Friday, October 19, 2007

Lucky Dube

It doesn't makes sense. Lucky Dube, South African Reggae star, perhaps Africa's most loved artist, is dead from gun wounds suffered in an apparent car jacking. He was 43.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Everybody's Cryin' Mercy

October 15th is Blog Action Day. Thousands of bloggers are writing about one subject: the environment.

Crikey! A deadline, and as usual I haven't a clue what I'm going to say; worse than that I fear I won't say anything useful. Or to say something as banal as, I strongly support the environment by doing things like taking my own bags to the grocery store with me.

It is true that I take my own bags to the grocery store, la di da. But I'm not a vegetarian, even though I know my meat munching has a much bigger impact than the grocery bags saved. The fact of the matter is in too much of my daily life the foot print I make is big and clumsy.

The title of the post comes from the title a song by the great Mose Allison. He sings: "Everyone's cryin' mercy/ when they don't know the meaning of the word." So I look it up in the American Heritage Dictionary:
Kind and compassionate treatment of an offender, enemy prisoner, or other person under one's power; clemency.
Part of what makes talking about the environment so hard is this business of power. When European explores first sailed across the ocean and "discovered" America, they talked about the land in terms of a young woman, a virgin. Some observers liken the language as intending rape. Certainly the idea of mastery over the land is not at all uncommon then as now. The difference is that now we're able to expend some much more work in a much shorter time. We can move mountains.

People are still skeptical about how much power they have over the elements; as much as we have, it seems puny. What's above and what's below are connected, we're sure, although not always sure how. In dire straits communities may hire a rainmaker, in desperate hope, while knowing that's a con. A person doesn't make the rain which comes from heaven above. Maybe the rattles and dancing can help bring the rain, or maybe it's the songs of the frogs who call the rain down? We're conflicted, cryin' mercy from above, and showing little in our own steps.
A bad enough situation
Is sure enough getting worse
Everybody's crying justice
Just as soon as there's business first
It's not so much we people deny our impact on the environment, it's just hard to imagine what to do about it.

Al Gore in a letter acknowledging his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change wrote (though a comment at Theriomorph):
The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.
It's hard enough to get my own consciousness up, and harder as the mornings grow cold to get out of bed in the mornings. How awake and attentive I am has some relationship to how awake and attentive we all are, but I'm not quite sure how.

Gore is donating all of the prize money to The Alliance for Climate Protection. It's a good Web site with lots of practical suggestions for steps we can all take. None of the steps seems particularly glamorous, but hey, it's a process. When I take one step, I can take another.

Speaking of stepping, I happen to be convinced that oil and gas supply problems are real. More of us will probably be doing a lot more walking and a lot less driving sooner than any of us imagine. A blog that I really like is Transition Culture: An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart, and Hands of Energy Descent. I particularly admire that blogger Rob Hopkins connects the head, heart and hands.

Hopkins is also actively involved with Transition Towns in his town of Totnes. The community initiative is to develop a energy descent plan with the understanding that if properly planned the town could use a lot less energy and resources. Here's the best part, they assume that their town using less can "be more resilient, more abundant and more pleasurable than the present." I was cynical when I first started following the Transition Culture blog. The blog is conversational, and practical. I get the sense they just might become all of those.

I want to explore this transition town idea in my own community. Stepping beyond the little property where I live could be a step in the right direction. Here's an archived copy of 10 First Steps for a Transition Town Initiative at Energy Bulletin Hopkins published earlier in this year at his blog. Already initiatives have sprung up in other towns in Great Britain and abroad.

I'm actively following an initiative in Northern Uganda to resettle about 150 child-headed families in a farm village. Perhaps the best place for an overview of the project is at the community group at Razoo, Opok Farms Village. It's such an interesting project to think about because the property, has good farm land which has laid fallow for twenty years, and forest. The whole community has been so discombobulated, but there's real hope to repair and build. I find the vision of the young people particularly hopeful.

But sitting here in America in my basement office typing away makes me feel a bit of a hypocrite. Dave Pollard is a really smart guy. Recently he linked to a post by Wendell Berry at the Briar Patch Network, Seventeen Rules for a Sustainable Community. Yikes! Sounds like a lot of work. But what I noticed is many of the rules that Berry puts out there are ideas that we've talked about for Opok Farms Village.

There are many issues quite distinct to Totnes, Gulu, and Freedom, Pennsylvania. But there are some ideas that make sense all around. Berry links to an essay contained in his book A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural Think Little. Al Gore sees a great opportunity for lifting global consciousness, I'm not so visionary as he is. Berry's Think Little reminds to attend to what we can, to be responsible where we can.

I've been cryin' mercy, all the while thing big, thinking global. I'd expect to be scolded, but Berry's message doesn't feel that way. We all can do something for the environment, with head, heart and hands. Being responsible means being able to respond. I pray I show mercy where I have power, and that might the powers above me have mercy on me.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Social Networks

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

I've been online for less than ten years, but it's a big part of my life now. When I first got online I was impressed by how the id, ego, and superego were all well represented. That's still the case, I guess it just goes to show that the Internet is a human phenomenon and not machine.

I notice that I haven't posted here since August 11 of this year. I wonder if it matters? And to answer my own question it does to me, I think. Part of what's kept me from posting is I've been engaging recently in some social networks which are new to me.

Early in September shuttered its doors. I had been an active participant there for just under a year, but found it a very empowering network. Over the three years or so was open to the general public something like 20,000 people had signed up and by the time of its closing about 500 were active and regular users.

These numbers seem incredibly small in comparison to sites like MySpace and Facebook. I'm no social software intellectual, but it seems to me that the site is something worth some academic study--maybe my thinking so is good evidence of why I'm not an academic. But the site offered such a rich platform for collaboration, and while there was something of a learning curve involved, was a highly collaborative space. It's the quality of the participation there that I found so significant.

Since it closed all the active users have gone on to populate other platforms. So it's rather interesting to me to see where some of my fellow collaborators have gone and also to see how they interact on different platforms.

It's gotten me to look around and join new sites as well. I'm not entirely a stranger to social networking sites, although I don't really use them too effectively. I had joined MySpace a while back, primarily because I thought it would be a place to get band information, and to keep track of social organizations important to me. But I've found it of limited usefulness. I was really interested to watch over their shoulders a couple of years ago when a niece and nephew came to visit. They were really into it.

Zbigniew Lukasiak made a observation about Facebook today:
I am a bit disapointed about Facebook - it notifies me about all kinds of events involving my friends - but somehow I can't find a way to monitor for new posts in groups I have joined. For me having meaningful conversations is the absolute number one feature of social web sites and I don't see much point in using Facebook when it does not make it easy for me.
The point about meaningful conversations is very much something I expect in social networks, but making a site responsive to that is easier said than done.

As soon as Facebook was open to the general public positive remarks about the place were common among the people I know online. As it turned out something that made it popular; i.e., discovering all sorts of people they know face to face, just wasn't the case for me. Most of my friends avoid the Internet, and certainly avoid social networking sites.

One slightly crass way of describing is to say it was a social network for do-gooders. Don't laugh, there are several really rich platforms in this niche. One of those platforms I joined around the time was closing is Razoo. I like Razoo. Something that Razoo does that I like very much is offer Web feeds for many of the pages. But but among the list of things about the site I'm not so happy about is that navigation is time consuming.

Back to Facebook, I didn't arrive there with a bunch of friends. So at the beginning there really wasn't much reason to check in on the site for. Previously I had signed up for Netvibes, but hadn't used it. Then I saw that I could install a Facebook module, or widget at Netvibes.

