Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Hum I'm not very fond of being tagged in blog tag, but I've got to admit that I do enjoy it when others play. I've been tagged and with great trepidation, I'll play along.

The first is a meme started by Natalia Antonova The 8 Homes Game: Where would you have yours, if you were as insanely rich as the McCains?

The full instructions:
Where Would Your 8 Homes Be?

List them. You don’t have to list your reasons, but if you do at least for a few of them, it would be more fun. And remember that the only rule is: the homes must be within the borders of the United States of America or else, within the borders of the country you live in, so as to utterly emulate the McCains. When you’re done, tag 8 people, so that they may join in the self-indulgence, forgetting about the crappy property market and the equivalent of The End of Pompeii on Wall-Street. You could spend your time hammering your doors and windows shut in preparation for the apocalypse instead, but it would be much less fun.
Egads! Thinking rich isn't so easy. I might say "Screw the rich!" but I've never really had much contact. There might rich people I'd like very much, but maybe not to be screwed by them.

My eight houses:
1. Thistlemoor, New Sewickley Pennsylvania
2. Manufacturing Village, Jinja, Uganda
3. Urban neighborhood, Kampala, Uganda
4. Farm in Deschapelles, Haiti
5. Sustainable resort, Goa, India
6. Resort hostel, Da Lat, Vietnam
7. Small house in Iquitos, Peru
8. Small hotel, Elkins, West Virgina

1. If I were rich one of my homes would surely be where I live now. We call it Thistlemoor and Pingting has a nice set of photos of the place. If I were rich I fix the place up a bit, insulation, windows, porch floors and stuff like that. I would also build a small greenhouse and find some way to use the old silo to good effect. But I love where I live very much.

2. Mostly I'd like places where I'd be welcomed more than anything else. If I were rich I would like to make comfortable places for my friends to live too. LOL many of my friends are online friends.

So I would start in Uganda. My friend Nathan lives near Iganga and the city focus is more towards Jinja. Jinja was once the manufacturing center of Uganda. I think what I would build there would be something that supports mixed housing and light manufacturing.

3. I've got several friends in Kampala. Part of the complexity of urban architecture has to do with the way money flows. Often the way money flows determines what gets built in all sorts of crazy ways. I'm sure I could build a nice house in Kampala. What I would like to build is a nice neighborhood to live. If I were rich I would try to build following along the ideas of Christopher Alexander in his book The Production of Houses. I don't want just a house I want a neighborhood where me and my friends can live.

4. Being rich must be really weird. Here's a story of a local rich man, now deseased:
Larry Mellon, who had left his family home in Pittsburgh as a young man to become a rancher in Arizona, became inspired by a 1947 Life magazine article about Albert Schweitzer and his hospital in Gabon, West Africa. Larry began a correspondence with Dr. Schweitzer, and with his encouragement, attended Tulane Medical School where he studied tropical medicine. While visiting Haiti to complete a malaria research project, Larry and Gwen discovered a setting for what would become their lives’ efforts.
I'd build a small sustaining farm near Deschapelles, Haiti.

5. Sustainable resorts are quite possible, I think. Going on long with my idea of connecting my houses with friends on the Internet a couple of resorts come to mind. The first is Goa, India. I'd like a nice resort village near Goa very much.

6. Another beautiful place on Earth is Da Lat, Vietnam.

7. About a year back I started checking out various social networking sites. At Hi5 I've met some really nice folks from Peru. When I thought of Peru before Hi5 I thought of the Andes Mountains. But many of the folks I've met are from the Peruvian Amazon region. I have a hard time deciding between a house in Pucallpa or Iquitos. I bet I'd choose Iquitos, if for no other reason than it's the largest city anywhere that cannot be reached by road.

8. I was born in Western Virginia. There are very many very sacred locations everywhere. But the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia are especially blessed. Along Otter Creek in the Monogahela National Forest is the most sacred ground I've ever walked. In my mind's eye I see a small cabin in the woods. But I suspect I'd like a little in near Elkins, West Virgina.

The next meme is the Seven Things Meme, seven random facts about myself. The rules:
* Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.

* Share 6 / 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.

* Tag 6/ 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.

* Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog
1. I don't like blog tag very much! I'm a wimp when it comes to tagging others--hardly have the courage for it.

2. I like to make paper party hats.

3. I like crystallized ginger very much, have since I was a very small lad.

4. I'm wearing my hair in a pony tail nowadays. So far as I know there's not a photo of me showing it yet. It's the longest my hair has ever been. For years I cut my hair myself about four times a year whether it needed it or not.

5. I have it in mind to write a book on gardening called The Incompetent Gardener.

6. Sometimes my temper gets the better of me. The picture is taken from a page at Resiting Women.
In May 2007 in Knoxville (USA), a ARA (Anti Racist Action) clown block has disturbed a VNN Vanguard Nazi/KKK rally. Maybe the most sublime and funniest, non violent, antiracist and feminist action you have ever read about!
That's how I'd aspire to tame my temper.

7. Of all my crazy ideas one I really would like to put some action to is to organize an I Love You Day Parade. I saw the idea for I Love You Day at the old Omidyar.net site, but haven't been able to locate whose idea it was. Still, it's the greatest idea for a holiday. What better way to celebrate than a parade!

Okay the business part. First the photo and content from Resiting Women is published with a Creative Commons Attribution--Share Alike licence. I tag: Ndelo, Linda, Norbert, Shawn4lia, Grace, Wilfred, and Amanda.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"I Tame Beavers"

Pinting wanted to know more about my raccoon problem, but there really isn't a good story about it. There's a raccoon which has taken up residence in the upstairs of that barn where there's a lot of stuff. The raccoon has made a mess of things and I've been avoiding the problem for a long time. The best suggestion I've seen is to lay out ammonia soaked rags. I've done nothing but ignore the animal. The best thing is the raccoon mostly tries to keep clear of me when I'm up in the barn. I see it but we don't exchange glances. My fear is getting bit on my butt.

