Monday, May 29, 2006


One of the delights in the late spring garden is Hespris matronalis commonly called Dame's Rocket. It's not a native wildflower here in Western Pennsylvania but is naturalized and so common that it's familiar to all. People around here call it Phlox, a wide variety of Phlox are native to North America. Dame's Rocket is not in the Phlox family. As common as Dame's Rocket is here, it's an exotic species from Europe and makes some lists of noxious and invasive weeds.

Dame's Rocket is a member of the mustard family so self-seeds vigorously, so may not be a good choice for more cultivated bedding schemes. Seeds for it are sometimes available. Often the seed packet will say "a good ditch plant" and that's about right. Ah, but if you've got a good ditch it's a great plant in these climes. At night in particular the fragrance is lovely, slightly clove-like as some carnations smell. Mostly when purchased the seeds result in deep lavender colored flowers and I prefer the softer tones produced on naturalized plants. Thompson & Morgan sometimes offers a white selection which I think are worth growing. The picture is white Dame's Rocket scattered from a packet of seed many years ago.

The exotic is often viewed with some trepidation, and that's probably a good thing. What's native is worth preserving and danger often lurks in replacing what's native with inferior foreign species.

A friend was recently musing about the history of lawns as the dominate landscape feature here in America. I don't know how that came about either. I do know that most of the grass species grown in farm fields and lawns are not native to North America. And that some native species that once covered vast portions of the prairie lands are now rare and some endangered.

I love wandering around the Internet, and particularly enjoy searching images. I understand why schools often block image searches--we all know how much pornography is out there--but I think it a shame nonetheless. I was searching "serpents" because the lyrics to Silvio Rodriguez's Sueno Con Serpientes--I Dream of Serpents--were swimming around in my head.
Oh, I kill one and a larger one appears, oh, with more hellfire burning inside!
I came upon this photograph from Pelle Evensens' Fractals. One thing led to another as so often happens when I come across something as exotic as Evensen's fractal serpent; in this case to Ron Eglash's book, African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design. Proceeding from articles about Eglash's work I discovered yet another contentious subject in the culture wars: ethno-mathematics. Oh, the exotic and the danger that might result!

I'm not a very accomplished person, really very ordinary. When I first went online I was so attracted to chat and all the news sources. I noticed that while I chatted with many people around the globe, I rarely encountered Africans. And from the news read about one tragedy after another on the African continent. So I looked for someone in Africa to chat with and met Nathan in Uganda. We don't really chat, as so far as I know Nathan doesn't use Instant Messaging, we've corresponded by email. I believe that good will come from people's dialogs around the world. But in my conversations with Nathan the danger in the exotic, the danger in an "us and them" view has been made manifest. Nathan and I do indeed talk, it's not that we are objects to one another. But cultural differences are no simple matter.

I have many favorite bloggers. I am always moved by the posts at Gukira. Keguro has a beautiful voice, I often enjoy reading his posts again just for the sounds and word play. His erudition also intimidates me sometimes.

Mostly my blog is accidental; I really had no idea what I was getting into and still don't. I put the Global Voices badge on my blog and somehow landed on the BlogAfrica feeds. I'm more than a little skeptical that the blog belongs. Global Voices asks: "The world is talking, are you listening?" "Listening" seems the most important, and all my talking makes me worry I'm not doing enough of that.

Recently Keguro wrote:
I'm more than a little tired of people who listen when I prattle on about recognizable names, objects, and subjects, and glaze over when I move into unfamiliar territory.
Glazed like a doughnut, I am, I am. Keguro's post asks, "what relationship does African and, more specifically, Kenyan blogging have with Euro-American blogging?" And he links to Nubian at blac (k) ademic. Common ground can't be discovered by ignoring the particular.

I want more Americans like me to pay attentions to events on the African continent. I want more of us to get to know African people. I have to be very skeptical of my desires here, because if I examine them the root is an interest in expanding freedom. I look at the current National rhetoric about "The War on Terror" with president Bush's resort to exposing "freedom" with some alarm. Freedom packaged and sent amidst bombs and guns; reports of kilings of innocents, isn't what I'm looking for.

The word "exotic" connotes unusual beauty. Nowadays people all over the world are constantly exposed to what is not indigenous, that which is foreign. There is great beauty in what we behold, but also concern for what may be lost because of it. What is beautiful and alive is fragile and worth protecting. We do little good in protecting a thing in itself, but rather in protecting the environment which nurtures it. I'm the last person in the world who knows what Africans need to do! I hardly know what Americans need to do. However we can pay particular attention to one another. Some say: "The devil is in the details." while others aver that "God is in the details." If we look hard enough perhaps we'll see both are right. What's left for us to do is to make judgments.

When Nathan and I write to each other, and in reading blogs in the African blogosphere, there's always so much I don't really understand. Making sense is always a work in progress. There's always a danger of tresspass, but caution needn't lead to trepidation. Give-and-take is an ordinary way to negotiate the terrain the world over.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Another Rambling Post

This graphic links to Torture Awareness.

I started attending the University of Pittsburgh in the fall of 1973. While there I became quite active in the Pitt (the shorter name for University of Pittsburgh) YMCA. The Y didn't promote the C part much, the central effort of the organization was to place student volunteers in social service and community-based organizations. The YMCA paid for a director, a wonderful man, who patiently organized students and taught them to organize; such that with the exception of some pesky paperwork required by the downtown YMCA the organization was effectively student-run.

Next door to the YMCA office in the William Pitt Union building was The Office of Veteran's Affairs. There were many veterans from the Vietnam War attending school then.

I wasn't allowed coffee at home, and the Y director was smart to keep a pot of hot water in the office for coffee. I discovered that coffee nd sugar staved off the the inconvenience of actually eating. And people smoked a lot then. I used to loiter in the hall with the director of the Vets office. PTSD hadn't been named back then, but we all knew there was trouble. Exacerbating the situations was that returning Vietnam era Veterans were not welcome at many American Legion and VFW Posts. The general hostility towards Vietnam Veterans weighed heavily on the Veteran's Affairs Office director.

