Tuesday, January 30, 2007

One Hour of Time

This post is cross-posted at my other blog, Hats For Health. Longtime readers here may recall that I seem to have a strange fascination with paper hats. This post won't explain all of that, I at a loss to imagine whence this fascination stems, but for what it's worth it explains it a little.

My ideas always seem half-baked. I've got another blog called Bazungu Bucks. The idea behind Bazungu Bucks is to assign a credit for time spent in service to African people, where one hour of time equals one Bazungu Buck. You can read a little more about the idea in this post. I guess it's a very Western metaphor to think; time is money. But then again, Bazungu Bucks aren't real money but an alternative currency.

Now this idea hasn't gone anywhere because nobody can figure out how to spend Bazungu Bucks, so what's the use? Since you really can't spend Bazungu Bucks like money, what I had in mind is that sort of a reputation system. If a person spends enough time in service to African people and accrues some Bazungu Bucks they could go to another person with some Bazungu Bucks and make a deal--after all who else would do something for Bazungu Bucks than someone who already had some? Perhaps first there is a question: What did you do to earn those bucks? Chances are good that the ways different people earned their bucks represent individual interests and skills. So the next question might be: Would you be willing to trade some of your time using your skills to earn some of my Bazungu Bucks? The bucks sort of grease the wheels of collaboration among partners.

The devil is always in the details
. In this case I've not worked out too many of the details for anyone to take the idea seriously. Nevertheless I think there is a kernel of a good idea in Bazungu Bucks and that's simply: Our time is valuable. One dollar won't get anyone very far, and a single Bazungu Buck may not get you anywhere. But dollars added up can make a difference and so too the small efforts of many. The reputation systems at various Web sites like eBay function a little like how I imagine Bazungu Bucks might. In any case such reputation systems prove there is value to what we do which is not so easily measured by real money.

It takes about an hour to make a hat. As a fund raising endeavor it's probably not very efficient. I think most people would be willing to pay a dollar for a handmade paper party hat. And I think most would agree that a dollar an hour is slave wages. So maybe the idea of Hats For Health isn't just half-baked but downright wacky too.

I think that Hats For Health hold value beyond fund raising. First of all parties are very important to people because they are a way to share our connections to others. An hour making a Hat For Health is an hour spent in service to others. In that hour a person makes all sorts of decisions to make a nice hat. So the hat contains a story about the person who makes the hat. When people make hats together in groups stories are shared. Now fund raising is a good reason to make hats, so the best way to sell the hat is to tell someone the story about the hat. When a person wears a Hat For Health they tell a story about it to. Making Hats For Health is a way of expanding connections. The stories of paper party hats for health have real value beyond the money raised.

Three million people die a year as a result of diarrhea, a disproportionate number of them are children. Nearly two-thirds of the people on the globe do not have dependable access to safe water. So at a very rudimentary level the story of a hat begins: Too many people in the world lack for the basic essentials of life, and too many are dying. I made this hat to do something about that. Won't you do something too?

The best part about the hats is they are colorful and fun. They are meant to be worn at a parties. The stories in the hats are joyful. The invitation to do something, to spend a little of your time to devise solutions to the pressing problems today is joined by: Come on, it will be fun!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Quality of Love

I was trying to upload a photo in various ways I finally got a message that made sense to me: "Bloggerbot is dead." I not entirely sure, but pretty sure that means no photo today.

Several of my online friends in Africa wished me "Happy Martin Luther King Day." And there were questions about what I would do on that day. In some way or another, I wanted to say something about why we honor Dr. King. The conversations were nice because there was no sense of embarrassment about not knowing a lot about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his life like there sometimes is with Americans.

A very accomplished professor at school told me that she never was very clear about the difference between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War in school. I don't remember the context of the conversation really, but it probably had to do with how difficult it is to arrange things in order of time and significance when trying to get certain ideas across to school students. I welcomed the opportunity to make the distinction between Martin Luther the German priest and Martin Luther King, Jr. the American Civil Rights leader, but just sorting that out made me quite aware how hard it is to convey to others Martin Luther King's importance to me.

The picture I wanted to put up was a picture of a billboard reading: Impeach Earl Warren. It's an AP photo and blogging it is probably against copyright law. I found the photo at Wired accompanying an article about permissions needed to re-release Eyes on the Prize a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement created by Henry Hampton. Copyright is a complicated issue, but fair use is enormously important to protect our ability to meaningfully discuss the nature of the world around us. So that Wired article is an interesting read and a useful antidote for the often heavy-handed moral tones used by opposite sides of the debates over copyright. Also you can see the photo of the billboard there.

