Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fifteen Hats

There's been a groundswell of enthusiam about my Party Hats for Potash posts; sadly no. I have nonetheless begun making them. I have fifteen made. Generally I like to put pompoms on the hats and none of these have pompoms yet and I suppose I want to decorate them a little more.

As I said before every hat is unique. Part of that is I'm still playing with designs. Something I hope is that they can be folded to be mailed easily. These will do, but the paste makes them a little harder than I'd like. I'm using Yes! Paste and I think I need a big old bucket of it. The jars I'm buying seem too expensive, and I see online that the bigger jars are cheaper in the long run. On the other hand, it seems like such a simple product to cost so much. I've thought before that wallpaper paste would work just fine, but haven't wanted to experiment with that yet. Certainly if the production of adult paper party hats were to be offshore, the simplier and cheaper the paste the better.

Part of the pleasure of paper party hats is that they're silly. That's also why they're so good for parties. Pompous fonts of information can't help but loosen up a bit while wearing a party hat. One fear that both men and women have about hats is their heads are too big and they hate to call attention to that. These hats are sized for big heads, but it's a simple matter to pinch them in the back and hold the fold with a paper clip or a piece of tape for more modest sized heads.

I'm not sure where the regular colored tissue paper comes from, but the gold paper, which is very much like gold guilding comes from Vietnam.

I have pictures of friends in hats, but I won't publish them without permission. I looked over some and thought I could probably publish some knowing they'd never see the photos. I thought the better of that because you never know what they might hear through the grapevine. Nevertheless, I hope that people who dontate to the cause of Party Hats for Potash will send me a picture. Blogs make connections possible and I like the idea that Potash would be able to see some of the people he's connected to; and that we can see that we are connected with each other.

If you'd like a Paper Party Hat for Potash email me at bazungubucks at earthlink.net. I'll send you my address so you can mail a check. I'm sorry I'm not really set up to handle online donations. I'm suggesting a $5.00 donation per hat. It will cost about a buck to send a hat so I'd appreciate you including that too.

We are all called upon to help in so many ways that we have to make choices. Don't think too much about this one. The hats are fun, you'll want one. Remember too, each hat comes with a Bazungu Buck. Whoopee!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Steal This Idea

Mmm, supper was delicious.

In my post before supper I began explaining a proposal for me to make 100 party hats as a way for people to contribute towards the blogger Potash's pressing immediate needs. Well the idea is people will give me money for the hats and every hat comes with a bonus Bazungu Buck.

The idea of alternative currencies is something I believe is quite powerful. There's so much work that's been done to really tweek the idea and to invent practical applications for alternative currencies. I certainly see that keeping good accounts as a way for people to exchange alternative currencies is a very useful thing. I'm not sure that I'm up to the task as far as Bazungu Bucks go. Really I imagine Bazungu Bucks as a sort of gift currency.

Say that it takes as I estimate about one hundred of my hours to make 100 paper party hats for Potash cash. In the idea of Bazungu Bucks as a Time Dollar currency, one hour of my time is equal to one Bazungu Buck. As the Bazungu Buck banker and indeed maker of Bazungu Bucks the prospects of $100 Bazungu Bucks isn't much to get excited about. The trouble has been that nobody else has seemed very excited about gathering Bazungu Bucks either. At my birthday party guests had many opportunities to grab fist-fulls of Bazungu Bucks and nobody did. My friends are very nice people; even still if I'd set out jars of Greenbacks and encouraged them to take some, I'm sure many more of those would have been pocketed than the Bazungu Bucks were.

The problem with Bazungu Bucks is there just doesn't seem much a person can do with them. What's worse, because the whole reason for Bazungu Bucks is to encourage voluntary service to African people, it really seems that holding a Bazungu Buck means an expectation of doing something for African people. My friends keep telling me that I have to tell them what to do; meanwhile I keep hoping they'll come up with some stunning ideas. So I just tell them: Create something good.

Until yesterday I'd never dreamed that making 100 party hats would be any good for making Bazungu Bucks, yet today I think it a splendid idea. Imagine if many more people were making party hats. The world needs more party hats so! In fact, party hats seems a product ripe for offshoring production. But in the meantime the opportunity is for domestic manufacture.

I mentioned that a good friend is in the hospital. He and his family are from the New Orleans area. When I was thinking of a fiftieth birthday party I knew that I wanted to use it to direct attention to my friend Nathan in Uganda. But last fall after Katrina I saw that the reconstruction of New Orleans would depend on a great deal of voluntary service, neighbor helping neighbor. It seemed that some system of alternative currency could be very helpful in organizing this effort. Big Easy Bucks seemed like such a good name too. It was all more than I could imagine putting together, nonetheless that's where the idea of Bazungu Buck started.