The title of this post comes directly from an article from the March 1968 Yankee. An electrical engineer tells in his own words how he's gotten the beavers on his property to eat out of his hand. Beavers fell trees with their sharp teeth to build dams and houses made from logs and mud. Beavers look rather cute, see this photo by krrrista at Flickr. But I'm sure I'd think long and hard before putting food in my hand to entice a beaver to eat--yikes! Raccoons can be very cute, but this photo by nal from maimi at Flickr is precisely why I want to avoid too intimate interactions with the one in the barn.

There's a good selection of Yankee magazines from 1968. That was such a pivotal year in my life. As it's now forty years on, I've been thinking quite a bit about 1968 and the aftermath all year long. One of the ways is to read writing from the sixties. One of the best books I read this year was The Secular City by Harvey Cox. I really enjoyed reading David Hajdu's Lives and times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina entitled Positively 4th Street. I was 13 in 1968, but I still keep wondering what the heck happened because there was such a sense at the time that the times were changing. Of course they were, just not in ways I would have predicted.

Today I was thinking about muddling along and pulled a book off my self, Muddling Toward Frugality: A Blueprint for Survival in the 1980's by Warren Johnson. Clearly that book is not from the sixties, rather it was published in 1979, but goes to my question: What happened? I can find no listings for the book on the various used book sources online, it's just such a period piece I guess nobody thinks to save it. Nonetheless the ideas in the book are still important.

The book was published by Shambhala Publications and I remember being impressed with it in those days. I also remember a friend laughing and saying something like, "Only you would love a book called Muddling Toward Frugality!" Alas I haven't been very good about putting my convictions into actions. Over the last couple of years by way of the Internet I've met Linda Nowakowski. She's in Thailand, but is from my neck of the wood. Just a bit older than me, she also experienced the sense of transformative change that seemed pervasive back in the days and which has been such a subject of fascination for me of late. However, I'm sure Linda never followed my wastrel ways. She's a great student of Buddhist economics, something I'd not heard of until I met her online.

Johnson's preface begins:
If we are to enjoy this planet for a long time, we may as well face the fact that trying to perpetuate the affluent society is going to be an uphill struggle.
An early chapter in the book is "An Ecological View of History." That chapter helped to bring together a more cohesive view of ecology. I was familiar with Hans Zinsser's famous book Rats, Lice and History along with extensions of Rachel Carson's work on pesticides steming from Silent Spring. But I hadn't really put together an ecological view of history that is a widespread idea nowadays, before Muddling. Many have read Jared Diamond's, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. But back at the cusp of the 1980's an ecological view of history was something a specialist would adopt and not so widely understood as it is now.

Linda Nowakowski is busy helping organize The 2nd International conference of the Buddhist Economics Research Platform which will be held at Ubon Ratchathani University, Warin Chamrab, Ubon Ratchathani Thailand Dec. 5-7, 2008. So there's lots of current work for me to acquaint myself with, although the main thing is that I ought to straighten up and start walking my talk better.

Sokari at Black Looks recently linked to an Utne Reader list of 50 Visionaries who are changing your world. It's a cool list, remarkable people all, but in going down the list I was excited to see brownfemipower on it. I do enjoy blogs very much. I can say some unbelievably stupid things sometimes and I know it. The intersection of race and feminism is once place where I might get called out on my foolishness. I've learned to do a lot more listening and less talking in those sorts of places. Being called out is of course a way to learn; the trouble is, while I may be stupid I don't like to cause distress to others. Blundering in is not the best strategy. Learning not to be ignorant and callous towards others are high on my agenda.

I was tickled pink that brownfemipower was on the list. And while I was over there savoring her blog, it's always a time for putting on my thinking cap, what was perhaps a throw away line brought something in focus about myself. She wrote:
it’s working through ideas that i’ve been struggling with for a long time, and it’s doing through my ADD lens rather than my logical make sense lens
"ADD lens," by golly I know that lens! It would behoove me to learn a bit more about my "logical make sense lens," but that will have to wait for another time. Meanwhile if you're looking for some great stuff, I highly recommend checking out Utne visionary, brownfemipower.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Pingting points out that there are some dead links in my posts, in particular the link the link to the African Children's Book Project. That project is something I think very important so I want to make fix it. Actually this link is to a new site which provides more information and a link to the Ethiopia Reads Web site. The efforts to publish more in everyday languages is vitally important.

Yesterday I spent the day gardening with a good friend. She's got her doctorate in psychology. I also hung out with one of her brothers who is a psychiatrist. So my thoughts went all mental.

Something about the old Yankee magazines I've recently dug out is how the Great Depression of the 1930's is never very far out of mind. One story Miss Susan's Bell revolves around a home invasion and burglary of an of a blind elderly school teacher. It's a clever story where Miss Bell outsmarts the burglar, a former student of hers. Here's how the story relates that detail:
Years ago there had been dire poverty in the village--and she had some little money. She gave of her savings then and over the years as she gave of her time, without stint, and a few respected her secret--her minister, the mayor, the town nurse. Yet, because she neither banked nor spent on herself, small town logic knew the cash had to be somewhere.
The Depression was a very pivotal event for my parents, perhaps even more so than WWII, at least the Depression lasted longer and during their school years. About the war, my mother always would recall how her graduating class provided the first officers to be sent to the war and the casualties were very high. So her generation as youths went from depression to terror and sadness.

Clinical depression is clearly different from economic depression, but I think the link is more than just metaphorical.

Right now the "experts" are telling us this current economic crisis is the worst since the Great Depression. On the news last week I saw a report about a businessman whose business was to clear out reposed houses in California so the banks could sell them. It was eerie to see how people left, furnishings, children's toys, even food in the refrigerator. The economic logic of the business meant it all went to a landfill which seemed unreasonable to me. But the big thing I took away from the report was how the people were depressed. There were probably better ways they could have left these houses, but in their mental state it was too hard to think of how, or to muster the energy to do so. Even people ostensibly secure for the moment are on pins and needles because we've got a feeling that a financial house of cards is falling and nobody's prepared.