Netvibes allows users to make a sort of homepage where you can aggregate all sorts of content from the Web and add a bunch of cool widgets. So for example, I have a widget for Facebook, Gmail, my Flickr Feed, my delicious bookmarks, The New York Times and some other stuff on one page. It's great I can check in and at a glance see any new activity. Netvibes also allows tabs where you can draw in content on new pages which can be named an organized as you like. So that feature seemed a very good way of handling some of the content at Razoo, for example I've subscribed to all the blogs at Razoo I want to follow.

There are some small glitches, not so much with Netvibes, but the way feeds are updated at Razoo. Also at Razoo, the really important information I want is when discussion threads have been updated. Unfortunately, discussion threads are not syndicated, and Razoo doesn't alert members when discussion threads are updated. The only way I can follow the discussions is to actually go to the pages where they originated to see if there's been any activity.

A couple of days ago I was astounded to read at Scoblizer that Orkut is the Google service with the most page views a day.

I was curious so I signed up and started looking around Orkut. I also opened up Bebo which I had joined because I thought it might be a place to publish some stuff I wrote a while ago, and just to top off the list I finally joined hi5 which I'd avoided in the past because the recruitment seemed Spamy. Spending some time rummaging around these sites was fun, but I don't think I'll use them much. Orkut amazed me because there are a lot of Indian users and also a lot of Brazilian users and that struck me as such an interesting mashup. I don't really have the stats, but when I say "a lot" I really mean it, some of the fan sites there have over 300,000 members!

I'm a friendly guy, and like making friends, but I'm 51, soon to be 52. The discussions are what I value the most. With these three sites there are many boundaries to cross, and I think perhaps the boundary of age is the largest obstacle for making these social networks important to me.

Back before the 2004 elections Black Planet used to have some lively discussion boards and I used to participate on a few. BP changed the discussion format around and so I found myself never going there. And in fact BP sent me notice that without activity my profile would be deleted. I assumed it had been because I never saw any notice in my email, but then rather suddenly activity reappeared there. Much of it was Spam, but not all of the Spam seemed without value. Some of it offered a window into issues and events important to African Americans.

Very occasionally I get friendship notes. I responded to one recently in what I thought was an honest way and gave my Yahoo email. So I got a Yahoo chat message. After a little chatting the woman really reamed me out for being at BP if I wasn't interested in dating. Maybe she's right, I just didn't think I was putting myself out there that way.

In my usual rambling way I've managed to use too many words to say two little. So just a couple more quick observations. First of all looking at pictures at Orkut, Bebo and hi5, I saw so many beautiful young people, so many pictures of best friends together, and pictures of favorite nieces and nephews, mothers and dads. At Orkut it was so interesting to see groups with Indians and Pakistanis, Syrians and Iranians. The joy of living, the loving families and friends, the birthday cakes, all of what makes us happy as people is on display.

Looking at all the pictures of real people all over the globe the last few days as I've explored a few social networks new to me, one thought rings clear: There are no smart bombs.

John F. Kennedy spoke:
Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.
Among the political bogs I read is Col. Patrick Lang's Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007. I admire Col. Lang and appreciate very much his realistic military appraisals and the lively and enlightened conversation at his blog. But if on balance I appreciate his blog, there's always a sticking point when he calls people like me imbeciles.

I know that modern warfare is conducted against populations not armies. So for example perhaps there are as many as five million Iraqis displaced by the American war on Iraq. Population estimates are over 26 million, so that's almost one in five Iraqis.

Col. Lang has been outspoken against a wider war in the Middle East. I hope smarter people than I are paying attention to what he says. But there is a gulf between Col. Lang and me. I understand that securing peace requires a well-ordered military. I value his service and the service of all those in serving and have served. I also believe those who work to make peace are engaged in a noble enterprise and are hardly imbeciles. Making peace is something all of us should be engaged in.

Second, October 15th is Blog Action Day. Bloggers around the world will write to draw attention to the environment. I plan to participate and hope you will too.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Photo: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Steve Prakope; some rights reserved

Being "in the closet" is a standard metaphor for gay people living their lives so that their sexual orientation is hidden. The metaphor of closets is a more general one for that which we hide, but cannot deny.

Closets are dark places, and the darkness sometimes leads to strange behavior. In the middle of July the Florida chair of Republican senator John McCain's presidential campaign chair Florida State Representative Bob Allen was arrested in a public restroom for soliciting sex from a undercover policeman. Allen has defended himself in this way:
Allen, R-Merritt Island, told investigators he was just playing along when the undercover Titusville officer suggested oral sex and $20 because he was intimidated by the "stocky black guy," according to the statement.

Allen, who is white, also said that there "was nothing but other black guys around in the park" and that he thought he was about to be robbed. At the time, Allen was unaware the other men also were undercover officers.
Rep. Allen's explanation seems ridiculous! But via the essential black looks blog a video, bell hooks on rap, race & representation of black female bodies makes some sense of it for me. The last segment of the 9 minute video--at about the 7 minute mark--hooks talks about consuming commodified blackness. She begins with a powerful observation which I hope I've transcribed accurately:
I believe that American culture is obsessed with transgression. And to the degree that blackness remains a primary sign of transgression, one could talk about a American culture, mainstream culture, as being obsessed with blackness. But it is blackness primarily as a commodified form that can be then possessed, owned, controlled and shaped by the consumer; and not with an engagement with black culture that might require one to be a participant and therefore to be in some way transformed by what you are consuming, as opposed to being merely a buyer.
Rep. Allen is entitled to his day in court. The Village Voice links to a document showing that Florida's Christian Collation had given a 92.3 approval rating. Given the circumstances surrounding Allen's arrest, I'm dubious about his innocence.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is extraordinarily politically conservative. The history of how it got to be that way is long. When we moved to Pittsburgh in my teens I was what they used to call a Jesus Freak, but even as a kid coming up from the American South with such religious fervor, the political conservatism of church pricked my heals. I haven't attended church except for family weddings and other obligatory occasions like that since my early college days, however the activities of the Episcopal Church still capture a bit of my attention.

In 1997 Robert Duncan was consecrated Bishop of Pittsburgh. Bishop Duncan has been instrumental in initiating a schism within the Episcopal Church, one particular rationale stems from the consecration of an openly gay V. Gene Robinson was consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire.

A part of Bishop Duncan's strategy to rent the Episcopal Church of America asunder is a tactical arrangement with Anglican Bishops in Uganda. The first arrangement with Uganda Bishops got off to a rocky start when a priest working in Pittsburgh but under the authority of a Bishop in Uganda raped a minor in his charge. That hasn't deterred Bishop Duncan's expanded tactical cooperation with the Ugandan Bishops for schism in the Episcopal Church.

Tying together Rep. Allen's arrest and Episcopal Church politics is a strain of authoritarian politics, where power, especially power over others, has a price. Stirring up hatred against gay people plays a prominent role. Commodified blackness bell hook's surely seem to fit Rep. Allen's soliciting sex from a Black undercover policeman and his subsequent defense. It's not really such a stretch from pandering to prejudices against gay people for political power to paying a black man for sex.

It's rather culturally acceptable to question the sincerity of politicians, but not so accepted to question religious sincerity. So Bishop Duncan can get away with saying essentially that his stance vis a vis gay people in the church is "hate the sinner not the sin." But as an outsider I don't see that the distinction is so clear in practice. And when questioned in this interview about the role that wealthy corporatist place in his efforts he responded:
I can certainly say as a board member of the AAC, there's never been any quid pro quo with money. [AAC is the American Anglican Council]
That sounds very much like something a politician would say. Even taking the bishop at his word, the nexus of political reactionaries and the funding of the cause of schism seems worth looking at with a cold-eye.