Talking to my friends this weekend about their loved ones in the hurricane ravaged areas, it's clear the needs are very great. I still think people all over the country would be willing to give some of their time for the effort. The question is how? Sure, there are a multitude of ways to give your time, and probably most of them better ideas than making party hats. Nevertheless, making party hats is one way to offer your time. Surely in the New Orleans area there are tens of thousands of people dealing with issues, like: "baby needs new shoes" real life stuff that makes living hard. Do you know someone, or know of someone in that situation? What the heck make some party hats and get a five buck donation for each. Be sure to include a Big Easy Buck with each one too. The point is to find ways to create something good. Real people have real needs and for sometimes there's no better way to meet those needs than with a gift.

Steal this idea of paper party hats in voluntary service to African people too. The world needs more party hats because we need to party more. The connections we make with others have real value and what more pleasurable connections are there than parties? (Okay, there may be a few.)

Another reason that I'm so keen on Party Hats for Potash is that making party hats will give me plenty of blog-fodder. I removed the picture of me in my Afro wig-hat; really I don't mean to cause harm to anyone. Still I look at that wig-hat resting in place atop an old pie safe in my little house and wistfully hope for occasions to wear it again. A picture of me modeling one of my Party Hats for Potash while wearing the Afro wig-hat will surely be taken. It's an open question whether I'll post it. I would hope there will be pictures of people wearing Party Hats for Potash and some will come my way so I can post them here.

So as I make party hats I'll blog about it. I'll tell you how I make hats, perhaps people will look for the ways others make paper party hats, and even invent new designs. In the meantime perhaps all of you can begin laying party plans. The pleasure in dreaming about Party Hats for Potash was enhanced for me last night as I was blaring music from various artists around the globe. Check out Soundroots; check out Benn laxo du taccu to introduce yourself to engaging music from around the world. Actually there are so many great blogs and Web sites to go to. The key thing to remember that there's no better music to get old people up dancing than World music. And when was the last time someone complained of too much dancing at one of your parties!

The troubles in the world today are so big. All any of us can do is only a little. A little is not nothing. It's important that we act in life affirming ways. The troubles are great, but so are the opportunities. We can imagine a better world and do it together. It's so much more fun that way. What can you do with an hour of your time in service to others?

Party Hats for Potash

A friend of mine's been hospitalized with some heart trouble. In one way or another my thoughts have been dominated by him this weekend. He's a distinquished professor of medicine, artist, philosopher and life is so enriched by connection to him. He's also the father of one of my longest and best freinds. Medical emergencies have upsides: For one there's incredible relief when health seems to be improving. And another is being with people we love and perhaps don't seen enough. My old friend lives in another state and being with her is such a pleasure. Always when I'm with her there are 101 new ideas to explore garnered from the conversations. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" and certainly in this case both my freind and her father are brilliant lights in an all-too often dim world.

I used to write more letters. I like to write letters, but it's a different sort of writing than writing emails; it's more immediate and you just fire them off. Writing essays, say for an academic assignment, is different from writing blog posts too. For various reasons I like to write posts online, if for no other it makes inserting links easier, and like emails are to letters, blog posts are to essays more immediate. I'm not sure my essays are more thoughtful than my blog posts, but to be sure I give them more thought. Strangely there seems an advantage to putting out ideas online which on further examination produce second thoughts. Comments left provide feedback and perhaps will lead to better second thoughts.

When I came home last night from visiting my friends, I wished that I'd worn flowers. I'm of the opinion the world would be a better place if people were to wear flowers more often. There are probably more flowers, weeds included, in my garden now than I suspect. The crocus seem too fragile for wearing and the daffodils aren't yet in bloom. Ah, the spring flowers I look forward to wearing are the violets. I love violets and am quite happy that they grow wild here and they're a flower well worth picking.

Wearing flowers is a little something we can all do like wearing painted shoes to make living a little more beautiful. Such simple things can really change our outlook for the better and of the simple things that in my experience make a good difference are paper party hats. Especially for adults paper party hats are too little used and too often unavailable.

I like making paper party hats. The ones I make aren't the most beautiful in the world, but each is unique. People always seem to enjoy them.

One of the best testimonials was from a friend at a summer party near a wonderful senic area in our locale called Ohiopyle. A gang of us had camped the night and had revelled and danced in our party hats the night before. This was a special gathering, years before at the same place we'd celebrated the wedding of our good hosts there about the same time of year, the Fourth of July. But for many years with young children to tote about we hadn't camped together like we used to. So now the kids are all a little older, so we camped with the kids. My friend was loading up his car to take his boys swimming wearing a party hat. I don't remember whether someone else asked if he was going to wear his hat to the swimming area, but he said:
I like wearing party hats in the morning. I shall wear the hat in full view of the public. It's coming out of the closet; saying to the world: Yes, I'm a fun person.
Such is the power and mystery of paper party hats!

