Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blank Wonder Posted by Picasa

Blank Wonder

I haven't posted on this blog for a while. I've been posting on my blog called Incompentent Gardener, but haven't been writing about gardening rather posts in re Black History Month. The last post here was a cross-post and I realised that didn't work very well. This blog is in a general sense a blog about service to African people. It's too easy to skip posting here because I always have anxiety when opening Blogger about just what I will write about. That anxiety usually goes away when I start writing, but I remember it nonetheless and avoid opening Blogger!

Several authors of the blogs I read have expressed anxiety about blogging on their blogs. I was quite disturbed that a local blogger announced in a post that it was over, through, done. That blog is important to me because I have similar political views and we both seem to have a love--hate relationship to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Procrastinate as I do, it wasn't to the next day that I went to the blog to leave a comment to the effect of "Please don't go" and discovered that the "chuck it all" post had been deleted. Lately he's been experimenting with posts, but mostly I like the ones that fall in the old and regular rhthym.

Regardless of political leanings most of us long-tail bloggers seem an idealistic lot. We imagine that blogs can be a way of connecting to make good things happen. Blogs do connect people, but it's different than I had (vaguely) in mind. I expected some of my friends to read this sometimes, and some of them do, but different friends than I expected.

Recently I chatted with a Vietnamese college student in Vietnam. He told me about his Yahoo 360 blog. It took me a while to get around to checking it out and when I looked over his archives I discovered a post about me. The effort to get Nathan a computer had moved him. In his post on his blog, but not in our chats, he wrote that I need to post my blog address and email on my Yahoo 360 because many would be interested. I still haven't gotten around to posting much on my page there. I had no idea my friend was reading the Bazungu Bucks blog and I certainly never considered a network of Vietnamse young people reading it.

As a middle-aged guy and late adopter to computers and the Internet, I'm so slow to figure stuff out. I've often been jealous of the way young people do stuff with computers. They seem to me fearless and show each other how to do stuff. Doing a blog seems a lot like learning that way.

At an English translator in Costa Rica wrote to me saying he liked my idea for Cracker Jack books and thought they had potential where he is. Oh great! Now it's a process of trying to figure out what to work on and what to say to him. But right away, he offers a good name for these books: Microlibros. He's also worked with some formatting issues. There are so many issues to think about with these books, but that process is immediately made better with someone to share ideas with.

Content and making it as easy as possible for regular people to make content for these microlibros are an important challenge. I have some ideas for microlibros I'd like to author. Some of these are plans to construct simple and useful furniture. The problem is that it's a real challenge for me to draw these designs and I've been lazy about doing that. But along those lines in the back of my head are some designs in exisitng books. In particular I was looking for a Depression-era book on making useful items out of tin cans. I can't find it and I think it likely that I already sent it off to Africa. Nevertheless I found a book, Draw Comics! --Here's How-- by George Leonard Carlson. Simplifies Studies in Expression seemed an example of the sorts of things that would make a good microlibra. And of all the expressions studied, Blank Wonder sure is swell.

Thursday in Uganda was election day. All week I've been reading about Ugandan politics, and all week feeling dredful about it. I have a bunch of links about the election, but I can't quite bring my thoughts together for comment.

This post at Kenyan Pundit about the Ugandan elections reminds me what a great blog that is. 'Rumormongers' is a post by Abraham McLaughlin of The Christian Science Monitor. The Monitor is a very good newspaper with a very Web-friendly presence. I'm very happy with the way the paper allows space for reporters to blog. McLaughlin's blog posts compliment his excellent reporting from Africa by providing context to his full-blown reports.

Neither of these posts put the whole Ugandan election in perspective. Today's Post-Gazette reported on the election in the News Briefs. That makes sense really because who has the time to concern themselves with the internal politics of countries around the world in any detail. That sort of headline news serves a useful purpose, but it's good to be reminded how much of the story headlines miss. Blogs are very useful for gaining a fuller appreciation of situations around the world.

Juergen Kikuyumoja Eichholz's Kikuyumoja's Realm, has a review of Hubert Sauper's film Darwin's Ghost. The shorter version is he gives it a thumbs up. I hope I get to see it. Juergen is a German Kenyan blogger who blogs in English. There's something in that combination that makes me glad and a little optimistic.

Finally, Afromusing has a post about tree planting. Keguro at Gukira picked up on it right away. I think this is very important for a couple of reasons off the top of my head. First is the fact that many of us bloggers are trying to use our blogs to create something good and bring others onboard. Most of the time it seem impractical and doesn't work out the way we think it will, and still things happen. In any case I'd love it if this idea sprouts wings. Second Nathan from the very beginning has identified tree planting as a priority for the BSLA. Small efforts by many can help jump start worthwhile projects.

All along this blog has been a study in the expression of Blank Wonder. Thanks to George Leonard Carlson for the illustration--circa 1933. I don't know what I'm doing, but I know I'm learning along the way.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Thelonious Monk Posted by Picasa

"History is not an abstraction. Free Speech Is."