I really admire the writing of Ugandan blogger 27th comrade. Commenting on two pieces which appeared recently in Uganda's independent newspaper The Monitor, Why police are not arresting homos and and accompanying piece Gay testimonies: We are persecuted 27th comrade wrote:
Still ... I must tell you I have expressed, and still express, some level of distaste for male homosexuals. It borders on murderous hate. But I know that my hate for them is unjustified, and should be punished before homosexuality is punished. :o)
Judging from some of the comments 27th comrade is very brave to brooch the subject at all. Wise as he is, 27th comrade knows there's plenty to be angry about. He makes a moral argument against his hatred of gay men. How infuriating then might be a white Bishop garnering power, fueled with the funds of wealthy political reactionaries, feed by the prejudice and hatred of Ugandans against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people?

Politicians and priests buy power at the expense of the lives of gay people. The closet becomes valuable to them in a way not so different from the commodified blackness bell hooks speaks in American media representations of black people: "not with an engagement with black culture that might require one to be a participant and therefore to be in some way transformed by what you are consuming, as opposed to being merely a buyer."

Making peace isn't a passive activity, in fact it always seems a rather messy process. Gay people stay closeted because it is so dangerous for them to be out. But when it comes to the issue of same gender loving people so many of us feel loathing drawn from dark closets of our imaginations. I'm pleased to see the conversation. The expression of hatred and death threats however have a frightening viral quality.

Sokari at the indispensable black looks published a press release by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) "Let Us Live In Peace." Gay people bravely stepping out of the closet in turn allow others to open our closets too. Opening the closets allows the possibility for making peace because it enables engagement. And engagement takes bravery all around.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007 Closing

I began Bazungu Bucks almost two years ago. At first I thought that it would be a good way to explain to my friends why I wanted to raise a bit of money for my friend Nathan in Uganda. It soon became clear to me that hardly any of my friends read any blogs, much less Bazungu Bucks. I must have set up the blog in such a way that it could be found by Global Voices--quite by accident--and by way of Global Voices I discovered Blog Africa and a community of voices from and for Africa online. These discoveries have been extraordinarily rewarding for me.

One idea that has interested me for sometime is Time Dollars. Almost all complementary or alternative money schemes are quite local. There are so many good reasons why this is true. But I've wondered whether something like time dollars might be used to encourage and facilitate online activism, and in particular to encourage people to provide time in service to people in Africa. So that's the idea behind Bazungu Bucks and almost two years down the line it's fair to say I'm still wondering.

Online activism is a great big topic, especially for someone as naive as me. Over the years I have encountered Life in Africa online. Last autumn I realized LiA used in their work and my curiosity was finally piqued enough to join up at and look around.

Pierre Omidyar is founder and chairman of eBay the well-known and popular online auction site. He's done quite well financially and has dedicated some of his time and talents to philanthropy. The philanthropy of those who've made their fortunes in Tech is notable because many like Pierre Omidyar are still young. And they've made money with disruptive technologies so there's an expectation their philanthropic giving will be innovative and disrupt the status quo.

Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam set up the Omidyar Foundation and in conjuction with that the Omidyar Network. The Omidyar Network has established a $400 million dollar fund to be invested by 2010 according to that Wikipedia article. In the Spring of 2004 the Omidyar Network developed a set of online tools to facilitate their communication and work. In July of 2004 Omidyar Network opened these tools to anyone trying to make the world a better place. The result was, so it's a social network, but with a unique mission and history.

I was late to the game, so there's so much history there I don't really understand. Of course all the posts are archived and there is enough allusion to the events that have transpired within the group of people swept up in the Omidyar net that the history seems present as in Faulkner's famous line in the play Requiem for a Nun:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
What I found at was a great collection of brilliant, funny, compassionate, and accomplished people trying to make the world a better place. Hard work that.

On July 18th word came down from the owners of that as of September 7th the interactive features of the site would be disabled and at the end of the year the archive would be taken down.

So the situation is a community, many of the members actively engaged in ongoing projects, have been given notice to pack up and leave. There's a bit of the flavor of a reality TV show to the scenario; like Survivor only on a Web site. And I'll admit that especially over the last few days I've been obsessively following the discussions. I do have a vested interest in the outcome, but also as a spectator it brings to the fore many questions I've been asking about the nature of networks and communities and the potential for online peer production.

I'm not sure really if there's a good way to get a view of the action as it unfolds at A person could join up at the last minute, but the learning curve is too steep I think to really get the flavor. I wanted in this post to tell about the closing because I'm learning something new in this transition and wanted the context to be available.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Indigo Bunting
Originally uploaded by hart_curt

Yesterday I saw an Indigo Bunting. I see these brightly colored birds about once a year, a rare treat. There's another bird species I see with infrequent regularity and that's a Baltimore Oriel. Oriels are rather shy forest birds, rarely nesting near houses. But in more than one year in the autumn when the leaves have fallen I've discovered their distinctive hanging nests in a Buckeye tree by the barn. That's made me think that not seeing the birds has more to do with my lack of observation than genuine scarcity. Still, it's a rare day in the summer when I see an Indigo Bunting or a Baltimore Oriel.

I saw the Indigo Bunting where I always see them. On my road, just about a mile from my house is an old cemetery where the road makes a hairpin turn. From the top of the hill by the cemetery is a nice view of the surrounding countryside. I'm always struck by the beauty of the place. Just a mile further down the road is a suburban housing development. While the road is an old route, even on maps more than a hundred fifty years old, it's a minor road. More trafficked now as a short cut to the recent development and urban sprawl.

The other evening just at dusk I stepped outside and noticed a police car with lights blaring heading down the road and then a fire engine. I walked to the end of our driveway marveling at the dark canopy provided by the woods. Twenty years ago those trees were just saplings reclaiming a farm field. The woods were full with the sounds of birds settling in for the night. When I got to the end of the driveway I saw the fire trucks just at the bottom of the hill. There's a small bridge there and I suspected a car hadn't negotiated the curve in the road and had run off into the ditch. A red pickup truck sped forwards breaking just short of the fire truck. A woman who I didn't recognize got out and shouted: "That's my son in that car!"

I walked back to the house and told my father there had been an accident. We heard the sound of a helicopter over head and knew someone had been injured badly. We walked back out to the end of the driveway together; mostly out of curiosity, I suppose. A helicopter went overhead, and we wondered if it indeed had landed, and if so where?

The fire department is a volunteer department, our connection to it is limited to a yearly donation and going to the firehouse to vote. The firefighters are my neighbors and one day I may well depend on them, but I don't even know their names.

Volunteer fire departments are common in this region. Not so long ago the local economy was centered on a huge steel industry that's mostly gone now. Shift work was much more common than it is now. So fire companies are finding it hard to find enough volunteers. I've given passing thought to volunteering myself, but as mousy as it sounds, I really don't think that's where my talents lie. But watching them in action prompted me to think I really owe some of my skills and efforts in service to my community.

John Robb is a former Air Force officer, technologist, counter-terrorism expert and author of the book Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization. Growing up military stuff was a subject of great interest to some of my friends. Like my utter lack of interest in sports, I never shared their interest. That is until the militarism of recent years. So I read Robb's blogs and from this one found a link to James Kunstler speaking at TED a couple of years ago. Kunstler makes the point that in the way we live and in the buildings we create place we don't care anything about.