Last post I quoted Potash but didn't attribute the quotation to him:
What you offer is answers to tomorrow's questions when what I really need are solutions to yesterday's issues.
One danger of blogs is how easy it is to put other people's business into the public view. So Potash had written me that in regard to misunderstanding him the first time around and in answer to him I misunderstood what he was telling in that round. I'm hoping Potash won't take offense at this effort on his behalf.

I miss his posts at A Kenyan Urban Narrative I want more. It turns out that yesterday's issues are quite pressing. His teeth are hurting him, he needs money so the university will release his credentials, and he hasn't got enough to go to the cyber-cafe to post.

Goodness knows I don't have any money. But I'm none too please Potash is suffering so. The world needs party hats. I can make party hats; that is I can make some party hats, each one takes me about an hour to make.

Five dollars may seem a lot for a party hat, but people are often willing to spend $3.50 on a greeting card. And the party hats I make are good for wearing more than once. So five bucks doesn't seem so bad. I figure it would be worth one hundred hours of my time to make one hundred party hats with the goal of raising five hundred dollars to help Potash find solutions to yesterday's issues. Well, that's particularly true if it would mean him posting to his blog.

As an extra bonus with each hat a crisp new Bazungu Buck will be included.

This whole idea is one that I may well have second thoughts about, nevertheless I like the idea in so many ways. First of all I do need to sit down and work with paper. I'm so convinced that there is great potential for the tiny books I call Cracker Jack Books and a friend suggests calling Microlibros. I would love it if there were a Web site where people could publish their own Cracker Jack Books in a neat format. It would be great if I could make a template in my Open Office word processing software. But those are tomorrow's answers and realistically today my own Cracker Jack Books are going to be drawn on paper and saved as a JPEG for printing out. I need to sit down and do that and making paper hats will encourage me to sit down with a ruler and pen.

Writing this has taken me more time than I thought. I smell dinner, actually I've got to go rescue the roast and cook up some vegetables. So I'll post this and continue later:-)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What's My Story?

The man on the left on that utility pole is my grandfather. I only have a couple photographs of him as a young man before he married my grandmother. The other one has in in coveralls sawing a stick of lumber with a hand saw. I only knew him in retirement and the coveralls fit my memory of him. In every other photo of him I know he's in a suit, clearly my grandmother's doing. He was an electrician. Through the Depression he did electrical work in the oil fields Oklaholma and the Permian Basin in Texas. Later in his career he worked on hydroelectric projects. It's interesting to contemplate the changes he saw and helped to bring about in his lifetime. And because I knew him, it doesn't seem so awfully long ago; still that photo with a sailing ship seems like ancient history.

On Monday I spent the day in the garden. I have a small fish pond that's in a sunken garden. At the upper edge of it is a small patio area paved with rough field stone which has become over grown with witchgrass. The paved area around the pond seemed too narrow so I set about making that area wider; meaning that I had to dig up a bunch of dirt and stones. Playing in the dirt makes me happy. At first I cursed the rocky soil on part of the property, but now I like playing with the stones so much I never seem to have quite enough. More are available naturally, it's just rather much work digging them up.

Monday the air was warm and the ground was soft so work proceeded quickly. But the rest of the week has been just cold enough so the frost lingers in the soil and so haven't gotten back to the project. That's quite good because I'm not quite sure yet exactly how I want to proceed: where to put the dirt and just how much I want to dig. Not everyone would be happy gardening in such a haphazzard way, but it suits me. Planning takes time, and even with the best laid plans it's always something.

I've taken a long break from posting. Part of it has to do with writing an African -centric blog and knowing how ignorant about all things African I am. Another difficulty is in reading African blogs everyday I'm alerted to numerous topics that interest me and consider blogging about. So after a few days my list of links and all of the tangents my mind follows becomes quite a tangle. So I thought I'd make this post rather personal.

My friend Nathan in Uganda wrote me an email this week that was a little differnt than our usual discussions of issues and projects. Nathan wrote: "When I sit under a shadow of tree, and there is fresh air I get my brain thinking." I grinned widely because the same thing happens to me. What followed were some ruminations about housing in the context of his needing a house so when I come to visit I can stay there. How much to reveal is a tough question, but I'll mention his thoughts included his girlfriend in my visit. When I sit in my garden, and there is fresh air I get my brain to thinking too.

How would I arrange things if I only could? We all know that our efforts will likely be consumed by challenges and problems we haven't thought of yet when we set about composing and arranging our lives. Still and all our dreams of how we'd like things to be are an esential part of making good plans.

Hash aka White African put forward an innovative plan for and African Network for delivering Web content via mobile phones. Just as it stands it's a really good idea, and it's so useful that he's put it out one his blog so others can contribute ideas. To gain an even wider group into the discussion he's put the proposal up at ChangeThis a Web site whose mission is to spread good ideas. Here's the important thing, in order for the African Network idea to be published on the ChangeThis site as a manifesto 300 votes are required. Click on the banner and vote for it now.

