Monday, January 30, 2006

Six Million Posted by Picasa

Six Million

The photograph is from Web pages of Alexander S. Brown a GISDE-MA student at Clark University. It shows the Horn of Africa and is part of a series of maps showing a time series analysis of climate and vegetation. His work is quite technical, nevertheless the mapping projects on his Web site are quite stunning to look at and the whole area of study quite interesting. A friend's daughter is a freshman at Clark, so I'm delighted to see such great research being done there. I was also pleased to learn of Department of International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE) there.

Man oh man! For some reason the editing tools aren't showing up in Blogger today. I've checked my settings and they seem okay, but not having the buttons makes this posting difficult for me; I'm such a clutz! Doing this manually is beyond my expertise.

The reason to show the Horn of Africa is that acording to UN sources:
More than six million people throughout the Horn of Africa region are on the brink of starvation, according to various UN agencies.
That sort of news takes a while to sink in. Today I read--I'm not sure where--that perhaps as many as three million are on the verge of starvation in Kenya. That made the news sink in a little. Bill Ainache at Food Crisis in Somalia is an excellent source for information about the crisis.

This morning my Ugandan friend Peter called me and told me that one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" here in town was murdered early Saturday morning outside a bar in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Peter manages the Africana Magazine and has reported on it there. It's so tragic and Peter wanted to talk about ways to help African immigrants in Pittsburgh adjust to life here.

At Sound Roots dj earball has put up a flyer from The World Can't Wait about protests happening in cities around America on Tuesday before president Bush's State of the Union speech. In Pittsburgh it will be held at 8:00 PM in front of the William Pitt Union. I thought to run that flyer too. And then I considered running a picture of president Bush giving us all an obscene gesture. Oh dear, it's awfully easy to wade into dangerous waters with this blog. It's hard to find the voice to oppose the evils confronting us, especially in a way that doesn't alienate, but rather calls for creating something good.

Bishop Desmond Tutu has found such a voice. I was moved to hear a short speech he delivered at Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum available at the NPR Web site. Tutu reminds us that human beings are dependant on one another and explains quite succinctly the concept of ubuntu. Keguro at Gukira remarks about how The King James Bible uses "charity" instead of "love" in Paul's famous Epistle to the Corinthians. Keguro writes:
For most of us, love is private and personal. We “fall” in “love.” We “love” our parents. We “love” our countries. And, especially in Protestant teachings, “love” designates an expansive personal relationship. Believers have a “personal” relationship with God, which serves as a template for other relationships.

Charity speaks more immediately to a sense of recurring obligation, freely given, with no expectation of return. There is no unrequited charity. It speaks to a relationship governed by care for others.
Both Tutu and Keguro point out our obligation--we have no other choice--towards on another.

Another picture I considered running today was an un-cropped photo of me in that Afro wig. For some reason people have commented that the picture couldn't have been taken here, so just to so it's really me in familiar surroundings. How embarassing that folly! Now whenever I post comments at Blogger blogs that picture shows up.

Most of the links I saved for today are political. I don't think anyone should take me very seriously, after donning an Afro wig in public. But we should take our obligations to others seriously and in one way or another politics enters into that.

So here is a Guardian article about John Perkins, Economic Hitman. And here is an editorial from The New York Times
Spies, Lies and Wiretaps. On February 2nd Not in Our Name's Commission of inquiry into Bush war crimes and crimes against humanity will release preliminary findings at the National Press Club. If all that's too shrill here's a post from The Poor Man Insitute for Freedom, Democracy and a Pony that perhaps will add perspective.

We share this blue jewel of a planet together. So we must find ways of making life for all. Can we be unmoved by the suffering of so many?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Green Stone Posted by Picasa

Green Stone

Today was lovely. We've been having a mild winter here in Western Pennsylvania. The ground was still a little frozen, but the day was sunny and the air warm, so I headed out into my neglected garden. I probably shouldn't be so impatient to cart off all the old foilage,because it's habitat for wildlife. Still I'm eager to get a jumpstart, and I like being in the garden thinking of what I might try to do this year.

There is a rocky section of the yard and I very much like to gather stones to use in the garden. After all these years, I finally know where to put the fire pit and the stonescape around the fish pond needs to be re-worked. Lazy as I am I can't find it in me to do one job until it's finished, so I ambled between different garden spaces with my by-pass pruners in hand. The big obstacle to digging up some more rocks is the blackberry bramble covering the surface. So far as I have discovered there's no really easy way to cut it down, except to cut it with my shears. My gloves have holes in the tips so I'll have to get new ones before I begin cutting bramble. Nevertheless, I eyed-up the situation and made plans of attack.

I've been asked how I decide which stone to use when I'm building with it. In my mind it's simply the "next" stone, and indeed proximity to me does have something to do with it. I suppose I have in mind how much stone I've collected and what I want to do and there's some method to it, although I don't really think much. What I like to tell people is, "The stones sing to me."

Today as I was chopping down last summer's growth, I heard the sound of a little stone singing. I looked over to a stone I'd placed near the edge of a steep garden bed; it just anchors a little soil for a few plants to grow close to it. There ontop was the little green stone I'd planned to pass around at my birthday party. How it got there I do not know, I only remember that I couldn't find it on my birthday. So there it is pictured. It seems quite natural resting on the other stone so I left it in peace.

Emeka Okafor of Timbuktu Chronicles fame does blogging right. In short pithy paragraphs he jam-packs information linking to previous post and to outside links. At his Africa Unchainded blog today he discusses C.K. Prahalad who sees entrepreneurial ingenuity in the developing world:
Some of the most interesting companies of the future won't emerge from Silicon Valley or other places of abundant means, he says. They will come from places many executives don't even think about because they have been considered too marginal.
Prahalad makes a good point and a good question is what people in more affluent countries and situations can do to help entrepreneurs in the developing world?

When push comes to shove, we can shop. Via Timbuktu Chronicles I learned about Ten Thousand Villages. We used to be an NGO: Uganda Crafts caught my attention because I'd read about them at the Life in Africa Web site. Christiana Jordan of LIA writes:
When I asked Betty to tell me about how the place runs, she said, "Well, we used to be an NGO, but then we realized we had accomplished all of our objectives, and so we privatized."
The great thing is that Uganda Crafts products along with a wide array of products from similar companies and organizations around the world are available at 160 Ten Thousand Villages stores around the USA and Canada. "I did not know that." There is a store in the Squirrel Hill as well as one at the YWCA in Pittsburgh. From the Ten Thousand Villages Web pages:
To practice fair trade in accord with the Ten Thousand Villages principles of operation we need to know the artisans and groups we work with around the world. Being a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has given us a worldwide network of volunteers and like-minded organizations that enable us to be in touch with and know the artisans and groups with whom we work.
In recent days we heard news from Davos, Switzerland and the World Economic Forum. Grandiose Parlor weighs in with Davos: WEF Spolights Africa. The World Social Forum gets less press than the WEF here in the USA, but may be no less significant. This year's WSO gathering of civil society groups and social organizations is being held in three meetings at different locations: Mali, Venezuela, and Pakistan. The Bamako, Mali meeting held January 19th-23rd overlapped with the Davos meeting. Black Looks--again a blogger who knows how to blog--has a tremendous round-up of the events that's well worth a read. Sokari Ekine's post is dense with links. For an overview of what the WSF is and what it means to Africa, Sokari links to this article at Pambazuka News.