Yeah, I agree with Kunstler, but what can I do about it? James Howard Kunstler's style seems to be brutally honest, osmething that doesn't always endear him to others. More than the tone, it's the message that's so hard to embrace. Consider this from his recent piece in Orion Magazine:
AS THE AMERICAN PUBLIC CONTINUES sleepwalking into a future of energy scarcity, climate change, and geopolitical turmoil, we have also continued dreaming. Our collective dream is one of those super-vivid ones people have just before awakening. It is a particularly American dream on a particularly American theme: how to keep all the cars running by some other means than gasoline. We’ll run them on ethanol! We’ll run them on biodiesel, on synthesized coal liquids, on hydrogen, on methane gas, on electricity, on used French-fry oil . . . !
Kunstler recently temporarily shut down his blog Clusterfuck Nation until he can find a way of controlling the obnoxious comments of trolls--good luck with that! Just the name of the blog gets at this issue of tone. I've been known to use the "f" word, but have a hard time writing it. So let's go with the euphemism clusterCheney. The clusterCheney of which he speaks is "a future of energy scarcity, climate change, and geopolitical turmoil..." We're not listening because we don't want to hear it.

I was stunned last night to see former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond on PBS's Nightly Business Report saying, well, you know, there just might be a problem with energy supply. Raymond was adamant that he was not speaking as former Exxon CEO, but as head of the National Petroleum Council. That organization provided a report made public yesterday to energy secretary Samuel Bodman who asked the question: “What does the future hold for oil and natural gas supply?”

Lee Raymond's appearance is often compared to the Austin Powers character Fat Bastard or to Star Wars Jabba the Hut. And in his tenure as Exxon CEO was know for his vigorous denial about global climate change and his rosy predictions about the supplies of fossil fuels. So as this piece in treehugger suggests nobody was expecting Raymond and the National Petroleum Council to seriously answer Bodman's question. So seeing him on the TV saying we've got real trouble made me exclaim "Holy Cheney!" so to speak ;-)

Speaking of Cheney, the list of people in on the discussions of his 2001 Energy Task Force which he was able to keep secret were leaked to the press this week. At The Next Hurrah emptywheel asks: "Why Hide the Energy Task Force?" The remarakable thing is the oil company executives were telling him then that conservation was priority number one!

Which brings me back to the question what to do about it. Here's how the often harsh, but always clear Kunstler ends that Orion article--go ahead and read the whole thing:
It’s a daunting agenda, all right. And some of you are probably wondering how you are supposed to remain hopeful in the face of these enormous tasks. Here’s the plain truth, folks: Hope is not a consumer product. You have to generate your own hope. You do that by demonstrating to yourself that you are brave enough to face reality and competent enough to deal with the circumstances that it presents. How we will manage to uphold a decent society in the face of extraordinary change will depend on our creativity, our generosity, and our kindness, and I am confident that we can find these resources within our own hearts, and collectively in our communities.
Some of us can be firefighters, but all of us must ask what we can do for our communities. The Buckminster Fuller Institute is conducting The Buckminster Fuller Challenge. I hope some of you have good ideas along those lines. Like being a volunteer firefighter, I don't think I'm much good at design on that scale. But the quotation from Fuller they're using:
"If success or failure of the planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do ... How would I be? What would I do?"
asks the questions I've got to seek answers to. I do love my home. I agree with Kunstler that "our creativity, our generosity, and our kindness," are the best sources for hope.

Monday, July 02, 2007

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

On Sunday I went with my dad to a concert performance by Jean-Luc Ponty at Hartwood Acres, a county park. The free concerts at Hartwood are joyful occasions with picnicking, children and dogs. Along with friends we had good food and the weather was cool. What a great band too. Ponty's remarks about most the most recent album, The Acatama Experience:
The Acatama Experience was conceived as a musical journey starting with a Paris street ambiance (Intro) followed by 13 songs, taking us through different lands, through a variety of impressions and emotions, through the past and present. This is also the first album that I produced in such 'on and off' manner, between January 2006 and February 2007. During that time period I also traveled and performed with my band on different continents, from South America to Europe, from Russia to Venezuela, from the U.S.A. to India, returning to this album project each time with fresh ears and new insight.
The band : percussionist Moustapha Cisse, drummer Theierry Arpino, bassist Guy Nsangue Akwa, and keyboardist William Lecomte blend their conservatory training with West African rhythms into brilliant music.

It turns out there's a Summer of Love connection with Jean-Luc Ponty in that he was first introduced to American musical audiences at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival. The Monterey Pop Festival, as can be seen by the image of Tom Wilkes memorable poster snatched from the Wikipedia article, was in June around the time of the Summer Solstice. The Monterey Jazz Festival was held on the same fairgrounds in September around the time of the Autumnal Solstice.

Time flies and it is hard to keep everything straight in mind. Thinking about music for my own Summer of Love anniversary party I decided to make a mix tape. Yes a cassette tape. Most of the little music I own is on cassette, at least music that dates back to the sixties. Mixing musical genres is an art, and also my collection of sixties music is predominately Soul anyway. That's appropriate because while in 1967 I did listen to The Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album, and The Mamas and Papas album, and Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme--all of them my brother's albums--mostly what I heard was Soul music on the car radio. It took me a while longer to discover the music of Monterey Pop and Monterey Jazz festivals.

I chatted with a young musician, FredAlfred online recently and when it came to my age he asked: "Were you a hippie?" By this account, The Death of Hippie occurred in October of 1967. But you only have to read the document to understand the reality isn't quite as neat as the report suggests. The old joke follows: "If you remember the sixties, you weren't there." No, I was too young to be a hippie in 1967, but I still think it was the beginning of something. If celebrating the Summer of Love is worth it, then that "something" that was beginning has to be fleshed out a bit.

An obstacle to fleshing this out from my personal experience is one way of looking at it is that it's the beginning of one blunder after another. I not alone in seeing my own blunders and those of a wide swath of my generation, but it seems there's a minority of us who rather not repudiate the zeitgeist of the time.

Darn it! I never can seem to get to the point of anything. The reason I started with this whole Summer of Love thread was as a way of explaining a long lapse in posting to Bazungu Bucks. The reasons, as best I can tell, have to do with an upwelling of despair about present events. The reality of my local and personal circumstances are quite pleasant. Oh that so many more of us were so blessed! The rub is that the systems which serve my comfort and well-being contribute substantially to the misery of many people around the world. And these systems eat the world's resources in ways that cannot sustain even my local conditions. That's something my generation figured out long ago when we were young, but rather fully put that "inconvenient truth" out of our minds as we "grew-up."

Al Gore, an elder voice of our generation, keeps reminding us that we ignore inconvenient truths at our peril. He gets a lot of laughs, but keeps--it seems quite patiently--to remind us of the point. He penned an Op-Ed in Sunday's New York Times, Moving Beyond Kyoto.

Back in April, I was working hard in my garden. I had also been wondering how to begin local conversations about the the state of things and what we could do about it. Oh and I see by this post at Hats For Health I've been thinking about the Summer of Love for a while. In April, most probably April 29th, shovel in hand, the enormity of the challenge which global climate change hit me like a 2 X 4 to the head. The previous evening I'd read Alex Steffen's review of paleontologist Peter Ward's book, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future. Steffen quotes from the book:
In other words, despite what some conservative pundits have written, you might not want to vacation in an extreme greenhouse world, after all. Forget "breeding couples" camping out in the Arctic, we may not have flowering plants or any but the toughest insects left (the cockroaches from my first apartment will almost certainly make it).
And in my garden with multitudes of flowering plants around me, imagining a world without them filled me with grief.

Jim Kunstler minces few words about "the Castor-and-Pollux of Clusterfuck Nation, Global Warming and Peak Oil." The hue and cry "We want solutions! scares him. He makes the point:
let's stop talking about making better cars and start talking about occupying the landscape differently -- which we're going to have to do anyway.
What's really depressing to me is a famous observation ofUpton Sinclair :
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.
While I think Kunstler is exactly right that we really must begin talking about "occupying the land differently," I find the talk about solutions reassuring, at least so far as it seems an improvement over shear and utter denial. It's not at all easy to cast a cold eye upon what our livelihoods depend.