Vote for the African Technology Manifesto!

There are so many great blogs and black looks is an essential one in the African Blogosphere. I'm pleased that she blogged about voting at ChangeThis too because the conversation about ideas is so important. In the comments Seun Osewa raised concerns, a caveat really, that solutions to African problems must come from within Africa. There's something really important in the issue he raises.

I'm not in my pajamas, but I am blogging per the stereotype in my basement. I do know that I'm very ignorant about African challenges and problems. So is there a role I can play? I should mention that Seun Osewa wasn't being negative and he added about outsiders "You are all encouraged to keep trying." Another African correspondent wrote me this week telling me that I've missed his points entirely: "You are giving me answers to tomorrow's questions when what I really need are solutions to yesterday's issues." People in rich countries don't have the solutions and engaging a dialog means being open to being changed.

I'm so full of half-baked ideas, it's a joke among my friends here. I laugh along with them, but it makes me a little red-faced too. I've told my friend Nathan to take me with a grain of salt, so when he wrote me an email about what his brain was thinking with his own half-baked ideas it made me feel so good inside. It's not so easy to share dreams and speculations. So there's something remarkable that two people thousands of miles a part who've never met can feel so easy about it.

Guido Sohne (Adobe file) has a very interesting post today, Indigenous Knowledge Is A Red Herring. Sohne writes:
So in the context of this all, what really is indigenous knowledge? In a connected world, indigenous knowledge is the extent to which one is connected to other people. Indigenous knowledge will create itself once those who can use it and those who can create it are connected today. Knowledge is also a function of education and prior access to information. Connectedness is a state of acquiring knowledge of all kinds.
Oswald de Andrade was a poet and one of the founders of Brazilian modernism. He saw Brazilian's history of cannibalizing other cultures was a great strength. The wonderful Exqusite Corpse helpfully provides an English translation of Oswald de Andrade's 1922 "Cannibal Manifesto." Certainly many Africans I've talked with express feelings of loss of culture and anquish about it. Oswald de Andrade's metaphor of cannabilism is rather startling, but has the advantage of reminding how much is retained and transformed.

Sohne contrasts radio and other unidirectional media with bi-directional media, "such as the telephone, email, snail mail, instant messaging or the plain old road, footpath or flight route." He calls the latter "practical communication devices" and says, "unidirectional communication is a losing proposition." Recently I've become fascinated by the potential to use radio as a way to play i-Pod content. Podcasts can make radio's practical communication devices afterall. He makes a good point, however. When we participate in the conversations, enter into dialog; when we tell our stories together, indigenous information is something more than we might first expect.

Nathan tells me the rains have allowed people to plant and look forward to a harvest in August. The red soil there is a different color from the more yellow soil here, although I well remember the red clay soil of South Carolina from my youth. We have our feet on different ground, but it's still the same Earth. These modern times are often "interesting" in the very worst way. Still there seems great value that people today can share their stories so broadly. I'm not telling anyone what to do, as if they'd listen anyway, yet I'm eager to share my dreams and plans.

I doubt my grandfather up on that pole knew what the future would become anymore than I know now. Many of us in the rich world know that things look rather dicey. Who could have known that the Industrial Revolution would result in global climate change when it all began. But it's pretty clear to us now big changes are underway. I'm traveling fast into the future along with my African friends and their perspectives and their challenges inform mine. My story has a history, but in this present our stories are informed by others around the world and that changes history for all.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On the Ground

There's nothing good in saying so, but I'm finding opening Blogger rather frightening lately. There are so many great African blogs, that my mind really buzzes with ideas and information I get. And same as it ever was the more one learns the more we learn how little we know.

Emeka Okafor's Timbuktu Chronicles is a wonderful blog which highlights African solutions to African challenges. I'm also so fascinated by the structure of his posts. They are short but amply hyper-linked, and many of his links refer to his previous posts. I wonder how he manages to remember all of them? Anyway, while his posts give the gist they also provide lots of great reading in more depth if you follow the links.

His February 22, 2006 post, Souleymane Sarr revisited had a passage that actually brought tears to my eyes. I'll quote it with the hyper-links so you can see what I mean about that aspect of his posts too:
Souleymane's new approach to training artisans involves pairing unemployed university graduates, "who think they know everything," as Souleymane says, with unemployed street youth, "who think they know nothing". The result is teams of young people capable of launching their own micro-enterprises.
Okafor is quoting that but I'm not sure from which of his 13 links, sorry. I would encourage you to go to his post and click every single one for yourself. And if you have to choose only one, choose this one at Oxfam America which features the Association Jeunesse Actions--Mali that Souleymane Sarr founded. The photo credit is Nick Rabinowitz and is from the site.