It would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 78th birthday this year. 1968 seems a long time ago, but not so long that I don't remember. And I remember Impeach Earl Warren signs too. It's commonplace for Republicans to shut people like me up by referring to our "pathological and irrational hatred of George Bush." I'm loathe to imagine myself as full of hatred, but I'll admit not liking President Bush's policies very much, and disliking so many of the people who make up his administration and many who constitute his biggest supporters. My dislike grows out of memory; memories like those Impeach Earl Warren signs.

A Virginia lawmaker, member of the House of Delegates, Frank Hargrove in a debate on the House floor the day after this year's King holiday said that African-Americans should "get over it" about slavery and then pondered:
"Are we going to force Jews to apologize for killing Christ?"
That really hit a nerve. I've mentioned that our family moved to Greenville, South Carolina the very summer that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. I started forth-grade that year. As a shy and vulnerable kiddo my exposure to virulently racist talk made me quite fearful. So much hate, then surely they must hate me too. Del. Frank Hargrove's words have an all too familiar ring.

When the first President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush first sought elected office he used the support of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 of his opponent senator Ralph Yarbourgh as his main line of attack and plea for votes. According to this biography of the first president Bush, he called senator Yarbourgh an "extremist" and a "left wing demagogue." In fairness, the Wikipedia article on George H. W. Bush reports that Yarbourgh called Bush a "tool of the eastern kingmakers" and a right-wing extremist. All that may seem like ancient history now, and indeed it seems so improbable to imagine a liberal senator from Texas today.

Still, it amazes me to look back over the intervening years to see how many in public life have scaled to power using vicious racism on their ascent. Even more bizarre is the polite fiction we here in America we seem to enforce that racism never played such a vital role. Such that Vice President George Bush could vouch for president Reagan, "He hasn't a racist bone in his body" and somehow we were suppose to believe it?

When I was a kid listening to pop radio in the car was a great joy. But when Life Line would come on the air the color would drain out of me and I still remember feeling such dread. Life Line was a radio show by H. L. Hunt, a Texas oil billionaire. Among Hunt's notions was a cashocracy where the more money you had the more votes you'd get.

Obviously the road to present day conservatism headed by George Bush and Dick Cheney has it's twists and turns. Rick Pearlstein's book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus is widely lauded. I haven't read it, but I can recommend Robert Sherrill's piece in The Nation a while back Conservatism as Phoenix. A consistent thread in all of this has been to limit public participation in electoral politics and other instruments for democracy, consistently race has been exploited by the conservative movement to do just that.

All manner of powerful corporate leaders have actively participated in the conservative ascendency. Many of them are fairly well-known to the public, for example Howard Ahmanson, Jr. and Richard Mellon Scaife. Still, its interesting how we here in America are quite comfortable saying about Bush and Cheney "our government is in the hands of the oilmen" without really having names to place with those oilmen.

The tight veil of secrecy surrounding Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 has always struck me as a bit over the top. When the energy chiefs were summoned to testify in Congress in 2005, I marveled at their inability to recollect. I suppose I'm just not cynical enough to think it's okay to lie if you're rich and powerful enough; that is, my presumption is that while clearly not admitting to anything they didn't absolutely have to, I'm hard pressed to think they lied outright. Their testimony about these meetings made me realize they really were especially secret. Nonetheless, given my lingering resentments from childhood, I feel quite certain that members of the Koch family and members of the Hunt family were able to make their views known.

The "who" in the rise of the present configuration of conservatism in the USA matters because of the bodies buried, and not just in a figurative sense of the expression. The great JohnHouston playing the character Noah Cross in the film Chinatown quipped:
'Course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, public buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough
Martin Luther King was gunned down not yet forty, yet somehow we mark the anniversary of his birth for the ages, or until, our collective memory fails us. The kind of "respectability" accorded politicians, public building, and whores, or for that matter the conservative ideology presided over by President Bush today, won't suffice for Martin Luther King, Jr., if we are to truly remember his accomplishment. He was hardly "respectable" and he was hated by those whose power and wealth the kind of respectability Noah Cross knew matters the most.

On the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday I read King's April 4, 1967 speech at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence. I had that page open as I talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. with a Ugandan friend. King spoke about love not "as a weak and cowardly force," but and "absolute necessity" for our survival.