What's in common parlance now, especially as we in the American public are constantly being exhorted to "stay the course" in Iraq, is that veterans returned home from Vietnam to the ridicule and hostility from their dirty, smelly, hippie peers. Things were a little more complicated. Not the least of the complications is that so many of the veterans were pissed-off, generally so, and the government of the good ole USA was an easy target.

I know veterans of the Vietnam War, hardly a number sufficient a scientific sample, still it surprised me that in the run up to the Iraq War when one of my acquaintances and Vietnam Vet was so much in favor. Oh it wasn't so much that, as his outrage towards Americans in opposition to the invasion and occupation that stood out. War wounds often never heal. He apparently held the American public responsible for the failure in Vietnam and would broke no discent this time around.

One way or another the majority of American public opinion has come around to thinking things aren't going well in Iraq. I'm afraid we're still skirting the issue; most of us really haven't come to grips with the damage done.

Woldoog's diary at Daily Kos on Sunday moved me and I've been trying ever since to think of posting something about it.
Like some of you, I am an adult child of a combat veteran. My combat-veteran father has severe, debilitating PTSD. His war devastated him, and subsequently, our family. His experience in Vietnam nearly forty years ago, when I was nary a twinkle in his eye, helped shape the person I am today, and for a long time, I have wanted to know and feel the things that did this to him, and to me. I had gathered bits of puzzling information here and there over the years, but as I got older and achieved a truer understanding of the impact of his war on him and our family, I realized that I needed to hear his story in its entirety, that I needed to hear the unmentioned details that would meld the story into a complete whole.
Especially if you're an American baby-boomer like I am, read go and read the whole thing.
"What happened to you?" He seemed startled by my inquisitiveness, and I told him that if it made him feel bad to tell me, he didn't have to. He then said something that surprised me - he told me that I had caught him off guard, that he was pleased that I wanted to know, that he thought I should know, and that no one in the family had ever asked him like that before.
No one had ever asked! Woldoog cannot heal her father's wounds, and perhaps it's our sense of helplessness rather than a lack of inquisitiveness that leads us to never ask.

A year or so ago I was with a friend and a cousin of hers she hadn't seen for a very long time and the subject of her cousin's service during the Vietnam War came up. The fellow told of his hardships suffering under a psychotic commanding officer. Both me and my friend's jaw dropped as he proceeded to tell his story, but all of this was Stateside. Being shipped off to Vietnam came as a relief to him. His duty in Vietnam was confined to Saigon. It was hot and his bureaucratic job was deadly boring, and not much to remark about. My friend said, "All these years I've carried the image of you in a foxhole with jungle rot." has pictures of the Iraq War, uncensored. My friends know that I hide my eyes at movie violence. It even seems out of character for me to suggest a visit there and to look, but I do. SBS Television, New Zealand released photographs in February of this year from Abu Garib. The photographs and videos are put in context in an excellent report available to watch online.

Election campaigns here in the USA are long. Our State primary elections were held earlier this month. The race in a near by Congressional district pits Jack Murtha and Diana Irey. Murtha is a retired US Marine Corps colonel and is the highest ranking Democrat on the House committee that make military appropriations. He's also been a somewhat unlikely opponent of the war. Irey is a well-known Republican politician in local politics.

Murtha on the basis of discussions with high-ranking sources within the military disclosed last week that a probe into the events leading to the deaths of 15 un-armed Iraqi civilians, will show that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

Irey took the stage at the Press Club on Wednesday and said:
John Murtha was a patriot. ...But many years have passed and I say again my opponent has lost his way because the comments and actions of late are not that of a patriot. Rather they serve to aid and comfort our enemies.
The "aid and comfort" bit is a direct accusation of treason.

The war weighs on me. In another smart diary at Daily Kos elendil discusses reactions to seeing the movieThe Road to Guantanamo. Worth a read in it's entirety, but this comment about how torture impacts far beyond those tortured resonated:
The spectator cannot simultaneously conceive of themselves as a mere spectators and maintain trust in the world. For our own self-preservation, we begin the process of distancing, rationalizing, and justifying the torture. In extreme cases, to maintain our own innocence, we denied that any crime had taken place.
I'm an American, and we've gone nuts. I'm perplexed as to how to proceed. Murtha isn't in my Congressional District, so I won't get to vote for him. I hardly think he's lying about what military people have told him about the probe into the incident in Haditha. But tonight I looked over pages of links to blogs amplifying Irey's remarks. Many people are convinced that Murtha is lying and are eager to convince others.

For almost two weeks I've been mulling over MMK's post about the Addis Abba bombings in particular and terrorism in general.
Terrorism’s great evil is in considering a stranger’s life expendable in a cause that is at most indirectly connected to that person. Whether you are bombing a ‘target’ from thousands of feet in the air knowing that you will kill a stranger or swinging a machete at them or blowing yourself up with him, the evil is in not knowing what you have brought to an end. What gross ego to consider that single life with its incalculable threads of obligation and love and hope to be irrelevant to the ideas and feelings swimming around inside you.
Initially what came to mind wasn't politics at all but feelings surrounding my brother's murder years ago: "the evil is in not knowing what you have brought to an end."

I'm not a particularly good person. I mean, being good has always seems an effort, and I'm so lazy. As a boy in church confessing "things we have done and things we've left undone" it was the latter that burned in my stomach. In almost every discussion of politics here nowadays someone always makes the accusation: "Bush hater." I don't know, hatred is too much work for a lazy man like me. Anger, fury wells up in me, sometimes over the stupid little things, I never seem to be able to sustain that long enough to hate. Ah, but the sin of indifference, closing my eyes, turning away so as not to hear, oh dear. But I see clearly how wrong that is.