Black Looks
makes an important point about the role of Internet communications at the WSF:
The African blogosphere has also been sadly lacking in commentary on the forum. One reason for this may be the lack of publicity about the WSF in Mali by all sections of the media. More to the point though is most Africans on the continent do not have access to the technology needed to blog and Mali does not have the infrastructure or the funds to provide the necessary technology for WSF participants.
Nathan has his new computer. He cannot have it in the computer lab at school and doesn't have and Internet connection. Also as a result of the drought the Nile waters are very low and eletricity supply is irratic and will probably be for the near future. The computer will be a good tool, but nothing is quite straight forward. Still, I have confidence in C.K. Prahalad's vision of entrepreneurs of necessity in the developing world. Nathan will find a way.

The idea of passing the green stone was simply a way to exchange peace between us. It hardly matters that at my birthday it was a black stone. Nonetheless, I was happy to hear the green stone singing today. I thought of all of you my friends. I bid you peace.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Teju Cole only for a short time longer. Please don't miss it.
Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
 Posted by Picasa

Non-Violent Civic Resistance

Emeka Okafor at Africa Unchained writes in a post, Realising Regime Change about an article in The Economist (walled off article) concerning the effectiveness of non-violent resistance in effecting regime change. Okafar cites a study of 67 overthrown dictatorships in analysis by Freedom House (Wikipedia) showing that non-violent resistance:
[B]road-based, non-violent civic resistance—which employs tactics such as boycotts, mass protests, blockades, strikes and civil disobedience to delegitimate authoritarian rulers and erode their sources of support, including the loyalty of armed defenders.
can be decisive.

I'm something of a coward. Living in a country where I'm generally allowed to speak out, I too often don't when I ought. Yet I'm am gravely concerned about the erosion of American civil liberties.

When I read Africa Unchained today, my thoughts turned immediately to the lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960's. Often non-violent strategies are considered wimpy affairs. But take a look at this picture, or go to Voices of Civil Rights to look at a few more pictures. I see courage in the women at the counter. My learned construct of masculinity makes it harder to see in that man sitting at the counter. Putting myself in his shoes for a moment, I imagine either loosing my temper and failing about against the mob, or deep feelings of shame. It's only then, after imagining myself at that stool, I begin to grasp the courage he showed.

What did they pour on them: ketchup, syrup, milk, ice water? How truly frightened they must have been and how courageous not to demonstate their fear but rather courage.

Among the magazines my father has subscribed to for as long as I can remember are Time and Business Week. For many years, including during the 1980's, Paul Craig Roberts wrote for the Economic Viewpoint column in Business Week. Generally I found those pieces infuriating! Strangely, Roberts has been a frequent critic of the presidency of George W. Bush. In a recent column posted at, Unfathomed Dangers in PATRIOT Act Reauthorization he wrote:
[R]ead House Report 109-333 USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and check it out for yourself. Sec. 605 reads:

"There is hereby created and established a permanent police force, to be known as the 'United States Secret Service Uniformed Division.'"

This new federal police force is "subject to the supervision of the Secretary of Homeland Security."
Robert's raises concerns about the formation of this new federal police force, "The language conveys enormous discretionary and arbitrary powers." Anyone who has attended any event where president Bush or vice president Cheney spoke, knows already citizen rights for speach and assembly have been drastically curtailed. I'm not a lawyer, and I'm well aware that the ability of the president to designate American citizens as "Enemy Combatants" and thereby not subject to protection of the law is unsettled law in the courts. Nevertheless, the language for commission of a new federal police force seems hardly reassuring that our liberty subject to the rule of law will be protected.

One of the depressing conclusions from my lackluster study of history is that tyrannies are rather durable. So I'm both encouraged and discouraged by Mahatma Gandhi's observation: "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary." I'm impatient.

John F. Kennedy remarked: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." I agree, but hasten to say I deplore violence! What really interests me is finding ways to prevent violence.

Here in America we are accustomed to hearing about such measures as the PATRIOT Act, illegal searches and wiretaps, and this formation of a new federal police force, referred to as "tools against terrorism." "Tools" sound useful and good, and they are for the most part; except, I look at some of my screw drivers, some of them are in very poor shape. They didn't get that way from turning screws, but by my using them for prying, scraping, puncturing, and even for hammering.

Repression of our rights to be secure in our home and effects, to freely assemble, and to be free to speak will lead to repression more broadly. Godwin's Law holds:
As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
The tradition holds that whoever mentions the Nazi's has lost the argument. But when Roberts wrote:
The Brownshirts are now arming themselves with a Gestapo.
a chill ran down my spine.

I don't know those people pictured in the photograph, but they look familiar to me; those three at the Woolworth's counter and the mob assembled behind them. A federal police under the command of the Executive unrestrained by law will surely lead to more violence and terroristic practices here at home. It's important for Americans who believe in civil rights, who stand firmly in favor of human rights to find ways to courageously speak out and to win this argument.

Now Americans of any color can sit and be served in public establishments across the land. The sit-ins were effective because even with the constant blame on "outside agaitators" the people sitting there were never believably "outsiders." Non-violent resistance was essential for Americans to see our common heritage. Non-violent resistance revealed a contradiction in our values and behavior.

Tomorrow I will have dinner with a couple, who nice as they are, and they are really nice, hold views embracing religio-political authoritarianism. It's uncomfortable for me; my tongue often hurts from biting it. No "Nazi" or "Brownshirt" will be spit out, I promise. Still, I hope for courage and wisdom to speak in a ways that favor civil rights when we talk.

What we do here is felt elsewhere. All over the globe human rights are violated. All over the globe corruption destroys institutions necessary for justice and development. Many disparage others in other countries but will not speak out about the abuses and corruption in our own country. But when we do, we stand with millions around the globe; we stand for people power. May I have the courage to stand with peaceful purpose.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lady Mechanics Posted by Picasa

Lady Mechanics

Oscar Blayton at All Africa (Self-Help) Bazaar is a wonderful chronicler of self-help initiatives in Africa. Taken together his posts form a kind of textbook on the subject. His writing is thourgh and engaging. Recently he posted about The Lady Mechanic Initiative in Nigeria. There are many things about this project that endear me to it, first of all that there's a local connection. Stephenie Feckzo of Carbley's Garage in East Pittsburgh and Lucille Treganowan of Transmissions by Lucille fame are on the management board.