The radical love, love to the root, that Dr. King showed was so essential is a quality contested. That's why it's so important to impute hatred, "pathological and irrational" hatred upon those who protest the President Bush's policies. So I've admitted my long resentments of this current political movement, ideology and hubris. I'm angry too. Dr. King told us that we must act, it is absolutely imperative we do, and that we must act with love. He even said it was a "conundrum."
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
So picture, if you will, my attempts to tell my Ugandan friend why Martin Luther King Day matters to me. I'm reading the speech as I talk. Rather than point my fingers outward, or to try to draw distinctions between me and other Americans; I heard Dr. Kings word directed to me.

"John, John. What will you choose? What will you do?

My answer is in a feeble voice, but such as that may be: I will create something good.

I am angry, I am very sad. I am a bit of a coward. To the extent that I can create something good, that creation will not emerge from hatred, rather emerge with love. So love is what I want to know about, love is what I aim to embody. so my Ugandan friend says to me, "He was a great man." True enough, but he called me to be great, and that's what makes my knees knock.
Everyone can be great.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Blog Depression

I've already satisfied myself that blogging is not addictive. I reserve judgment about my Internet use in general. There are so many things that make me feel really good; especially when I see, read, listen to so many who create something good. But politics, in particular the politics of war can make me feel very bad.

I wasn't sure what image to accompany this post. I have a nice graphic that says: No War On Iran, after President Bush's speech this week that's surely been on my mind. But I chose a picture of General Smedley Butler's book. The reason is while obsessing over the implications of speech, looking high and low for opinions and commentary, I feel downright depressed.

Butler is one of the United States Marine Corps heroes. It seems strange from today's perspective that would be the case because General Butler articulated a severe critique of Eisenhower's famous Congressional-Military-Industrial Complex long before Eisenhower coined the term and the complex had consolidated its gains through the Cold War. Americans have long known there's something rotten at our core.

Gail Russel Chaddick of the Christian Science Monitor wrote a line that stopped me dead in my tracks in a report early in the week about Congressional hearings over Iraq:
That means a key aspect of the president's plan, expected to be unveiled this week, will run into a wall of words on Capitol Hill, but not much more.
Chaddick is a careful reporter. I've been reading her reports for years because while I was in school studying education she was the Monitor's education writer. "A wall of words and not much else" that's not spin, it's just the facts.

I've signed MoveOn's Petition urging Congress to block the president's plan to escalate the war in the Middle East. I've signed Care2's petition as well. I've written my senators and representative--you can find out how to contact Congress here. I haven't written my local paper as my letters no longer raise any response. I think all of those things are good to do and encourage you to do so too, if you're so inclined. But my depression persists because I know Chaddick is right: "A wall of words and not much else." She's right for reasons Butler laid out before World War II: "War Is a Racket."

I'm an avid gardener and one of my essential seed sources is J. L. Hudson Seedsman. Even if you don't buy many seeds the dollar for the catalog is well worth it because they sell only Public Domain seeds. So many plants, especially flowers to my mind are best as species, and there are many venerable old selections almost impossible to find elsewhere but very worth growing. D. Theodoropoulos, the owner of the business is also an anarchist and scatters pithy quotations throughout the catalog in order to make the page columns even. This year there are a couple new to me. The first from William Burroughs:
Migrants of ape in gasoline crack of history.
The second by R. Crumb:
Sooner of later you're gonna hafta face up to them...the fact is, you know too much already...you're no ignoramus...you know what they're doing all over the world is terribly, terribly wrong
Inconvenient truths I somehow ignore most of the time. The policies my country is perusing under my flag I oppose.

I certainly don't expect others to trust my views about American politics, I'm no expert. Digby at Hullabaloo is someone whose views about politics seem quite informed and Digby makes an observation about the political calculus and war in this piece that's really astute:
I thought long and hard about that since then, wondering how a politician can truly know the smart move in cases of war and I concluded that they probably can't. They simply have to do what they think is right. It's a different case than most legislation where you can horsetrade and think about positioning for the future and otherwise play politics. War is a wildcard --- you can't know in advance how things are going to go or what position taken today might benefit you tomorrow. The risks are so high and the moral questions so profound that you are better off just trying to make a reasoned decision and being open minded about changing your mind if things go differently than you expect
I believe strongly that my country's current policies in the Middle East are dangerously mistaken. My views aren't very significant, but ultimately what we all think is right is significant. Elected politicians have to wrestle with what is right as much as I do, and the outcome in their cases is far more important. I find Digby's observation somewhat encouraging, at least it's possible politicians could decide what's right. Of course, I'm not holding my breathe. It's sad to say most people are like me in not sufficiently valuing what we think is right. And maybe a wall of words isn't as insubstantial as we imagine. Alas, I'm still depressed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mama's Boy

I better finish up these five things so I can get back to an African focus here at Bazungu Bucks.