Recently I've been posting on my blog at The nice thing about that is that hardly anyone looks at it. I've been trying this month to do post in honor of Black History Month, rather as an academic exercise. But this post was stimulated by blog posts outside that gated community, so I thought I'd cross post it here.

One of my favorite blogs is Gukira which probably has been around since 2004, but I only discovered recently. (It seems the archives is limited to the latest 10 posts, but maybe I'm missing something.) The author of the blog, Keguro Macharia is a Kenyan living in semi-rural Massachusetts and teaches English at the University level. Keguro also used to frequent, but not anymore. I was really quite excited to discover his blog via comments he left at another blog.

Keguro did a powerful post Cartoons He writes:
"To trace a history of cartoons in Euro-America is to trace a history of race relations."
It's a powerful post, and if you have an inclination click and read it now, because I'm not sure whether his blog simply doesn't provide links to his archives, or his archives are limited to the ten latest posts.

One of the commentators to the post suggested that Keguro must have seen The Jim Crow Museum. He hadn't, but knows his subject matter very well. The reason is not simply because Keguro is very erudite, which he most certainly is, it's also that as a Kenyan and an outsider he can gain perspective on rascism in America, as an outsider. Here's a post I did on my blog linking to the Jim Crow Museum In any case the excellent online presence of the Jim Crow Museum is an important resource for understanding black history in America. As are the history of cartoons as Keguro realtes with great force.

I was mulling Barbara Summer's the editor of Brian Lanker's book "I Dream a World: Portrait of Black Women Who Changed the World (see: this post) observation about the women's stories: "so much love in anger" when I read his piece. I also had in mind the powerful words of black voices I've been reading lately. I left comments:
Indeed cartoons trace a history of race relations. And your post makes the point well.Still for students delving into their history there are words. It's great that you cite Houston Baker because while the literature is surely a part of "black critical memory" literature like blues music transmutes the pain. Baker makes black literature available to students through his many books.

The photographer Brian Lanker did an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America." He interviewed the women. Barbara Summers edited the material for the companion book. She wrote about editing the material:

"A truly beautifying discovery for me was to find so much love in anger. It was a fist-up, death defying love that challenged the unfair conditions of life and muscled in on injustice as it nursed both sides of a nation."

Memory is critical. The ugly should not be hidden. But to discover "love in anger" and art, music and literature is the most direct ways for students to find it, perhaps helps to bare the burden history weighs upon us.
Keguro responded:
I have no problem with affirmation. But racial history (and no one is talking about the history of the Ottoman empire, surely an even more impressive empire than the British) is not pretty, is not affirmative, demands we feel guilt and shame. As long as we refuse to own up to these pasts, "liberal" democracies will replay racism in the name of free speech. History does not let us off the hook in search of an ideal. History is not an abstraction. Free Speech Is.

Before the journalists attack me. I will write it again. History is not an abstraction. Free Speech Is.
I'm not so sure that history isn't an abstraction nor that Free Speech always is. But that discussion is best left for another place--as if I were really smart enough to--however Keguro's point about affirmation seems quite important. "[Racial history] demands we feel guilt and shame." A hair shirt is always a difficult fashion decision, reserved for pennance. What I understand from Keguro is that unless we are willing to feel the pain and shame which history imposes, we will not be able to firm a purpose for amendment.

I"m not finding now, but I read about Dr. David Pigrim who is the driving force behind the Jim Crow Museum. He'd collected racisist memerobilia and was showing some of it to two guests at his home, a black woman and a white man. After the woman left Pilgrim noticed the man was crying, and the man said, "I'm sorry." So significant was the sincere contrition and the words "I'm sorry" were like a weight lifted from Pilgrim. The experience help solidify his idea that a museum of racisist artifact could enable transformative change.

I'm not sure, except to say that change doesn't happen in a moment. I know from many interactions with black people that I still don't "get it" my heart judged not contrite enough.

Thinking of "love in anger" my thoughts turned to Thelonious Sphere Monk. I'm not sure why really, and lord knows I'm unqualified to write much about such a musical giant. Implicit in Keguro's contention that history is not abstract is a presumption that the study of history be rigorous. The trouble is people make up stories in their heads about history, at least I do. One of the aspects of the stroy in my head about Thelonious Monk is the devotion between mim and his wife Nellie. Another is the considerable speculation about the nature of Monk's mental illness.

In my story of Monk love takes center stage, not only his love for Nellie, but her love for him. Monk's son T. S. Monk, Jr. is such a good talker. When I've heard him speak about life with his father as a child, love come through; how as a child his playing under the piano with his sister, they knew all was right, their dad was cool.

There's an anger part too. I don't know enough, but Bebop had a political element, as T.S, Monk notes somewhere in this interview. When I was young I never had many records. Probably same as today part of getting together with firends was to share music, except it was much harder to do, we had to go listen. "Underground" was a record I remember. And the cover of that record makes me think of anger too, at least the idea of Bebop having a political element. And then of course was Monk's distain for the police; two incidents are well known: sitting in a car with Bud Powell the police searched it and found drugs and Monk wouldn't testify against Powell; and an incident in Delaware with a Rothschilde heiress where he was beaten bloody.