Sunday was the thirty-third aniversary of Roe v. Wade a Supreme Court decision that paved the way for safe and legal abortion in the USA. After watching the Steeler game, I was a little too drunk to take not of that in my blog post. Abortion is such a contentious subject that I rather generally steer clear of the topic. At 3 Quarks Daily there was a link to a review by Garry Wills of Jimmy Carter's new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. The whole article is available at The New York Review of Books.

Wills points out that Carter sees that "the norms of religion and politics are different." My home religion is Episcopal, but having grown up in the American South it's easy to have some idea about Baptists. So when Carter protests that the religion and politics together nowadays contradicts traditional Baptist beliefs, the premise doesn't seem far-fetched. Indeed a long strand of the Baptist fabric is resisitng coercion in matters of faith. Said via the positiva Baptist beleve:
"the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ, whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures."
James Carrol writing about the legacy of Pope John Paul II in Time provides an excellent introduction to this seminal debate in Christianity from a Roman Catholic perspective. It's interesting that two religious men, a conservative Christian president of the United States and the Pope in Rome should share as a matter of values at the intersection of religion and politics the "renunciation of the use of coercion in defense of the truth." Carter sees the new Christian fundamentalism as a regression to authoritarianism at odds with fundamental precepts of Baptist faith.

Mostly I've let religion lapse. As someone who is pro-abortion rights it was interesting to find so much agreement with Carter who is opposed to abortion; agreement based in commonly held values.

I laughed when I read Margot's Journaling Ethiopia about people shunning working with teens because "they're difficult." Of course they are, but at the same time none of us wants harm to befall them. Violence against women and girls is a subject I have such a hard time talking about, yet I'm not so naive to think it's not something important to talk about. We must defend our teens against violence, but: How?

Sandara E. Aguebon is the driving force behind The Lady Mechanics Initiative. Going through the Web site brought me joy listening to her story. Becoming an auto mechanic empowered her and now she wants to empower other women. One of the objectives of Lady Mechanics is:
To reduce scandals and abuse of womanhood. Reduce the level of female participation in social vices such as prostitution, human and drug trafficking, armed robbery and other immoral practices.
On the front page is a highlighted text box: "Free accomodation especially commercial sex workers." Without knowing their objectives one might wonder what they're up to. Aguebon is keen to show that auto mechanics can empower young women. And she doesn't beleive in "throw away" people.

Politics is hot these days in America. Religio-political fundamentalist will dismiss Carter out of hand, but Carter's book is still important. He shows that in the current crisis in values there are still fields of common ground for cultivating. It's important we do so.

The sharing and communication I garner through this blog is so very gratifying. After yesterday's post a friends sent me a couple more links for online resources for making flipbooks: here and here. Also a friend sent me a photocopy of an article from December's Gourmet. Gourmet's Web site is useful and entertaining, but so far as I can see I can't link to the particular article The Healing Fields. The article is about the challenges Ugandans face with more than a million children orphaned by AIDS. It's a good article which gently addresses the religio-political fundamentalism undermining the promotion of condom use that has been one of the pillars of Uganda's success in stanching the rate of HIV infection. There is a very useful link mentioned in the article to TRICKLE UP an international non-profit organization whose mission:
is to help the lowest income people worldwide take the first step up out of poverty, by providing conditional seed capital and business training essential to the launch of a small business.
There seem to be two distinct versions of "power" in human relations: the first power over others, and the second empowerment, i.e., power from within (I don't have the citation, but I'm sure that's from Starhawk). Carter's book addresses how authoritarianism in both religion and politics leads too often to perverse outcomes. He makes the case for liberty and empowerment and places them firmly in the relm of tradional American values.

It was a pleasant surprise to find local business women, Stephenie Feckzo and Lucille Treganowan, on the management board of The Lady Mechanic Initiative. Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise. Americans have in many times and in many ways sought to develop our individual potential and then to share that with others. Our stock and image around the world has been tarnished by the hubris and authoritarianism of our recent politics. Nonetheless empowerment is an all-American value worth embracing against the furies of religo-political authoritarianism.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Teens Posted by Picasa


Today I was over at at a friend of mine's daughter and husband's house to watch the big Pittsburgh Steeler game. We're going to the Super Bowl! My friend gave the following testimonial about this blog:
A blog for thirty percent of those who do not read.
Babble as I do, I believe there's some mistake. Nonetheless, clearly I see a need for blogs which appeal to those who don't like to read.

The picture was posted by Margot on Journaling Ethiopia. It's a kind posts that gently addresses the recent unrest in Addis Ababa. Mostly it was an observation about teenagers:
Two rebellious teenage girls at Key Afer market day. I love that while I had no idea what they were saying, nor did my translator, the meaning came through loud and clear. Teenagers, in my experience, demonstrate similar kinds of attitudes and exuberance across cultures, time zones, and generations. It's part of their dubious charm, and part of why, infuriatingly, most development efforts do not exert themselves to adequately address the needs of youth because "they are difficult to work with." (Along with the other truths that no one likes to admit, that in most cultures their voices are not heard nor respected, and their needs and desires are often ignored and disrespected, despite all the lip service paid to the youth as "the future.") Hmph. Adults!
In Sunday's Post-Gazette is an article about a summit against racism held here. And pictured are two American teenagers about whom Margot's words about the Ethiopian teens would not seem out of place.

Another friend at the Steeler's game works with teens creating art and they've been blogging their sessions. He told me one of the students in the class asked: "Whose that creepy guy who always leaves comments on our blog." Me, a bit red faced, but my friend told me he hoped that wouldn't inhibit my comments. Richard Scoble was in town last week. He mentioned that most businesses in this town don't allow their employees to blog. I guess that same sort of caution has filtered down to the kids. I told my friend that I thought blogs were a good activity for kids, of course I'm singing to the choir because my friend incorporates a blog in his instruction.

Lots of teens have blogs. Petersondesigns put a posting taken from the Kansas City High School Dialog Buzz Web site. I'll copy it here because if promted some very good discussion elsewhere:
* I will access up-to-date information - you have a textbook that is 5 years old.
* I will immediately know when I misspell a word – you have to wait until it’s graded.
* I will learn how to care for technology by using it – you will read about it.
* I will see math problems in 3D – you will do the odd problems.
* I will create artwork and poetry and share it with the world – you will share yours with the class.
* I will have 24/7 access – you have the entire class period.
* I will access the most dynamic information – yours will be printed and photocopied.
* I will communicate with leaders and experts using email – you will wait for Friday’s speaker.
* I will select my learning style – you will use the teacher’s favorite learning style.
* I will collaborate with my peers from around the world – you will collaborate with peers in your classroom.
* I will take my learning as far as I want – you must wait for the rest of the class.
* The cost of a laptop per year? - $250
* The cost of teacher and student training? – Expensive
* The cost of well educated US citizens and workforce? - Priceless
I can't remember how I happened on the conversation about this: whether if was first at think:lab or at Doug Johnson's The Blue Skunk Blog or at petersondesign in the first place. the important thing is that many people who care very much about children's education recognise what some in the business world have discovered: blogging is an important tool for learning.