I'm not religious, but want to join with religious people in mending the world. I want to join with non-religious people in mending the world. And in that my first step is to try to listen more and to look harder.

Finally, and off topic, in my morning newspaper was an editorial in re and ongoing cholera epidemic in Angola. On first reading I slapped the pages down in anger at the Post-Gazette. I was thinking: Angola's a rich country you say, except for the greedy rich. Oh yeah: What about Lee Raymond's golden parachute! It was a silly reaction, but my advice to myself: listen and look is easier said than done. Koranteng Ofusu-Amaah's writing is the best and his April installment of Things Fall Apart series was Angola. If you haven't yet discovered his Koranteng's Toli go there when you have some time to read. His post, Angola and his series Things Fall Apart gets to how complicated everything is.

It's the time of year for commencement addresses. The Aga Khan's address at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University is very wise.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Three Thousand

Three Thousand Visitors

Are your my three thousandth visitor? I don't know who you are, but I'm pretty sure you're in Downers Grove, Illinois. Send me an email or leave a comment so that I can get in touch with you to send you a Party Hat for Potash. Knowing that I'm a poor counter, the three thousandth visitor may be from Pittsburgh, or from Paris, France. If you live in one of those two places and believe that you're the three thousandth visitor, contact me for your Party Hat for Potash.

Thank you all for visiting me here. I didn't expect to discover such a wonderful community of people when I began this blog. I am privileged to meet some of you by way of correspondence. It's my pleasure when you introduce yourself. Please feel free to comment.

Black Pansy

The flowers in the picture are Bowles Black pansies. E. A. Bowles was a renown English plantsman and author. It surprised me not to find a good Web page about him because so many plants are named after him. Here's a link to his house and gardens. Also so far as I can tell his books are out of print in the USA. However in the late 1990's Timber Press reprinted his books of the seasons in his gardens. Copies are available through book sellers via Advanced Book Exchange--I love that Web site.

For some reason "Black Pansy" should be a name like Black Adder; my alter-ego perhaps.


Hash at White African has the tagline: "Where Africa and Technology Collide." He's got a great proposal (warning: opens a PDF)for a Web-based search engine to be accessed by mobile phones in Africa. Do check it out if you haven't already, it's a great idea. I rambled on over there about African mash-ups. Because he's a nice fellow, he encouraged me to write about what I mean. Alas, I've been meaning to, but my ideas always seem so squishy.

One of my ideas that seems worthwhile are tiny books that I wrote about a while ago calling them Cracker Jack Books but a commenter said Microlibros and that's a better name. Central to that idea is the observation that reading and writing are complimentary. We need more books generally distributed and we need more writers. One of the truly great innovations of computers and the Internet is they allow ordinary people to publish on their own. But in most of Africa computers and the Internet are still relatively rare. The question then becomes how to leverage the capacity to exchange information broadly in Africa. Paper has a role to play. Tiny books have the advantage of being inexpensive to print, even with regular computer printers. Because three books fit on a single sheet of paper printed on both sides, for the cost of a first class stamp fifteen books can be mailed. The premise is that they could be sold for a few pennies a piece.

It's a good question whether anyone would want to buy them. I can imagine that people would. Folded accordion style, each book has ten frames; allowing for a cover that's nine frames. Perhaps dating profiles or want ads would be worth purchasing, and certainly the frames lend themselves to comic strips. But even leaving aside the problem of whether anyone would buy these books, it's pretty clear that the profit to the seller is quite small. What I envision is that these books could be sold in a folded cardboard display. Such a Microlibros bookstore would be an additional profit center to some other enterprise.

My friend Pingting really knows music. I love to visit him for so many reasons, and the music he plays is a big one. Earlier in the spring friends gathered around a little fire in his back yard. He played playlist from his i-Pod by a small transmitter to a transistor radio. Wow that seemed so cool to me! I imagined how useful that capacity would be in Africa. Not the least of the advantages is in dealing with uncertain electric supplies.

I only vaguely know about these gizmos. Apparently there are i-Mikes too, and have read about some of the ways that i-Pods are being used in schools. Pingting told me the transmitter cost less than $50. But I was impressed to see a post at the always remarkable we make money not art blog. A link in that post is to a manual to make your own transmitter. Very often locally made technology works best in Africa because it can be locally repaired. This manual is a great example of lovely people: Lotte Meijer, Tetsuo Kogawa, and Adam Hyde, creating something good.

Mash-ups: Okay imagine a water carrier who has additional profit centers of Microlibros, and sponsored Podcasts. Or I think it's also possible to imagine a stand alone business rather like the Town Criers of old, people engaged in the information delivery business.

There are other ways of delivering information certainly, but I want to add one more: seed exchange. Food security is a fundamental necessity and locally produced seed is plays a role. Seeds are elemental information carriers and seem to fit neatly with this information delivery business.


MobMov is such a great idea, I can't wait until it takes off like wildfire. MobMov is "mobile movies" and they aim for a true Drive-In movie experience and so differentiate themselves from Guerilla Drive-In. Everyone admits Guerilla Drive-In is a great idea, and it's probably a little closer to what I imagine being great in parts of Africa. But the big obstacle is the cost of a digital projector. The Internet is so great because there are sites like Build Your Own LCD Video Projector. As in the case of the build-your-own i-Pod radio transmitter, the advantage here is not only cost but serviceability.

I still haven't answered Hash's call about African mash-ups. It's a start.