No, my generation is no longer young. Yes, looking back over my years so many things that seemed like good ideas at the time, certainly weren't very good. Maybe in a long line of foolishness, the idea of commemorating the Summer of Love provides a glimmer of hope. Because once my generation earnestly wanted to expand our minds to imagine a better way of being. We were hardly imaginative enough. But we took a step in the right direction.

Gore's editorial highlights LiveEarth twenty four hours of music in concert across seven continents on 7.7.07. No doubt the effort seems a bit besides the point to Kunstler and others with it's call "to be part of the solution." But we've all got to start some place if we are indeed going to begin to occupy the land differently.

Central to the idea of Bazungu Bucks is the idea that people outside Africa can be of service to African people. I don't believe we can be of much service unless we alter first our thinking about how we live and ultimately begin changing how we live. We, people around the world, are bound together by this existential challenge of energy descent and global warming. Much of what we in the Global North think we know is profoundly wrong. And in so many ways undertaking the the challenges of the poorest in the world provides the essential keys to our own survival.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer of Love

Originally uploaded by pingting

June 19th is Freedom Day or more commonly called Juneteenth Two and a half years after The Emancipation Proclamation, General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston Texas with the news that the slaves were now free:
The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.
One hundred and forty-two years on, it's a day right to remember.

[I wrote most of this on June 19th, but a lightening strike took out my computer before I could finish it.]

Forty years ago 1967 was the Summer of Love. Some of us remember; I was 12. My recollections are like the Buffalo Springfield song, written by Stephen Stills, For What It's Worth. Forty years on I'm still not at all clear what's happening.

A friend commemorated with a party at his house and showing of D. A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop. It's a great film, which seems surprisingly current.

My friend has two lovely daughters and one, who has just graduated college was there with a friend of hers. I cringed listening friends trying to explain the significance of Jimi Hendrix, and with the frequent question during the film: "Is it like Bonnaro? I'm not at all sure what young people today make of our nostalgia. We were awfully earnest then and so young and foolish. The talk after the show revealed that none us were are all that certain why exactly the summer of 1967 was so darn important, but most of us certain it was.

Thomas Frank, who as it happens is ten years younger than I, made an important point about the counterculture in his book The Conquest of Cool:
Every rock band with a substantial following was immediately honored with a host of imitators; the 1967 "summer of love" was as much a product of lascivious television specials and Life magazine stories as it was an expression of youthful disaffection; Hearst launched a psychedelic magazine in 1968; and even hostility to co-optation had a desperately "authentic" shadow, documented by a famous 1968 print ad for Columbia Records titled "But The Man Can't Bust Our Music." So oppressive was the climate of national voyeurism that, as early as the fall of 1967, the San Francisco Diggers had held a funeral for "Hippie, devoted son of mass media."
Certainly my memories of the summer of 1967 involve Life Magazine images. I also remember struggling to understand what was happening. I suppose the question in my mind was: Just how are kids supposed to act?

On the way to the grocery store today I passed two boys furiously riding their bikes. In that passing moment I was struck by how beautiful the boys were. I best qualify saying beautiful boys, lest I arouse prurient suspicions. Mark Danner, distinquished journalist, professor and author, delivered a remarkable commencement address to the graduates of The College of Rhetoric at the University of California Berkley, earlier this spring. In it he attempts to convey something of the reality in Iraq, first from am Iraqi relating the collection of a nephew's remains after a car bombing, and then from his own recollections of an American soldier he met in Iraq. He describes the soldier's face as beautiful. What I mean, and what I think Danner saw in that soldier, is...well, an "is-ness." A few days after his interview with the soldier, the man with the "beautiful sleepy face" died in an explosion near Fallujah. Seeing those boys as I passed by the awareness of how precious and irreplaceable their beings are registered. Perhaps seeing them also jogged my memories of being around twelve, like I supposed they are now, back in 1967.

The Summer of Love seems now more a celebration than protest. Stephen Stills points out that For What It's Worth was about police mistreatment of club goers in Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Something worth celebrating is how beautiful we are. That's the sort of celebration the Summer of Love was, but the painting it as narcissism misses the empathy and expressions of love. The point wasn't to appear beautiful, but to be beautiful.

In my own life the summer of 1970 was more significant than 1967. Personal circumstances, my age and location made it so, however there's a sturdy thread which connects my experience in 1970 backward to the Summer of Love. I was 15 in the summer of 1970. While my parents were attempting to resolve important family matters I was provided some measure of independence by being shunted off to various relatives in New Hampshire. I got a job at a county fair which lasted ten days or so making more money than I ever had.

It was the summer the Woodstock movie came out. I managed to buy The Beatles' Abbey Road and Crosby, Stills, Nach & Young's Dejavu and put them on the record player as often as I was able. I dreamed of forming a student union and planned an environmental movement at my school, and furiously wrote out my ideas in a spiral bound notebook. I was as awkward and shy then as I am now, and knew my being a leader was unlikely. Nevertheless, I earnestly believed that a with a change of mind young people could find a better way. I wanted to do my part.

At the time, bell-bottomed jeans seemed important to the cause. A pair of those and a Black Watch Pendleton shirt along with my two album purchases consumed my summer's earnings. I tried in vain to see Woodstock, but the movie was restricted. That fall I tried awfully hard to put some of my plans into action and I managed to see the movie.

In America we're anticipating the July 4th Independence Day celebrations. Freedom Day passed with the barest of mentions. With some of my friends we celebrated the summer solstice as is a long tradition. For reasons I can't quite draw out, I want to mark the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

My friend pingting encourages me to make sure it's a multi-generational affair. He makes a good point. My fondest hope is that Baby Boomers might drop their cynicism and that we might open our stony hearts to experience the feeling that we can make the world better once again. We aren't kids like we were in 1967. There were so many of us and the giddy excitement that together we could create something good made quite an impression. The celebration shouldn't be a celebration of a generation, but rather celebrating life and love.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes

Victor Papanek from Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change

Writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died Wednesday night, April 11th. His books were important to me and my generation. So I've been enjoying reading pieces that mark his passing. 3Quarks Daily links to a half dozen: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

On Tuesday I went to a visitation for a friend who died. Such a sad occasion, for she was a most beautiful and charming friend, still madly in love with her husband and their lovely children. It was nice to see so many long-time friends. We are all in a state of shock still imagining ourselves too young to die of disease. Many of us have known each other for over twenty five years, and my thoughts turned to our youth together in the early 1970's.

Eric Hersman has been running a series called African Digerati where he's been interviewing African technologists. It's a great series and his blog White African is always information rich. His most recent post in the series was with Ethan Zuckerman. Zuckerman says he doesn't "really qualify as a member of the African Digerati," but his contributions to the Afrosphere make him a significant contributor.

I was particularly interested in this exchange:
What do you see as the biggest advantage or opportunity for African technology development?

Something that’s very important in technology research is problem selection. If you choose a boring problem to solve, you get boring technologies. If you choose a fascinating problem and are able to solve it, you can start a revolution. Right now, there are much more interesting problems in African technology than there are in the developed world, in my opinion. I think that smart computer science students around the world should be looking at the developing world for challenges to address – power usage, wireless networking, non-verbal interfaces, computer-based systems for microentrepreneurship. It’s a huge advantage for African innovators to be surrounded by interesting, worthwhile problems.
Reading perhaps more into Zuckerman's answer than is proper, my sense of it was that creating solutions applicable to the developing world is smart because those solutions will be useful everywhere.

The jump from my friend's death to Zuckerman's point about "interesting problems" is a long one. What I'm thinking about is how, back when my cohort was younger, we were indeed engaged by interesting problems. Back in the day most of us would have liked the idea of ourselves as "counter-cultural." We hardly turned out that way.