Too many cool pictures of Thelonious Monk, and just an image search is a fun Internet excursion. This photo is a postcard I scanned, but I don't know the credits--so it's a rip off. Two great pictures here.

From the "Drummer World" link:
Shortly after his father passed away leaving a rich and legendary legacy and, tragically, his sister died of cancer. To honor his father's legacy and support the efforts of education, Thelonious turned his attention toward forming the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. As Chairman, Thelonious has been at the forefront of helping to create a number of programs that range supporting after-school athletic programs. The Institute's activities reach from Boston to Los Angeles sponsoring music education for students in the form of full scholarships to funding and supplies and from New York to Orlando.
T. S. Monk, Jr. is an enormously successful promoter of Jazz and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz does great work and is a fun Web site to puruse.

Monk in this 1965 interview said:
"I’ve never wished for anybody else’s job. I enjoy what I do and I’m myself all the time. And I’ll continue to be me."
His life and legacy are and affirmation of composer of of great music and a full life. Keguro suggests that we must come face to face with the tragedy of history, to feel the pain and shame. But surely tragedy doesn't preclude affirmation, rather just that we don't conclude a happy ending. We still have time to compose our lives, surely compassion is essential: "love in anger."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Immigrants to America Posted by Picasa

Immigrants to America

Local Pittsburghers and perhaps readers of this blog know that within a month's time two African immigrants living in Pittsburgh were murdered recently. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday ran an article on the front page, African immigrants face bias from blacks: Tension climbs highest in poor communities. I have mixed reactions to the piece. On the one hand, it's quite important that the paper considers the story of African immigrants living here newsworthy. On the other hand, coverage of prejudiced views are enormously difficult because we crazy human beings manage to hold tight to bias and at the same time think we're free of prejudice.

The picture was taken for Africana Magazine last autumn. In the middle is Paul Russesbagina whose experiences are depicted in the film Hotel Rwanda with some members of the University of Pittsburgh's African Student Organization on either side of him. I'm not entirely sure why I picked the photo, but perhaps thinking something like: "Can you spot the Africans here?"

Stereotypes are so often wrong, it's a wonder why people imagine we need them at all. They've got some utility and all of us use stereotypes in our construction of the world in one way or another. Surely not just for Africans in America, but for other immigrant groups as well, the collection of American stereotypes must seem plenty strange.

When I was young I was living in a house in a former coal company housing community. I was trying to remodel the space, but was harassed, robbed and the property repeatedly vandalized. In the newspaper story, an African immigrant here tells of similar harassment and in addition his children are bullied and mocked. He blames "mostly black youths." In my case it was a decidedly multi-racial group. But for both of us these things happened in a "poor" neighborhood.

I was talking with an African friend living here. He mentioned The Urban League. We were talking loosely, but he said something like: "The Urban League types come in an tell us what to do and then drive on home to Sewickly (an wealthy suburb). They don't have a clue about the situations we face in these neighborhoods." I suspect even if they do drive home to nice homes in expensive areas, many of the people he's talking about do have a clue, indeed probably first-hand experience. Nevertheless, people in this community aren't connecting so well. Here's a long snippet from the Post-Gazette article:
The solution to help everyone get along is using common ground to build bridges, said Yinka Aganga-Williams, an immigrant Nigerian who works with local groups to ease immigrant transitions into Allegheny County.

What black Americans need to understand, said Ms. Copeland-Carson, is that their culture, from spirituals to food to healing practices, is an amalgam of African traditions. It can be revitalizing to re-link these cultures with immigrant Africans.

Likewise, black Americans who have survived in this country can help immigrants sustain identities in schools and help build political coalitions.

The glass is not half-empty when it comes to relations between the two groups, said Ms. Aganga-Williams, who warned that media stereotyping paints a picture that all black Americans are harassing Africans.

"I don't think they are being targeted. [David Agar] went to a bar, and there happened to be a bad guy there. I don't think Mitete's killer set out to kill an African immigrant that night.
I'm not black but am very interested in building bridges between communities. The idea of linking African cultures to African American culture can be "revitalizing" seems very important to me. I cannot imagine my identity as an American without black people in America. It's not to minimize distinctive differences to think that better understanding of Africans experiences and history will result in better understandings of how we share history.

In this week's The Nation there's a wonderful excerpt from a new book, Life Out of Context by Walter Mosely. They title the excerpt A New Black Power and there's so much to agree with.