John Robb offered terse advice yesterday:
A word to the wise: Hoard/hide cash (not in a safety deposit box since those are vulnerable). Cut consumption to the bone. Get ready.
Yikes! Robb's Global Guerrillas is good to read for one take on how to react to this situation from a policy perspective. There's no shortage of opinion on that front but there's still a hurdle among regular folks like me that's something like not wanting to talk about economic depression for fear that will bring it on. It is quite unsettling to hear really smart and knowledgeable people preface their remarks on the economy with: "I hope I'm wrong." The optimistic talk about a major slump and I'll try to be optimistic. It probably would be better if I tried being realistic!

I'm being so glum I have to laugh at myself! Ah, the connection with the visit with my friends. They both interact with people with psychological problems, and depression is not the only way people suffer. But in any case, through different approaches, my friend a therapist, her brother a psychiatrist, they both try to lead people along a path towards healing. So the question in mind was whether what they know about psychology provides clues as to how to proceed out of an economic depression? I'm not so sure about the answer, I'm not even sure whether it's a sensible question to begin with. Nevertheless after the gardening work was done, I enjoyed talking with my friend with that question in mind.

I noticed a book Women Who Run With the Wolves in my friend's bathroom. I was curious to leaf through it to see what stories the author, Clarissa Pinkola Estes had used in her book. After that I questioned my friend about whether she uses stories in her therapeutic work. She says she doesn't, but I think she does. Needless to say, she's the expert and better believed than me. In any case we got to talking about stories and she brought out some fairy cards and we did short readings for each other and talked about those stories. I was quite taken with Niniane, who goes by various names but is the well-known Lady of the Lake.

The African Children's Book Project's first book, Fire on the Mountain was an Ethiopian story told for an American audience and then translated into Amharic. After that book was published they went around to Ethiopian villages wanting to hear stories told around fires. They heard one ancient story of "biblical proportions" unique to the area. That book will be called The Lady and The Lake. There's no direct connection between the Ethiopian story and the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian Legend.

My opinion is that stories help people to respond rather than to simply react. It matters that we tell stories. Part of the charm of the old Yankee magazines is that many of the stories in them recall hardships. Another of the fairy cards we drew, I can't remember her name, centered around the observation that sorrows are like carving a chalice or bowl to hold the joys of life. Whether it's economic depression or clinical depression, a shift in perspectives can assist us towards proceeding in a constructive way. Stories provide an imaginative place for us to engage with alternatives. Perhaps stories are a way for us to begin seeing our way out of our depressions.

Picture credit: Painting by Vincent Van Gogh, On the Threshold of Eternity. Source.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ghost Stories

The story from an August 1969 Yankee this morning was entitled Spirit Capital of the Universe which apparently 100 or so years ago was Chittenden, Vermont. The story is about William & Horatio Eddy. The Wikipedia article gives the gist about the facts in the article, but the "neutral tone" that Wikipedia misses some of the fun of the magazine article. Yankee is a good source for ghost stories and I remember as a boy seeking them out to read. Indeed the illustrations to the article I picked up today seem familiar to me now.

I have no idea what to make of ghosts and find it rather convenient not to be much bothered by them. Over the years my sisters' and brothers' children have come to visit here in the summers. Now most of them are adults. A few years back I heard that while they enjoyed these visits they also often found them terrifying. Then a while back I mentioned this to one of my sisters who in turned wondered why I should be surprised; afterall, "You're the one who told them all those ghost stories." I hadn't the faintest idea what she was talking about and let her know that. She just rolled her eyes. And another time I had the same discussion with my niece. No ghost stories huh? "What about the one... and another one, and another one?" Well, this time there was no denying those were my stories and I had told them after all.

New England surely has no monopoly on ghost stories, but it's no slouch as a region when it comes to them either. I've always been interested in the number of old buildings around that were Spiritualist Churches. And of course New England is quite famous for witches. I couldn't imagine that I'd been the source of so much terror to my darling nieces and nephews growing up. I feel quite sure I hadn't meant to terrify them. But that my now adult niece could recite so easily from memory the the stories I'd told busted my pretences completely. So when the story about Governor Palin and the witch hunting Pastor Muthee made the rounds it was hard for me to get into high dudgeon about it. We all compartmentalize what we think about and it would seem we put ghost stories way back in our mental closets. Sometimes it's a bit embarrassing to get them out and sometimes we worry about the cold water that might get poured over them. But still we hardly ever really discard them; rather store them way back in our mental closets until we might use them once more.

I have no ideas how to connect ghost stories with a couple of links to share, so I won't even try. Emeka Okafor at Timbuktu Chronicles links to a great article about open source hardware in Wired. Phil Jones linked to SomeRightsReserved a site where designers post blueprints for making things. Both of these developments may be on the edge or periphery of things right now, but I strongly suspect they'll make it to the middle before too long.

Okafor makes the point that open source hardware could be a real boon to African manufacturing culture. That's a good point, but also as the reality of job loss begins to settle in here in the rich countries, many smart people are going to be scrambling to make some income. We're accustomed to talking about outsourcing here in the USA, but the discussion of social media and how it might impact our making a living is just beginning. I said a couple of links, but I'll make it three. Susan Mernit posted a great post Susan sez: Social media must haves for the recently laid off. I liked it because while I frequent all sorts of social media online, I'm really quite stupid and haphazard about it. Her straight forward post suggested to me ways I could be smarter about it. That may be wishful thinking on my part,still it's a great primer on the subject.

Naturally there are great differences and distances between people in developed economies and in developing economies. But there are fundamental challenges we all face and new tools and models of work are available to people all over.

