. It is a welcoming community, but the space is a bit difficult to navigate around. In late October an opportunity for nine $5000 grants was announced. Teams collaborated to create proposals in funding areas. The team I followed most closely was the Attacking Water-Borne Diarrheal Illnesses (WDI) Proposal. The group effort was so great to watch and I learned a lot about making proposals and about the problem of water-borne illnesses, the #2 killer.

Alas, the proposals were voted on and the WDI proposal was eliminated from consideration. Ah, but reprieve: the Omidyar Network announced matching funds for the eliminated proposals during the month of December. By this time, I was ready to jump in and participate. But I hate fund raising, it always seems to remind me that I don't have any money. Still wanting very much to participate and to help the wonderful organizations the WDI team identified as deserving for funding, I dusted off my party hats idea. Yes, that's right and you can find out more at my new blog; Hats for Health.

I'm such a sucker for attention, that the barest encouragement is enough to move my lazy bones. One of the participants of the WDI team wrote:
Roll on the day when the paper hat is associated as much in the public mind with the elimination of WDI, as a red ribbon is with the elimination of AIDS or a white wristband with the elimination of world poverty!
Whoo hoo! Roll on! Clearly it's going to take a lot more people making hats.

I've got a box of hats I made earlier in the year. Something a little disturbing is the YES!Paste, I thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread, has hardened like a rock making the hats brittle and fragile. I better re-think using it so much. White glue at least for some parts of the hats is probably a better choice.

I have been enjoying surfing around for paper hats. Something that's surprised me about it is that "paper hats" seems a term like "stop smoking" for attracting traffic to sites that have nothing to do with hats. Yes there was a warning page about "explicit content" but I was curious just what kind of explicit content about paper hats would be about. Shocking! But nothing to do with hats. Hats are a great expression of human ingenuity and I've found so many interesting sites. Jeremy Weate of Naijablog posted about the Abuja Carnival and his Flickr photo set is really worth a look for the hats and costumes.

Steve Ntwiga Mugiri posts on John C. Dvorak taking a pot shot at the OLPC $100 laptop. Dvorak calls the OLPC "a dangerous distraction" a point Steve generally agrees even while distancing himself from Dvorak. Oh yes, there a kernel of truth to "dangerous distractions" and I see it raised often in discussions about trying to solve the world's problems. In a forum of very earnest people recently one poster railed against reading fiction believing facts in too short supply. I don't think that way and a part of the reason is its very difficult to predict just what's going to be useful down the line.

In any case paper party hats are criticized as frivolous. Parties are important. They are times when we come together as a community. Having fun encourages an atmosphere of cooperation and a sense of possibility. It's very discouraging to know about suffering in the world, but not to imagine any way to ameliorate it. A paper party hat isn't worth very much money, they don't cost much to make, but they are worth a little money. Making paper party hats is a way to encourage people to consider human problems and to act in a small, but significant way, to solve them.

The intention of Hats for Health is to encourage people to help raise some money in December for matching grants to the good organizations working on water and water-borne diarrheal illnesses. You may find Hats for Health a little amusing, and perhaps even encourage you to make paper hats for other worthwhile efforts. The Flickr Party Hat Group Pool is still up and ready for your photos of party hats, paper and otherwise.

Please visit Hats For Health.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Money; It's a Drag

King Tubby

I've got a title and picture that don't really match what I've got in mind. Foolishness, but one way or another I'll try to fit them with the rest of the post.

There are clearly down sides to being foolish as I am, but there must also be some up sides; or why else would I persist? The short answer is "crazy," but that doesn't quite get to the "why."

For whatever reasons I end up chatting on Instant Messaging with African people. Not so much, but enough that I can see a pattern of flimflam in some of the chats.

Amongst my foolish habits is I read palms. People who know me know that I'm so lazy that my disclaimer with every palm-reading session: "I don't know one wit about reading palms." is easily believed. It's rather uncanny, however, people still seem to think there's something to my readings. "Oh my Gawd! How did you know?

There's a little of what makes the flimflam work at play:
The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. --Thomas Wolfe
Most of us do feel lonely and want very much not to feel so lonely. So the appeal for money in flimflam IMs and emails follows along the lines: together we won't feel so lonely. In essence what I read in palms is an acknowledgment of a person's loneliness and then an expression that they won't be alone. Buba at Cunninglinguistically Yours --my favorite blog name evah!--shared a missive of the sort I'm referring.

A recent chat devolved into my interlocutor cursing me out. I don't have money to send so I tend to try to steer such conversations elsewhere. But I'm a bit of a dolt when it comes to reading between the lines, and perhaps it was simply my being dense which set him off. I asked him why the insults and he answered to the effect: "Because you've got the money and won't share it."

I'm very much in favor of the approach of people like me taking a focused and modest approach to seeking solutions for African problems described by Robert Rodale in his book Save Three Lives.

I'm also reminded of a story I read about a mother of a three-year old adopted daughter from Africa. The girl had seen some coverage of crisis in Africa--perhaps and image like this one--and Mother was trying to quiet her daughter's fears. She told her girl that even when they might be apart the girl could call her. The girl protested about children in trouble, "But what if their mommies can't find a phone?" I'm afraid I've butchered the story, still even to a child in a nice middle class house in America it's plain that the problems people face are real and big.

There are at least two sorts of fears people encounter when they think about a "Save Three Lives" approach: The first "What if I'm conned?" The second "What if I'm forced to confront suffering I'd prefer not to?"

After that guy cursed me out in chat, I wondered how much money sails across oceans in search of romance and to fill the void of lonesomeness. I also puzzled over not really making a clear judgment about the good and bad of it. Last year about this time "I Go Chop Your Dollar" was a popular song on the Nigerian airwaves referring to 419 scams. There's a video up at YouTube which is worth watching if you've got the time. The Riverside Rugby Blog provides a helpful translation of the pidgin Nigerian English. The sentiments expressed in the song aren't hard to understand.