Mosely thinks that a way to reinvigorate our politics here is to move towards a more parlimentary system through voting blocs. Mostly he's concerned with the creation of a Black Voting Bloc, but envisions there will be many others. Mosely writes:
"Didn't you see the millions dying in Africa while your leaders argued about the references and jokes in the movie Barbershop?" someone in a later year may ask. And how will we answer? If we don't lie we might say, "I knew what was happening, but I didn't know how to act. I felt powerless and helpless and so I did nothing."
I do feel helpless, and I can't stand it. Mosely suggests that we must organize politically and the idea of voting blocs is sound. Again he's primarily interested in this piece about a Black Voting Bloc, writing:
Because if we do not lead we will be led. And if those who have learned to despise, distrust and diminish us are the leaders, then our path will lead even farther away from our homes. We will wake up like strangers in our own beds. We, and our children, will be walking in uncomfortable shoes to poor jobs. We will be jeered on every corner, and every mirror we come across will distort our image.
The reasoning is easily applied in favor of other voting blocs and bridges between multiple voting blocs are easy to envision.

The whole article is very much worth reading, but I'll end with just one more snippet:
In a world where poetry is a contest at best and a competition at worst, where the importance of a painting is gauged by the price it can be sold for--we are to be counted among the lost. And so when I say that we need leaders and that those leaders must come from our youth, it is no idle statement. We need our young people because without their dreams to guide us we will have only cable TV and grain alcohol for succor.
I will be eternally grateful that by a fluke I met a young man living in a semi-rural place in Uganda. Through knowing him I've become interested in learning more about Africa in general. In the process have learned more about the story of my own heritage. My friend Nathan strongly holds Enlightenment ideals: "individual freedom, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and cultural freedom" (Arthur Schlesinger via Samuel Huntington).

"We need our young people" here and abroad. Our best hope as people isn't in building walls, rather to build bridges.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Nairobi Posted by Picasa

What the Blog?

I was talking to Pingting the creator of find the time to rhyme--you can also click on Shop in the sidebar to go to The House of Pingting--about blogs and a mutual friend. Our friend doesn't play on the Internet. I'd really love it if he did, say by doing a blog. But Pingting said, "I don't think he'll ever get online."

Tribe is a social networking site. Like other sites blogs are a part of the package and a neat feature is being able to click on a link to a page of the blog posts in your friends network. Recently one of my friends has been posting each day something in honor of Black History Month. I'm so enjoying reading his posts, I thought doing the same would be worthwhile. Wow, two posts in and what's made obvious is my ignorance. Cool, I hope I learn something along the way.

My ignorance about Africa is a big part of this blog. At first I thought my friends would read it, but I now see my relationship to my readers is more complicated than that. So I imagine that perhaps this blog is a place especially for other Americans to think a little differently about Africa and African issues. Yikes! That means many if not most of you know a whole lot more than I do. Still it's really nice to be in the community of bloggers about Africa, and maybe I'll learn something.

The picture is of Nairobi, Kenya snatched from the Web here. This morning the first blog post I read was from Potash who writes A Kenyan Urban Narrative. The post was about a corruption scandal revealed dramatically by John Githongo an investigator appointed by the Kenyan government; revealed, with tapes, in Britain. Potash is in Kenya, his posts and several others I read by Kenyan bloggers were a little hard for me to piece together. The problem is not knowing some of the things taken for granted that everyone knows. Then comes Ethan Zuckerman to the rescue, he masterfully puts it all together in this post.

So I've got a brilliant friend who will probably never turn on a computer much less blog. There's a real life and he leads it fully. The Internet puts an incredible array of information right in front of our eyes. But at the end of the day what really matters is how our feet touch the ground.

Certainly there are blogs, and probably will be long into the future, that have huge readerships. Nevertheless, I find the blogs that have small readerships very important. It seems there that intimate collaboration can really work. Big blogs can coordinate mass actions. Little blogs perhaps can set small actions into play.

My brilliant friend is very adept in the ways he plants his feet. Maybe the Internet will play hardly a role in his life. There must be lots of others like him everywhere. Certainly that's true in Africa, even if many people there don't have to go out of their way to avoid the Internet. With my friend, I know that what makes a difference is right in what some call the "meat space." He's a good reminder to be practical; to try to make what I do online have some connection to the soil from which life is supported.

We do live in interesting times. The problems we all face as passengers on this planet Earth are daunting. There's a very real sense in which problems can be labled "Kenyan," "American" or any other locale, but because people are so connected these are just subsets to the larger sets of human problems and challenges. Zuckerman writes about the Kenyan scandal:
It’s unfortunate that Githongo’s needed to leave his home to offer this difficult look inside official corruption in Kenya - but, ultimately, the story has been told and Kenyan bloggers and journalists can now follow up leads, ask hard questions and try to ensure the whole story gets told. With our current administration in the US, we’re having a hard time getting any answers even when Senators are asking the questions. Perhaps someone needs to offer Alberto Gonzales a fellowship at Oxford so he can tell us what really happened with NSA wiretapping. If we flew him to the UK to meet with the BBC, would that qualify as “extraordinary rendition”?
That's a little snark, but he also provides a context for understanding. I care very much about policies and corruption in my own country. And because I have Internet friends in Kenya who care very much about policies and corruption in their country, I want to understand. More than that, I relate.