Grace Ayaa--oh here's a fourth link--posted a great post from Kampala A little light in the shadows about her visit to learn more about the Kampala Junior Team. I was so moved by the post. First of all because Madam Ayaa does so much on behalf of her fellow Ugandans and I'm so happy to see her blogging to tell her stories. Oh and what a great story teller she is! And secondly the idea I've been mulling about the last few days is how to make some money to help support the Kampala Junior Team. Her post encourages me not to give up on that. I need encouragement and I think others do to. I'm beginning to see how these social Web tools can make a big difference here and abroad. Together we can create something good in small increments.

The Wired article about open source hardware suggests that this sort of distributed effort can actually speed development. But it's going to mean we'll have to rethink a few things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

School Days

I'm still leafing through old Yankee Magazines. This morning with my coffee I read passages from a diary of a schoolteacher from 1912 when Miss Amy C. Jarvis was just 19 and set out from near Boston to Hancock Massachusetts to become schoolma'am.

Just before the article is a small photo essay of New England school houses. The most forlorn of all is the one shown--sorry for the poor quality of the scan. I was surprised to see the schoolhouse was in Kennebunkport, Maine, a place famous for the Bush family's summer compound along with many other opulent estates.

The legendary Yankee thrift stems in part from the difficulty making a living in New England. The winters are long and hard, the soil often poor and sandy and settlements isolated by geography.

When Miss Jarvis arrived at the Pittsfield train station she was met by a Mr. Jones, the driver of a stage. The early entries recall the journey to her lodgings with stops along the way:
So we jolted along, stopping now and then for him to deliver packages and newspapers to people along the route. He is the errand boy and takes his time visiting with each one. No doubt he told them who was his passenger was and where she was going to teach. When we started going through the hills it was nearly dark and quite cold, so he wrapped me in a pungent horse blanket which kept me warm. The houses were miles apart and no lights except those shining faintly from the windows. We met few travelers and it was very still.
Before being taken to her accommodations Mr. Jones stopped the stage at the White's homestead. Mr. White was the president of the school board and they were to take supper with the White family.
Mr. White then spoke of my new position. 'We've had awful bad luck with that school up thar. Five teachers in five years, and they ran the last one out bodily...I had to go and git her back. The kids need ploughin' under. Think ye can do it?' He looked at me skeptically, so I said timidly, 'I can try anyway.'
The "ploughin' under" bit made me laugh because I once tried my hand at teaching and the students got the better of me.

The whole article charmed me. I was impressed with Miss Jarvis's courage and the general good temper of the families she lived and worked among. Her home was near Boston and at the end of the school year did not take up a commission for the next year so she could return closer to home. The students at her schoolhouse attended until they were in ninth grade. In those days children 14 or 15 were expected to begin their working lives at that age. A few of the incidents related in her diary suggested the older boys were chomping at the bit to get on with it.

Those boys reminded me of a story book my New England grandmother sent me for Christmas when I was in third grade, The Grandma Moses Storybook. Although the book is worse for wear, I still have it as a treasured possession. Grandma Moses, Anna Mary Moses was born in 1860 and died at the ripe old age of 101 in 1961. She began painting in her seventies and became an acclaimed American folk artist. The storybook contains poems, stories and speeches which complement the prints of Moses's paintings. As a boy I was fascinated with these stories of olden times.

One of the stories is School Surprise which is excerpted from Laura Engalls Wilder's book Farmer Boy a book depicting a year in the life of Wilder's husband Almanzo's childhood.

Almanzo Wilder's boyhood school apparently suffered some of the awful time the community of Hancock was having keeping teachers.
'The Hardscrabble boys came to school today, Royal tells me.'
'Yes,' Mr. Corse said.
'I hear they're saying they'll throw you out.'
Mr. Corse said, 'I'll guess they'll be trying it.'
Father drank his tea. 'They have driven out two teachers,' he said. 'Last year they hurt Jonas Lane so bad he died of it later.'
'I know,' Mr. Corse said. 'Jonas Lane and I went to school together . He was my friend.'
Suitably for a children's book the showdown between Mr. Corse and the Hardsrabble boys turns in Mr. Corse's favor in a dramatic scene where he pulls out a blacksnake ox whip and gets the better of them. Those olden days were rough and tumble it seems and providing education a struggle.

It's easy sometimes to forget the struggle, but one is constantly reminded of it by communities in the developing world. It's a struggle that's ripe for people all over to join in.

I saw a page yesterday, the African Children's Book Project which really pulled on my heart strings. Piers Elrington, and his good friend in Ethiopia Selam Negussie undertook a project to publish an adaptation of an Ethiopian story by Jane Kurtz called Fire on the Mountain in Amharic, one of the languages broadly spoken in Ethiopia. They contracted an Ethiopian artist to do illustrations and produced a run of 5,000 copies of their book. Most of the run was distributed free to school children, most of them whom had never seen a book written in their own language before.

They want to do more books. I hope they do. But I understand well the dilemma of Piers that what to do next to make more books happen isn't so clear. Here's what he says:
What can you do to help?
At the moment not a lot, but if you are interested to help, pass the details of this blog to everyone you know, give me feed back and ideas, find me a lawyer who knows how to set up a charity who would like to give his/her time for free and keep checking this page for any new information which will be coming slowly over the next few months.
Thanks for coming and reading this far if you did,
I hope to hear from you.
Got some feedback for Piers, then don't tarry, run to his place and leave a comment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sacred Cod Gurgling Jugs and Carbide Cannons

I'm still thinking how to parlay a stack of old Yankee magazines into a cash donation to the Kampala Junior Team. Actually I'm thinking about how to get serious about cash in general, for me and a few other people who are in desperate need of a cash infusion. I'm happy a friend from Kampala chimed in on the comments to say the Yankee Magazine idea is not half baked.

Leafing through the old magazines some of the ads stand out. One of them for "sacred cod gurgling jugs" and another for "old fashioned carbide cannons" made me think that you probably don't see them around anymore. Searching on the Internet, I find I'm wrong. Shreve, Crump & Low the company offering the cod jugs is still in business. In fact Shreve, Crump & Low is apparently the oldest jeweler in North America. And they still offer the jugs for sale in a variety of sizes and glazes. Hard to pick my favorite, but the pink one pictured is a limited edition with part of the proceeds from the sales going to Breast Cancer Services, Sagoff Breast Center at Faulkner Hospital. So if I were in the market for a sacred cod gurgling jug, I feel sure I'd buy the pink one.