The whole notion of a blog for people who don't read intriqued me and reminded me of one use for the small acordian books I've been thinking about how to make. It seems a hard puzzle to figure way for connect people in places in Africa where access to computers are limited. Paper seems one way. But as I'm also reminded by Nathan and members of the BSLA that there are many in their community who don't read at all. I also know that the members of the BSLA adult literacy groups want practical information to learn to read. They want to know how to increase their income. So one idea for the Cracker Jack books is to show how to do useful things in pictures.

The wonderful blog Mental Acrobatics posted a slide show on Flickr How to Slaughter a Sheep. I've been impressed with how much information can be conveyed in photo slideshows. Of course it would be to expensive to print photos into the little Cracker Jack books, but the sequence aspect is similar. For Americans who don't read such photo essays seem perfect.

So far I haven't gotten very far in creating a template in my word processing software to produce these acordian books. Maybe someone's already figured it all out, so I keep looking. From the We-Make-Money_Not-Art blog I discovered Flipbooks:
It's a web application that allows people to easily create frame animation by simply drawing on screen and publish it online (yeah, it's that simple - and works well). There are over 180,000 animation clips contributed by the visitors (including me) and the number is increasing. This work's value would be not only in the web application itself but also in the media space that is rapidly expanding through end-user contributions -- and the simple and inclusive user interface that invites people from many countries in the world to create and contribute...

A cool feature you might not want to miss: you can download a PDF version of an animation clip, print it, cut & bind, and create a physical flipbook of animation. My first time to print animated web contents so easily.
Perhaps the template for Cracker Jack books would be most useful as a PDF file. Instructables is another fantastic site for people to easily put up directions of how to make things. The comment features allow for the community to make suggestions for improvement for each project too. This as very close to the spirit of Cracker Jack books, especially on the how-to-side of things. What I need to do is to find a more or less standard template for people to make Cracker Jack books. How to get them both on paper and on a blog is something to work out.

Nobody who doesn't like to read coming to this blog would wade through to find those cool links to Flip Books and Instructables. But it seems pretty likely they might find those sites interesting and useful. Now I've got to learn how to make a blog for people who don't read (much). Teens and adults the world over might really appreciate how much of the Internet can be embraced without reading.

All of this is pretty far afield from the topic of teens. Journaling Ethiopia reminded me how important young people's voices are and how often teens feel they do not have a vehicle so others can hear them. In the picture of the Ethiopian teens and the picture of the teens from Pittsburgh in today's paper the "dubious charm" of teens shows through. I want to find ways for teens to tell their stories and to hear others' stories. The Internet and blogging opens new avenues for teens and all sorts. There must be ways of helping people in the developing world gain access too.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Conversation Posted by Picasa


I learned from my friend Duane last night that Wilson Pickett died. Today as I was putting on my shoes getting ready to go out I played a couple of songs by the Wicked Wilson Pickett. I told Duane my first concert ever was seeing Wilson Pickett, so we talked about memory; my faulty one that is. I remembered that the promotion for the concert was a "Skinny Legs" concert and he pointed out that was Joe Tex. Yes I do believe that Joe Tex performed, and Wilson Pickett too. After playing a couple of songs I played Touch A Hand Make A Friend by The Staples Family. I was feeling in a nostalgic mood.

This week I added the Stumble Upon toolbar to my browser. It's a search tool that finds content rich Web pages according to personal interests and includes some social networking. One of the write-ups about it asks: "Ever get tired of looking at the same old Web sites?" I thought to myself, "Of course not!" My problem is getting tired of looking at too many new Web sites. Here's an example of how it happens: I was looking for the lyrics to Touch A Hand Make A Friend so entered that as a search. Among the Web sites that came up was Masturbation for Peace. As it happens the site is "content rich." In the FAQ section is this:
Do you really think that if people masturbate while thinking about peace it will affect anything?

Hard to know, but of one thing we are sure. People are going to masturbate anyway, so while doing it, they might as well give a thought to peace. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that peaceful solutions are even an option, we hope to remind them.
The question is asked: "Are you serious?" with an affirmative answer. An answer I'll take at face value, but I was curious about whether the Web site generates revenues, or is simply a gift to all mankind? In the Cool Links is a link to a site with over 1000 euphemisms for male masturbation. I'll never again think the same way about vote Republican! So far as I can see blogging hasn't yet been added to the list. My attempts at blogging makes me think it's a good candidate for addition.

When putting Staples Family into the search box this article showed up, Food Shortages Put Many Kenyans in Peril. That's something I've been meaning to blog about. It's not just Kenya affected by drought, but the whole Horn of Africa. The political situation compounds the human misery. Ethiopia and Eritrea are poised for war. And Somalia is facing a dire food crisis.

The reporting on Africa in the USA is spotty so it's very difficult to find any context for understanding. For example, this piece regarding the US UN ambassodor, John Bolton's plan unveiled January 9th. It's too short to make hide nor hair of it. This piece from Reuters' indispensible AlertNet from January 19th is short, but gives a picture of the political problem. The source of that piece was the United Nations Integrated Regional Informations Networks IRIN which is an excellent source for news of the world. The news about Africa, and this truly important story of a severe drought that imperils millions in many countries of Africa, takes effort to ferret out.

Blogs are a good way to become informed. Especially blogs that aggregate feeds from other blogs, ADMAS and BlogAfrica, in particular.

Bazungu Bucks, on the other hand: Just what are you doing reading it? I don't even have a clue what I'm trying to get at in these posts. Yet, I very much want to post because the conversation seems vital to me.

The photograph of all those books comes from the John William Montessori School in Kumsai, Ghana. I stumbled upon that site while searching for photographs of books. The news is very important, but following the news can be disheartening. I need examples of people creating something good. So I found the pages about this school and the founder of the school, Nana-Fosu Randall encouraging and informative.

Dave Pollard recently asked a simple question Who Needs Your Gift Now? Quick and snarky, I'd deny I have any gifts at all, and wonder who needs 'em? But a friend whose son is now serving a second tour in Iraq copied something of Nelson Mandela's 1994 Inaugural Speech in a family blog they're maintaining during this difficult time.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us

We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous ?
Actually, who are you not to be ?

Your playing small doesn't serve the world...
We were born to manifest the glory that is within us
It is not just in some of us: it is in everyone
And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same

As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

NELSON MANDELA, Inaugural Speech 1994
Conversations on the Internet don't really make it easy for me and my habit of trying to get away with doing as little as I can. In another place I mentioned the idea for Cracker Jack books. To my astonishment, someone I admire very much said he liked the idea. Oh Joy! And then on the same day, I got a private message from the self-same person gently reminding me of an application he wrote to manage Bazungu Bucks accounts and my blogroll. "Ahem!" Well, I've got work to do and I'm happy that the conversations initiated by this blog remind me of it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Books Not Guns Posted by Picasa

In today's newspaper Karen MacPherson handicaps the children's books nominated for the three top awards given by the American Library Association. It's been a while since I read a good picture book. When I went back to college my friend Trudy would often invite me to dinner. After dinner and cleaning up it was time for her (then) young daughter's bedtime. The ritual included reading a bedtime story. In the long list of debts I can never repay, those meals and those stories remain precious to me. If I learned how good picture books can be, it's not a literary genre I keep up on.

