Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Talking Peace

March 19th Iraq War Blogswarm commemorates from a variety of perspectives the fifth anniversary of the launching o of the US war against Iraq.

As I feared, the day has come and I don't know what to say.

First of all the testimony of Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan is available, just not live. It can be seen at Iraq Veterans Against the War and also selections of testimony on The Real News at YouTube. I've been gradually watching in small doses. Penny Coleman's piece at AlterNet provides a very good overview of the event.

I went to Flickr to look for a picture for this post. I typed "peace" into the box, what I thought was everyone's photo's, but it turned out it was just my contacts photos. Over 260 pictures came up. My great friend pingting has lots of peace pictures up. He's an illustrator so keeps his permissions rather limited. My friend Mark Knobil is a great photographer and had plenty in the list. Global Peace Tiles won the prize for the most Peace hits. With my dozen or so contacts it's clear peace is on our on minds. We've not stopped talking about peace.

With an anniversary like this it's time to reflect. Credible estimates are that more than a million Iraqis have died in this conflict. Estimates are about 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan, and another 2.5 million internally displaced, homeless. This is the Internet, so I can hear the screams: "Links??" But the argument seems more denial than serious. It's the fidelity to a line of success that seems so fanciful to me. Yesterday's headline from McClatchy: Cheney cites 'phenomenal' Iraqi security progress as bombing kills 40 captures the disconnect aptly. The AP tells us "Bush Says Iraq War Was Worth It." That's an opinion not widely shared across the nation. John Cole had an amusing post with a single sentence synopsis of nine OpEds The New York Times ran to mark the fifth anniversary of the war. All the sentences use the f-word, which I don't in the blog for some reason, but consider entirely appropriate in this instance. Even the some of the strongest cheerleaders are saying "We f^cked up." Yet our leaders say all's well, indeed "phenomenal." It make me want to holler.

But over the past five years, I find fault in myself for not hollering more. Still, I've not been alone in talking about peace, many have never tired of it, even when so many of us have felt so discouraged. I was very heartened to see Darcy Burner and ten candidates for national office come out with A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq (PDF)a plan which addresses forthrightly the political failures of the war and our culpability for the great harm the war's conduct entails.

Col. Patrick Lang has been a steady realist about this conflict throughout. I've never served in the armed forces, so there's always been a slight disconnect in the lens through which we see it; nevertheless he's someone I found worth listening to. He favors Hilary Clinton and praises her plan.

I support Barak Obama for the Democratic Party candidacy for president. Today Obama gave a speech about race in America transcript and YouTube video. This speech further solidified my support of his candidacy. Theriomorph is a beautiful and smart writer and her blog attracts great comments. She publishes her blog posts on Sundays. Sometimes I wait to read them, just because I know I'll want to savor them. This week she weighed in on race and gender and animosity between the Obama and Clinton camps. At face value neither Obama's speech nor theriomorph's post were about Iraq. But both are examples of talking peace genuinely. Neither is simply: "Peace, Peace" but rather the work of facing truths and understanding perspectives of others.

Theriomorph wrote:
These false comparisons, the 'hierarchy of pain' pissing contest between oppressions which are similarly structured but not the same, the insistence on preferencing one kind of oppression over another to maintain privilege - these are defocusing tactics, and nothing more. It is never useful, it never accomplishes anything but fragmentation.
Barak Obama said today:
As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems -- two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
The snippets are unfair to the nuances in both, but I think show how both theriomorph make the point that we can't wish differences away, but we can avoid distractions to our common purpose. To make peace it takes courage to face the truth and even with the fear and worry to proceed towards unity and perfection.

Perfection thought of in a Platonic way is ever elusive. But when we're thirsty a chipped cup is a perfect vessel. The outward appearance may be flawed or unexpected, but perfection holds together. Talking peace in one area aids peace in other areas. For Democrats the selection process for our presidential candidate is getting rather contentious. There's little possibility that Clinton can overcome her delegate deficit. So theriomorph and Obama are addressing necessary issues to find a way towards peace.

People are talking peace and making takes courage. May we encourage one another to end this unwise and immoral war. All of us can play a part and together we can enable peace.

Friday, March 14, 2008

War Is Not Healthy

March 19 is Iraq blogswarm. Bloggers all over will be blogging against the war in Iraq. I'd sign up, but I worry what to say, and whether I'll actually do it. So this post is sort of a practice piece.