The ad for the cannon made me laugh because what's considered an appropriate toy for children has changed over the last forty years or so. I don't remember ever begging for such a cannon as a boy, but I'm sure it would have attracted me. The ad says: Sounds like Dynamite! Brilliant Flash! It also says: Completely Safe, no matches or gunpowder used. That last bit is what I'd have emphasised were I to have pitched the toy to my folks, although I probably wouldn't have bothered as even back then they wouldn't have bought it for me. My mother did buy me a lead soldier making kit when I was only eight or so. Imagine nowadays parents thinking playing with molten lead was child's play. That surely was one of my favorite toys and I remember at least two years after first receiving the gift an excursion to purchase more lead. What we found was lead ingots at a plumbing company. The problem was that it was tedious cutting the lead with a cold chisel and hammer into small enough bits to melt in the little smelting pot.

I can't find any listings online for the company advertising the cannons in 1968, nevertheless the cannons are still available. The 60MM cannon at that site seems exactly like the one pictured in the 1968 ad for $4.95. Today's price is $69.95.

Part of the charm of the old magazines are the wonderful photographs. I'm particularly enchanted by pictures of ordinary Yankees. It's been a long time, but I read a wonderful book Another Way of Telling which was a collaboration of Swiss photographer Jean Mohr and art theorist John Berger.
There are no photographs which can be denied. All photographs have the status of fact. What is to be examined is in what way photography can and cannot give meaning to facts.
I wish now I'd not given the book away because with exposure to so many images now by way of the Internet it is more important than ever to consider how I make meaning from them.

Alex de Waal addresses the issue of making meaning from photographs in a recent essay What Matters. The same day of de Waal's essay November's Harpers arrived in the mail with an article about de Waal along with a photo essay from the Sudan by Lynsey Addario.

Reporter and photojournalist Glenna Gordon has an important post up at her blog Uganda Scarlet Lion entitled Celebrity Photographers in Congo: Kivus are THE Place To Be!. I'm afraid I often don't understand things quite right, but what I take from Gordon's post is the need for sustained attention. She cautions against drive-by observations and quick glances at realities more nuanced and complicated than we imagine. Gordon does engage. Here's a link to a recent report of hers at IRIN she mentions in her post. I commend Gordon for blogging as well, a blog that allows comment. Journalists who also blog is a new development and one which offers the possibility for deeper understandings both for journalists and readers alike.

Barack Obama's grandmother is ailing. Later this week Obama will break off campaigning for a couple of days to visit her. This morning Ta-Nehisi Coates posted about this development, a post inspired in part by a photograph of Obama's grandparents as young adults. It's a moving piece. Coates writes: I
was looking at this picture of Obama's grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what.
Looking for family resemblances is one of my favorite things. My family is spread out across the land and I don't often my nieces and nephews and grand nieces and grand nephews. Photographs are a way in which I connect myself to them. In the photos of the youngest ones my memories of their parents are recalled.

BAGnews Notes is a blog "dedicated to visual politics, the analysis of news images and the support of 'concerned' photojournalism." Yesterday BAGnews posted a newswire picture from earlier in the summer of Obama casting a lei into the ocean from the site where his mother's ashes were scattered. Both Coates' piece and the post at BAGnews use photographs to help form meanings about Barack Obama. Such photographs are part of a mosaic. The photographs fact in and of themselves, but the meanings are in their place in context and to place them in context require a sort of dialog.

Photographs bring much to our understanding, but there is work we must do to enable them to do so. The meaning must be examined and blogs provide one way that together people can engage in this work.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Old Magazines

I'm one for half baked ideas, but never have been one for patience in baking them. I think that the Internet is so cool in the way that it's a medium for dialog. With the Internet I can open my mouth and let half baked ideas escape. But I still don't seem much good at baking them.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I've been exploring the possibilities for regular people to make one, two or three others significant in our lives (for example here). One way to tackle really big problems like famine is to enter into dialog with those at risk of famine and together learn and invent ways to prevent it. My experiments in trying to follow through shows there are lots of pitfalls to this approach, or perhaps more accurately I'm just not very good at it. At any rate when it comes to money, I don't have much.

Money is useful. An online friend has been active in trying to find ways to support The Kampala Junior Team and has set up an blog for international supporters. There have been lots of individual supporters and it's interesting to see what people have done. Generally it seems most people eager to support are ones with little money to spare, so creativity reigns supreme. Indeed people have different strengths and connections and have managed to do some great things for the team.

An idea for what I could do popped into my head. More accurately I made a connection between a box of old magazines I'd seen in the barn and the importance of money for the KJT. The magazines are old Yankee Magazines. My parents were both New Englanders and I remember well the Yankee's arriving in the mail when whe lived in South Carolina. I also remember on trips to visit kin in New Hampshire passing the offices of Yankee. I don't know of another magazine quite like Yankee and haven't really looked at one since I was a kid. I checked on eBay and discovered there are some old editions for sale. And at the interactive Yankee Web site discovered that there are collectors of old issues.

I didn't know how many issues were actually in the box, and in fact had to locate the box in the first place--which turned into a story of its own involving a live raccoon. I was a bit disappointed to discover only 31 issues from the late 1960's and 1970. Still if I could sell all of them for $10 a piece that would be a nice contribution to the Kampala Junior Team. They are eagerly seeking sponsors for school fees as many of the children are orphans.