One of my other interlocutors finally and with good-nature has accepted that I'm not going to send money. I was telling him there might be better ways to make some money using the Internet and suggested blogging. I suggest blogging to everyone and just about no one takes note. He told me that the Blogger Web site wouldn't load for him. That set me off looking for other Ghana Blogs to see if any used Blogger. There are some and I discovered a new cool blog, Buchele Ghana Adventure.
An Ashesi Lecturer and an international man of leisure spend a year in Ghana, West Africa
Lovely, the blog is a family affair. First of all it's worth saying a word or two about Ashesi University. Patrick Awuah left Ghana in 1985 to attend Swathmore College. After graduation he worked as an engineer at Microsoft. Awuah enrolled at UC Berkley's Haas School of Business to explore founding and managing a university in Ghana. In collaboration with Swathmore, UC Berkley and University of Washington, Ashesi University opened its doors in a suburb of Accra in 2002.

I was just looking for Ghana blogs, but in one of the posts I found an insight into money that I hadn't expected. Steve, international man of leisure, has been blogging about a trip with Emmanuel, the family's day guard's family home. The three posts about the trip are delightful travel writing. Americans can be ugly, but we're not without our charms. Steve's observations about Emmanuel's approach to money are intriguing and he concludes:
They say that one of the differences between the Western World and Africa is how westerners will let money ruin friendships. The joke in the West is if you want to lose a friend, just loan them money. That would never happen here. Money is treated like a community resource, maybe like water from a well. A neighbor asks for some water, and of course you would share, so it is when friends/family/neighbors ask for money, if you have any, it is theirs for the asking.
That makes sense to me. Certainly I don't think people should fall prey to cons. But I think the worries about them are over-blown. The real issue is that we shouldn't imagine crossing cultural differences is a simple matter. Instead rather and adventure based in dialog.

Confronting suffering is not easy. The idea of being involved in the lives of real people to solve problems people face in practice one becomes quickly aware of the magnitude of the problems facing real people. That presents quite a dilemma: To know and do nothing; or to know and try to do something? It's painful either way as far as I can see. But to be moved into action seems quite a reasonable response.

It's not so easy to move a lazy man. And money, it's a drag. I find it really hard to motivate myself towards fund raising. Oh well, I have to try, I guess. Which brings me to the great King Tubby. He was a Jamaican electronics and sound engineer and a genuine original. Without King Tubby modern dance music wouldn't be; without King Tubby no Dub.

I love the picture because of his crown. I can't seem to get the idea of fund raising with paper party hats off my mind and off the ground. But I'm going to try once again, Paper Party Hats 2.0. The coming holidays seem an auspicious time for a launch. Watch out for Paper Party Hats redux.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Social Web

Picture from Yulis Room

It appears that Blogger liked my last post so much it posted it twice. I'm not sure why that happened, or how to delete the extra post because the extra post doesn't exist at my Blogger Dashboard. Perhaps it's a happy accident and those readers in the Pittsburgh area will see it and doubly consider attending. Tickets will not be sold at the door, so you have to plan a little in advance. More information at The Africa Project or contact me.

I love the picture taken from a Japanese blog, it depicts The Fool of the Tarot. I so often feel a fool. I feel a bit foolish for neglecting this blog. I handle that feeling with equanimity because I'm used to not doing stuff. But I'm less calm when it comes to feeling foolish about the optimism I have about the potential good that can come from social interaction on the Web.

Over the weekend I visited good friends for dinner. One of my dear friends, who is one of the kindest and most creative persons I know, has just gotten a computer. She had a Windows 95 machine she hardly used, and did her dissertation on a similar vintage machine. She has also had put to infrequent use her husband's Windows 98 machine on dial-up, but has never really explored the Internet. My friend was a classroom teacher for many years and in her work as a psychologist has created many valuable lesson plans for use in educational settings. Her knowledge and skills and a dozen or so projects we've talked about has made me pester her to get a computer and to get online.

Her husband, and my good friend, presented her with a gift of a new laptop computer. I'm delighted and excited at the prospect that we will find ways to collaborate together online. However, my effusiveness about the social nature of the Web prompted my friend's husband to exclaim:
You're freaking me out!
I knew he was quite sincere about his disquiet, alas, my attempts to assuage his concerns only made matters worse. He pointed to the use of Internet handles and anonymous posts and I cited some examples of times that it's appropriate to post anonymously. Each attempt to make him feel less anxious about the Internet only seemed to make him feel more so.

I enjoy very much the social Web. At a social networking site and online community where I participate, it's not too unusual for someone to link to one of the many "personality tests" online. Recently I linked to the Greek Mythology Personality Test. The results of my test was that I'm most like Dionysus. I'm not sure how valid or reliable any of these tests are, but I often noticed they peg my faults to a tee. Sure there's much good about a Dionysian view of things, but my thin veneer of self-image reveals patterns of Apollonian order and reason. It's disconcerting that my ecstatic disorder--will that make the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?--shows through. Being most like Dionysus makes me feel a little foolish. I did find a neat page to print out a Bible tract-like pamphlet Have You Heard The Good News...About Dionysus?

Yep, the Internet unruly, and my talking so ecstatically about it gave my friend the willies. And that seems to be a not too uncommon reaction. One of my friends recently said something like: "It's time to shut the Internet down!" My retort was that I like the Internet and spend a lot of time online, but only seems evidence of how sinister the Internet must be.