Tonight on my Tribe blog I wrote about James L. Farmer. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know the name before tonight. He was a Medal of Freedom Winner and the founder of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). The path to finding out about him was quite interesting to me, from Taj Mahal to Gandhi. I bet my offline friend could have told me a thing or two about Farmer. There have long been movements before the Internet. Farmer said of himself:
"I lived in two worlds," Farmer said late in life, recalling his role in the movement. "One was the volatile and explosive one of the new black Jacobins and the other was the sophisticated and genteel one of the white and black liberal establishment. As a bridge, I was called on by each side for help in contacting the other."
Global Voices highlights "bridge blogs" blogs that join people across political boundaries. They ask, "The world is talking, are you listening?" What's important is how we move when we hear; the purpose for a bridge is to get somewhere. I think we all want to get to a better place.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Invisible Children bracelet production at Koro Camp

Invisible Children Bracelets

I'm such a scatter-brain. Yesterday my browser had some fault or another and it seems I've lost my bookmarks. So I've spent some time just getting my surfing environment back to a workable space. I can't believe how many passwords are involved, and how utterly disorganized I've been about them.

A friend from Vietnam caught me online this afternoon. Recently he'd sent me an invitation to his Yahoo 360 space which I'd accepted, but really hadn't looked around yet. My friend is in college and looking over his page, I'm reminded that young people really do get the idea of Internet communications a whole lot better than I do.

At Tribe there is a discussion going on in Technology for the Developing and Third World about a 2004 essay by Ethan Zuckerman,
Making Room for the Third World in the Second Superpower. Zuckerman's blog is so smart. I find African blogs and blog aggregators like Blog Africa essential for getting and understanding current events in Africa. One of the things I learned from the Tribe thread is that there are plenty of people still quite wary about the wonderful world of blogs.

Surfing around my Vietnamese friend's Yahoo 360 space was quite encouraging because young people today feel so comfortable with Internet tools and concepts. Many Africans have very sparse Internet access, but even with my limited sample of contacts, it seems to me they find Web stuff, which I often have a hard time understanding, easy. Still, Zuckerman makes some good points about not assuming that blogs and social networking environments will follow the same path as they do here and in other developed countries. So I'm always on the look out for ways my friends in Africa can extend the usefulness of these technologies in their communities.

The ways that organizations are using Flickr are really exciting to me. Today's photo was posted by Life in Africa. Life in Africa is a membership organization in Uganda working to better our community through webbed empowerment. Here's what they say about the photo:
A team of 20 producers have already started learning to make Invisible Children solidarity bracelets, thanks to Life in Africa trainers Gilbert Matsiko (in the chair) and Grace Ayaa. Those 20 will teach others in additional IDP Camps in Gulu District during 2006, with the aim of creating 200 part time jobs that Life in Africa's member benefits will build on.
Still want to know more? Well then, the Global Youth Fund has got more. And the good folks behind Invisible Children have a Web site Visible Children to learn more and buy a bracelet.

At my age, I should be able to say: "These kids today" with crticism in my voice. I'm just as clueless, probably a lot more than most, about youth culture. Still, I see so many acting in such positive ways. I'm convinced that African young people will find many innovative ways to use the Internet. Following the African and Africa bridge blogs one of the very encouraging things I've observed is conversations between Africans in Africa and Africans living abroad.

My Vietnamese friend has several Vietnamese friends attending school in the United States. When I was in college--and this is yet another of my goofs--I sponsored two refugees from the war in Vietnam. Both were my age and their passage here was the result of being in a place in Vietnam where they were offered a chance to come to America, but only if they made the decision right then. Adjustment for immigrants is huge. I utterly let those two down. I hope they've survived well enough, now two middle aged men like myself. What if there had been an Internet for them? It would have helped enormously. They were scattered like the wind, not knowing where any contacts they knew were. The Internet is a great machine. Sure there are problems, but there is great promise too. The greatest part is that that ordinary people create and contribute. It's up to us to discover cool new things to do using it. And we can do it together.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Invisible Children

I attended the screening of Invisible Children tonight at the University of Pittsburgh Oakland campus. I should do a proper post, but not tonight. In questions after the screening people wanted to know what America can do. This link to the Uganda Conflict Action Network, Uganda-CAN suggests specific actions to lobby your representatives.

These proposals were published in an article printed in Uganda's independent newspaper the Daily Monitor. Uganda-CAN has published the government of Uganda's response. Uganda-CAN has also published an impassioned letter from the former Anglican Bishop in the region, McLeod Ochola. The situation is complex, but not so complex that as not to be understood. Uganda-CAN is a good resource for finding out more about the situation.

For those in Pittsburgh here's a link to Peter Okema's Pittsburgh Africa Project. Using the links on the sidebar you will also find more information about the forgotten war in northern Uganda.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Amadou Diallo Posted by Picasa

Under the Law

On February 4, 1999 Amadou Diallo, a 23 year old Guinean living in New York was killed by four NYPD Street Crime Unit officers. The police fired 41 shots, nineteen of them striking their target Diallo.