Part of the problem of baking this scheme is I don't really know how to sell stuff. But one of the upsides was thinking how interesting the contents of the old magazines is--at least interesting to me. For example the picture on the cover of the October 1968 issue shown here is a water color by beaTrix Sagendorph. Robb Sagendorph founded the magazine in 1935, Beatrix was an artist and provided art direction for the magazine for many years. Visually, there's lots of beautiful and fascinating stuff to talk about in those old magazines. In the same issue is an article by John Gould, "The quintessential Downeast storyteller". Some of the stories are just great. The art, the ads, the wonderful and fantastic stories, all make me think how fun it might be to share snippets of the old Yankees in a blog.

Ah, but connecting any sort of money making seems to escape me when it comes to blogs. A while back I had the idea of paper party hats as a useful fund raising activity and blogged about them in Hats for Health. I haven't posted there for over a year, but in the year I posted I raised a grand total of $15. Clearly if I attempt to raise money somehow using these old Yankee Magazines I've got to have a better plan for it than I did for those paper party hats.

Most people realise that our fates are intertwined with those of everyone else. But it's a real challenge to figure out what we can do to about the oppressive conditions so many people in the world face. My half baked ideas seem silly , even to me. But there is an earnestness behind them. I want very much to share with others and for others to share along. That's the only way we'll find ways to invent ourselves out of the mess we're in.

That reminds me of a song. Maybe you've heard None of Us Are Free? I first heard the song on Ray Charles' My World album. Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews--a great resource about records--says the song was original material for that record. The song credits belong to Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Brenda Russell. That's quite a trio, but I've got no information on the background to the collaboration. Nonetheless the song is really great and has been covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Solomon Burke among others. This video of Burke's performance is a favorite. The chorus goes:
That none of us are free

None of us are free

None of us are free if one of us is chained

None of us are free
All the lyrics are worth reading, but I want to point to one more line:
And if we don't say it's wrong then that says it's right

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blessed are the poor

A deadline seem to cause writer's block. I'm not sure what to say about poverty. But, lately I've been thinking about Christianity quite a lot, especially in the context of the elections coming here in early November.

It's really hard to believe something when the evidence you see strongly suggests what you're trying to believe isn't so. As a young man, a freshman in college, a whole list of Christian beliefs seemed hard to believe as hard as I was trying to. I guess that's what is called "a crisis of faith." It really is hard to force yourself to believe, so I just sort of accepted the situation: I really didn't believe.

But I encountered a more prosaic problem then: What should I call myself? I've tried the various names: non-believer, agnostic, atheist, etc, and none really seemed to fit the bill. Something I've discovered about myself, and perhaps Christianity, is that beliefs are only a part of the puzzle. It's easy to recognize those beliefs I don't really hold, but then there is also a way a thinking. People negotiate their way using systems of metaphors. We aren't generally aware of our metaphors and how they shape our view of the world, they are largely unconscious. People can become aware of these sets of metaphors in various ways, including discovering others who operate with different sets of metaphors. The more I've looked at how I think, the more I've discovered that many of the metaphors I use to think are keyed to Christianity.

It really does make a difference what we believe, but that's just part of it. So in some ways I'm not a Christian, but in others I am a Christian. In Germany before WWII there were many secular Jews. Many probably had come to discover, a set of beliefs that didn't fit, and yet were still Jewish. It's even more complicated than that. Metaphors are approximate, so there are contradictions in the sets of metaphors we use. We sometimes try to resolve these contradictions, but we are clever. F. Scott Fitzgerald said:
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time being, and still retain the ability to function."
Most of us pass the test.

Poverty is the condition of being poor. Once upon a time the politics of the day waged a "war on poverty." There's a metaphor embedded there, do you see it? The war was not supposed to be against poor people. Indeed, the intent was to make fewer people poor, and the lives of poor people more bearable. Americans got tired of that war for one reason or another. Today the attention has turned to a "war on terror." With this war it's not so clear that it isn't waged against terrorist. Really I think we as a people weren't so sure about who to be against in the war on poverty either. There's something comfortable in oppressing poor people; oppressing poor people is almost tantamount to the definition of poor.

Jesus, it seems had a thing for the poor, famously pronouncing them blessed. I don't have a 401K-- a vehicle for encouraging retirement investments. Some of my friends do and lately they've seen the value of the equities they own plummet along with the value of real estate. The financial crisis is so bad that most people comprehend that it will be years before things get better and they'll probably get worse before they do. People aren't happy about this. Who wants to be poor? A friend of mine was told that she ought to be happy she's poor because he has just lost over half of his net worth in the stock collapse. I think Jesus was getting at something a wee bit different than that. Still, it does seem odd to declare the poor are blessed.

There's all sorts of evidence that plenty of Americans are taking the tried and true response to the present financial crisis and making the poor the scapegoats for it. The cause of all the trouble, we reason, was too many poor people getting loans. Poor people have ruined it for all of us. I'm hearing this and read views of this sort, often with a racist undertone, and it just gets my goat. Why aren't we talking about a 54.6 trillion dollar market in privately traded derivatives? Talking about that, it seems to me will get us further along in figuring out what's gone wrong and what to do about it than blaming poor people. Poor people clearly haven't been players in credit default swaps!

It's not just Jesus, the Bible speaks about the poor throughout. The message seems clear: the poor are part of our communities and rather than to distance ourselves from them we are to extend ourselves to the poor. That's a practical message, but one that too often gets lost when we think in terms of military metaphors. Poor and poverty aren't the same, but there is no poverty without poor people. Our focus ought to be on people and how we add them to the wealth of our community. At least that's how I understand the meaning of "Blessed are the poor." We all can be happy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Blog Action Day is October 15th. I'm not sure I'll write, anticipating punking out the last time there was one of these group blog things. Still, I think these group efforts are very worthwhile. The sign-up is relatively painless, although the form has a couple of impertinent questions like: How many readers? Eek, I'm not sure why I freak out over the idea there may actually be readers. I did check the blog stats and as it turns out there are a few readers, but I'm no closer to putting a number to it. The main point of asking the question is, I think, to show the influence that bloggers combined may have. The good thing about signing up is you'll get a script to put with your blog post so it will make discovery easier for readers when Blog Action Day comes around.