Politics isn't my forte. I generally abhor violence, but it's also difficult for me to imagine a near future without armies and navies. That stipulation never seems enough to the many who think that even trying to imagine a world without war is naive and foolish in the extreme.

In this political season here in the USA talking about how the country under my flag got into this war is strictly off limits. Only proposals about what to do know are allowed and any deviation from the status quo is deemed surrender.

Since this is my blog, I'll revisit the taboo subject of how we went to war, if only to point out that many Americans were against it.

The picture is from Labor Day 2002, president Bush came to Pittsburgh to speak. I'm not a terribly political guy, and tend to be pretty shy. My experience with street protests are very meager. But in the summer before the war, I believed it was possible that American's could register their displeasure with going to war and avert it.

The night before the Labor Day event I went to a gathering of friends. When the hostess opened the door and saw that I'd arrived with poster board and markers, she said to me sharply: "You are not going to talk politics all evening."

It was a lovely late summer evening and we most of us sat outside and talked politics. People seemed very resigned to the situation, and nobody promised to join the protest. Even coming up with slogans to scrawl on the poster board was like pulling teeth; that is, for everyone except the daughter of a friend who was ten or eleven at the time. Her father is a marble sculptor and had lived her years up to that point in Italy where the marble is. Unencumbered by thinking too much about American politics, she felt free to come up with one protest sign masterpiece after another. We all loved "Monkey the Bush" and none of us really had a clue why or what it meant.

I did go and discovered what "free speech" zones are all about. Bill Neel was handcuffed and arrested for refusing to get behind the fence--and the phalanx of police and security. You can see from these pictures that people who heart Bush were allowed on the public sidewalks with signs, so only those citizens seeking to weigh in against the rush to war were to be isolated. The irony was too that Bill Neel had actually served in elective office as a Republican.

I was certain after seeing the president's motorcade go by and hearing the heckling of the crowd as they left the speech--one thing fences like that do is make it feel safe for hecklers to hurl insults--that the die had been cast and we were going to war. But by January 2003 many of my friends joined with thousands of others in Pittsburgh, on a brutally cold and snowy day to march against the war.

When I see that sign "Monkey the Bush" it makes me sad. That lively little girl is now a young woman. Last autumn I joined a bunch of social networking sites to look around. I do like to look at pictures people put up. And on social networks you can see people from all over. We put up all sorts of pictures on these sites, but very often we put up pictures of our dear ones. Pictures of big-eyed children with birthday cakes, teens hugging their mothers, girlfriends and boyfriends. Lovely pictures all. Across the whole round world there are somethings we share in common.

When I think of the millions of Iraqi's displaced, and the terrible air war the surge has wrought, I'm gripped with grief. I see the faces of loved ones, just like the photos I see posted online on social networks. On the PBS Newshour pictures and brief biographies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq are posted in silence. I'm saddened. I aam also curious how they die. So many in the middle management ranks and I wonder, but the news never seems to tell. Juan Cole provides some context and points to reporting. Without Informed Comment I'd really be in the dark. Last week he posted an AP video up at YouTube about the five soldiers killed in Baghdad on Monday. Cole made this observation:
Why don’t bloggers do more posting of pieces like this AP video, below, about the 8 US troops killed on Monday. We are after all a tv network if we want to be.
It's a good point about being a TV network if we want to be.

I did not post in time to post notice of the live broadcast of Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan, however I can still point to the liveblog of the event. The War Prayer is a short story by Mark Twain which was published posthumously in Harper's Monthly, November 1916. Last year a film version was made, and on our TV network, it's worth watching.

That summer back in 2002, my hostess was very kind and sat with me for a while talking about the prospects of war. She wanted nothing to do with the poster making, except said that the line she always liked best was
War is not healthy for children or other living things.
Another Mother for Peace owns the copyright to Lorraine Schneider's famous poster and image. They use the proceeds to fund their peace activities. When I was a teenager I had a patch of that sunflower image on my Sunday blue blazer. I've always liked the slogan too. Schneider created the poster in 1965. Two years later fifteen friends met at her house to discuss "doing something" about Vietnam. They decided to send Mother's Day letters to Washington and used the image that Schneider had created for the cover of the card. The card read:
For my Mother’s Day gift of this year,
I don’t want candy or flowers.
I want an end to killing.