The photo shows the use of comic books to teach essential skills. It's just one small part of the genius of Souleymane Sarr's program, but it really caught my attention because my mind's eye view of my idea of Cracker Jack Books, small books folded from one-third sheet of paper, was something like the page in the photo. The essential point is that a wealth of information can be conveyed visually with few words in a small space.

A friend has suggested the name, Microlibros instead of Cracker Jack Books and I think that's better. The idea of tiny booklets made from a third of a sheet of paper was simply to imagine the cheapest book possible that could be printed with regular computer printers. Clearly there are plenty of other formats for small books as the thriving Zine culture demonstrates. Keguro owner of the most eloquent and evocative Gukira (He's on a brief hiatus to attend to looming deadlines) left a comment to a recent post:
I'm planning, should I get time, support, and money (always comes down to money), to enact one of the many ideas I've floated: a chap-book operation. Short texts (16-30 pages), sold very cheaply (it's not about profit) to support emerging writers and nurture a reading culture.
I missed the post where he floated that idea, but nearly fell off my chair when I read that because I think it such a splendid one!

There was a report about Cowboy Poets on the PBS Newshour last night. An academic interviewed mentioned that there was a great tradition of reading among cowboys. Apparently there were coupons in tobacco pouches they could collect and send in to receive small books; like abridged Shakespearean plays and poetry. I was thrilled because the coupons seem a little like Bazungu Bucks and it's those little books I love.

Erik Hersman, a.k.a., White African put up a great idea on the blog on Monday, A Web Technology Idea for Africa. He used the opportunity to test out his new Apple iWork software and produce a very professional PDF brochureto lay it out. What White African proposes is to use cell phones as a common portal to the Internet in Africa.

It's an exciting idea. Something that makes it particularly so is that he's blogging about it, in other words seeking input and opinions from readers. In the comments left was a point about the importance of local languages and local networks, so in today's post Technology vs Tribal Languages in Africa he fleshes that topic out a bit. The prospects of open-source projects like this are a great way that many can help create something good.

Afromusing floated a tree planting idea late last month, A dollar a tree? and is soliciting comments. Kiva and Fully Belly Blog are two more examples of using blogs to make a real difference. With this many-to-many medium even our comments can contribute on the ground.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spring Harbinger Posted by Picasa

Spring Harbinger

Warm today and delightful to see the little crocus in bloom in the lawn. They don't last very long and as far as it goes don't really have much visual impact, and yet the early flowers are such a pleasure. If you look closely you'll notice a bee inside one of the flowers. And the sight of bees as much as the flowers brings me joy. Spring will come already the signs are all about.

I hope for all of those in the path of heavy weather: safety. Spring storms can indeed be frightful in intensity.

I remember as a child a house a few houses from ours got its roof blown off in a storm. The most vivid memory isn't the roof, but the bright blue sky and brilliant sun peeking through the dark clouds once the storm passed and the smell of spring in the air. Today there were wiffs of spring perfume and the ground is soft. Tomorrow will begin warm and then hard storms with possible hail predicted later and cooler temperatures through the rest of the week. My winter visions of spring flowers isn't mindful of the storms, so it's only now I'm remembering how changeable the spring weather is.

On Friday evening I went to a gathering. Someone there began reading some of his writing from his laptop. I asked if he had considered a blog. He replied that he had, but had dismissed the notion as useless. John Allen Paulos via 3 Quarks Daily (one of my favortite blogs) writes about the problem of getting attention in his recent ABC News column:
Whether about blogs, songs or news stories, when people must make decisions among many different alternatives, those making them later are often greatly influenced by those making them earlier.
I suggested that the comments and the conversation wich blogs allow made up for the paucity of eyeballs. His response, "Oh, I have and editor."

The comments left on this blog suggest I need an editor!

Really the immediacy of writing blog posts is part of the pleasure. But of course good writing does require time that I'm not really willing to invest. I'm not at all convinced that even with time my writing would ever be very good. Yet even this amateurish effort makes me reflect.

Last week the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an article by a reporter Jim Heinrich who traveled to Uganda to meet the child he'd been sponsoring through Compassion International. It's a very moving piece and I knew I wanted to blog about it.

An idea I believe is very powerful is regular people can do a world of good by collaborationg with others around the world, especially those in poor countries. Such person-to-person encounters are fraught with hazzards, or at least puzzles to be worked out. To my surprize the Post-Gazette article brought some issues to light upon reflection.

I had never heard of Compassion International so I looked around their Web site. From their Statement of Faith:
We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and lost; they that are saved unto resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
Some of my best friends are Christians;-) That is indeed true, and however much I truly love about Christianity, the bleating about hellfire and damnation seems to lead to human actions destructive to life.