Poverty is a broad and difficult topic. So I thought I better warm up.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Green Pumpkin Seeds

Avoiding work is the story of my life. I've always got things in mind I want to say on the blog, usually lots of them. So I try to imagine some way to join together all sorts of disjointed thoughts. That's hardly a good plan for blog posts, except of course not finding a unifying theme is as good an excuse as any not to post. Thus I avoid work and effort once again.

An easy theme for today is stuff I like. I've got about a half hour before I've got to make supper so I'll see how much I can cram in. I like tons of stuff.

I like green pumpkin seeds. I got seeds for these pumpkins through my favorite seed catalog J.L. Husdson Seedsman. I don't see Austrian pumpkins listed this year, maybe next. In any case I was anxious to make sure I saved a few seeds for next year. The seeds look so great that I took a picture, but the picture doesn't quite capture what a lovely shade of green they actually are. Unlike other pumpkins the seeds have a soft outer covering so you can eat them out of hand. The oil expressed from green pumpkin seeds is famous as a folklore remedy and there's no doubt its a healthful oil. My friend Nathan in Iganga Uganda and I have talked over the years about seed oil presses after the great organization Kickstart came out with their cooking oil press. I told Nathan I'd made pumpkin soup yesterday and told him about green seeded pumpkins. He says they already grow them in Uganda. I'm happy about that because I like green seeded pumpkins very much.

I like Daisy's Dead Air. Daisy is a great writer and very courageous. There are so many reasons I like reading the blog and lots of the reasons seem convoluted and peculiar to me. When I try to lump them all together into some sort of unifying theme, that Daisy is builds coalitions, or at least see that coalitions might be made, between people you wouldn't on the face expect. She also manages to suggest consilience among ideas that are more usually viewed as apart. I especially like that Daisy leaves comments on my blog.

A couple of comments that she's left recently got me thinking and then avoiding the effort to respond. Here's a comment I liked:
"What's wrong with fairies? I LOVE fairies!"
Yep, I love fairies, and not just the human sort. I find it embarrassing that I've got a category in my mind of fairies, that's related to but not exclusive to the category of mythological beings. I grow Elecampane precisely because it's reputed that fairies live under them. It's probably the case I'd have a heart attack if I were ever to see a fairy, which is strange because my feelings towards fairies is that I like them.

I really like that Daisy read through my meanderings around religion in American politics I wrote recently. Obviously I was searching for something I never have found in those pieces. I'm not a believer in a sort of technical sense in Christian theology. But it's pretty hard to live in the USA and be an American without engaging with Christianity in one way or another. I really like much of my engagement too. Certainly not limited to the business of some of my best friends being Christian either. Daisy is a Christian, a Roman Catholic. Oh, so many things I like. I particularly liked Daisy's comment to this post. What we know simply isn't enough to tell of what we know. I like and agree with her point that reason alone is not enough. I especially like it because I know that reason is extraordinarily important to Daisy. She's got a sharp mind and knows how to use it.

Cripes! I've got to make supper, so I'll come back because I really want to talk about Daisy's most recent comment. Mmm, I like supper.

In my last post I was ruminating on among other things was a quotation, attributed to Hannah Arendt, but also most certainly mis-attributed to her: "Politics is is the application of love for the world." I like that whoever first said it, at least I think I do. I wonder if it matters, as far as liking it who first said it? Let me paste a bit of Daisy's comment, but of course it's worth reading the whole thing:
Feminism reminds us always: the personal is political. Where did these folks LEARN about love? I think Baldwin was speaking as one who was brought up in the Church, as well as an entrenched member of the OLD SCHOOL New York City gay community, which at that time was very protective and took care of each other. On the flip side, we have Hannah Arendt, a brilliant Jewish student, taught about politics by the famous nazi philosopher (Martin Heidegger) who seduced her as a student. Of course she excluded love and hate from everything, or she might lose her mind thinking about WHAT SHE HAD DONE. Better to make it all very high-minded, theoretical and emotionally-removed.

First a couple of links about "the personal is political." The expression is attributed to Carol Hanish and there is a recent new introduction to the 1969 piece as well as the writing itself here. Also Hanish's 1978 songbook Fight On Sisters: and Other Songs for Liberation is online thanks to Duke University Library. From strictly a personal view, the struggle for women's liberation in Gainesville Florida of which Hanish was so influential has touched my life in a positive way. Ah love is strange. And that on a surface level is a point Daisy makes about Arendt.

I easily get bogged down in philosophy. The trouble with philosophers is they all sound so smart when you're reading them. Working out the contradictions and oppositions requires too much work that I'm wont to avoid. Daisy's psychological insight about Hannah Arendt and her affair with Martin Heidegger has a ring of truth to it. I suspect that Arendt's insistence on the separation of the personal and political is a bit more nuanced than that. Certainly Arendt's political theorizing owes much to Heidegger's philosophy.

Among the many scholars and schools of thought which in some ways rest on Heidegger's philosophy Heidegger's Nazism has been a rather essential problem. In my layman's view of it the problem might be phrased: Does Heidegger's philosophy lead to totalitarianism? I'm not the one to attempt to answer that question. But Daisy suggests that Arendt's coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem as a reporter for The New Yorker magazine was perhaps motivated by a desire of Arendt to settle scores with Heidegger. That doesn't really ring true to me.

Perhaps Arendt's two most important books: The Origins Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958) were published prior to her reportage of the Eichmann trial and On Revolution was published in that same year 1961. I'm a guy and therefore probably insensitive about such things by definition, but I really don't get the sense that Arendt was particularly traumatised by having an affair with Heidegger. From what little I know it seems their relationship after the war was collegial, albeit with Arendt's knowledge that Heidegger was an asshole on a number of levels.