Recently, a very delightful young man from Ghana initiated a conversation online. I chuckled the next time we chatted when he asked if I would write to his school. It seems that I've been the subject of conversation. I told my contact I wasn't sure what to write, but would write something and and send it to him so he could tell me if what I wrote was appropriate. I wrote about wikis. Today I set up a wiki which I hope my contact and his school mates will use. I haven't heard back yet, and I'm not sure at all wikis are the sort of thing they'll find useful. But the students are online and are anxious to make connections with the wider world and all the knowledge they are trying so hard to piece together.

Emeka Okafor posted about Founder of, Derrick N Ashong knows that empowerment comes from knowing ones own worth, and that goes for an individual as well as society. Young college students the world over have a sense of their potential. I suppose I am flattered that a young Ghanaian would seek me out and think that I had something to offer. To repay the compliment what more could I do than to tell him to let his light shine? At least that's my intention in bringing wikis to his attention. I believe the new communications tools aid tremendously to our ability to create something good. I believe too that most of us want very much to create goodness.

Ah yes, seeing as how I most resemble Dionysus or The Tarot Fool, I'm well aware of the mischief people pursue online. But the Internet as a social Web doesn't seem so frightening to me as it seems to so many of my friends. The Greeks knew that Apollo and Dionysus are brothers, their qualities are complimentary. My more orderly friends who now shun the Internet are needed here. "The more the merrier" is what I say.

Update: My double post has disappeared.

Africa Project at Brew Haus

The Africa Project is hosting a benefit dinner on Friday, December 1, 2006 from 6:00PM to 10:00pm at the Iron City Brew Haus, located at 3440 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15201. Proceeds will benefit our projects to implement and support income-generating projects, education and health for former child soldiers and refugees in northern Uganda. We will be providing African entertainment; African cuisine, complimentary drinks (courtesy of Iron City Brew) as well as screening a short documentary from video footage collected this summer by our volunteers in Gulu, Uganda. Tickets are limited and must be purchased in advanced. Ticket cost $15 (students), $20 (regular) and $180 (for a table of 10 people). No tickets will be sold at the door. Call (412) 657-8513 or visit Africa Project Please, save the date and pass along the message.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Means of Production

Quilts of Gee's Bend

I have got to be one of the most disorganized persons in this round world. Self-starter? Nah, never have been. So I wonder really if my fascination with commons-based peer production and self-organizing systems really is so much wishful thinking.

There is some truly wonderful writing on the Internet. I spend my time reading quite a lot of professional writing, but often find myself more engaged by the writers who are writing for no remuneration to speak of. Oh and do I spend time on the Internet! A study by scholars at Stanford looked into the question of issue of Internet Addiction. The phenomenon is on its way towards a definition of an independent psychological disorder. Perhaps, I'll add it to my list. I was amused by this post by The Editors at the wonderful blog, The Poor Man Institute for Freedom, Democracy and a Pony:
You know what’s a really addictive hobby?

Not blogging. I could do this all day.
Indeed, I most certainly don't have to worry about becoming addicted to blogging. On the other hand I have 18 pages of notes, mostly links, I've been collecting thinking to blog about since October 6th. Naturally, as disorganized as I am, I still haven't decided what I going to write about right now.

I started to write the other day and got distracted. I uploaded the picture of stamps featuring the Quilts of Gee's Bend and entered the title "Means of Production." I suppose I thought to write about how the Internet and the new media provide a means of social production, but people like Stirling Newberry write so much more informatively than I do.

Ah, those quilts. I was so delighted to get a sheet of twenty when I purchased stamps recently. Sixth in a series of American Treasures. My mother made quilts, although not very many. The one I had on my bed as a little boy was simply square rectangles of wool she'd recovered from old garments lined with red cotton flannel and tied, nothing fancy as quilts go. Still thinking of that quilt today I'm transported back in time to bedtime as a boy sleeping in the trundle bed and being tucked in by my mummy. On a trip to England my mother took some cut geometric pieces of cloth which she pieced together by hand as she traveled to make a quilt for my grandmother and her mother in law. The quilt lay in the attic rolled on the poles of a quilting frame almost finished for years. Years after my grandmother's death my mother completed it and sent it to my father's sister. There are stories embedded in quilts and sometimes like the stories we tell, worrying if we've got the story right and finishing them is hard.

One of the reasons the quilts on these stamps attract my attention is they're so different from the quilts I'm used to seeing. Even if I had never seen African textiles before, I suspect I'd still know that those quilts made in Alabama, southwest of Selma contain stories that go back to Africa. Growing up a white guy in the USA I always wanted to hear the stories of Black Americans tell. James Baldwin made a point in The Stranger in the Village:
One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa. This fact faced, with all its implications, it can be seen that the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.
Of course swapping stories isn't always an easy matter. Cultural appropriation is one of the complications. And at the crux of that is the issue of all due respect, which is too often lacking. Stories are sacred and held often times quite close to the heart. It really matters whether it's a delight for a person to share a story.

As much time as I spend on the Internet surfing the World Wide Web, you'd think I'd have learned to use the tools available better, but you'd be wrong. So I thought about that Adire African Textiles site but didn't know the name and wondered how I'd find it. Then I remembered I'd linked to it from Black Looks and found it using the handy search box there. Black Looks has been nominated in the Best Weblog/English category for the BOBs--Best of the Blogs.

I cast my vote. Sokari Ekine has been kind enough to encourage me to keep blogging. But I'll admit sometimes reading her makes me think the best I can do is to shut up. I was chatting with a Ugandan friend about something she'd written and he asked me: "Are you mad at Sokari?" My response was "I love Sokari." Perhaps more realistically I should have replied: "I feel challenged reading her posts." Still, there's an intimacy in blogs, at least ones as engaging as Black Looks which leads to a sense of connectedness.