We who have given life
must be dedicated to preserving it.

Please talk peace.
I'm not sure what to write on the 19th. I am sure that talking peace is not foolish. We must find a way to do so.

Now playing: Geoffrey Oryema - Lapwony
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Boss Hoss with the Hot Sauce

That photo of Pittsburgh's legendary DJ, Porky Chedwick was brazenly stolen from this fan page.

In today's paper an item, Crowd cheers Porky's 90th birthday at 'Roots of Rock and Roll', caught my attention. I suppose it didn't surprise me much that Porky Chedwick is 90, but noted that he's been on the radio in the Pittsburgh market for sixty years. He still does a show!

I don't know how frequent bloggers do it? There is so much great writing on blogs, and the output some bloggers manage simply astounds me. Recently I started reading Daisy's Dead Air. Daisy is a great writer, fierce and funny. And something lovely for me is she writes from Greenville, South Carolina, where some of my formative years were spent. We moved there in the early 1960's. That was a time of moving from legal racial apartheid to something else--what we've got here now in the USA isn't exactly clear to me. Oh yeah, Daisy is about my age and digs music.

Back in the day--when I was a little boy--radio was a big deal. In Greenville my mother would drive us to school, I went to a private school right downtown and we lived out in the outskirts. The radio we listened to in the car was a mix of R&B, soul and some pop music, a sort of watered-down version of what is known as Carolina Beach Music. It does seem odd that in a time of racial segregation, the music that many southern white kids listened to was music made by African Americans.

American popular culture is a mongrel culture. For all that is wrong with the good USA, our mongrel mix-up may be our saving grace.

Pittsburgh is a hilly place. There are three rivers right downtown--here's a picture by Sohail Khwaja at Flickr that shows the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers confluence making the Ohio River. One of the consequences of all the hills and hollows around here is that neighborhoods are rather distinct geographically. The steel barons had a "divide and conquer" approach to local government, finding it easier to control small governments. So Pittsburgh is a patchwork of small towns and neighborhoods. Porky Cheswick grew up in Homestead. Homestead has a storied history in the American labor movement with the 1892 Homestead Strike. The author of the Wikipedia article on Porky notes:
His was a close-knit, culturally and racially diverse neighborhood, which he often compared to "a secluded island," where things such as one's skin color simply didn't matter. As Porky told this writer, "We a1l had one thing in common--poverty."
The topography of this place makes for many "secluded islands."

An AM radio station in Homestead, Pennsylvania playing African American music sent out ripples of social change that traveled far beyond the geography of its radio waves.

Porky Chedwick is old now, and there's a dignity and respect awed just for making it. But Porky Chedwick is much loved because he's a good guy. The stories of his giving his last change for bus fare for someone hard up on the street and walking home ring true to his character. Remember Pittsburgh's a hilly place, so walking home isn't easy. Porky is loved for his decency.

Porky began his radio work at WHOD in Homestead in 1956. He was the only white presenter and many probably presumed he was black from his patter and song selections. March is women's history month, and with the mention of WHOD which became WAMO, I thought of Mary Dee, a pioneering African American woman broadcaster at WHOD. I found hardly anything about her online. There's much more about her brother Mal Goode who became the first black TV network correspondent in 1962.

Mal Goode was News Director at WHOD in the fifties. His story is one of decency an community service too. In trying to track down Mary Dee's story, I found some great pages from Philadelphia radio station WDAS. About midway down on that page is a picture of Mary Dee, her brother and others with the caption:
First, apropos the discussion of 'television firsts':
the man on the left is Mal Goode, the first-ever Black reporter on network TV- ABC News to be exact-1962, covering the United Nations. Then, WDAS listeners heard him regularly in the 1970s and '80s as the U-N correspondent for NBN network news. He is also the brother of the lady standing next to him. Mary Dee, a Pittsburgh-to-Philadelphia [WHAT-AM] gospel radio personality who is the mother of Bonnie Dee, [not shown] who worked gospel and traffic at WDAS and Buddy Dee, known to music aficionados as record promotions man par excellence with Universal Distributors and Atlantic Records. And the lady in the hat is WDAS's Bernice Thompson who was a friend of Mary Dee.
[and we hope you got all those connections because there will be a quiz...]
If you've got a little time check out the WDAS pages for some great photos, including photos of the young Ed Bradley.