Today members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are questioning attorney general Gonzalez regarding the president's unwarranted and program of wiretapping outside the the authorization of the FISA law.

It's a stretch to link these two events together. One unsettling connection is too few Americans can little about either event. Timothy Lynch director of the Cato Insititute's Project on Criminal Justice wrote a briefing paper on the Diallo killing that raises solid arguments for the first principle of the right to be left alone. Surely it's not paranoia to be concerned about terrorism and to want to prevent terroristic actions. But it behooves us to be careful about the means we employ to this end. The tragic killing of Amadou Diallo is a cautionary tale for why we must carefully examine the means we employ against crime and terrorism.

A recent CNN article, U.N. adviser: West killing Africa with gun sales reports on remarks by Dennis McNamara, special UN advisor on internally displaced persons. McNamara is critical of world governments for callously neglecting the fate of more than 12.5 million displaced people in Africa. He also speaks about one of the great horror which small arms cause throughout the region:
Guns are at the heart of the problem ... There is one slogan I would like to suggest for 2006: No Arms Sales to Africa. Zero. Not an embargo, not a sanction, a voluntary cessation of all arms sales to Africa.

The kids on the streets of Nairobi, Khartoum, Abidjan and Monrovia have guns in their pockets or up their sleeves ... We provided the arms. We the West, we the G8," he added, referring to the Group of Eight industrialized nations.
One of the facts of the Diallo case was that when he reached for his wallet to show the police his identification the police thought he'd reached for a gun. I'm critical at times of police conduct, but police must act to assure their safety. I don't think the police acted with murderous intent, but the result was death nonetheless. The old chestnut: "Guns don't kill people, people do." understates the consequences of so many guns not just here in America, but world wide.

It's not so easy to sort out what to do. The very personalities involved in dismantling Constitutional proctections against unwarranted searches are the same personalities who defend unfettered arms sales and pre-emptive wars of aggression. The solution they propose, it seems, is a mighty arms race and a presumption that American intersest will always prevail by the force of the gun. This adoration of violence as the solution to violence reeks of blood and death.

The award winning blog Wampum recently did a post about the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA. Something that pleased me was that finally in the discussion of the Abramhoff corruption probe, Interieor Secretary Gail Norton is finally placed firmly in the middle of the corruption.

What this has to do with gun sales to Africa, the Amadou Diallo killing, and the "right by any means" stance of the current American government is tenuous. The connection, I see is the hazards ordinary people face when we abandon priciples of restraint under the law.

Timothy Lynch writes:
The key difference between a free society and a totalitarian regime is the power of police agents. In a free society the police are governed by law, in a totalitarian regime the police are the law.
The inquiry into the unwarranted wiretaps is important because our Constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment. The Second Amendment secures a right to bear arms. What's clear from today's inquiry into the unwarranted wiretaps is that our government percieves a need to limit our rights to our security in our homes and our privacy. That's got me kicking and screaming. But by placing the issue of guns and Second Amendment issues next to it, I'm not so full of moral certainty. The very real dangers of gun violence make me conceed the importance of limits on rights. Throwing in Gail Norton and the horrible corruption of the Interior Department under her watch is a warning that un-checked government leads to corruption. Liberty requires balancing intersts.

I'm shocked that our elected representatives would not even require attorney general Gonzales to offer testimony under oath about such weighty matters as the right of people to be secure in their homes and effects. They were unwilling to assert the role of Congress as a check on the power of the Executive. Arlen Spector, in his inimitable condesending tone has told us as Americans: We've just kissed your rights goodbye. End discussion.

Let's not be so quick to stop talking. The dangers we face, indeed the pressing reality of violence people face around the world, are pressing. We must not forget that violence at the hand of governments is a substantial cause not neatly sorted out from the broader issue of violence. When our representatives are supine while our rights are in question the result will be corruption and greater violence. Our voices must be raised.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Free Screening Posted by Picasa

Invisible Children

Global Solutions is screening Invisible Children:

Monday, February 6, 9:00 pm,
A special showing of the film Invisible Children
121 David Lawrence Hall, University of Pittsburgh

Invisible Children was shot and edited by three Californian college students searching for a story in Africa, utterly unprepared for what they would find. Spliced with MTV-generation audio and inspiration, the film introduces one of the most troubling phenomena of our time: the plight of child soldiers in Uganda. It is, at once, informative, unsettling, and a must-see.
I saw an early cut of this film, it's very moving--worth seeing even if you think you have no interest in this forgotten war.

From the Invisible Children Web site, I see there are a few other screenings in the Pittsburgh area this week:
February 6th 2006 Greensburg Central Catholic High school Pennsylvania Greensburg, PA - 8 AM to 3 PM
February 7th 2006 Grove City College Pennsylvania Grove City, PA - All day
February 8th 2006 Fox Chapel High school Pennsylvania Pittsburgh, PA @ 8 AM
Invisible Children is not just a movie but a movement, so even if you can't attend it's worth your while to check out their Web site to learn more.