Another blogger whose encouraged me to keep writing here is Beth Kanter of Beth's Blog. I've got so many favorite blogs, it's hard to choose just one. But when I saw that she'd been nominated for a Vloggie I went to vote. Even if you're not familiar with Beth's Blog, go to the Vloggie site and explore the nominations, you'll be glad you did. Beth's Blog is so incredibly informative and fun you'll want to explore there too.

Picking the best is so hard I don't ever try, instead most of the time I say lots of places are the best. But really talent and accomplishment are so rare, and truly something to celebrate. Korentan Ofosu-Amaah's writing is a treasure. In the comments under his latest entry which is part of a series, I'm pretty sure this Jon Udell wrote:
Thank you, Koranteng, for these novellas, and now epic poems, that you have been writing. Your _Things Fall Apart_ series is the single most extraordinary body of work that has so far emerged from this strange and wonderful new medium we are creating and discovering.
Extraordinary indeed! If you haven't discovered Korenteng's Toli yet, allow yourself some time to do just that. Things Fall Apart is a series, but you might as well start at the recent post. I love his toli so much.

The Quilts of Gee's Bend contain remarkable stories, stories that will have resonance to Americans especially, but others around the world will enjoy too. And a part of that story is the way the women who make these beautiful quilts are using modern communications technologies to make their stories widely available.

I first discovered blogs because of politics. Quickly I noticed that fabric crafters and artist were among the most prolific bloggers. The Alliance for American Quilts is probably as good a beginning into this category of blogs, but really there are so many.

I've got some ideas for Bazungu Bucks, at least I still think it's a good idea to in some way keep track of time people spend creating something good for others. I persist in thinking there's potential in sharing time and Bazungu Bucks may have a little role in promoting such sharing. At the end of the day, what matters with this blog is making an offering however humble it is. And then I'll wishfully think my contribution will become organized within the greater universe of commons-based peer production--or not. It's still amazing what people do without anybody telling them too. I'm so grateful for what you do.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Lipsmackin' Thirstquenchin' Acetastin' Motivatin' Goodbuzzin' Cooltalkin' Highwalkin' Fastlivin' Evergivin' Coolfizzin' Kaunda

Two fun and useful Web tools: The title for this post came from The Slogan Generator. It was overloaded when I visited just now, but the sardonic folks at The Surrealist suggested I might want to check out some of their other Web toys and you might too. The picture is of a magnetic tape cassette, an antiquated data storage device. The title and credits pictured were selected by me at Cassette Generator. The bulk of my music library actually still is on cassette. I always loved that format.

Well, well, it's been a long time since I've written here. I suppose I've been having a crisis of faith about this blog. For one thing it's easy enough too think and not far off the mark that nobody reads this blog. But I was surprised to discover that a few posts caused a little trouble for people I know abroad. Also there was quite a lot of activity in the African blogosphere over a controversy about The Digital Citizen Inbada held in South Africa earlier this month. While I read the commentary with interest, I don't have anything to offer about that. It's old news. Nonetheless the controversy made me question whether it is appropriate that this blog is listed on Blog Africa and even more fundamental musings about the validity of the blog itself.

Oh, I'm so lazy, so it's not as if I've come to any conclusions. The easiest thing to do seemed simply to stop writing here. That maybe what happens after all. But below the fold on the front page of the newspaper today was an article on the trial of the accused killer of David Agar, a Sudanese immigrant shot to death here in January. My heart is hangin' heavy.

While Mr. Agar's friend and an eyewitness to the shooting testified that the accused Todd Akrie fired the shots, two defense witnesses testified that another man did it and "Common Pleas Judge Donald Machen acquitted Mr. Akrie of homicide, robbery and a fire arms violation." I gasped when I first read that, and had to pause now as I copied it. It is unlikely the killers of David Agar will ever face punishment meted out by a court in his murder. It is very difficult to try two people at different times for the same murder, so probably the person identified by the defense witnesses will never be charged.

A part of what makes the story of this trial so painful to me is my own brother's murder and the ensuing trials. I don't remember which Billy Bragg song, but there's a Billy Bragg song where the prisoner complains about justice and the judge bellows, "this is a court of law not justice." Ouch, the distinction is rather lost on the majority who operate their lives with every intention of staying out of courts. I was rather taken aback how difficult it was for me to sit on a jury as an alternate. Next time I'm called for jury duty I'm sure I will tell the court that I'm not sure of my ability to be impartial, not at an intellectual but gut level.

Still the greatest sadness comes from knowing that David Agar fled invading troops in Sudan and then spent several harrowing years in refugee camps in Kenya before coming to the States. And that here refugees are expected to "sink or swim." There are networks of people to help, not the least other Africans here, but the transition to life in America is enormously difficult. David Agar was composing a life. He regularly sent money home to his family in Sudan. He kept in regular contact with the family in Eastern Pennsylvania who sponsored him. He was and active guy who helped others. There's no good way to end this post. David Agar's murder was terrible.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

World Naked Gardening Day

September 9 is this year's World Naked Gardening day. How will you celebrate? I'm not sure how I will. I'm somewhat modest and the thoughts of somebody seeing me naked...well I have different thoughts, but mostly feel a bit of shame. There are practical considerations too. Small game season has opened and there are hunters about. There are thorns and yellow jacket wasps too. Still being naked in my garden is something I think I'd like; actually I know I do. Especially on those first warm spring days, I'll admit it I've stripped and laid down naked on a big flat rock in the yard. I've also gotten naked to manage my sunken pots in my little fish pond. Perhaps, I'll do that tomorrow. Except the last time I reached into the pond there was a snake.