When I was in college Papaneck's book Design for the Real World captured my attention.
There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them. And possibly on one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don't need, with money they don't have, in order to impress others who don't care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second.
None of us flinched reading lines like that; instead, many of us really did respond: "Right on!" Our ecological understanding sometimes wasn't very deep, but there was no mistaking a passion about it.

Looking around the room full of mourners I wondered, "What happened?" I drove down to the funeral home with a friend. On the way back home she remarked about what could have been. She was referring to the political follies of the years, but there's no escaping the fact most of us played along.

It's the construct of telesis that stuck out in Papanek's Function Complex diagram when I read the book almost thirty years ago. Telesis isn't a word I've run into much since. Merriam Webster defines:
progress that is intelligently planned and directed : the attainment of desired ends by the application of intelligent human effort to the means
Papanek relates telesis to design:
[C]ontent of a design must reflect the times and conditions that have given rise to it, and must fit in with the general human socioeconomic order in which it is to operate.
As a generation we wanted to run counter, but in our designs lacked the creativity to fashion a fit with the socioeconomic order in which we function that was anyway more ecological. In fact, we seem to have fallen for precisely the program--"It's the system, man"--we once so enthusiastically mocked.

Vonnegut's writing always seems so simple, but the ethical dilemmas he exposes are never so black and white, us and them; but nuanced. General humanness and the socioeconomic order are problems that won't go away and are the subject of much of Vonnegut's storytelling. We have to navigate through them, and Vonnegut showed that harsh judgments aren't a particularly useful way to do so.

Something about online social networks and all the content people put up on the Web is how blindingly stupid too much of it is. Geez! At least that's my reaction when reading some of what I've contributed. I'm not an African blogger, but I do want attend to the Afrosphere. The beauty of the Web is contained in the dialogs. It's worthwhile participating. But when we do, our local perspectives, our telesic baggage, influences us to such an extent we often can't see how wildly inappropriate our designs and solutions are in different contexts.

Eric Hersman responded to a comment I left at on his post with the Zuckerman interview:
I’m particularly in agreement with his belief that Africans are responsible for making Africa better. It’s up to those educated techies in the diaspora to apply their years of experience to solving Africa’s technological problems. Many of these technological problems, once solved, will likely solve a number of economic and social issues as well (my opinion).
Eric seems to be saying a number of things, not the least of which is coming from a perspective of a diasporian. I may be wrong, but I took it that he was also pointing to the problem of people in the West designing inapt solutions, ignoring the importance of place to functional design. I don't deny Eric Hersman's concerns, but I also think that Zuckerman's "worthwhile problems" is a critical and fascinating point.

Zuckerman wrote a provocative piece, The moving circus, the post-national, the Global Soul and the xenophile which inspired Joshua Goldstein on In An African Minute to respond. I'd like to put myself in a line with these two, but feel obliged to point out that I'm goof and neither of them are. Still, we're three white Americans who follow and participate in the Afrosphere. I'm a product of the Baby Boomer Generation, Zuckerman, I presume, a Gen X Generation guy, and Goldstein Gen Y.

Zuckerman wrote:
Xenophilia believes that the world is made of diverse, culturally and socially different, yet interconnected spaces, and that the ability to encounter these different spaces without getting on an airplane is one of the most exciting aspects of the 21st century.
Goldstein makes the case for the "Local Soul," but observes:
Local Soul is no longer enough. We know that our (local) way is not the only way, and for personal and creative reasons it is necessary to reach beyond the bounds of the Local Soul.
And he asks: How can we balance the tension between the necessity for a deep understanding of our place with a growing need to expand our boundaries toward a Global Soul?

The question is such a good one in that Goldstein focuses on "a balance" and not reduced to an either/or bifurcation. Balance seems the core of Hersman's emphasis on African responsibility for solving challenges in Africa, tilting the weight towards the Local Soul. And Zuckerman's point about the importance of interesting problems, and how smart computer science students around the world should pay attention to solving African challenges concerns balancing this tension, perhaps by tilting the weight towards the Global Soul.

So Kurt Vonnegut has died, one of the Greatest Generation. As much as those of us Baby Boomers rail against the notion, we're getting old and our influence waning. That realization is a small part of the shock we all felt with my friend's passing. Being among my friends, so many of them have created some very good things. As the sad sack among them, my yelling: "Sell outs!" would be ridiculous. I wouldn't say that, in any case, but I'm enough of a Boomer to know that the accusation still carries a sting. That seems a very good thing. My generation holds within a deep critique of the socioeconomic order and a vision for a more just and ecological way of living. Vonnegut was very influential in helping to shape that vision.

Rene Dubos is often credited with the maxim: Think Globally, Act Locally. Dubos, was part of a generation before Vonnegut's but coined his famous maxim while an adviser to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. Sociologist Lester Frank Ward, a couple of generations older than Dubos coined the word "telesis." There's not an imaginary straight-line that connects the generations, rather threads which extend to and beyond. Dubos's meaning in "Think Globally, Act Locally," isn't far from Zuckerman's view of the world which is "diverse, culturally and socially different, yet interconnected spaces." And the mission of World Changing where Zuckerman is a board member and contributor bears a thread that extends to Lester Frank Ward's vision of telesis.

Vonnegut's last book of is entitled, A Man Without a Country. Vonnegut's meaning isn't precisely what Zuckerman is referring to in his The moving circus post, but a a thread of humanism connects them. Many of the essays in the book are available online at the In These Times Web site. Cold Turkey is worth reading. Something that's reassuring is that even while wisdom comes from experience, a wise man like Vonnegut doesn't claim to have the meaning of it all figured out.

Verlyn Kinkenborg in The New York Times suggests that for those of us who read Vonnegut's work twenty or thirty years ago, our sense of those works now is a bit disquieting. She writes:
So you get older, and it’s been 20 or 30 years since you last read “Player Piano” or “Cat’s Cradle” or “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Vonnegut is not, now, somehow serious enough. You’ve entered that time of life when every hard truth has to be qualified by the sense of what you stand to lose. “It’s not that simple,” you find yourself saying a lot, and the train of thought that unfolds in your mind as you speak those words reeks of desperation.
But then she concludes:
And yet, somehow, the world seems more and more to have been written by Vonnegut and your life is now the footnote. Perhaps it is time to go back and revisit that earlier self, the one who seemed, for a while, so interwoven in the pages of those old paperbacks.
When I gathered with my friends earlier this week to grieve for our friend's passing, I remembered us when, and those memories were comforting.

I'm probably just lost in the weeds alluding to comparison between the tension between a generations and a Global Soul and a Local Soul. But I realize as I write that using a metaphor of a balance beam and weights to compare Zuckerman and Goldstein's positions is exactly the wrong sort of metaphor for the balance involved. Quantitative measures are nonsense when the issues are the quality of connections.

Food, shelter, clothing are essentials, and we imagine these things as something we have. Perhaps the very closeness of these essentials make it easy to neglect the basic needs for clean water and the atmosphere we breathe. Water and air we all share and so it's harder to expand our attention to the kinds of cooperation necessary for them. Vonnegut in Cold Turkey says we're addicted to oil. He's right about that of course, but like addicts we steep ourselves in denial about it. That's why it's so hard for us to get our heads around Global Climate Change, and to move our butts.

One of the reasons that Ethan Zuckerman's suggestion that smart computer science student look to the developing world for problems to address seems so interesting is because it's a way to think outside the limitations of oil addiction. No doubt Eric Hersman is correct that Africans are the ones best equipped to tackle African problems. But the problems people face today include existential challenges of a global scale. What could be more global than the composition of the Earth's thin layer of atmosphere. The interesting part is the solutions to the global problem depend upon the behavior of billions of people in hundreds of thousands locales.