So far I've given a chronological narrative about my life and foibles. Naturally throughout my life my mother is a presence; so that's hardly a surprise.

Mama's Boy:
Synonyms: baby, big baby, crybaby, gutless wonder, lightweight, Milquetoast, mollycoddle, mother's darling, namby-pamby, pansy, sissy, softy, teacher's pet

"boy." Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1). Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 07 Jan. 2007. Thesaurus.com
Wow! what am I admitting to? Gender ideas get pretty complicated. I've heard it said that where in one society an occupation is exclusive to one gender it often the exclusive province of the opposite gender in another. Nowadays in America it seems as though there's a rash of hyper-masculinity that's based on masculine as being not-feminine. That's rational enough, I suppose, but so much of the posturing sounds downright anti--women and misogynistic to me. That I don't get because a world without the feminine is unbearable to contemplate.

I love my mother. Even though now she's no longer living and breathing her presence is still palpable in my life.

I mentioned before that I'm a Southerner and mentioned how my claims to that identity have been contested. We moved to Greenville, South Carolina just about a month before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. About a year after that my younger brother was old enough to begin school and my mother became a teacher.

Her degree was in Bacteriology so she had to go back to school to earn credits for her teaching credentials. I suppose that her being a student when I was in school contributed towards my interest in pedagogy. But it was also quite important when and where she became a teacher because of the great social change happening. Actually, my father is the only one of his siblings, who wasn't a teacher of some sort--he even taught for a while. And both my mother's brothers and their wives were teachers. So a positive view of the profession, if not individual teachers, is something I inherited rather naturally.

Before I flunked out of college I had wanted to major in Child Development. As I mentioned I was so eager in college to figure things out and the way that people learn was a burning topic for me. Alas I was too much distracted and did poorly. When I returned to college, partly in recognition of my interest in the ways that human beings grow and learn, and partly out of a lack of confidence about my capacity to succeed I choose to major in Elementary Education.

I very much enjoyed studying to be a teacher. Despite its reputation college preparation in education is demanding. It would seem that being a guy in classes of mostly women would have been great for me. Maybe because I was old, but I think it was more, I was not popular at all among students in my classes. And really given that my academic career in the main was rather unhappy, I should have known teaching wasn't a good fit for me. In fact, just before student teaching that understanding seemed so clear to me. But having successfully graduated an holding credentials, inertia kept me on track to get a job as a teacher.

Damn, and I got fired right after the second grading period. Contrary to popular belief, it's not uncommon for new teachers to be let go rather quickly when they're not working out, and I wasn't. This was a huge blow to me. I'd picked up stakes and moved from Pittsburgh to Florida. I was making a living waiting and busing tables and probably would have made a go following that trajectory, except my mother got sick with colon cancer.

When I came to visit her she'd been operated on and the tumor removed, but as a complication to the surgery she got intestinal adhesions forcing a second operation. When I saw her she was gray and very weak, I did not think she would live long.

My mother was a bit eccentric and one of her eccentricities was that she collected a lot of stuff. I didn't have a clue what it would be like for my father if my mother died and decided to move home. The good news is my mother lived for more than ten years after that bout with disease. Oh and the dynamic of living at home has had it's complications. For whatever self criticism I might make about myself over the years, I do think it's quite objectively true that I enabled my parents to do what they wanted.

My mother died in 2002 just shy of her 84th birthday. In the years since I've seen how the place has been neglected. But one of the things very important to me while she was alive is that I created many gardens here. I've dug and move tons of stone and debris, and planted thousands of seeds. The funny thing about a garden is they are very much connected to the gardener. A garden really isn't something for posterity, although some of the plants I've introduced are weedy enough, they'll probably out live me.

Today I was at Wal-Mart. I noticed a very dark-skinned man with two kids in his buggy who had lighter features and straighter hair. I wondered whether the guy was African. On my way out to my car I saw him loading up the kids in his mini van, a white woman sitting in the driver's seat. What I noticed was Dad encouraging his young son to step into the van. The essence of being human and adult is protecting what we love. It's easy to read too much into these sorts of vignettes, but what I imagined was a mom happy to have a few moments of solitude. I imagined a dad happy to spend some moments his kids and to offer his wife a few minutes without them.