It was interesting to see Global Solutins sponsoring the event. I hadn't heard of the organization before so was surprised to check out their Web site. Global Solutions "is the local affililate of Citizens For Global Solutions, a national organization working toward global solutions to global problems. Our organization has been educating western Pennsylvanian citizens about our global interdependence for over fifty years." The organization was formerly known as The World Federalist Association and the history provided at Wikipedia is quite interesting, especially in these times of rampant nationalism here in the USA.

If peace, love and understanding are broadly associated with the left, that's a good reason for identifying to the left. The fact of the matter, and something that's cause for hope, is neither right nor left has a lock on such important constructs as "peace, love and understanding." Membership to World Federalist has been open except to Facisits and Communists orientations, but I suspect these days it's harder to say, maybe it's always been. What seems clear is that the vision of Global Solutions:
Global Solutions envisions a future in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone. This vision requires effective democratic global institutions that will apply the rule of law while respecting the diversity and autonomy of national and local communities.
is one that seems at odds with the current one-party Republican monopoly on federal power here in the USA.

Looking over the board of the local affiliate of Global Solutions I noticed the Treasurer is Clarke Thomas, who I presume is the same Clarke Thomas, a senior editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hum, if I were a reporter, I'd check to see what the facts of the matter are, but as a blogger, I'll go along with un-informed speculation. If it's true they're one in same, it seems a measure of how our views as Americans have changed. It seems no longer a moderate position to "strengthen international insititutions such as the United Nations" here in America. Our UN ambassodor, John Bolton once said in a speech "Nobody would notice were shaved off" and so the "moderate" position in today's political climate would seem to be: "How many stories of the UN should be lopped off."

That "take" seems fair from a what we know of our current political consensus, but doesn't well represent the consensus across political opinions right, left and moderate. A good representative of a politcally moderate and pro-international institutions is Steve Clemons of The Washington Note. Along with Talking Points Memo Cafe the TPM has set up Bolton Watch. My point is not to argue in favor of Global Solutions as a political movement, but rather to point out that the abolishment of war is an idea that has engaged people of many different political stripes for a long time. To abhor war is mainstream!

If you have the opportunity to see the movie Invisible Children take it. I'm reluctant to say, "you'll be entertained" nevertheless I'm sure you will be. The movie is quite thought provoking and you'll probably want to find out more about this horrible little known war. The Ugandan Conflict Action Network is a great place to start to find out more. Here are a few of pages worth a look: here, here and here. Good work if you clicked on any of those. What's important is that informed American can make a real difference towards resolving this tragedy by influencing our government.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Together We Can Posted by Picasa

Together We Can

The late Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." That's quoted an awful lot; I'm not sure most of us believe it. After the last posts my better judgment tells me to leave political writing to others. Truly there's some great political writing on blogs, and so many places to find it. This blog is supposed to be about "service to African people" but that doesn't sound particularly local and neither does my ranting about national politics here in the USA. Nevertheless, writing blogs posts are a way for me to get my thoughts in order about how I can contribute something good in a world with too much suffering. My actions are so local, they're personal. It all get confusing when I imagine that what I write here is available worldwide.

I lost my brother to gun violence and today a verdict was reached of "not-guilty" in the retrial of one of the culprits. I'm not sure what to think, except that I'm thinking about it.

On Tuesday I went to a meeting of the African Student Organization (ASO) at the University of Pittsburgh. Conveniently, the protests in advance of the State of the Union was outside the building where the ASO meeting was held. The trouble with peaceniks is we tend to be peaceful. Oh well, there's no excuse, after standing in around for a little while, I got bored and left for the ASO meeting. I've always felt a little odd about going to the meetings. It's the business of being a middle-aged guy hanging out with college students that seems somewhat creepy to me. The members have always made me feel welcome, nonetheless, and I feel such positive affection for them.

The meeting was interesting. The program was about a doomsday cult in Uganda whose members were self-immolated in the Kanungu tragedy of 2000. A Catholic Monsignor from Uganda who has been in Pittsburgh for the last couple of years working on project for Solar Lights for Africa investigated and wrote a book about it. The first thing he did was to encourage the students there to do something good for Africa. I felt a little overcome looking around the room and knowing how earnest these students are.

The most pressing reason that I went was because of the murder of David Agar one of "the lost boys" of Sudan here in Pittsburgh last Saturday. The second murder in a month's time of an African living Pittsburgh has hit the community hard. Gun violence makes me full of sorrow. And I well understand that it's tangled together with many other knotty problems. There's not much I can do, but the joining others in the community seems the least I can do.

I know a little about the circumstances of some of the people in that room Tuesday, about how they came to live here. Some of them like David Agar are here because they escaped political violence at home. Many of them care very much about trying to make things better. They're of course busy with school. College has the great advantage of putting a bunch of people together in one place and the members of the ASO are taking advantage. It's a very diverse group from many countries.

The picture today was lifted from a German Web site that trys to bring together Germans with Africans living in Germany. Something very useful is the attention they pay to a common interest between Germans and Africans in Germany with the conditions of life in Africa. An organization with similar aims might be quite useful here in the Pittsburgh region.