Claim Your Party Hat

Remember: if you're the three thousandth visitor, contact me so I can mail your prize to you. Again, thanks to you all, dear readers.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

So You Say

I Get Mail

I'm whiney in talking about this blog. Rather consistently the advice I've received is: "You need and editor." An editor isn't going to magically appear, so really the advice is: "Edit yourself." It's foolish to solicit advice and then refuse it. The problem actually doing it. I need to quit smoking too. But this bit of advice gave me an idea:
Most of your posts it seems to me could be broken up and divided into separate posts. from one stream of writing, you could make 3 posts or so. I notice that you don't post for 5 days or so, and then there's a really long rambling post. i feel your blog could benefit by more frequent shorter posts that are more to the point and shorter in length.
The talented Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Peter Leo has been doing a column called The Morning File where he uses the wonders of Internet Search to fill out stories. Here's a recent example. Leo manages to stay on topic, something I have a hard time doing; but I can break up the post into smaller segments. Perhaps this will be good practice for learning to write shorter posts.

Carl's Big Adventure

It might be better if I used photographs more sparingly in the blog. But I love pictures. Carl Hanyes, computer programmer extrodinaire, is working with Kiva in Soroti, Uganda. I very much enjoy his blog Carl's Big Adventure for the stories and photographs. I wanted to blog one of his pictures at Flickr, but he reserves all rights, so you have to go there to see them all. Cale & Jon are conducting a research project in Soroti carried out by Design for Sustainabilty group at Delft University. Their blog into(context) has photos and videos. Informal as they are, these blogs convey really useful information. The BSLA in Iganga is working hard to set up the structures necessary to promote agricultural and business development. While some of the particulars are different, the broad challenges are the same. It's quite useful through the blogs to have a window onto the group process there in Soroti.

Life in Africa

One of Kiva's partners is Life in Africa. I came acrossed LIA soon after I met Nathan and began looking for programs in Uganda. Christina Jordon is the powerhouse behind Life in Africa. One of my friends always brings up fakers when it comes to people on the Internet. Christian Jordon is no faker! In fact she's very candid. Way back then many of the activities were told through her personal news reports. At first I didn't know what to make of it all. But over time witnessing the development of the organization through very personal narratives, and adventurous Web site experiments, there's no question she's real. There's also not question that the LIA pages are worth a look. Their Flickr pages are too.

There are upsides and downsides to blogs and both are connected to the fact that in regular blog posts people's personalities shine through. Five years ago Jordon didn't have the millions of blogs to consider. Somehow she decided that in her online communications she was going to be who she is. "Lump it or leave it" seems courageous, but your personality is going to come out with regular online postings anyway. Jordon put herself out for the world to see, successes and failures alike.

Many of my friends, and we are "of a certain age," are very cautious about this aspect of Internet communications. Clearly some caution is in order, but it helps to know that if you're genuine, honest, kind, and of goodwill, as my friends are, that's what will shine through. The great advantage is in discovering and collaborating with wonderful people like just that. LIA uses Omidyar Networks as a platform for discussing some of their projects. Omidyar Networks is a great place to join with others in discussion and action towards building a better world.

More Parties

There's still no groundswell of attention for Party Hats for Potash. PingTing uploaded a photo of him wearing a PHP and it garnered comments. Like Omidyar, Flickr is a great place to network. I noticed this picture in Life in Africa's Flickr photostream. A picture of drums and a request for small contributions of money to buy instruments for one of their programs. The goal is $100; when I looked, I saw they received $80 already. We're all besieged with requests for contributions. There really is a space for small contributions and that's one of the things I like about the party hats idea. "Party hats" is a fun tag to do a photo search at Flickr.

Parties are essential for community. At one of my parties I sent out invitations and mentioned party hats. I made party hats for the party, but some people thought that they had to make their own. That was wonderful. Lots of people might not want to make party hats, but there are so many things to make which can make parties more fun.

By way of the wonderful blogger Kikuyumoja, this post, trashtoys 'r' us opened the wonderful world of Arvind Gupta to me. Gupta makes toys out of trash that convey scientific principles. On this page is a long list of toys he's made and how to make them. Most of them would make dandy party favors.

With the needed $20 towards LIA's goal of $100, I thought about a party where everyone would know in advance to make a hat or party favor which they would "sell" for a buck at the party. One of the aims is to raise a small amount of money for a donation to a worthy cause. But just as important is the recognition that our hands and a little of our time can bring happiness to others. A bazungu mini-potlatch.

Altogether Now

I can see my little experiment in breaking up my rambling post didn't lead to less rambling. Oh well, better luck (work) next time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Oh Yeah?

Photo: Creative Cakes

I probably shouldn't steal this photo, but Denise in the North Dallas, Plano area of Texas really does make creative cakes.

I couldn't resist posting the picture. Mad Hatter, that was my nickname when I delivered wholesale groceries to pizza shops around town. I don't think it was just the hats I wore that lent me the name. That's the name of this cake. So far as I can tell a picture of me doesn't turn up by an image search of "Mad Hatter." I was just checking.

The Editors over at The Poor Man Institute for Freedom Democracy and a Pony are nearing their fourth anniversary blogging. What courage, in this post American Dumbass present The Ten Most Dumbassest Poor Man Posts of All Time!!!! I can hardly imagine reading over my old posts. Actually I did that a bit today looking for the post that explains what Party Hats for Potash are all about. Ouch! And the other day I read through a thread that referred, actually favorably, to a previous post I'd made in the same thread. I was chagrined to discover what has to be some sort of record for spelling errors in a single paragraph when I went back to read it myself.

noted in the comments that the counter is coming up on three thousand and suggested that a Party Hat for Potash be sent to the three thousanth visitor. I'll be looking at the stats and perhaps with a little detective work and help from readers identify the lucky winner and send a hat to them.

Having little to do with the theme of this blog, I would like to offer that the recent revelations about the extent of NSA spying on every American don't make me feel safer. It's easy to imagine why members of government might find such snooping useful, but quite hard for me to imagine any good purpose in it. "Just trust us" doesn't cut the mustard when the program seems absurd on its face. Perhaps my view is a minority view, although many in the blogosphere have spoken out about the dangers and probable illegality of the program. Consider the issue for yourself, it's important.