Among MacPherson's contenters, although not one of the favored picks, is The Old African. MacPherson mentions the illustrator, Jerry Pinkney for the Caldecott Medal. The book's author, Julius Lester is mentioned as a contender for the Newbery Medal for his book Day of Tears. I haven't read Lester's first book (1969), but it has one of my all-time favorite titles: Look Out, Whitey! Black Power's Gon'Get Your Mama! Pinkney and Lester have collaborated on other books before, and both men have produced an exceptional number of books. Outside the miniscule number of mega-hits, children's book publishing is only marginally lucrative for authors and illustrators. There would be few writers if not for the love of books. No where is the love of books more evident than among children's authors and illustrators.

I was curious to learn more about The Old African. The snippet from The School Library Review on the Amazon page begins:
As the story opens, the Old African is watching a boy being whipped on a plantation in Georgia. He is putting a picture into the minds of his comrades–a picture of water as soft and cool as a lullaby–and the picture stops the boy's pain.
I wondered whether this is appropriate for children. Lots of children's stories are far darker than we remember. At least on some level of remembering; there is a part of my belly that churns when I even think of the witch in Hansel and Gretel. I'm not one for believing in scaring children, but I also know that childhood is a time of facing fears; those brave children.

Many years ago I gave a nephew a picture book, Pink and Say written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. At Carol Hurst wonderful Web site about children's literature the summary of the book follows:
This heart-wrenching historical picture book, based on a true story, presents us with two men from the Union army who meet after a battle of the Civil War. Say, the white younger man, has been wounded. Pink, a black man, carries him home to where his mother is surviving in ruins of a deserted plantation. Pink is determined to rejoin his unit in spite of mother's protest. Say, who was deserting when wounded, only agrees because of the danger they present to Pinks mother. Marauders come and kill her while they hide in the cellar. On the way to the front lines they are captured by confederates and taken to Andersonville prison, Pink is hung. Say survives to become author's great-great grandfather.
"Heart-wrenching" indeed, I can never read that book aloud without choking back tears at the final page. It's odd in away for me to think that I mustn't cry over a book in front of children. Part of that is wanting children to be unconstrained in forming their own reactions to books.

One reviewer at Amazon thinks that children shouldn't be exposed to Pink and Say. Because I at least momentarily had a similar reaction to The Old African I cannot dismiss his reaction out of hand. Child soldiers are a part of our history too. "I OBJECT!" Never should children be soldiers. While it's right to do everything possible to sheild children from that fate, it's unfair to kids to pretend war never affects children. My sister told me that her first reaction to my gift of Pink and Say to her young son was: "What is this?" but she thanked me because the book was special to her son. It even prompted a Halloween costume.

War, what a subject. By way of James Walcott I first heard of James Hillman's A Terrible Love of War. Hillman, a Jungian psychologists suggests our love of war is mythic. Chris Hedges's book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning describes from his years as a war correspondent how this love of war can overtake us.

Reading more African and Afro-friendly blogs lately, sometimes I've felt overwhelmed by the stories of suffering. It's little wonder people tend to tune the news out. For the Martin Luther King Holiday, Maria Luisa Tucker wrote a piece, Finding Words to Talk About Race. She wrote:
Conversations about race and ethnicity are conversations about sex, hate, love, ignorance, history, guilt, shame and anger. It's embarrassing, uncomfortable and emotionally draining.

Given the choice, we'd rather not talk about it. But given the state of things, we should try.
We should try to talk about difficult and important subjects. War stories are important because we cannot contextualize war by reason alone. Stories provide a context where our emotions play a critical role in our understanding.

In the mid-sixties Julius Lester worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, SNCC pronouced "snick." I doubt that he set out to become a well-known children's author. (I should hasten to add that Lester has written both book of adult non-fiction and fiction as well--the fellow is prolific.) But Lester's storytelling isn't so surprizing given the hard subjects he's tackled. Books are very important, even in this Digital Age. Children's literature provides a vocabulary from which children can develop a language to speak about the world and the possibility for building a better one.

Monday, January 16, 2006

It's Big Posted by Picasa

It's Big

This photo is taken from a collection labeled 1492 Web Collection that sits on a server at the University of California Berkley. I suspect an instructor uploaded the images for one course or another; in any case the collection of images is instructive. Africa is a huge continent, something I have the hardest time bearing in mind. It's fantastically diverse, still without second thoughts I'll talk about Africa, as if it's small and easily contained.

Today is a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the USA. The struggle for civil rights seems something past now like the Civil War. But as American novelist William Faulkner observed:
The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.
1492 was as fate-filled for Africa as for the Americas. It's an odd quirk that so many Americans look to the past to find "originality" rather than looking forward into the future. After so many centuries we still feel we don't belong here. Jacques Monod the famous French biologist in his Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology suggested this was more existential and commonly felt: "our number came up at a Monte Carlo game." For over five hundred years the peoples of this Earth have been interlinked by a vast web of transactions, but still we feel separate from one another. Civil rights are undeniably important, and worth struggling for. Human rights are essential.

We here in America are quite attatched to our individuality. And so are likely to view the murder of Martin Luther King as an abberation, at the hand of "one bad apple." That may well have been the case. Perhaps it's not so strange that few Americans today know that James Earl Ray was convicted in King's murder. Except, before Ray died there was a bit of a drama which placed his name in the local news. The King family brought a wrongful death suit against a Memphis businessman named Loyd Jowers. Ray had long proclaimed his innocence, after pleading guilty, but as the renewed attention to the King's murder seemed an opening for him to receive a liver transplant here in my home town which received some local press at the time. Ray never got his liver.

I was lad in a private school in a southern state when King was murdered. One of my school mates bragged about the conspiracy pretty much as it was laided out thirty years later. I'm not sure what really happened. I'm only sure that violence was preferred to non-violence. King's vilolent death tricks us in this present into underestimating the significance of disciplined and coordinated non-compliance.

There are so many African issues in the news recently and I feel quite inadequate to write about them. There is a drought in the Horn of Africa that threatens mass starvation. There are wars and rumours of war. Omar al Bashir the dictator of Sudan is poised to become the new chairman of the African Union:
Even the most loathsome tyrants are occasionally admired for their charm, their guile or perhaps their intellect. The same cannot be said for Sudan's Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir who heads one of Africa's biggest and potentially richest nations. Part blowhard, part thug, al-Bashir is a graduate of the 'Idi Amin School of Dictators'.
The Martin Luther King holiday is an odd one. If I'm not mistaken, in order to get it passed into law, and heaven forfend, add another day of leisure, George Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday observances were combined into "President's Day." Still I'm glad for the Martin Luther King Day. I'm happy because it's a holiday that makes us Americans uncomfortable.