Mostly I keep rather mum about my revulsion and there is so much in Jim Heinrich's account that's so meaningful, I probably would keep quiet now; except Compassion International isn't the only charity listed as a resource in the piece. I don't quite know what to think about World Vision International. Well, with a bit of shame, my prejudice is that World Vision is alligned with rightist Christian networks which I see as threatening an open society and promising right wing totalitarianism.

Let me be clear, I say prejudice advisedly. World Vision is one of the largest relief and assitence organizations worldwide. The good work they do is unassailable. I believe it is significant that while all American employees must sign a confession of Christian faith, World Vision as a matter of policy may employee non-Christians in communities where they work outside the USA and Europe.

Conspiracy theories are very tricky and the Internet provides ample opportunities to delve rather deeply into the depths of malicious fantasy. It's easy to find references to World Vision as a CIA front on myriad Web pages. I'm not particularly convinced. Working in the situations that World Vision does, cooperation with the CIA doesn't seem at all surprizing. I'm not even sure that's entirely a bad thing. And surely all Christian fellowship and coordinated evangelization is not a nefarious plot against civil order and governments.

Blogs are great for links to Internet tests. Political Compass is a short test which places a person's political views within one of four quadrant: Authoritarian Left, Authoritarian Right, Libertarian Left, Libertarian Right. My score is approximately in the middle of the Libertarian Left quadrant. The test isn't a perfect instrument, but it seems a fair indicator in very general terms. View clustering around the middle of the four quadrants are ones I'm comfortable with--note of course that my position places me on the left boundary of both the economic and social scales. Nevertheless, extreme views can spell disaster both economically and socially, especially when extreme views become mass movements.

In the United States today there is a single party rule which lunges towards the extreme of the right/authoritarian quadrant. I don't think that most people who identify themselves as Republicans hold such extreme views. There is a long tradition of moderation within the Republican Party. The rise of single-party rule within the United States at the federal level was accomplished in part by deft coordination of extreme right networks. The maze of connections isn't fully known, and yet it seems clear, at least to me, that nominally Christian networks have been essential for the rise of the extreme right control.

The discussion of Neo-fascism at Wikipedia provides many links to the discussion of Fascism post World War II. The page Neofascism and religion provides many particularly relevant articles in re my concern of the confluence of Christianity with extreme right politics in the USA. Several of the articles are by journalist David Neiwert who writes the influential blog Orcinus. Rhethorically using the word "fascist" in America can be counter-productive; rather than to alert to the dangers of extremism, it casts a pall over the user as extremist. Nevertheless, the dangers of the authoritarian right are present and must not go unchallenged.

The New Internationalist is a left-leaning publishing cooperative based in the UK with offices in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Wayne Ellwood, editor for the December 2005 edition quoted a letter he received:
I love your magazine. But I’m not sure I can take it any longer; it’s one problem after another.
I chuckled because that's how I feel these days reading about African issues. I laughed, but really am quite anquished and I don't know whether I can take it anymore. Part of the feeling of despair is feeling powerless. Certainly it's not that I locate all the trouble outside the USA either. Indeed, it is within my own country I'm most likely to do something good.

In the early 1980's The New Internationalist did an important issue: Please do not sponsor this child. The arguments against child sponsorship programs are quite solid and in a general way draw attention to many difficulties presented by well-meaning attempts to help poor people in other countries. The articles are very worthwile reading all these years later. I'm convinced nonetheless that there is great advantage in the personal exchanges and collaboration. The Internet offers some ways to mitigate some of paper work involved that The New Internationalist rightly crticize. Still, the problems with these sponsorship programs are not to be taken lightly.

The Post-Gazette reporter, Jim Heinrich's piece is quite moving and personally honest; here's the link again, do read it it you have a moment. Doing something good isn't easy, but the rewards are good. Part of trying is clarifying ones own values, something good in itself.

I'm sorry to babble on so about American politics, but I felt stuck about writing posts here at all without adressing the difficult subject of the troubling religious connection to extreme right politics in the USA. Many observant Christians are troubled too, Chris Hedges has received a great deal of heat for this article in Harpers and articles like this one. Matthew Fox has also been critical of the collusion of Christianity and rightist politics.

Spring is coming soon. I remember now that it's a time for turbulent weather. Still no other season is full of so much promise and new life. As we try to reach out to others and to heal the many afflictions humankind suffers, we always need to be thoughtful. Still it's the promise and the knowledge that beauty comes to life that will inspire us.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day Posted by Picasa

International Women's Day

I had an idea for a post today, and I don't have it in me. But let's not forget to celebrate International Women's Day today, March 8.

For the life of me I can't figure out how men imagine that there's any advantage in making life harder for women. There are many men in my life who have enriched it so much, but only women so deep in my heart.