Radio made a real difference in the quality of life for all Americans. It provided a means for people to express themselves beyond their secluded islands. I think it mattered quite a lot that many of the people involved in Rock and Roll were very decent people concerned about their communities and issues of fairness and justice. As a white kid growing up in South Carolina it made a difference that the music I loved the most was made by African Americans.

One of my friends moved away from the area. She's my favorite dance partner, and everyone's favorite who knows her, sent me a YouTube video, Boogie Shag. Along with the comment, "Now that's dancing." Those in Carolina say that the Carolina Shag predates Swing. In any case there's a fairly straight line from "shagging" at the beach to the radio in Greenville, South Carolina of my youth playing African American music.

The piano player in the video is Silvan Zingg who's Swiss. When I was a kid boogie woogie was what I wanted to play on the piano. I never learned, but the music still makes me dance.

As a kid visiting my very staid grandparents in New England we'd gather in the parlor--off limits most of the time--to enjoy my grandmother play Honky Tonk piano accompanied by by Grandfather on drums. It makes me smile to think my grandfather considered himself a Jazz man. Of course he meant Jazz in the W. C. Handy school. Still, for two rather proper white Yankees, one of their great pleasures in life was music of the African Diaspora.

Zap Mama's album Ancestry in Progress was made in Philadelphia. Marie Daulne is interested in the music of the African Diaspora and I think it cool she went to Philadelphia and not Chicago to make the record. Talking about it she remarks:
You see, as Marie says, the Ancestry this album addresses is not specific to any one people or any one culture. "I'm talking about all the humans who made this world better, their philosophy and their fight. I want my work to show respect for those people. Because I know that tomorrow we're going to be ancestors, and that is the kind of ancestor I want to represent."
I hope Porky Chedwick lives to be 105. If he were to die tomorrow, we'll remember him as the kind of ancestor we want to be.

Now playing: Frank Zappa - Trouble Every Day
via FoxyTunes want to be.

Friday, March 07, 2008

International Women's Day

International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8 every year. While the holiday has roots in American labor history, it's hardly recognized by most Americans as a holiday. But it is widely celebrated around the world. To women everywhere I thank you, and from the depths of my heart express my gratitude for your being you.

Now playing: Charlotte Church - The Water Is Wide
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

To Be of Use

Phil Jones is one of my favorite bloggers. Phil is a polymath and has a real genius for explaining complex concepts in ordinary language. That said, I get hardly anything at all when he writes about coding, but that he is an information scientist has been a great help to me in trying to get a perch to view what's going on in the ever changing landscape of information and communications technologies.

Phil Jones has written several posts on netocracy. That Wikipedia entry notes that netocracy is a word-play on the words internet and aristocracy. The term as Phil is referring to it is based on his reading of two Swedish philosophers, Alexander Bard and Jan Soderqvist propounded upon in their book Netocracy - The New Power Elite and Life After Capitalism. There seems to be some fairly derisive reviews of the book online. If you enjoy reading Slavoj Zizek, his piece The Ideology of the Empire and its Traps maybe of interest for some context for Bard and Soderqvist's ideas. But Phil's presentation a the Wittgenstein Symposium is a concise introduction to the ideas.

Recently Phil wrote a piece, Live Together, Die Alone which explores some of the pitfalls of netocracy. And that piece really has seemed worth blogging about, but collecting my thoughts has proven difficult.

Phil makes a useful distinction between netocracy and concepts like attention economy and commons based peer production, noting:
Not that "attention" isn't an essentially important idea too in netocracy, but "imploitation" reveals a different character.

If you believe it's all about "attention" then simply *maximizing* your number of connections is a good thing. It's all about openness and inclusion and transparency.

Blogging is an attention economy. Ebay, Google, Myspace, Craiglist etc. are attentional. They are "markets"

Netocracy OTOH is about hoarding and managing links. Facebook, AlwaysOn, aSmallWorld ... these are netocratic.