In the spring of 1967 Dr. King made an important sermon at the Riverside Church, built by Rockefeller, that changed the public discourse and probably sealed his fate: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Is it any exaggeration to say that the situation is more dire today? Are these "giant triplets" insurmountable?

In 1963 King wrote Strength to Love. There is a most memorable quotation from it:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
"Only love can do that." I can love, I can do that. Surely all is not lost, all is not dark. Martin King spoke of a transformation to a "person-oriented society." Love is a quality in relationships between people. It's all well and good to say: as I sometimes lie, "I love everybody." Of course I don't, love is made real between people and never in ones sole possesion; not something to hold, but something to offer.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered for his struggles for civil rights. Local actions to redress local greivences and injustices. At my mother's funeral we played the song, We Shall Overcome. I told a young Indian friend and he said he'd sung that in school. Americans can claim this Martin Luther King holiday as our own. Nevertheless, his legacy is shared round the world and his words speak to us all; demanding we struggle for human rights.

One of today's posts at 3 Quarks Daily is the famous I Have a Dream speach. I was delighted by this note at the end of the entry:
[This post was inspired, at least partly, by my brilliant niece Sheherzad Preisler who memorized the whole speech at age five.]
Let us not underestimate our worth. See what a child can do. Our voices can be raised and we can be silent no more.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bessie Smith Posted by Picasa

Online Learning

There really isn't an excuse for placing this masterful portratit of Bessie Smith by Carl Van Vechten in this blog. I was going through the links I'd collected about African culture and for some reason had saved this link. When searching for all things African, African American links are sure to appear. The photo is part of a fantastic online resource of the Library of Congress called American Memory. Van Vechten's portraits are part of that collection along with supporting documents. The site is well worth linking to.

Of course it has little to do with Africa, but has something to do with how we access information in this "Digital Age." The Future of the Book is a site that addresses some of the many issues involved about digital information. Books are very good at providing context for understanding subjects, so bibliophiles have smart things to say about the subject. Providing context for information available online is challenging.

The set of links I collected recently began with a link recomended by Brian at Black Star Journal. Radio Netherlands produced a program Keepers of African Culture. It's a very good report about African writers. Radio Netherlands provides links to two related articles and also provides a topic for readers to offer feedback. I was impressed that the site understands how much the Internet is an interactive medium.

The BBC understands this well too. Africa Lives is a great portal to BBC coverage of Africa. In addition the BBC along with The Open University maintains a Web site to provide context for subjects in BBC programs. The Web pages for the program African School provide a great example of the power of linking resources.

I admire many of the PBS Web pages. This portal about Africa aimed at school kids, for example, is great. PBS provides many links to resources for teachers. Nonetherless, in my experience PBS doesn't build solid connections between their multiple online resources nearly as well as the BBC. Particular programs provide boundaries to their Web pages. Certainly it's a matter of resources.

The problem of placing information in context is something quite challenging about making online information accessible. Newspapers seem particularly slow to address this and it feels as if they are missing a great opportunity. I agree with the opinion often expressed by bloggers about online newspaper stories that newspapers need to learn to link. It's not just the matter of links in individual stories, but a habit of thought that could imporve newspapers and make their online resources more valuable.

With so much information we need not just aggregators of information, but ways to contextualize information. Last spring Ethan Zuckerman asked in a blog post: Is the Christian Science Monitor the World's Bloggiest Newspaper? His short answer is "yes." The Monitor does a good job in providing context for understanding their coverage. Their excellentAfrica coverage is easy to search. And their reporters provide "off-deadline insights" as blog posts. Notebook Africa is a solid resource linked to The Monitor's ongoing coverage. I still wish their reporters would embed links!

I think blogs are great. I learn so much about so many subjects through blogs. But I keep looking for online information to be as good as books are. I'm of the opinion the world needs more books. The world also needs for the traditonal media to to invent ways of contextualizing information. There are many bright spots on the horizon, but much more needs to be done.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

dandelion explosion 1

dandelion explosion 1
Originally uploaded by doubleyou_em.

Water Ripples

Today was lovely sunny and warm. So unusual for January in Pennsylvania, but it got me out into the garden and lightened my spirits. I even noticed a single danelion blossom in the grass. Spring will come, and while others might be horrified by the site, for a short time in early May the lawn can be a brilliant yellow full of dandelions. I posted this picture, and recommend you see the whole series.

I was going over my links to think about what to write about today. Earlier, in the midst of my writing block I'd thought of writing about how our actions radiate from us like the ripples in the water made by a sinking stone. So I started searching images with the tags "water ripples." Wow! water sure makes for some fascinating pictures.

In my incompentent style of blogging I collect links and then try to weave them into a post. Because I had writers block my list of links is rather large, the smart thing to do might be just to close that list and begin a new one, but I'm looking to see whether there are some on this list I really want to share before I do. It seems they fall into three general types: portals for African culture, more distressing news, and volunteering--there's actually a fourth: stuff having nothing to do with Africa but seemed cool to me.

Yesterday's topic was depressing, so I'll use the volunteering links. When I first met Nathan online, I was very eager to find ways of connecting with others with an interest in Africa. It seemed easy to find organizations online to donate money to, but I don't have money to donate. Over time I have met others to collaborate with, but it's seemed a slow process. However in the few months of doing this blog the pace has quickened. Now more than ever I see what a useful tool blogs really are. One of the delightful aspects is that you've got to "put out" in order to receive. I'm lazy; there's much I know I should be doing, but just don't make the time for it. "Ain't that just like living" as Mose Allison sings sometimes.

One of the things I want to get around to is some effort on the Bazungu Bucks idea. My friends tell me that I've got to tell them what they can do. That's pretty funny really because I keep thinking about the Internet and most of my friends hardly spend any time surfing around. Nevertheless, using Internet communications can be really helpful in organizing individual efforts in service to African people and people in the whole round world.

Here are a couple of examples what I'm talking about. Charity Focus is and organization which helps people find ways of putting community service back into their lives. It was the brainchild of five Silicon Valley friends in the go-go years just before the bubble burst.
CharityFocus builds websites for NPOs without charge -- it's not a discounted service, it's a free service.
It's also an all volunteer organization which doesn't solicit funds; that's a rarity. The focus on service is so important, doing good is rewarding.

Online Volunteering has a wide range of opportunities for volunteering in service to people in the developing world. Online Volunteering is managed by the United Nations Volunteers. Obviously there are thousands of organizations to volunteer with, but both these are models of effective organization.