In early February well before the extent of such program was known John Allen Paulos wrote at his ABC News column, Who's Counting Of Wiretaps, Google Searches and Handguns: Ineffective Government Screenings Not Worth Loss of Privacy. The whole piece is definitely worth reading, but consider what he writes about the problem of false positives:

Even if the probability that the purported terrorist profile is accurate were an astonishing 99 percent (if someone has terrorist ties, the profile will pick him or her out 99 percent of the time, and, for ease of computation, if someone does not have such ties, the profile will pick him or her out only 1 percent of the time), most of the hits would be false positives.

For illustration, let's further assume that one out of a million American residents has terrorist ties — that's approximately 300 people — and the profile will pick out 99 percent, or 297 of them. Great. But what of the approximately 300 million innocent Americans? The profile will also pick out 1 percent of them, "only" 3 million false positives, innocent people who will be caught up in a Kafkaesque dragnet.
I don't know about you, but it would be just my luck to be "caught up in a Kafkaesque dragnet."

Pete Seeger said of his song Lisa Kalvelage:
One of the four housewives, who in May 1966, made a personal demonstration, and prevented a load of napalm bombs from being delivered on time, made a statement as to why she had done it. I have simply tried to put the statement into meter, rhyme, and music.
The song is so moving. Lisa Kalvelage was pleased to imagine that at least her children would not have to be silent when they might be asked, "Where was your mother, when?" I don't have children, and I'm about as chicken as they come. Still, it's not right to be silent; I must not be.

What is it that I should say? There's the rub. Blogger is so good to archive my posts. Judging from this collection I have a knack for long posts that never seem to get to a point; and I can't spell worth a darn.

I want no more wars. My country's leaders marching us headlong into military actions in Iran under my flag: Stop! I say.

Going back over my posts shows my thinking in such a muddle; it would be hard to select a top ten "dumbassest" posts. In this post I offered a quotation from Carl Jung's memoir Memories,Dreams, Reflections. It seems such clear thinking I'll offer it again:
[E]vil can no longer be minimized by the euphemism of the privato boni. Evil has become a determinant reality. It can no longer be dismissed from the world by a circumlocution. We must learn how to handle it, since it is here to stay...

In practical terms, this means that good and evil are no longer so self-evident. We have to realize that each represents a judgment. In view of the fallibility of all human judgment, we cannot believe that we will always judge rightly...Nevertheless we have to make ethical decisions.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Blues

Blogging is still new to me; I haven't figured it out. Opening up the Blogger Dashboard and spewing thoughts into the blank probably isn't the best plan, nevertheless what I do. My last post was about incompetence. I had intended to include a bunch of links to neat "how to do things" pages. I suppose the impetus to link to them and the connection to the theme of incompetence is that I don't know how to do so many things; not the least of them is how to get people to grab their own Party Hat for Potash. And that in some ways informative Web pages solve the problem of my incompetence. But I couldn't figure out how to make those links fit. Writing the post made me reconsider the direction; I never know where these posts are headed.

Today I begin with the blues. I love Blues music, but I'm thinking of my garden now. Very early in the spring there is a riot of yellow and then a pause and then for a time blue flowers dominate. The blues period in the garden is a bit of quiet before the many colors of the summer display. When we first moved here there was a clump of blue German Iris by the house. These have been spread around and in some years at least make quite a display. I see now the tight buds on long stems around the garden and I'm anticipating them. But already there are so many blue flowers of other sorts. Flowers in the picture are Endymion Hispanicus--clicking on the link you might notice The Plant Expert calls them Scillia Hispanicus. Taxonomist keep changing the names. They are commonly called "bluebells" and are closely related to English bluebells. Another common name is Spanish Squill which I say often because for some reason enjoy saying "squill."

I enjoy so many of the blue flowers out now because they compete well with the weeds, especially Quackgrass. Many of them don't flower long, so this period of blue dominance in the garden is notable because it's brief. June is a month apart. I don't remember who said it, but said that June is the season of grass. I look forward to the roses too. The heavy clay soil and frequent freezing and thawing makes growing roses here chancy. Many of the old roses do quite well and most of them have but one glorious blooming time in the month of June. This blue phase in my garden, is a period of repose that anticipates the summer blooms.

After my mother's funeral everyone was invited back to the house. That was early spring a few years ago and only a few crocus were blooming in the garden. A friend came in the house and said to me: "What, did your mother reserve all rights to the color blue?" I smiled then and smile now recognizing on this Mother's Day that the blue phase of the garden is on account of her. All my garden plans are haphazard, but the abundance of blue flowers results from wanting to please her. She was a stickler about blue too. Many blue flowers tend towards the red and she found that a defect which I barely notice.

The associations of colors is idiosyncratic, I suppose. But blue suggest reverie and a sense of loss in this culture. The Blues are low-down and paradoxically uplifting.

When Phil Jones points to a "must read" I'm sure to follow his advice. This week at Blahsplotation he points to three all having to do with Mike Davis's new book The Planet of Slums . Two of the links refer to TomDispatch great writing complied by Tom Engelhardt. I'm not so good at keeping up with reading all the articles. Englehardt is a very smart writer, and provides a insisive short introductions to the pieces and reading those isn so overwhelming. Consider signing up, you won't regret it. So the two links to TomDispatch are part of an interview Davis gave to Engelhardt and the other is a long essay adapted from Davis's book at the New Left Review.