Of course we're all busy. One of the stumbling blocks to Bazungu Bucks, aside from the name, is that the people I know are doing they're best to create something good. There doesn't seem to be much overlap with the projects I'm working on.

In a card with a nice donation for Nathan's computer, a friend wrote:
To you as the Bazungu Bucks banker I offer the "Time Dollars" I earned by volunteering 8 hours a week with the Forbes Hospice.
I was overwhelmed by the generosity in that, because I know how long a committment this has been for him. The hidden prize if I could only find it is how an alternative currency could help us in our efforts to build community.

I haven't puzzled it out yet. Many of us like to do our good deeds without the sounds of tinkling cymbals and trumpeting brass. Having my friend hand over his time dollars to me made me feel rich. On a tangible level they're not worth much, but on another level his gift was empowering. I think maybe we could do with more cymbals and brass about our efforts.

When we get together as friends, we want to talk about our gardens, our children, our loved ones. It's rare that we talk about what we do for others, not because we aren't doing anything. It's something we take for granted and it seems a little political. Local politics would be stregnthened by our shining our light a bit more. We need to remind one another more often that together we can create something good.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Freedom to Speak Posted by Picasa

Free to Speak

Ah, so there are the buttons in the Blogger composer. I wonder what I did to make them disapear the last time?

I failed out of college the first time around, and then many years later went back to complete a degree. I studied Elementary Education, a course of study I found just right, but not a good career for me. There were very few men in that program, something on its face might seem like an advantage, but I never found it to be. Partly because I was older and partly because I am a man, I was seen as something of an interloper and out of place. Once in a required introductory linquistics class, quite dreaded but not really that difficult, the woman in the seat in front of me turned, as the professor was addressing a question I had raised, and sneered at me:
Shut up! Why don't you just shut up! Shut up.
I was plenty taken aback because the course was pretty much a straight lecture course, not a seminar where I was dominating the discussion. That was my first inkling that I wasn't merely being ignored, but rather positively disliked.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq and made famous by her camping out near president Bush's Texas home in an effort to meet with him, was handcuffed, forcibly ejected and arrested after taking her seat at last night's State of the Union message. She had come from an Alternate State of the Union event and was wearing a t-shirt 2242 Dead - How Many More?. Beverly Young, the wife of a Florida congressman was also wearing a printed t-shirt and was ejected but not arrested.

I'm stodgy enough that I would not be particularly offended by a "dress code' enforced in the House Chamber. Indeed, I remember a congressman was ejected by the late Speaker of the House,Tip O'Neil because on a hot summer day entered in he wasn't wearing a jacket and tie. But the issue with Sheehan, particularly her arrrest, has to do with supression of protest. I wouldn't be surprised that the charges against Sheehan are quietly dropped. Her removal garnered more attention than her attendence ever would have if she'd been left unmolested. But if you ask me, I'll tell you that freedom of speech is a fundamental right, a pillar so substantial eroding it is more destructive to democracy than a plane crashed into the Pentagon.

February 1st is the anniversary of Langston Hughes' birthday. I was alerted to this by a post at 3 Quarks Daily Abbas Raza provides a photograph and short biorgraphy from this Web site and reproduces Hughes' I, Too. I got the photo here, I particularly liked this photo because I was just about the age of those kids pictured when I discovered Langston Hughes. We had an unusal class assembly where we watched the film, A Raisin in the Sun. Any movie in school would have been a big hit with me, but this movie especially so. The title comes from a line in a poem by Langston Hughes called Harlem (What happens to a Dream Deferred. It short and beautifully rendered by artist Theresa Rosado here.

Hughes was a prolific writer and managed to make a living of it, although just barely. Now that the barriers to entry for publishing are so low, it's hard to know what would his writing career be today. As a black man, Hughes' access to the media was limited and calculated so that he and the many other artists of the Harlem Renassaince remained outside mainstream attention.

Bill Gates said today that attempts for governments to censor Web site contents are doomed. His point is that information people want to know will get out via email anyway. That's a good point so far as it goes. I'm not sure governments' eagerness to censor has so much to to with preventing information gettting out, and more to do with shaping the narrative of government control. The ever readable Ethan Zuckerman has a post, Ethiopia notices cyber-dissidents. (Indefinite detention without charges is the sincerest form of flattery.) about the arrest and detention of Frezer Negesh a correspondent for a Web site, Ethiopia Review. The government of Meles Zenawi has at least sixteen journalist in custody:
[S]everal have been charged with “non-journalistic crimes” - not with libel, but with treason, “genocide” or crimes against national security.
I'm happy to hear Gates speek against censorship. But I'm afraid the fundamental issue from governments' points of view isn't really about information getting out, rather taking advantage of opportunity to wield violence as an instrument of power.

Ejecting Cindy Sheehan wasn't intended to supress the information 2,242 soldiers killed, the point made is that it's unpatriotic to say so. Furthermore by her arrest the point is made that it's illegal as well.

I object.