Breaking News

As I was writing, Nathan sent me an email saying that he went to a shop to purchase a computer. Tomorrow after work he'll pay for it and pick it up. I'm so happy. I hope that now Nathan can build on some of the ideas we've been talking about together. That together we can find ways to use the computer to connect people in his community with interesting people around the world. I look forward to working with Nathan and others in his community along with the Busoga Shining Light Association to find specfic ways for others to help in their community.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Children Are The Future Posted by Picasa

Children Are The Future

What a lame title for the post. I recoil a little when talk turns to: "Think of the children!" and I not really sure why. Partly, perhaps because as people we deeply care about children; we want to protect them and hold high hopes for them. So when something we care so deeply about is used to manipulate us in some way or another we cringe.

The picture is of some of students and teachers from the Iganga Secondary School where my friend Nathan works. They're too old to consider themselves children, I'm sure. The word "kids" seems less insulting, but kids are at some point are keen to loudly announce: "I'm not a kid anymore." The older I get, the longer I imagine kids should stay kids.

A few days ago Sokaria at Black Looks posted 5 years for sex tourist. It's a very well done post that draws a link between sex tourism and child traffickingwith excellent links for orientation to the tragic exploitation of children.

I read the post. I don't quite know how to tell about my reaction. One way might be to say I didn't believe it. I don't dispute a single part of her post, yet there is a part of me, the way I think and keep my feet planted on the ground, that just doesn't quite register with information like that. I know better, of course. It's not just with reports of sexual abuse of children--which is only a part of what the post is about--but reports of rape and domestic violence also make me numb. I don't think I'm alone in this reaction and it's a hard one to counter.

I remember reading Jerzy Kosinski's Steps many years ago and being stopped in my tracks by a vignette of a young woman's rape that as a consequence drained the affection and desire from her young husband. Oh yes, I knew it was damn wrong, still there was a sense of understanding I couldn't explain away.

Sometimes I can't handle the news, and will simply try to tip toe around those stories. I tried to sulk away from that post at Black Looks, except that Ethan Z at My heart's in Accra pointed to the post writing:
I couldn’t figure out anything to write to help contextualize this (soul-crushingly depressing) story about sex tourism in West Africa. Fortunately, Sokari could, and did.
"Soul-crushing" somehow those words encouraged me to go back to the post.

There are so many problems in Africa which need concentrated attention. Sometimes the attention on problems obscure the ordinary. The students in this photo look familiar to me. It's not because I've been to Uganda, I haven't. But I recognise them as students, and if they'd allow me, kids. They look like people I know. The children who suffer great deprivation and abuse are not something other than we ourselves.

When I was just getting the idea for a blog and Bazungu Bucks, I read a piece at Tim Boucher's Pop Occulture. In preparation for an interview with Daniel Pinchbeck Boucher pointed to another interview with Pinchbeck at New World Disorder where he was quoted as saying:
Steiner believed that the best way to oppose "evil" is not through strident protest and negativity (which tends to be the monotonous approach of the Left), but by simply creating what is "good."
That's where my "create something good" comes from.

As an issue or a cause to take up exploited children is one I'm not sure I have the stregnth for. I was going over some materials produce by Human Rights Watch. Reading: OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD ON THE SALE OF CHILDREN, CHILD PROSTITUTION AND CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, I got to this point: "b. Transfer of organs of the child for profit;" and shut the window. I'm not proud to announce the yellow streak running up and down my back, but the sensation on reading that was viseral.

I was looking for photos for this piece. I have to watch myself with doing photo searches at Flickr because I can become engrossed and spend enormous amounts of time there. I came across a large collection of wonderful photographs by Gregory J. Smith. Smith formed an organization called the Children At Risk Foundation to aid street children in Brazil. One of CARF's projects ongoing since 1992 is a center in Sao Paulo called Hummingbird . It's really cool how Smith is using the wonderful photo documents at Flickr to involve the community formed around photographs at Flickr in engagement with the project in Brazil.

I was so encouraged by the photos, comments and links. The awful circumstances of these children are not hidden, and yet everywhere there is joy and hope. It's that which connects the community and fills them with ideas.

Steiner's way to oppose evil is wise and profound. Create something good. We all want to do that. Surely, we all have special talents and interests that will guide in our creations. We can share our intent to oppose what is truly evil by creating good and be glad about it. We can have soul. In this way of thinking even the sordid story of sex tourism, child trafficking, and slavery cannot crush our human souls.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Writer's Block Posted by Picasa

Writer's Block

The photograph is of a clay sculpture done by North Carolina artist Charlene Bregier entitled “Writer's Block.” I found her Web site through an image search: writer's block, and I'm glad I did. Her sculptures are beautiful. I like the bronzes, in particular a commissioned piece John 8.

I haven't posted lately. I've done my usual collecting of links that to write about, and part of the block may simply be that list is rather long. But I've also been mulling things over.

I've always thought of the blog as a kind of experiment. I can imagine many ways blogs can be helpfully used, and in my imagination that generally means: how others might use them. Still, I was quite curious about some of the details of making blogs and was eager to involve my local circle of friends in collaboration with my Ugandan friends, particularly Nathan and his BSLA community organization. To the extent that the blog's purpose was to raise money for a computer for Nathan, that goal has been fulfilled.

I sent the money and Nathan will purchase one there. I very much appreciate all the good advice people have offered about this matter. Like so many decisions to be made, there are good arguments to be made for different approaches. So often it's the case too that a single solution doesn't stand out as being the best and a judgment-call must be made. I'm quite happy to put the ball firmly in Nathan's court and am confident things will work out very well. Thank you all.

So now what? By far the most common feedback about my blog follows: “It'd be really good if you didn't write so much.” The second most common follows: “It'd be really good with more care and preparation.” That's easier said than done, unfortunately.

Dave Winer said something really interesting about making money with Internet media:
The way to make money on the Internet is to send them away. Google proved this, in the age of portals that were trying to suck the eyeballs in and not let them go, Google took over by sending you off more efficiently than anyone else.
I'm not trying to make money here and yet the observation about the way to keep attention is to send people away seems to apply to many of my favorite blogs. One of my favorite things about doing the blog is discovering people and content I wouldn't have otherwise. Other bloggers have sent me along some memorable journeys.

Hypertext is amazing, and I knew that long before I ever got a computer. What I discover is that it's harder to write embedding hypertext links than I ever knew. The blog is a one way to climb the steep learning curve.

My numerous spelling errors are something else I've gotten feedback about, so I'm writing this post in my word processing software. I've been writing directly in the Blogger software online partly so that I can bring up the pages I wish to link to. I went through my saved links to see if I'd saved a post by Digby which contained one of the most facile examples of using hypertext I'd seen recently. Darn it, I hadn't saved it, so of course I online again.

Digby spotted a comment to a post at Unclaimed Territory a blog by attorney Glenn Greenwald. The comments by Poputonian brilliantly make a case against the Bush administration and reference a comparisson to the Nixon administration by linking, point by point, to Herblock political cartoons of the era.