Typical, I don't say thanks enough and when I do it always seems an afterthought.

In my dreams women are powerful. Ever notice how often the symbolic representation of the United States is a woman with breast bared? Columbia, is that her name? I don't think she's a virgin, she seems too experienced for that.

All that is best in our vision of ourselves as a people and a government is represented as a woman.

I for one don't wish to inhibit her. Indeed, my wish is for her to flourish, knowing we'll all benefit.

A flower is but a token, but a gesture conveys a truth. One day at least we can celebrate women. And then perhaps, if we know what's really good, to celebrate the next day too.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Network of Learning Posted by Picasa

Network of Learning

The longer I take between posts, the larger the amount of fear I have in opening the Blogger dashboard! I don't quite understand how some bloggers manage to be so prolific. I wonder too how they manage to write so well. What I don't wonder is how people manage to find so many interesting pages on the Internet to link to on their blogs; it simply boggles my mind how many wonderful places there are to find.

I began reading blogs by reading a few popular political blogs in advance of the last presidential election. I still read them, but I've also happened upon networks of bloggers writing about diverse subjects I'm interested in, or didn't know I was until I started reading their blogs.

Christian Long's wonderful blog think:lab has introduced me to the world of blogs about education. Recently Christian signed on as administrator for a group blog at DesignShare: The International Fourm for Innovative Schools. Oh wow! Check out the home page and link to the blog if you've got just the slightest interest in architecture or education.

Christopher Alexander
along with collegues wrote A Pattern Language: Towns-Buildings-Construction. By way of Wikipedia, it's "reputed to be the best selling treatise on architecture of all time." The book provides 253 patterns derrived for the study of existing architecture of quality. The patterns are roughly organized in a hierarchy of scale from large to small.

Pattern 18 is Network of Learning the authors write:
In a society which emphasizes teaching, children and students--and adults--become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching.
Christian Long was a school teacher for many years before he "joined Huckabee & Associates -- an architectural firm that loves designing/building 'learning environments.'" There are people who really do envision a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching.

In Pattern 18, Network of Learning, the authors draw from Ivan Illich's seminal De-Schooling Society. Then provide this discussion of the pattern:
Instead of the lock-step of compulsory schooling in a fixed place, work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups traveling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the citiy's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network.
As was advised back in the seventies when I was first reading Illich and Alexander: "Don't hold your breathe!" Until a couple of weeks ago I might have said the same, but then I discovered DesignShare and a network of professionals: educators, architects, school administrators sounding a vision of engaging learners using online communication tools: Alexander's Network of Learning suddenly seems closer than I ever imagined.

Feet back on the ground, I understand that "accountability" and "high stakes testing" are the watchwords for schools today. Putting aside for a moment what we do to our children in the name of teaching them, consider for a moment education for adults like us. Imagining a network of learning following Pattern 18 doesn't seem so far-fetched; perhaps, except for paying for it through a community tax.

I like wishful-thinking and think wishes as often as I can, and that habit makes people laugh. Many of us probably would wish for a network of learning, if we do we might as well try to address how to pay for it. Alternative currencies, like Bazungu Bucks might just be a way, or at least a part of the way.

Unfortunately waiting for me to organize something is going to make for a very long wait. I'm very fond of the idea of Banzungu Bucks as a way to encourage service to African people, but haven't been convincing enough to make them go very far. Right now the value of Bazungu Bucks is allocated as a time-based currency. I've backed the limited number of Bazungu Bucks with hours of my time. So far those that hold them have been gracious enough not to try to redeem their Bazungu Bucks for hours of my time--not that I'd mind it if they did.

The good news is that many time-based currency schemes have been organized all over the world. The purpose to increase educational opportunities for adults seems an excellent one for organizing a Time Dollar Network.

Most of us know that too often schools are failing our children, but aren't at all sure what to do about it. It seems significant and insightful that in A Pattern Language a network of learning is placed near the start, towards the biggest patterns. Learning is not an embellishment rather fundamental to the places we live. One way that we as adults can make schools better is by emphasizing learning in our own lives.

Most of my friends at some time or another have said aloud an idea they have for teaching something. An attorney friend has an idea for "Teens and the Law" and artist for "What You Can Do With an I-Pod" and goodness knows you can pick from a number of my silly schemes. And already we've been organizing learning networks, for yoga, children's play groups, gardening and a host of others. A currency might increase the motivation to organize even more.

Imagine learning to garden incompetently with me for a couple of hours this spring, paying me with your Bazungu Bucks. Okay, right away there's a problem because I can print all the Bazungu Bucks I want. Nevertheless there is an alternative currency and some of you do have Bazungu Bucks. Then imagine that you want another couple of Bazungu Bucks to pay another installment of gardening incompentently. But the question is how to earn them?