Unlike most bloggers, I'm loathe to look at the stats for this blog, finding it easier to imagine that nobody reads it anyway. So I blog for myself, but that's not entirely it, really. I love to read blogs and even to comment occasionally. Being a reader of blogs feels like being part of a community and that having a blog is part of the price of membership. I participate at an YSAN (yet another social network) called Ned. Among the many advantages in writing within a social network is responding it a context of discussions with others. I particularly like Ned because the people there are from all over the place; including a nice contingent from my beloved Uganda. I wrote that last sentence with a smile; I've never traveled to Uganda. I love Uganda because by way of the Internet I've come to know a few Ugandans. Blogging and participating in social networks are activities which I consider social.

Internet tools offer such opportunities for collaboration and I'll concede to imbibing in a dose of cyberutopianism when contemplating the possibilities. Ethan Zuckerman wrote a good critique of cyberutopianism in a review of Fred Turner's book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Zuckerman's blog searches well and he's had plenty more to say on the subject. Still with all the downsides--even social ills--of the online world, the potential to create something good online seems great.

The whole premise of Bazungu Bucks is evidence of that cyberutopian thinking is a little trippy. Bazungu Bucks are traded nowhere. I gave away BBs explicitly saying I'd accept them in exchange, but nobody has ever offered one in exchange for doing anything. I do not imagine that Bazungu Bucks ever will become a viable alternative currency. But the notion that people all over can be of some use to one another, and that even Americans like me can be of service to African people. The big question is how?

As in Marxism aristocracy is contrasted with proletariat, Bard and Soderqvist's netocracy is contrasted to the consumtariat. Phil points out that in an economy of links, the netocracy in some ways steals social links from the consumtariat. That's one way of looking at what happens at Facebook, or at least prompted user outcry over Facebook's social ads scheme called Beacon. The consumtariat are social and actively creating--often by appropriating cool stuff we find on the Internet--but as Phil put's it:
We are "composing" with instruments handed down to us by the elite. (As Attali warned) And so we are isolated.
John Robb noted recently:
Criminal hackers take down the ELF to sell Viagra.
Reading that provoked a laugh. Reading John Robb generally doesn't make me laugh, in fact reading him is a good antidote to too much cyberutopian enthusiasm. Crimeware is just one darkside of netocractic conspiracy. John Robb's Global Guerrillas blog provides plenty of evidence for how anti-social these new social tools can be.

I was dumb recently and fell prey to a phishing site. Perhaps my antivirus and various protection software had lulled me into complacency. In the process of trying to clean up the mess I used Spybot-S&D. In the more than 100,000 known malware files the software hunts for, predictably there are porn site dialers, all sorts of files associated with online gambling; what I hadn't anticipated was the number of bogus anti-spyware, anti-virus, and "protect your children" sorts of malware. Sex and money as motivators seem almost quaint in comparison. It was a shock to discover there are thousands upon thousands of malicious sites playing fear to advantage.

Phil wrote:
By making social connections a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, a tool rather than the condition within which we live, we have stripped them of all real significance or value. They have become dead. We have become dead. Out capacity to participate has been eroded even as we gained a capacity to curate.
Phil's in Brazil, I'm in the USA; I have friends and interest in Uganda and others around the world. Online connections certainly are need not be "means to an end rather than an end in themselves." But, Phil steps in a positive direction by pointing to the need for genuine local relationships with others; we actually participate with others. Local connections matter in ways that are somewhat distinct from more global relationships. Our local relationships help to ground us in genuine ethics and value of being people.

I'm inclined to agree with those who credit Rene Dubos with the maxim:
"Think Globally, Act Locally"
The communication among people across localities is important and meaningful. Still, Dubos' insight that global problems are conditioned on local circumstances and choices is really quite profound. Phil has resolved to endeavor to include more participatory and social music in his life. For my part, I try to make more paper party hats because, heavens knows in tough times like these we need more parties. Our ability to produce online can lead to forgetting how important being in touch with others is.

A windstorm downed a big fir tree in the front of the property. It collided with a Chinese Chestnut tree and that probably has damaged that tree beyond salvaging. The fir tree seemed in good health, but a few years back a close lightening strike damaged its bark on a section near the base of the trunk, which accounts for weakening it enough to fall in the wind. When the lightening hit he sap got so hot so quickly the soil along roots nearly twenty feet from the trunk exploded in air making little culverts in the dirt. Sawing up the trees is something to do. I've been gradually limbing the tree, but I'll leave that effort until it's a little warmer. Spring is on it's way. This spring I want to engage more with others locally. Our local solutions contribute to the solving of global problems.