Ha,ha. So many words just to fit that link in. I need an editor, but that's not part of the Blogger package. Maybe I'll learn, then again maybe I'll never learn. That seems very much a part of what blogs are about. Certainly all of the helpful criticism about my attempts doesn't fall on deaf ears. However, at this point, all I can seem to muster is to keep plodding along. And that's what I intend to do.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Three More Weeks To Sale Posted by Picasa

Call For Computer Advice

Those chickens in that picture are from a pilot project of poultry production for small-holders. Nathan reports: "Three more weeks to sell off the broilers." I'm very pleased.

If you read my last post, you might get feeling for how infuriating it might be for Nathan to correspond with me: First it's one idea and then another. Nathan works hard at his job, and over the years has devoted hundreds of hours in work for development in his community. I have pages and pages of proposals and other documents that he's written and compiled. All the while he's been consulting with me, and I blush to think of the number of wild goose chases I've sent him on. The point is that we're both just learning, and it's not been one success after another. I marvel at his patience.

Last spring Nathan met an American visiting in Iganga with whom he had corresponded with previously over the Internet. This gentleman had been a Peace Corps volunteer in the region years earlier and was ready to begin projects with A W.I.S.H. in Uganda. The fellow has sent a copy of QuickBooks accounting software and has been instructing Nathan in accounting and business planning. He also secured $500 to begin the pilot poutry project. With this the BSLA can show a proven track record of accountability. But, note that Nathan doesn't profit from this. A farmer was selected to get the chicks and raise them. Of course everyone is hoping for success.

Poultry production isn't easy. Modern poultry production in the USA is closely related to rural electrification and electric lights. Manipulating the length of light greatly increases egg production. Formulated feeds and vaccines are also important. Many small holders keep poultry without additional inputs, however mortality is very high, especially in the dry season. The Ugandan government has a program in place for farmers with larger flocks. The BSLA project seeks to assist smaller holders with inputs.

The shorter story is that Nathan is a tireless worker. He is also very interested in finding ways to make communications technolgies work for community development. That's why I was so eager to raise money for a computer. Along with my contribution we raised $770. Now I'm trying to figure out how to get a computer to Nathan. Some of you have offered advice, but I want to make a wider plea.

Nathan has priced equipment there in Uganda. It's almost twice the cost of comperable equipment here. So the suggestion has been to send him equipment from the USA. I know this is possible, but I've got some questions. Like how exactly?

Many people take computers as luggage to Uganda. I haven't heard of a problem with that. But if you go, for example, to the Apple Store and check their Terms and Conditions what's made plain is that nothing from the store may be exported to another country, and the fine print for other makers is simliar.

I'm not sure of all the reasons, but they have to do with all that fine print that we skim over and then click "I Agree" to. First from the manufacturer's stand point, they make legal commitments as to warranty. Software makers have those concerns and a bunch of others. There is some software, and you might be surprised that even some familiar home names, are restricted to export to some countries by the US Government. Uganda isn't on the black list, so far as I can tell. These are questions of export compliancy. In addition makers are keen to protect their established networks of sale. Dell, for example sells in many markets, but not in the African market, except through resellers in the UAE.

A species of advice I've received on this follows the line: "It's a gift, don't worry about the fine print." I've also heard the advice, "Don't even think of sending one." although they're worried about other things than the fine print.

Does anyone have any experience sending a computer to Uganda or other African countries? I'd love to hear your experience.

Over at My Heart's in Accra Ethan Z has a wonderful post about New Year's Celebrations and Yurts; actually a Ger. The post is a tremendously good example of a short "how-to" that actually conveys the important information. Even if you never thought you were interested in building a Ger, you'll enjoy the post.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Playpump Posted by Picasa

The Playpump

So far as I know ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) wasn't formally described when I was a kid; perhaps I just wasn't paying attention. At my age, I'm safely out of reach of a diagnosis. But really, why bother? The Internet is perfect for the likes of me, because the disorder really amounts to paying attention to too many things. It's not truly a deficit of attention, rather a deficit in sustaining attention towards stuff that isn't terrribly interesting for sufficient amounts of time.

From the perspective of my school desk I'd check-in occasionally to see whether the lesson might capture my attention. Sometimes it must have, nevertheless my most vivid memories are more likely to be the views out the windows from where I sat, or ideas I thought walking my way to school, or sensations like swinging very high or riding my bike very fast.

The invention pictured, the Playpump is brilliant.
Cavorting on a roundabout has always been fun for children. Now pure, clean borehole water can be pumped into water storage tanks while the playground roundabout equipment is in use. The Play-Pump is a specifically designed and patented playground roundabout that drives conventional borehole pumps, keeping costs and maintenance to an absolute minimum, while entertaining the children.
Imagine the sastisfaction children must feel knowing their turning the roundabout is pumping clean water into the storage tank above them.

The tank also provides staging for billboards. It looks the one in the picture promotes delicious and nutritious sliced white bread, enriched no doubt.
Four landscape billboards screen the tank creating an advertising opportunity. Two sides are used for health messages and the other two sides are rented out as billboards for commercial messages. This advertising revenue ensures ongoing maintenance and sustainability of each project.
So it turns out the advertising is a good thing,not unlike the advertising banner on the Hippo Roller.

Where to place advertisements is quite and open question these days. Click fraud as a recent Wired Magazine ominously predicts "May Swallow the Net." Some people are dastardly clever. If I were filthy rich, I suppose advertisements would be something I would buy, and billboards across Africa seem wonderful ad placement. I wonder what to put on them? Since I have to wonder, it's no wonder I don't have the money to do it anyway.

Most of us, even the very wealthy among us live with ads we have no choice about. Earlier this evening I was looking at a friend's photos at Flickr. He's often very clever about tagging or as sometimes called, disambiguation, a word I like saying just to feel my mouth move. Ornithagalum is another word I like. While there are many species of this pretty flowering bulb O. nutans commonly known as Star of Bethlehem is the most familiar to me. It's something of a pest, having spread over a wide area near my little house. As the bulbs divide and crowd each other, flowering is reduced. So the odd result is that the more I try removing them from garden beds the more flowers I get. I also notice that O. nutans is listed on the handy Web page Plants That Poison put up as a public service of the good folks at the World Chelonian Trust, whose mission it is: "to promote the conservation and assure the survival of all tortoises and freshwater turtles."

Oh yes, about my friend's photos at Flickr. They are marvelous, of course, and often the way he disambiguates them (tags) is poetry. And tonight I discovered that the ads on the page relate to his images and tags. What I must conclude from that is for advertisers there is no disorder in ADD!

More attentive bloggers than I made some especially good posts for the New Year. I still have a slow dial-up Internet connection, for those with faster connections, SoundRoots is a blog to know. This Year-End post is worth checking out without delay. It's a list of top world music recordings for 2005 with sound files.

BagnewsNotes is a favorite. Michael Shaw provides analysis and critique of images in the news and the comments left about the posts are some of the most thoughtful around. This December 30th post captured my attention. I especially enjoyed linking to two Washington Post articles by Frank Van Riper about the photographic techniques of David Burnett. This one about Burnett using the Speed Graphic and this one about using Holga, inexpensive plastic cameras from China.