World Changing's Manifesto works from a premise:
that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together.
Vonnegut's literary legacy presents that putting the pieces together is no simple matter, because all sort of truly lunatic combinations are probable.

Cynics in Grecian antiquity believed that virtue is the highest good. I don't really know much about history, so I wonder how the present meanings of cynic has come to be. I've seen Vonnengut called a cynic, I've seen him called a misanthrope. And I find it strange for someone who so strongly believed in kindness and loving one another to be so cast. It's the quality of the connections that matters most. I'm grateful to have been connected to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. through his paperback books. I'm delighted that others can connect to, even while he's flown the cage.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Reading the newspaper on Friday, an article, Judge gets tough with convict who spit at officer produced a perverse chuckle. It seems that a man of whom the court-ordered medical opinion stated is "narcissistic beyond the point of rehabilitation" set out to represent himself in court over a matter of spitting on his probation officer. The judge exceeded sentencing guidelines and sentenced him to four to 10 years.

A friend sent me that photograph of me and I wanted to share it. I'm not an awfully good judge of character, especially my own. The picture captures a certain je ne sais quoi; no wait, it's pretty easy to say: I'm a goof. Partly wanting to run a picture has to do with having signed up this blog to Afrigator on the Ugandan channel. The problem is, you see, I'm not Ugandan. I've never been to Uganda, much less been to Africa. Oh and there's the unfortunate choice of "Kaunda" as a handle, and the even more ridiculous decision to post for a while a photo of me in an afro wig in my profile. Geez! What was I thinking?

The name was chosen because I was sure I'd make a fool of myself blogging and thought that some anonymity might be in order. All the good handles I'd dreamt up were already taken. Kenneth Kaunda came to mind. At the time I was hoping against hope that President Musevini would step down as Kaunda eventually did. Not surprisingly, because of Kaunda's authoritarian presidency, no other blogger had snapped up the name Kaunda. I bet I can change the name, but have figured out how to. In any case, I soon discovered doing searches from my blog quickly yielded results displaying my real name and other aliases. I was quite naive about online anonymity, or at least how to go about creating it.

Part of my mirth about the case of the irredeemable narcissist in the courtroom stems from my, decidedly unqualified, perceptions of the judge in question gleaned over time. You know, he strikes me as a wee bit egotistical; well, and maybe a tad on the narcissistic side of the scale. The Assistant District Attorney on the case said during the sentencing hearing:
Anyone who cannot control himself with the judge on the bench deserves the maximum sentence.
Note to self: Should you ever be compelled to defend yourself in court; get representation!

I'm not at all sure how clinicians make their diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One clue that I might not raise to the level is that while the report of about the defendant did raise a chuckle, I'm well aware of my own ability to make a fool of myself publicly, so felt embarrassed for the defendant. Schadenfreund was offset by: "There but by the grace of God go I."

Living in this world seems a little crazy most of the time. And as a very ordinary American the notion of being of service to African people is something to deserving of some skepticism and inward reflection.

I was delighted to discover that Keguro has been blogging at new quarters. The man never ceases to amaze me with his capacity to peal back the layers revealing what's inside and under. In the post I read today he looked at a recent New York Times poll which asked readers: "whether 'rich countries' should help 'poor countries' with problems stemming from climate change."

Keguro notes that most people in "rich" countries are hardly rich, but then directs his attention to the rhetorical framing of the question:
Responsibility, what I would term culpability, is re-translated, through a very clever sleigh of hand, into altruism. Rich countries help Poor countries.

Recoded as altruism, culpability becomes yet another way to bolster one’s ego. Pushed to a certain illogic, the potential for recoding injury or criminality or responsibility as a form of altruism guarantees ongoing inequality and oppression.
Reading the whole post is very much recommended as is reading his blog Gukira frequently. The precision of the word, culpability, over responsibility is worthwhile. The connotation of trustworthiness in "responsible" tends to paper over the "blameworhiness" implicit in the word culpable.

Acting responsibly is of course no mean feat. How should one, privileged as I am, respond in a mad and unjust world? The strategy of narrowing ones boundaries contains a logic and even an inevitability. Broadening ones boundaries to include in sight people in the world far away is fraught with pitfalls, but also exposes one to a richness of life unavailable from a closed, provincial perspective. Without much wealth the advantages to the broader perspective would seem to easily outweigh the pitfalls. Nevertheless negotiating the unfamiliar terrain requires tact and self-awareness. Neither quality, it appears, have I in abundance.

Keguro's illuminating the rhetoric of "rich" countries and "poor" countries reminds that the problem isn't just me, but a pervasive framing, even propaganda, that shapes our worldviews, especially as Americans. Narcissism isn't only a personal disorder, but a persistent cultural expression; surely it's annoying.

Hash points to new developments at Kabissa and online social network for civil society organizations working in or for Africa. In the member spotlight at the Web site is Thembathi an organization dedicated to the support of orphans and other vulnerable children in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa. Thembathi means hope with us in Zulu.

I bear culpability for injustices of many sorts, just by being born who and where I was. It doesn't seem fair, but there you go, injustice is a funny that way. So I have an obligation to try to help repair the world. But I'm a shirker and feeling guilty seems to motivate me towards inaction. Whereas, the invitation to hope with others moves me. My Ugandan friends inspire me to imagine Uganda's potential. Hoping with them enriches my life. Like so many of my ideas--have you seen Hats For Health?--Bazungu Bucks is a bit half-baked. Still the intention is to invite others to hope with us. I'm sure together we can create something good.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Last night My friend Nathan in Iganga Uganda sent me an IM: "What are you doing?" I told him I was looking over a list of Nobel Prize winners in Economics and asked what he was doing: "Chatting with a friend in Thailand," was his response. As it happens I was thinking about economics because an American friend teaching in Thailand is beginning some new research and sharing the process online.

A friend and neighbor is a well-regarded horseman. She's a horseman? I don't know what the less-sexists way to say it; horse trainer doesn't seem to fit her approach. I know not much about horses, and I met a friend of hers a while back who knows my friend primarily from the horses. After interrogating me to discover, I know nothing about horses, she said, "You don't have a clue who she is." My horsey friend is a polymath. Over time her friend has discovered some of the areas our interests overlap, or at least has got a sense that we actually do share some history. The friend got comfortable enough to tell me that when she first ran into me at the corner store and then at my friend's farm, she thought: "What a hick! What a hayseed."

Her first impressions of me weren't half wrong. That's why Internet conversations spanning the continents still seem so remarkable and enjoyable to me.

I met Nathan online probably over five years ago. The story of how that came about involves my horsey friend. She got me online. When I discovered all the news sources online, even ones which gave spare coverage to African issues, my cocoon of denial about the suffering of other people in the world began to unravel. I discussed issues of food security in the Eastern Horn of Africa with my friend and she said, "I've got just the book for you." The next time I visited she gave me a book by Robert Rodale, Save Three Lives: A Guide to Famine Prevention. Soon enough I searched "African pen pal" and made my first connection with Nathan.

Nathan's life is full of challenges I can only imagine. He was only seventeen when both of his parents had died, leaving him the oldest of five children. Something that's always impressed me about Nathan is how he's understood that his fortunes are closely tied to those of his community. So we've talked over the years and collaborated together on ways to do good stuff in his community.

Me, Mister Hick, Mister Hayseed, had quite a lot of learning to do about Africa and Uganda; I still do. But I wasn't so sure where to look for information in the beginning. In the last year or so the number of sources and opportunities for learning seem to have increased many-fold. Partly perhaps this has to do with just knowing better where to look, but quite importantly a number of new sites have sprung up. I'm particularly excited about a new site, Afrigator.