Silly, my gardening efforts this season have been as about as assiduous as my recent posting here. The grass has grown so tall that the mower chokes and I've left the weeds go so long in the garden beds that I'm creating mountains of debris as I weeds them. My father dug potatoes today. Oh yes, I'm afraid even the vegetable garden went to pot this year. So it was to my great delight to see nice big firm red Pontiac potatoes being dug. I cooked a couple for supper. I'm not sure why but home -grown potatoes taste better and have a wonderful texture even after long storage.

As easy as it's been to neglect my garden this year, it's been even easier to ignore this blog. But today I got a comment from Sokari of Black Looks and she told me "keep blogging." I'm star-struck! I love Black Looks and I have so much admiration for all the efforts Sokari makes to bring new voices to blogging.

Two recent Black Looks posts are important. Sokari documents the gay baiting of a Kampala tabloid called Red Pepper. In A pact against freedom Solkari writes:
The horrific events taking place in Uganda should be a wakeup call for everyone. People may think that they are safe from harassment and arrest because they are heterosexual. Not so, a witch hunt affects everyone irrespective of their sexuality.
In a previous post Gay Hunt Uganda she provides more information about the current odious campaign of Red Pepper.

I'm not at all sure who you are my dear readers, or how in the world you found this blog. But I'm sure any of you who have perused my posts already know I fit the stereotype of silly mzungu. Nevertheless, I truly do believe that what affects one of us affects all of us. And I believe that using the fantastic new tools that modern information and communications technologies we have have the means to collaborate worldwide is ways never before possible. But communicating across cultures indeed has it's pitfalls, so it's good to be wary of them.

The link to A pact against freedom includes the comments and I want to point to Sokari's response to the comment I left there. She wrote in part:
John - I believe if you go down to Kampala today as a gay man or lesbian you will find yourself at best shunned and at worst beaten or even killed - definately you will not be able to return to your house or job. Please let us listen to what is being said by those who are experiencing it and not what we would like to imagine.
I certainly do agree with the importance of listening. And the implicit notion that I have no idea how bad it really is almost certainly true.

When I was a boy we moved to Greenville, South Carolina. Segregation was still very real. Drinking fountains, separate waiting room, very explicit stuff that even a boy of eight couldn't miss. My dear mother in the year or so before she died got a little dotty. One of my nephews was nearly in tears asking me "Why is Grandma so racist?" As near as I could tell what gave him that impression was her use of the word "colored." I really don't remember now, but it's quite probable the context was offensive too. It hurt me because that impression of her as racist was so off the mark.

In the fifties as a girl scout leader she had made sure that all the meetings of the girl scout leaders were in the one restaurant in the area of western Virginia that served both black and white people. She was among the very small group of white teachers who were the first to teach black students in a public school in the very first Head Start program in South Carolina. Her career as a teacher was always in classrooms with both black and white kids or simply black children.

In Charlotte, North Carolina with an extraordinarily hot and contested desegregation plan she invited all the teachers at the school she was teaching at to a party at our house. That the banker neighbor married to a realtor refuse to speak to us afterward bothered her not one whit. I was bothered by the way my peers treated me; oh that dreaded N word. But nothing in my upbringing gave me any reason to adopt a bigoted response to their taunts. I couldn't find the words to explain to my nephew about his grandmother, because I couldn't find the words to explain what it was like then, the times his grandmother lived. Of course I'm pleased my Southern nephew identifies as an anti-racist. In the scheme of things his grandmother was never a bigot when seemingly everyone else was. Bigotry which was once the norm is now disgraced. Praises be!

In the midst of writing this post I chatted with a friend in Kampala about Sokari's posts. He mentioned that he thinks of the words of Martin Luther King and has a dream for Uganda too. The bigotry of Red Pepper is something he's told me about before. The other evening I chatted with another Ugandan in a different part of the country. She was going to watch Hotel Rwanda yet another time. Certainly the bigotry in the film is a different sort from the gay baiting in Red Pepper. But my friends all tell me how corrosive bigotry is, and it is everywhere and various. No, not everyone sees the hatred and abuse of gay people as bigotry at all. In America it's common to hear the sentiment, "How dare they compare gay right with the civil rights struggle." Yet there are voices who understand that the struggle for fundamental human rights includes human sexualities. And there are those who know that bigoted violence against one is violence against all of us.

Few of us can garden outside naked as much as we might be disposed towards doing so. I can probably get away with it here, at least in some parts of my yard. Some of us may have plants inside our house we can safely tend naked. Still, I'm happy for the naked gardeners because they remind us about freedom and that the bounds of freedom can be stretched. People are encouraged to post their World Gardening Day experiences here. Right now I don't know whether I'll have anything to write. I'll just have to see what the day brings.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

International Blog Day

Ho,ho,it's been a long time since I've written anything here. I suppose it's been a month of rethinking, or perhaps thinking about what I'm doing with this blog. I deleted my last attempt at a post. The topic of the post was something along the lines: You mean to tell me people are supposed to think about what they write? That's my problem, I can't seem to think about what to write in advance. I just open up the handy Blogger window and start typing. Alas, that doesn't serve anyone well, but if I stop to think, I'll probably never post again.

I got plenty of warning that today, August 31st is International Blog Day. And I had planned to post, but in my sloth last night one thing or another came up and I did not. A very cool idea for this event is that bloggers would find five new blogs--preferably blogs written by people in a different place and having a different perspective than you--then write to the bloggers and tell them that you are going to blog about their blogs and do it. There's some other stuff like tagging the post for Technorati so that there will be a comprehensive list of blogday post to search. It's a great idea, but I didn't follow through.

This morning, not feeling particularly bad about my being lazy, I began reading the blogs I do and saw Sokari's post at the always wonderful Black Looks. Sokari did it right and introduces me to five blogs I would never have found without her. All of the blogs she selected are blogs where the individual voices of the bloggers come through. The sometimes peculiar voices of real people is one of the aspects of blogs that I love so much. I'm not so faithful about posting, but I'm addicted to reading blogs.