Davis suggests how Petancostalism stands in contrast to the other great religion of the world's slums, fundamentalist Islam:
In contrast to populist Islam, which emphasizes civilizational continuity and the trans-class solidarity of faith, Pentecostalism, in the tradition of its African-American origins, retains a fundamentally exilic identity. Although, like Islam in the slums, it efficiently correlates itself to the survival needs of the informal working class (organizing self-help networks for poor women; offering faith healing as para-medicine; providing recovery from alcoholism and addiction; insulating children from the temptations of the street; and so on), its ultimate premise is that the urban world is corrupt, injust and unreformable. Whether, as Jean Comaroff has argued in her book on African Zionist churches (many of which are now Pentecostal), this religion of ‘the marginalized in the shantytowns of neocolonial modernity’ is actually a ‘more radical’ resistance than ‘participation in formal politics or labour unions’, remains to be seen. [106] But, with the Left still largely missing from the slum, the eschatology of Pentecostalism admirably refuses the inhuman destiny of the Third World city that Slums warns about. It also sanctifies those who, in every structural and existential sense, truly live in exile.

[106] Comaroff, Body of Power, pp. 259–63.
It may be a stretch, but in the refusal of inhuman destiny and sanctifying those in exile, Pentecostalism seems familiar to the Blues.

I love hot-colored flowers, brilliant yellows, vermilion red, bright oranges, shocking pinks. Still the garden's blue phase is near to my heart. Our watery planet Earth is a blue pearl in the universe. The Blues are the songs we sing about loss and exile and to remind us of our sanctity. PingTing reminds me that the Blues is sacred music. The story is complicated by the historical distinction within African American music traditions between secular and sacred music, still I believe he's right about the Blues.

Reverie in my garden blue, my thoughts turn to the dignity of all the children of the Earth. Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 11, 2006



Opps! The other night I had a bad dream. In it I drove out to visit some very dear friends and in the dream they were none to happy to see me. As I said my goodbyes the hostility was only thinly veiled. As I attempted to start the vehicle I discovered that I had put the door key into the ignition, but when I looked the ignition key was not on my key ring!

Thankfully I don't have bad dreams often and I'm not particularly adept at dream analysis. One take on this particular dream might be: "close but no cigar." Certainly I feel that way often enough.

Via this post at Atrios and by way of The Washington Post I was alerted to a study, Unskilled and Unaware of It:
Incompetence at the extreme is a double-whammy, the authors declare: "Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."
Oh my,are they talking about me?

At various times I've written essays as The Incompetent Gardener. As an aside I Googled "Incompetent Gardener" to see if there already were others. About the only reference I found was in a definition of deflowering, yeah that's what the incompetent gardener did to his lady's flowers. Really the idea is not to suggest how bad a gardener I am, but a relaxed approach to gardening akin to cottage gardens of yore.

No doubt my garden is weedy. Among the serious competitors to what I attempt to grow in it is Agropyron repens commonly known as Quackgrass; although I call it Witchgrass, and so do a lot of people in Europe, but here Witchgrass more often refers to this annual grass. Quackgrass develops rhizomes, roots that are actually horizontal stems growing under the ground. It's almost impossible to get rid of the stuff by digging because even a tiny broken pice of rhizome will quickly sprout a leaf and the grass grows rampantly. That my garden is infested so has given me a small appreciation of the metaphor of the rhizome among anti-capitalists and social software enthusiasts among others. The metaphor refers to a work by Deleuze & Guattari which I haven't read, and probably wouldn't understand anyway. Nevertheless, the Rhizomat Portal is worth a visit.

The impetus behind this blog is the idea that the Internet allows people from all over to collectively work together in a self-organizing fashion, Web 2.0 and all of that. I really feel incompetent when it comes to computers and the Internet.

This week I was helping a friend, a retired academic move. Yes, you guessed it: mountains of books! The day was almost comic in it's compelexity, as if anything that could go wrong did. My friend is a mentor to a teenager and late in the afternoon he helped us out. At the new apartment my friend has contracted with the local cable company for telephone, television and Internet. Before he accessed the Internet via Dial-up so he couldn't get online because his computer settings hadn't been changed yet. I don't know anything about older Macs but I located the setup wizard and tried my hand. However I couldn't get the ISP disc to run because the computer was missing some necessary files. The teen arrived while I was in the middle of fooling around with the computer. I went out to introduce myself and asked him to come back in to the computer room.

Whenever I run into computer issues of my own, I wistfully think how nice it would be to have a teenager in the house. This teen wasn't any more informed than I about Macs and he didn't know what to do any better than me. But it was so much fun solving this little puzzle with the guy. We talked about approaches and fooled around. We didn't succeed 100%, nevertheless were able to get online, download the missing file to run the ISP set-up disc, so things were working well enough that my friend could at least check his email.

Maybe I would have done as well if the teenager hadn't shown up, but I'm sure I would have been more anxious about the whole process. As it was, we were two guys both admitting knowing hardly anything about Apple-Macs, but shared the confidence that we could probably puzzle out the problem. I bet kids seem to be so good figuring all these modern conveniences out that so often baffle people my age, not because they are so competent, but rather that they don't fear incompetence so.

Monday, May 08, 2006


That's Jack in a Party Hat for Potash. Picture by Miss Joan Marie Moossy. Chances are you don't know Jack, and I feel reasonably safe posting this without his permission because what can be told by the picture? Yikes, I hope nothing. Jack is a fine lad and seeing pictures of him and his sister partying in Party hats for Potash made me quite happy. I was in a hurry when I gave a couple of hats to Miss Moossy and hadn't the time to attatch pom poms to the hats.

I like pom poms. I also like following the progress of Kiva a very innovative initiative to deliver micro-loans for development. The great thing about people in organizations and even businesses who blog is the ability to get a sense of who they are as people. Reading Kiva Chronicles makes the people behind Kiva seem awfully nice to me. One of there wonderful initiatives is to have the computer programming done in Uganda. Carl Haynes an accomplished programmer has headed off to Tororo Uganda to do that. He's got a wonderful blog Travels With Carl. Carl writes on his page about East Africa Tech Ventures:
East Africa Tech Ventures was created by as an umbrella group for a roster of personal projects that I have currently in development.

One of my goals in moving to Africa is to locate some local individuals who have an interest in software development and either pay them to help on my projects or provide assistance in getting their ideas off the ground by providing server space, technical support, internet access and possibly some funding.