If you scroll to the bottom of my sidebar you'll see several buttons to various Web sites. I just noticed that the Taking IT Global Button doesn't work: I better fix that. There's a new button: Afrigator'd. I listed this blog on their Ugandan Channel. Maybe I really shouldn't have, but I suspect the ratings will allow this blog to fly under the radar.

Afrigator is an aggregator of African blog posts. I've had the feeds from Blog Africa sent to my Bloglines reader. I wonder why I've never championed that site? Probably because I subscribe to several African bloggers already and enjoy scanning through the many feeds through Blog Africa daily, but recognize that not everyone has the interest or time to do that. But my heart sank when I at read Ethan Zuckerman's excellent post on Afrigator:
Afrigator is very, very pretty and strongly suspect that it will make BlogAfrica obsolete at some point in the near future.
Zuckerman urges anyone whose blog is listed on Blog Africa to list it at Afrigator as well. I hope Blog Africa stays up for a long time because I do like the unfiltered stream of posts, because information and topics not on my radar often prove to be interesting and useful. But I especially hope that African bloggers do register at Afrigator in droves because the site is clean and provides many different ways to find posts of interest.

Blogs are such a great way to discover places because the posts are real people's perspectives. My friends now suspect I'm particularly informed about Africa. That's hardly the case, but they ask me all sorts of questions anyway. Very often the questions are about African politics. I'm a news junkie and follow American politics pretty closely. Oh man! The ins and outs of American politics are really hard to make sense of. Yes, I do pay attention to politics in Africa, but I'm a long way from really having much of a clue. I always tell my friends that there are over fifty African countries and that the continent is huge. Of course African politics is important for Americans to pay attention to, but that lens alone distorts our imagination of Africa. Reuters Africa is a great news portal for the news of the continent, and if I have the presence of mind do mention it. But blogs provide windows into business, art, architecture, technology, the African Diaspora and so much more. Blogs connect people. The people connections provide some context to begin to understand complicated issues like politics.

Afrigator's site is so clean and easy to use. One of the features I like very much is the Channels are based on countries and by the headers for each post is a little country flag. Symbols like that help me so much. First of all I have to practice a bit to recognize all the country flags. Then I make a mental note placing the country on the map of Africa in my mind. I love the tag clouds on Afrigator too.

Yesterday I noticed Microformats in the tag cloud. I'm so slow when it comes to computer stuff; for example, I seem to freeze when it comes to picking tags. But I do at least get the idea that tags and people tagging stuff is very useful. Microformats are something I have only a dim awareness about, so I clicked on the tag and scrolled through the posts. South African blogger Stii had a post directing to a great Firefox tool called Operator. I downloaded it and really love it. Among the features is that Operator will find the tags on a Web page and with a click direct you to photos at Flickr, bookmarks at or blogs at Technorati. I have a sense this is going to help me use tags more effectively than I would have otherwise.

The African blogosphere is already a very rich space and it's growing rapidly too. Afrigator is great addition to the Web universe. Kudos to Justin Harman and Mike Stopforth for bringing Afrigator online!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Stop Cyberbullying Day

Andy Carvin pronounced today as Stop Cyberbullying Day, as a result of a very public and serious online harassment of a widely read tech blogger, Katha Sierra.

One of the nice things about being such a casual blogger is not having enough visibility to be the object of online feuding and blog wars. One of the sad aspects of Kathy Sierra going public with her ordeal is, that as a result, she's gotten even more vitriolic and hateful messages directed at her. So I'm loathe to blog about that incident, as if I would even have something worthwhile to say. But it's not correct to think I'm unaffected by such awfulness, directed at Sierra and many others. One of the most direct impacts I can feel, if not measure, is the voices I don't hear online because bloggers are tired of the BS.

Of all the bad things someone might say about me, to be labeled a misogynist would cut me to the quick. That's not how I want to be identified, and the idea of hating women boggles. From my position as man, not very manly sort, but a man none the less, I don't have to endure the cruel assaults which too many women face all the time. Vile verbal attacks against women are a particular problem; a subset of the larger problem of hateful speech. All of us have some experience with the ways words wound, but it's useful for guys like me not to imagine I can truly understand the impact of sexual objectification and threats of sexual violence against women. To get a sense of how clueless men can be about this, consider the justification sworn in some cases where a man is accused of murdering a gay man: "He was coming on to me." And then to consider how often such testimony results in acquittal. Men know the power inherent in such assaults, but not a clue what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

So this disturbing aspect of misogyny is an important part of the discussions going on all over the blogosphere about cyberbullying, but there is so much more. Andy Carvin has set up a Ning site Stop Cyberbullying. Ning is Web site that allows people to create their own social network with profile pages and forums. so the turn around from Sierra's post on Tuesday to a site that up and running in response now is just remarkable. Go there look around, the discussions are thoughtful, there are numerous resources about cyberbullying; and it's a great example of "create something good" when confronted by evil.

Surely most of us have noticed how tempers can flare as the result of Internet correspondence. I have unintentionally pushed those buttons and pulled the leavers to make others livid with me. When that's happened I've wondered: What the heck did I do? That's different, of course form cyberbullying, but those instances provide a window to view how powerfully emotions can be engaged, and how difficult it can be to repair online relationships.

Any regular readers of blogs or Newsgroups are familiar with Internet trolls too. Considering my own instances of infuriating people and my own annoyance at trolls, I've poured over various list like Giveen's Guide to Internet Trolls. I've wondered: What kind of Internet troll am I? I'm not a troll! Clueless and insensitive at times, maybe, but I don't intentionally strive to sow discord. So the issue of trolls is a bit different from cyberbullying too, but it's subject that's hard to avoid when considering the broad issue.

Among my online African friends I've heard their experiences with Westerners, in particular Americans, hurling racist language in their direction. As a white guy, muzungu, and an American who's never been to Africa, how to talk about racism here in America is a subject I've never figured out the words to tell the story. It's not like it's easy to talk about with other Americans. Certainly one of the first things I discovered going online was how terribly much racist talk floats around on the Internet. One particularly frustrating situations that comes up is over advance fee frauds and being tarred with the broad brush: "You people!"

Come to think of it when the sentence begins, "You people.." it's pretty easy to predict nothing good is coming after it. Except, who isn't prone to generalities and stereotypes? We all are, it seems it's part of the way people in general create a map to navigate around in the world that's compact enough to actually be usable. It's a good thing to be aware of this tendency. In any case we can be fairly sure that "You people..." is the beginning of an expression of anger.

There are many things we can be reasonably angry about too. Nigerian Letters in my email box don't make me angry, but it's easy to see why they make some so angry; their intent is fraud after all. It seems helpful to recognize there's another perspective from just the consumer of such fraud, and in some cases the intent of the fraud isn't so very different from that of the cyberbully. The various ways of scamming people on the Internet again isn't exactly cyberbullying, but something to consider in the whole ball of wax. On the Internet scams are truly International affairs.

Dave Winer has made some very important contributions to the current discussion. He wrote:
So if we have a code of conduct, it can't just talk about how trolls behave, because truly we have no control over that. It should talk about responsible people whose names we know with reputations they care about -- what should they do when abuse happens? That is something we can do something about. There should be 18 steps before something like Kathy Sierra's post appears in the midst of the blogosphere, and it shouldn't come from teh person who has been victimized, someone else should stand up for them and explain what happened. For so many reasons this is a much better way to go, and I'm sure the victim would like it better too (I speak from experience).
This blog is hardly a piffle, but in my best imagination it belongs to the so called "bridge blogs." Like other bridge bloggers I encourage people to blog, to tell their stories. We have a special responsibility as bridge bloggers to respond to abuse in our connected communities. It's not always obvious what to do, but at least we can stand by and support our friends when they are subjected to cyberbullying. At a minimum we can take care and be mindful.