Here are five blogs I enjoy reading, they aren't new to me, but perhaps will be new to you.

think:lab: Christian Long is a teacher who works for the impressive architectural firm DesignShare which designs learning spaces that live. Christian also manages DesignShare's blog. At think:lab Christian challenges us to imagine and to create learning environments and the posts run the gamut, but especially touch on the ways that new information and communications technologies can make us all lifelong learners. Christian is a great photographer and has a keen eye for beautiful images. He is passionate about how all of us can become actualized persons creating good right where we live and play.

Blahsploitation: This blog is a portal for the family Phil Jones's Synaesmedia projects--check the links in the sidebar. Most of the time posts at Blahsplotation are simply a pithy comment and a link. Phil Jones's is a British programmer living in Brazil. I'm hardly qualified to form an opinion about his programming skills--hardly qualified in any of my opinions--but Jones is brilliant in making known the implications of the wonderful new media made possible by networked information and communications tools. He's genuinely humane and a polymath. Following his links has opened up my eyes to a wide range of issues and opened my ears to many riveting discussions. Besides, his links often point to something beautiful or fun.

we make money not art: There are so many cool blogs and Web sites making any list of the "coolest" would be a daunting task, but we make money not art would always make my short list. Pittsburgh is a fairly provincial American city, and something about being on the Web often reminds me just what a provincial guy I am--some might say hillbilly. But one of the advantages of my locale, as a legacy of the steel industry which once dominated the economic engine of the place, is the diverse population of Europeans who settled here. Regine, the author of we make money not art is staunchly European in outlook. I'm not exactly sure why I mention that, but it has something to do with the impression so many of us Americans have about how forward thinking and innovative we all are. Sadly,no, I'm reminded while reading posts at we make money not art about the coolest and most cutting edge ideas at the intersection of art and technology--and all without the snark.

: I was late to get online and at fifty once online discovered a generation gap I'd been unaware of. In online discussions I came to learn that a there were ideas and a language for sharing those ideas about cultural criticism familiar to a younger generation, but unknown to me. Jennifer Cascadia writes from a perspective of a Zimbabwean translocated to Australia in her early teen years. From the perspective of betwixt and between she cuts through modernism and post modernists rumminations on the nature of what it is to be human. Cascadia is a martial artist and intellectual. What first intrigued me about her posts was the cross-cultural perspective between Africa and the West. Oh yes, that still interests me, but it's her penetrating observations about how we as human beings think that makes her posts "must read." I don't always agree with her analysis, nor do others judging by the comments. The discussions are, however, always engaging.

Vietnamese God
: As lackadaisical as I am about posting to my blog, I'm evangelical when trying to convince others to make their own blogs. I have a couple of online friends from Vietnam and mentioned to them both that they should have a blog. One of my friends is a little older than the other, and the difference of a few years makes a world of difference; the younger of the two is a digital native. He posts a blog at Yahoo!360. He blogs in Vietnamese, and I don't read a word of it. But it's fun that Yahoo!360 is a social networking site and I've gotten connected with his fellow members of the English Club at the university he goes to there. My older Vietnamese friend, like most of my American friends, finds the idea of blogs somewhat embarrassing. In my effort to convince him that blogs are cool, and knowing how much he prides himself on his good English, I sent him a link to Vietnamese God. He wasn't convinced, but I've continued to read Vietnamese God religiously. The author, God Knows works at an upscale restaurant in Ha Noi called Wild Rice. God Knows knows food and presents grand pictures and details about food and life in Ha Noi. Often he provides recipes and always just slightly skewed perspectives on his lovely city.

There are so many wonderful blogs. As many as I read already, I'm always delighted to discover new voices. International Blog Day is a wonderful opportunity for me and all the rest of us to discover new voices in this wonderful new medium.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Do Something Positive

photo Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette

Earlier this week a TV panel was discussing the isolation of American opinion from broader opinions shared around the world regarding the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and one of the commentators said: "Americans live in a media ghetto." I'm not sure I agree really, but the comment rattled me anyway. Skimming through the Sunday paper today, I got the impression that I see things differently than most. I'm not sure that it's a matter of differences of opinion, rather how I paste things together.

Eritrean-born musician/author in the Sunday UK Times zung me a zinger by saying:
“Don’t cry for these people. Don’t cry for me. It doesn’t count. I want to see positive action. It’s not enough to say, ‘How sad, we hope something will change’. Hope is good, but it’s not enough.”
Sobs, I cry from sadness, I cry from frustration. I've got to agree with Senait it doesn't do a whole lot of good. On the other hand when I read so many expressions of enthusiasm for death and destruction, I'm flumoxed. I don't get it.

Turning to the fashion page of the newspaper I was delighted to see the pictures from Dee Blemahdoo's shop in Homestead. I want some African-inspired clothing. I like this picture most because of the hats. I've gotten requests for Party Hats for Potash in fabric. I respond that it could be done. I don't have any intention of making them, first because it would be hard and second I'm pretty sure they'd be no more popular than the paper ones. Still, I like hats, and having momentary misgivings about ripping off Bob Donaldson's photograph thought to post a picture of Wangari Maathai. Something I like very much about Dr. Maathai is she so often wears something big and decorative on her head.

The pictures of hats were a second choice, I wanted to post this interactive map, The World Map of Happiness. It's so cool, but too big a file to post. The map was made by Adrian White, Analytic Social Psychologist, University of Leicester. The Danes come out onto in terms of satisfaction with life. What makes the Danes so damn happy? White notes that happiness is most correlated with health, wealth and education. When it comes to figuring out something positive to do those three suggest what to do and why war makes me so unhappy. War! Good God, Ya'll.