It's no news that men and women are different, but our similarities are so much more than our differences. When people help each other be human, well, that seems a pretty good way of being. What's more masculine than being a father who spends time with his children? What's more masculine than loving a woman?

My mother was remarkable in so many ways; my sister's too. When I see and hear so much masculine hype premised on misogyny I'm so dumbfounded. Don't guys want to spend time in the company of women? It doesn't take a genius to know such talk won't get a guy anywhere fast. I suppose I've just been lucky in life to have a good mother and wonderful strong women as role models and mentors. But it gives me a blind side too because I don't always recognize the bias and prejudice against women that are all to common. Call me a mama's boy, I suppose I am one.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Welcome New Year

Something I've discovered is blogging is not addictive. I wonder why it is that I post at all? The simple reason is that I like to. The activity presents so many opportunities for learning in ways that I never anticipated before. It's a little like the advice that "failures are opportunities for learning," however, blogging isn't an unmitigated joy.

I'm impressed with the bloggers who manage New Year's posts full of reflection about the year past and optimism for this new year. In that reflective mode, I've been a little bit frozen; too many things I didn't do well in 2006. And I'm afraid my plans for 2007 amount to just keep plugging away at it.

I do want to wrap-up my five strange things postings. I've posted the first three and anyone who knows me knew about those stories. Number 4, "I love Trudy" has sort of weighed on me. What people know of me is that I'm "confirmed bachelor." Really that's not been according to plans, but rather simply my general incompetence.

My telling of Numbers 1-3 was a chronological narrative about my growing up. After flunking out of college one of my occupations was trying to fix-up a house in a derelict part of town. That experience seems a phantasmagoria in my imagination. Surely telling something of it would make a good story, but alas I don't know where to begin. Suffice it to say that experience was a long series of failures; but what I learned?

Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, had about a quarter million people working in the steel industry in 1980, by 1985 there were around five thousand. Without a college degree and with the scramble in the region for people to find work, what I found was there were job opportunities in lugging and toting stuff. The job I managed to keep for a while was making deliveries for a wholesale grocer.

So here's the backdrop to meeting Trudy: My youthful idealism had been just about crushed with the colossal failure of my real estate venture and settling into life doing a hard job I didn't much like. My love affair with Trudy was really quite brief, but so very significant. I discovered what it felt like really being in love. Perhaps most of you reading this know what an intimate relationship is all about. What seems the most amazing thing about such a relationship is discovering something new everyday about another, and looking forward so much to those discoveries.

Trudy and I discovered after a while, only a few months, we weren't to be a couple. This was a very disappointing discovery sprung on me. But probably because there wasn't a long history between us, we managed to cross the threshold from lovers to friends. Ah well, and because Trudy is a generous and lovely person.

I feel protective about the loving partnerships of my dear friends. My brief affair with Trudy gave me a window into the realm of romantic love more intensely than I'd ever experienced it. I'm too loose in telling people: "I love you." I really do love so many people. Despite not ever finding a partner, I've got romantic sensibilities. By becoming fast friends afterwards taught me there are many kinds of love, all valuable and worth cherishing. Trudy's love for me also gave me a very precious gift. At the time I met her I was feeling quite the failure and not very optimistic. She showed me that among the bramble of life, sometimes roses bloom.

A couple of years ago I got called for jury duty. In Voir Dire, the series of questions asked of potential jurors before selection, the question was asked: "Have any of you been victims of a crime?" I was quite surprised to be the only one in the pool who stepped forward saying yes. Geez, it was hard for me to keep track of all the times, so I figured most everyone had been. I'm not sure what to make of it, whether none of the others actually had never been victimized by crime. In a very general way however the fact is that poor people suffer crime the most as my failed real estate venture had shown me.

There are many dangers and much misfortune in life. My love affair with Trudy proved was that also along the path of life there is also opportunity and good fortune. It helps to know that around the next corner, maybe the next day or even the next moment, life will bring a gift so wonderful. She also got my butt back into college, and for that alone I'd be forever grateful.

It's around supper time. Rather than go onto item Number 5, "I'm a Mama's Boy" I'll stop.

My wish for you is that in this new year you steer clear of danger, but fearlessly explore the uncharted territories of your lives with an attitude open to the beauty of life's offerings.