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.