Doing something positive is hard. Over the weekend I attended a meeting about the Africa Project. Without a doubt a productive meeting, but none of the tasks that lay before the group really thrill me. In particular, my stomach churns when it comes to fund raising. Nevertheless, it was great to be at the meeting if for no other reason than to meet Mbao Mwiya-Ngula, Executive Director of Project-Educate improving education in Zambia. Mbao was very kind but relentless in making the group focus on what specific positive actions we intend to do.

Angry Black Bitch
is one of my favorite bloggers. There's much to admire about her. First of all she does a great job blogging about issues in St. Louis where she lives. Another thing is she's always doing something good. But most of all I love to read ABB because: "Now, don't fret...a bitch may be angry but my ass is not unkind (wink)." The bitch--I had a hard time typing that--most certainly is kind. The Rude Pundit gets linked to a lot and yes, I've been there and laughed at what I've read. But, you know, the Rude Pundit is, well--rude, so it's not a frequent stop for me. Nonetheless, taking a summer vacation, the Rude Pundit has assembled a star-studded cast of guest bloggers starting next week. Monday, July 31st Angry Black Bitch and Bitch Phd will double team for a day of "bitchitude." I'm sure to check Rude Pundit out all week long for writing by some of the blogosphere's best women writers.

I'm really not sure what to do in the face of so many problems in the world today, except to try to do something positive. I'm not sure how much help I'll be to the Africa Project, but it was very worthwhile meeting Mbao Mwinya-Ngula who really is getting something done. And the Angry Black Bitch reminds me that passion and feeling go hand in hand with doing good. It's not impossible to improve health, increase wealth, and spread education and in doing so make us all happier.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Social Money

image(altered)from Good Money

The browser crashed and I lost this post. I hate when that happens! What's so surprising is that while I remember what I wrote about, I don't have a solid memory of what I wrote. Oh well.

My new aquaintance didn't much like my blog, but his criticism was really more general. He wrote about the prospect of his writing:
Maybe someday I'll start a blog,but I don't want to until I have something important to say. I don't want to just express myself, I want to express important ideas and provoke
I must admit that my approach to putting stuff up has been akin to thinking aloud. I knew from the beginning that my idea for Bazungu Bucks was quite half-baked, but in the process of printing some up, handing some out, and writing about them, I've continued thinking---bet you thought I forgot about Bazungu Bucks.

Recently via the intrepid blogger Phil Jones I discovered BillMonk a Web site that makes keeping track of informal debts and repayments easy. The site even makes keeping track of books and stuff possible. It's easy to imagine many times when this service would come in handy. I thought back to my student digs with multiple roommates and how great it would have been.

Earlier in the month also on Jones' Platform Wars, Phil addressed the difficulty for Web developers have in monetizing their great ideas, here and here. He points out: "the economy is a communication network and money is its protocol." The Internet is a rival platform towards the same end as money. So he makes the observation that the really important question asked about sites like MySpace isn't: "Where's the money?" but rather "Why the money?

Gaurav Oberoi and Chuck Groom the developers of BillMonk helpfully answer the question about their site: "What's your profit motive"
Our service is free to use, and we're adamant about not selling your personal information to Evil, Inc. So what's in it for us?

We believe the "social money" market is huge; friends continually have informal debts and shared expenses, and money flows between them. But because of its informal nature, this market has been largely invisible. We intend to build a product so compelling that it becomes the method of choice for managing social money. With enough users, BillMonk could track millions of dollars in person-to-person transactions.

While the core use of BillMonk is and always will remain free, our revenue model will include collaborating with financial institutions to offer settlement services to this entirely new market.
I'm left scratching my head about specifically how they're going to make money with this really cool idea, but I'm quite certain that "social money" is going to be huge.

Phil Jones observes that TCP/IP (the stuff that makes the Internet possible) is a rival platform to money, and in a rival network to boot. I suppose that even rivals can play together when that suits them, and it seems already there are good examples like BillMonk where hard cash and social money are playing together.

I love Kiva, the Web site that allows lenders to lend to specific entrepreneurs in developing countries. No question if I ever find a way to make some extra money I'll set up an account at Kiva and start lending. In the meantime I simply pay attention to what they're doing and they make it easy to keep abreast through blog posts. This recent post at Kiva Chronicles and a related post at Into Context really caught my attention.

My friend Nathan in Iganga, Uganda is very interested to find ways to use new information and communications technologies to aid in economic development in his community. One of the issues that Kiva faces is dealing with the amount of time consumed by traveling to villages where the entrepreneurs live and work and then getting back to where the computer is. Intermittent electricity and Internet access also causes delays. Their thought is to use SMS from cell phones to send the information to the Kiva Web site, much like a handy feature of BillMonk.

Hash at White African has a really good idea to make cell phones a useful connection to the Internet. Here's the blog post where he introduces the idea and a large size PDF here. Zangu 'Africa's Web" is what they're calling it. The idea is so cool, the way that Hash is preceding to bring the idea into reality is cool too.

I've been intrigued by alternative currencies after reading about Time Dollars. Up on high ground in Western Pennsylvania, I still felt swamped when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. My heart went out in trying to imagine just how complicated rebuilding was going to be for everyone. It takes a lot more than money. A Time Dollar Network seemed it might be of assistance, so I dreamed about Big Easy Bucks. New Orleans was still on my mind when I began this blog and hence the idea for Bazungu Bucks.

Yesterday via Christian Long's think:lab I found Donor Choose a site that's a little like Kiva. Teachers post proposals and donors can choose to support specific proposals. The site allows you to sort the proposals in several ways. I choose to look at proposals from Louisiana. Those of you who don't know teachers may not know that teachers spend bucks from their own pockets for school supplies and are adept at "begging borrowing and stealing" supplies. Donor Choose is very worthwhile. Naturally, what many teachers in Louisiana want are books for their kids. Here's a great site for Harrison County in Mississippi, The Dewey Donation System.