The long term goal is to try to foster the growth of a high tech area within Uganda so I won't miss being around Silicon Valley. Soroti will be the new Bangalore!
From Carl Haynes blog I knew that he'd created a Web site as a sort of experiment called TagBrowsr. The function of searching by tags at Flickr is quite adequate, but TagBrowsr is still a neat place to go. While there I searched for pictures of "party hats." I was disappointed not to see any Party Hats for Potash. It seems when you want two words as a tag you have to use quotation marks--DOH! Wow but I did see some cool party hats! Check out this page. Yes, she really is a professional paper party hat maker.

I felt like my previous post was utterly vacuous regarding Phil Jones's term peerosphere meaning peer production. Here's a snippett from the Wikipedia entry on Commons-based peer production without the embedded links:
Commons-based peer production is a term coined by Yale's Law professor Yochai Benkler to describe a new model of economic production in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated (usually with the aid of the internet) into large, meaningful projects, mostly without traditional hierarchical organization or financial compensation.
That's a pretty neat capsule of my imagination of what Bazungu Bucks are good for. Alas, I'm so vague about the details of Bazungu Bucks nobody can make hide nor hare of them.

I handed out some of my tri-fold brochures along with some party hats at a friend's party. He wasted no time in telling me the brochures were lacking. As it turns out he was one of the first persons I'd handed a tri-fold I'd made about Bazungu Bucks. I think he would have said the same about that one but we were in a public place and he didn't want to embarrass me. Undeterred I sent out tri-folds to a person responding to my saying I'd send them some if they'd pass them around. My friend was right: the graphic design of the tri-fold really does suck. I know this because the person being kind and not really knowing me sent an email to friend of mine who forwarded it on to me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, behold the peerosphere in action. Maybe there's something that can be done about the horrendous Party Hats for Potash tri-fold brochure. I didn't deliberately make the tri-folds bad, I just don't know what I'm doing. And with a little help can make them better. I feel quite confident that there's great promise in the peerosphere.

If you head over to Zbigniew Lukasiak's blog Brunopis you'll discover that peer production has implications on the things we do for finacial compensation too. At least that's the conversation I was alluding to in my last post. There's an article by Elin Whitney-Smith from the Spring 1992 Whole Earth Review which is still interesting regarding new models of economic production made possible by new communications and information technologies: The vindication of Karl Marx--industrial relations. Channeling the spirit of Karl Marx in a heavenly discussion with Vladmir Lenin Whitney-Smith writes:
"There will be economic crisis. Where decisions are made by workers who know the product, know the customer, and see the benefit of the result in their pockets, business will survive. Where decisions are made by the top of the hierarchy for the benefit of capital accumulation, business will fail. Computers turn the hierarchy upside-down. Decision making is the last function of ownership. Capitalists are dependent on workers to control the means of production, so workers will be as owners. I was right, Vladimir, I was right."
I'm way too lazy to have ever contemplated becoming a Marxist. My take on Whitney-Smith's article is that channeling Marx and Lenin is clever artiface to make an important point about how information technologies can empower us. Phil Jones noted that the term peerosphere doesn't Google up anything now. I think it's just a matter of time.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Just Checking

That's me in a Party Hat for Potash. Silly, huh?

My Tribe friend Phil Jones always points out the coolest stuff. From this post at Blahsplotation he turned me on to a new blog, Brudnopis by his fellow Triber and Wikinaut, Zbigneiw Lukasiak. I've read some of Lukasiaks posts at Tribe so I expected his blog to be worthwhile. I subscribed to his blog feed once I read his post on Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Then on Jones's other blog Platform Wars Jones blogs a comment left under this post at Brudnopis.

That's a lot of links in one paragraph! Most of my local friends find my interest in blogs bemusing, and I'm not quite sure why they aren't more curious about them. I'm not sure it helps that they know that I blog. I'm afraid it steers their imagination away from fact there are some really brilliant bloggers out there.

Lukasiak and Jones discuss how to mix peerproduction and the market. Clearly they are both smarter than I am which is a very good thing. Nevertheless, I found the discussion very satisfying because they're talking about an issue I've been thinking about recently. As some of you may know, I correspond regularly with a young Ugandan named Magumba Nathan who has been working hard over the last few years to get a community-based organization off the ground and contributing to his local community.

The issue of peer production and the market is a fundamental one for such an organization. They need some money to initiate and sustain programs of peer production. It's not easy to find a model of how you do that.

Recently I set up a group blog for the group Busoga Shining Light Association. I've been eager to put that link here just so Nathan could see how Technorati tracks links. But I've been hesitant because so far only a few of the posts are Nathan's. What I had in mind was a sort of free for all where members in Uganda could post; a place where some of the things that come to me in email could be presented to a wider audience. Some things are better kept close to the vest, and the trouble is I'm a notorious blabber mouth. So I'll be careful. What I hope for is that members of the BSLA in Uganda could use the blogs to enter into conversations around issues with people in Uganda and around the world.

Such conversations would make me happy because most of the time I feel quite inadequate when it comes to addressing the issues of a community-based organization and would welcome the input.

What's clear is that my interest in gift economy and peer production, what Phil Jones calls the peerosphere isn't mainstream. Nathan and I have communicated long enough that he's got some idea of a nugget under all my gibberish. Like so many other young people, he "gets it" quicker than old folks like me. But Nathan is also working hard to acquire solid business skills and to absorb a model of development premised on business. To my jaundiced eye this model is not entrepreneurial but rather a model for the business of development.

This issue makes me snarky. I'm old enough to know that when I get snarky that usually means I'm being decidedly unhelpful. Emeka Okafor at Timbuktu Chronicles and Africa Unchained is quite trenchant in critiques of donor development models and is quite helpful. Alas, I'm not Emeka Okafor.