One way would be to earn some Bazungu Bucks by organizing your own learning experience payable in Bazungu Bucks. Because I'll give out Bazungu Bucks promiscuously, people can easily get them to pay for the learning experience you'll lead by leaving a comment at my blog or some other excuse to get them from me. Soon some people by virtue of their organizing great learning experiences could become rich with learning dollars to spend.

Oh yes, somebody could manage to organize a proper Time Dollar bank and program for a network of learning. We needn't wait for that and probably just by going ahead using Bazungu Bucks, or simply IOU's for hours of time, it will hasten the day when someone takes up the ball and organizes it more broadly in the community. Alternative currencies can start out small and scale up. Increasing adult learning opportunities using alternative currencies can happen anywhere and everywhere.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rose-Colored Glasses Posted by Picasa

Rose-Colored Glasses

My sophomore year in high school was eventful. Among the significant events was becoming entwined with a fundamentalist, tongue-speaking, Christian cult. I suppose I was a pretty typical teenager, although all my life people have thought me rather strange and that was the certainly the case then. I imagined that my involvement in with the Lamb's Chapel as counter-cultural, nowadays fundamentalism seems the main current and I'm once again out of the mainstream.

Another event was failing English. The silver lining in that was having to go to summer school and having the benefit of a gifted and caring teacher who managed to give me the tools for surving the rest of my high school career.

I seemed particularly peculiar to Ms. Lawrence, my tenth-grade English teacher. It didn't help matters that the class was right after lunch which most days consisted of a carton of chocolate milk and a bag of barbecued potato chips. Ten minutes in the warm windowless room where the classes were conducted, I'd inevitably crash and nod into slumber. To combat this effect and because I was an earnest lad, I sat in a desk in the front row right in front of the lecturn which Ms. Lawrence would rock gently back and forth as she spoke.

Once I had a falling-dream and lept to my feet in front of the whole class, of course standing up right in front of Ms. Lawrence. She was unamuzed, but the rest of the class found it hilarious. But once, seemingly without warning, Ms. Lawrence burst into laughter and in the midst of paroxysm, "You remind me of the abscent-minded professor" she gasped.

I never had much money as a kid, but had purchased a book of poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko in translation. "Where did you get this?" she demanded to know and conviscated the book without further comment.

The movie Doctor Zhivago had come out years before, but it seems that I remember seeing it about this time and it was certainly a movie that my parents talked about. The War in Vietnam was still going heavy witht he first rounds of "Vietnamization" occuring early in Nixon's first term. A young collegue of my mother's had sent me a batch of books to read too, among them A Coney Island of the Mind.

Hot Rats was a popular album. I was most curious about it because there was a music group at the time called Hot Nuts. These records were sometimes brought out at parties and had bawdy lyrics. "Blue" records were sold differently than others, a kid could look but not touch as they were held in plastic sleaves well out of reach. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention Freak Out! fell neatly into the category of "Blue" and so "Suzy, Suzy Creamcheese" echos in my mind with the passion of forbiden pleasures. Later that year I gave away my puny record collection and abandoned popular music for several years. Again there was a silver lining: this decision expanded my musical tastes.

The point of all of this is that I don't "get it" and as far as I can remember never have.

I find reading blogs relating to Africa very informative and a pleasure. I don't really imagine that I have much to add to the conversation these blogs provoke, yet I 'm very eager to be in on it.

Last night I stopped by freind's house for wonderful free-ranging conversation. The subject of Nathan and his computer came up. I explained that electric loadshedding had limited the amount of time he could use it. And I went on to say that the effects of the drought extended much more widely than the Horn of Africa. "Drought, what drought?" my friend asked. The questioned stunned me, surely they'd seen news about the drought?

It's very strange, that such a monumental event is all but hidden here in the U.S. Of course, we're not certain at all that global climate change is real here, but we're quite certain that any attempt to mitigate the consequences will be bad for the economy. So we collude together to cover our ears and sing, "la la la la la, I can't hear you" whenever we anticipate the subject coming up. Or we put on our rose-colored glasses--I'm such a space cadet, I don't even know that I own a pair and still people keep telling me to take my rose-colored glasses off. The picture of old G.W. wearing glasses comes from these interesting pages of altered currency.

I can't imagine how we're so willfully blind. This post at Keguro's wonderful blog Gukira captures our hubris well and makes me feel ashamed. And if you take the time to click on that link, be sure to click through to this post at tHiNkEr'srOoM too.

We in the West, and particularly here in the USA have no lock on the market of good ideas, yet we imagine we do. How can we? How do we? When even well-read and generally aware Americans have know idea that large swaths of Africa are suffering the effects of a great drought. This event is not the desert of the Sahara, but may be a harbinger of climate changes we're too quick to deny and ignore.

Take it from a fool who knows: our hubris is folly.