Teachers everywhere want books for their kids. Books For Africa is a wonderful organization. One way to support Books for Africa is to purchase books at Better World Books.

Apparently now even Monopoly game players can now purchase properties with a debit card. Perhaps all of this doesn't quite hang together. But the thread I see are new ideas about money brought about by the platform rivalry Phil Jones alerts us to. Cool.

The way I imagine them now, Bazungu Bucks are a "funny" kind of social money. People can earn Bazungu Bucks, one BB for one hour of time in service to African people. The fun part is that people who have Bazungu Bucks might get time or stuff from people who might want Bazungu Bucks, almost like trading stamps.

So far nobody really wants Bazungu Bucks. The first problem is finding it hard to imagine ways to lend their hours of time in service to African people. A second problem is knowing who else has Bazungu Bucks and what they might trade them for. Phil Jones is a polymath and gave me a neat bit of software to keep track and publish who has Bazungu Bucks. That's a workable solution to the second problem. Now for the first, it's a matter of coming up with proposals for what people can do. I'm lazy, but I'll get around to something along those lines.

Social money is gonna be huge.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Frilvolous Exclamations

Polaroid by David Pohl

Over the weekend I attended a picnic in support of The Africa Project in Schenley Park, a very familiar park to people who've attended The University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University. It rained which probably affected turn-out, still it was great to meet lots of people there. I'm not very good at networking, but I got an email address and promised to send a few links to a fellow I met there. I did that and got some feedback about this blog in the process. As you might gather from the title of this post the feedback wasn't favorable. The great thing about blogs of this sort is they don't really matter much; that is, there are so many blogs out there it's really just a matter of attending to the ones which catch your fancy.

Really, the difficulty I've had recently in posting hasn't been worrying about you, my dear readers, but rather feeling less certain about anything I might say, in particular anything having to do with African issues.

I always enjoy reading Ethan Zuckerman's blog posts, and Is Israel a problem for the Democratic Republic of Congo? addressed the problem of media attention about Africa in an original way. Zuckerman thinks it's important for world citizens to be informed. He suggest that when we read about the Israel/Lebanon conflict and other stories with well-worn preexisting narratives, that we endeavor to seek out a story about Africa in the news. He wrote:
You’ll likely find the news confusing, complicated, incomplete and unhelpful in forming your opinions about how Central Africa can move towards a peaceful future. And that, oddly enough, is a useful first step.
"Confusing," "complicated," "incomplete" and "unhelpful" indeed, I've found all of that. And the big stumbling block for my writing posts is not wanting to add, even in such a small way, to the confusion. But I found Zuckerman's observation that coming to grips with the complexity of issues affecting Central Africa is a useful step towards a peaceful future.

My new acquaintance finds this blog off-putting; the reason for sending him links was our discussion about how little use he has for the Internet in general. That's not changed, but among the links I sent him was Ish Con and that forum caught his attention. The beautiful thing about first steps is they encourage other steps. There was a note of excitement in his email about finding an online forum of people who are exchanging views about ideas he finds important. It's a first step.

My morning paper had an editorial regarding the Sunday elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'm sure like most regional newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette dosen't expend much ink on African issues, but I'm pleased they don't completely ignore them either. As Zuckerman points out, if Americans want to read news stories about African issues, they'll have to look for them. But that's not so hard to do.

A few Sunday's ago Post-Gazette reporter Ervin Dyer wrote a beautiful piece, What I Learned to Give about his efforts with the children of Lincoln Elementary Technology Academy to raise money for and elementary school in rural Somany, Ghana. Lincoln-Lemmington is a hard part of town. I searched for a link for the neighborhood and an awful lot of the entries on the page results included the word "incidents." It's a safe bet none at the students at Lincoln Elementary are growing up with a silver spoons in their mouths. Dyer wrote about the kids five-week long effort to collect pennies for the school in Ghana:
Every day we should teach society's forgotten children to imagine that they can care, and that through their caring and through their gifts they can change the world. One person at a time.
Kenyan Analyst linked to a story in a women's magazine published in Ghana, Seeds of Hope: Kenyan Children Helping Children. The children of Kemeliet Primary School in Meibeki Valley, Kenya collected maize, eventually 200 bags (each bag weighing 100kg) for children in drought-affected areas of Kenya. Dyer speaks about "teaching the children" but I for one have much to learn from the students of Lincoln Elementary and Kemeliet Primary School.

One word that Zuckerman didn't use regarding reactions to reading African news was overwhelming, but I feel overwhelmed sometimes. For example here's an article I read today at the BBC, Bleak future for Congo's child soldiers. Might I say how much I object to "bleak futures?"

At the Africa Project picnic I met a man from Northern Uganda who is here in the States for a short while. He actually works in Southern Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. He thanked me for all the help I offer. I protested that I don't do nothing, but he insisted that my attention and the attention of so many Americans is important and appreciated.

All of us can play a positive role towards a peaceful world, even when we are unsettled and confused by the news. The children of Lincoln Elementary worked hard to help their fellow primary students in Ghana, and were happy to do it. All it took was someone to ask for their help, and Ervin Dyer was happy to oblige. Ethan Zuckerman is right about the importance of taking that useful first step. A line from Zap Mama's beautiful Nostalgie Amoureuse comes to mind:
We are the winners
If we unclothe our eyes
The scene is not what it seems
The healing waits in our sky.

Hey there! Before you walk away
Show me the smile that says
I’m not alone
You see what you want in me
This crazy life is my home.