I don't want to be an ass and blow opportunities for Nathan and the BSLA either by giving him bad advice or angering those pushing a conventional model of development. At the same time gift economy and peer production ideas seem to me to have great applicability for their situation and the reality they are trying to create. I'm not sure how to strike the balance. So it was so enlivening for me to read discover Brudopis and to read Phil Jones responding to Zbigniew Lukasiak's post. It dosen't really solve anything, yet at least the conversation suggests a way forward. I just love reading blogs!

I can't think of a way to connect Robert Sheer's article to this post, My Mother, 'the Illegal Alien" but it's recommended.

Update: Photo Credit: David Pohl

Monday, May 01, 2006

Blog Envy

The photo is of yesterday's Save Darfur Rally in Washington; credit Jonathan Ernst, Reuters.

Last night I was feeling a little guilty, pretty much par for the course there are always too many things I should have done left on my list. I didn't go to the Save Darfur Rally, and I didn't sleep in downtown Pittsburgh to join the Global Night Commute. I thought I could still blog about them and went looking for news articles about the Save Darfur Rally. George Clooney, how is it that thousands attend a rally and the news is George Clooney?

I live with my elderly father. Recently my old pick-up truck gave up the ghost and two vehicles seems a ridiculous excess for the two of us. Nonetheless, I'm quite accustomed to having a willing vehicle at my beck and call, so I'm having trouble adjusting to the new arrangements. My father had plans for the car both Saturday and Sunday. I figured that if I were to attend the Global Night Commute, I'd actually have to walk to Pittsburgh. I live about 25 miles outside of town, so I wasn't seriously contemplating it. Nevertheless I tried to picture a route in my mind. It was harder than I thought; there are hills to climb and a river to cross. What stymied me was the highways, routes barred from pedestrian traffic.

It turned out that my father was home from his activities early enough so that I could have dinner with friends to celebrate a long-time friend's birthday. I took a bunch of Party Hats For Potash as well a some of my tri-fold brochures. The consensus was that from a marketing perspective the tri-fold brochure falls short. I also discovered that my friendly Flickr URL to see pictures of the hats doesn't work. I'm embarrassed about that because if I'd check my links here I would have known that.

I'd been dog sitting last week and when my friend arrived to collect his dog he brought news of a distant reader of my blog. Oh joy! It turns out she would read this blog, except it's too hard to. Notwithstanding my terrible spelling and rambling prose, I've been surprised to see how the blog shows up on different computers. Pingting reads the blog, but when I saw it come up on his computer, I marveled that he is able to because it looks so bad--it looks fine on my computer. I don't know where to begin to correct those issues.

Related, my techno--oh heck, general-- lack of savvy was brought to my attention this weekend when I finally up-graded from my dial-up Internet to DSL. I'm online and it's much faster; lots of stuff works now that never used to. But, there are still some glitches in my set-up. The tech support at Earthlink have had me make so many changes to no avail, I can't remember where I started.

It would be easiest to chuck this whole blogging enterprise. Still today I received a very niche email requesting tri-fold brochures about Party Hats for Potash:
Sometimes an idea takes time to take off. Keep on keeping on.
Ah, that's what need, some encouragement. Thanks Rose!

Some blogs really get it right. I've got too many favorites. Sokari at black looks is indispensable. Recently black looks moved to a new address. I've updated the link on the sidebar, but click through if you've got it bookmarked or are subscribed and haven't up-dated to the new address.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah's Koranteng Toli is sui generis; not only one of a kind, I love to say sui generis whenever it's appropriate. Yesterday's post, Huhudious (or Silly Season) made me laugh so hard today, all the while wondering how I could be laughing about such serious matters. Here's a tip: go there the post is worthwhile. Previously I'd bookmarked his post Angola thinking to blog about it. Just go there, Koranteng Toli is a treasure!

Christian Long at think:lab is an inspiration. I wonder where he finds the energy to post so much about important education and design topics. This post has the coolest links to Invisible Children and the Global Night Commute project. He points out there are some good videos here; before my DSL connection I would have simply taken his word for it.

He and a group of others in the Ft. Worth area are launching a great new initiative that ought to catch on like wildfire all over !2GT (12 Great Things):
The group comes together once a month to throw ideas on the table (of potential projects), discuss pros/cons, discuss schedule/calendar for the optimal time to do the each month's "one great thing", and then to begin to assemble teams/strategies to bring all of our resources/networks/ideas/energies/funds together to "push" (Greg's apt word) on this "one great thing". The goal is not to sustain the project, but to give it some momentum, inspire others, and then to move on...
I'm sure I'll blog more about this as they copyright the name and get the Web site up and running.

When I look around at my little circle of friends, I see so much talent and experience and hear their desire to reach out to share, but not quite knowing how to begin. My general incompetence isn't much of a model. The upside is that it gives them many opportunities for pointing out: "There are better ways..." !2GT might be just thing to get the ball rolling with some of them.

My special interest is to encourage people to pay attention to African issues and invent ways to be involved. My main intention is to encourage all of us to create something good. Local or far away we all can do our part.

The sixteen year-old son of my friend whose birthday we celebrated on Saturday is a percussionist with Mount Lebanon Percussion. There's lots to experience at their Web site, the performance videos are especially worthwhile. His enthusiasm and passion about percussion filled me with joy. When I came home I looked around for some Web sites I wanted to share with him. Among them was the Kodo the incomperable Japanese drumming society. While there, I read:
In ancient Japan the taiko was a symbol of the rural community and it is said that the limits of the village were defined not by geography but by the furthest distance at which the taiko could be heard. It is Kodo's hope with the One Earth Tour to bring the sound of the taiko to people around the globe, so that we may all be reminded of our membership in that much larger community: the world.
There are quite a few blogs far more worthwhile than this one. Still, I take heart in being "a member of a much larger community" and my blog envy subsides.