Monday, October 23, 2006

Means of Production

Quilts of Gee's Bend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 02, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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