There is so much I like. I don't know how to talk about love and yet love seems most important to me. I do say: "I love" but always in saying that I hesitate. I hesitate because while I'm intensely concerned about what I'm loving, my loving seem little in relationship to love. I feel happy when others are loving even when I'm not aware of it, with every expression and experiencing of loving there is more love. I say the more love the better! Love is particular and precise but unbounded. Love is both laughter and tears, so fragile but can change everything. I don't know how to talk about love, and for that reason the confidence with which Arendt says: "In politics, love is a stranger" doesn't really make sense to me.

I like bell hooks.

Monday, October 06, 2008

What will happen to all that beauty then?

The picture is taken from a screen capture of a video clip of James Baldwin at YouTube.

There are lots of pejorative terms used by Americans to divide us. A good number of them refer to the people of the Appalachian Mountains. I'm a child of this region. There's quite a bit of nuance and history to some of these terms like: hick, cracker, and redneck. And much of that history involves the Scots-Irish settlement of the southern parts of Appalachia. The various strains of Protestant Christianity born abroad and raised in America are so numerous that the distinctions get blurred in mind. The short version is my heritage is not Scots-Irish, but tangled in a web of common history; enough so that I am called the names.

My sense is that Americans in general are considered stupid by people all over the world. So that Americans have so many ways of calling one another stupid, and that so many stick to me, must mean I'm really, really unsophisticated!

It's a very good thing for people to connect across cultures using the Internet. I have several online friendships with people in Uganda. Mostly we chat using instant messaging. The other day my friend M pointed to an op-ed by Ali Muzuri in Kampala's Daily Monitor, Black Atlantic and a post racial society. M and I talk a lot about politics, and I use M for his name because many of his views aren't particularly popular, or even safe to hold, in Uganda. M is an atheist and humanist. M is also a Baganda and tribalism is something we've talked about over the years. So in our conversation about Mazuri's essay M stated that he felt it important that Africans drive tribalism out of their hearts. My response was that I think that unlikely and am not sure it would be desirable even if possible.

That's the gist of it. How strange a country bumpkin, hick, redneck American like me to be opining on such a topic. But then again, I don't find it strange when M comments about American politics and letters. It's precisely such dangerous and difficult topics that make our dialog important.

After M and I talked I went on to read an essay by Colm Toibin in The New York Review of Books, James Baldwin & Barack Obama. I'm in my fifties so James Baldwin is a famous person to me. I'm not so sure that's true for many younger Americans. I asked M if he knew of Baldwin. He did know the name, and knew that Baldwin was gay, but hadn't read anything by Baldwin. As a Ugandan, it's rather difficult to imagine how M might grasp Baldwin's importance. That said both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. have legacies of great interest to some of my African friends including M. I'll send some links of some of Baldwin's writing to read. I wonder if it's too much water under the bridge by now that Baldwin's words might resonate in M?

Colm Toibin, an Irish intellectual and writer recongnized something essentially American in the similarities between Obama and Baldwin. Toibin ends his essay:
Both men set about establishing their authority by exploring themselves and how they came to make it up as they went along, as much as by exploring the world around them. In Obama's own mixed background and complex heritage he saw America; out of his own success, he saw hope and a new set of values. Out of his own childhood Baldwin produced a number of enduring literary masterpieces and out of his efforts to make sense of his own complex, playful personality and his own unique place in history he produced some of the best essays written in the twentieth century. Reading these essays and Obama's speeches, especially the ones that are high on inspiration and short on policy, one is struck by the connection between them, two men remaking the world against all the odds in their own likeness, not afraid to ask, when faced with the future of America as represented by its children, using Baldwin's wonderful phrase, questions that are alien to most politicians: "What will happen to all that beauty?"
Baldwin's question hung in my mind, especially thinking back to my conversation with M. Sometimes when M and I have talked about clans and the Buganda Kingdom I sense pleasure in his words about them. A happiness that an American would want to hear and learn, also, I think, pleasure in the apprehension of some beauty there. And so I was thinking about M's comment that tribalism needed to be "driven out of our hearts."

Searching online I found a page at HannahArendt.net, The Meaning of Love in Politics: A Letter by Hannah Arendt to James Baldwin. Arendt's letter to Baldwin was prompted by The New Yorker publishing a piece by Baldwin called Letter from a Region of My Mind in November of 1962. In 1963 that essay as well as an essay My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One-Hundredth Anniversary of The Emancipation were published together with an introductory chapter in the book The Fire Next Time.

Arendt took issue with Baldwin's faith that love between people could help America prevent a conflagration rooted in racial injustice and vengeance. Arendt wrote:
What frightened me in your essay was the gospel of love which you begin to preach at the end. In politics, love is a stranger, and when it intrudes upon it nothing is being achieved except hypocrisy. All the characteristics you stress in the Negro people: their beauty, their capacity for joy, their warmth, and their humanity, are well-known characteristics of all oppressed people. They grow out of suffering and they are the proudest possession of all pariahs. Unfortunately, they have never survived the hour of liberation by even five minutes. Hatred and love belong together, and they are both destructive; you can afford them only in the private and, as a people, only so long as you are not free.
Arendt's letter to Baldwin was posted at HannahArendt.net in regards a sentence in a speech given by former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau which Rau attributed to Arendt: "Politics is is the application of love for the world" which had been mentioned in a previous document posted at the site. The letter to Baldwin was to show that the sentence really didn't seem to fit with Arendt's views. M is in his late twenties. Just as I can't expect him to understand the sorts of names other Americans call me, I don't really understand his outsider status in Kampala as a poor kid from the country. But the sting of presumption and name calling I can at least relate to. There's a gap between M and me that for many reasons we both find building a bridge across worthwhile. In the USA there's a gap between generations, I suppose that's true everywhere. For the life of me I don't understand why so many of my generation think the young people today are apathetic. Perhaps one reason my generation thinks so is too many hardly read anything online at all (note the weasel words). As I was writing I got a telephone call from the Obama for President office. I've been there and talked in person to the young woman on the other end of the phone. There's a generation gap, but I could hardly ascribe to her or the other young people in the campaign office apathy. If anything, it's I who's apathetic.

The quotation President Rau attributed to Arendt seemed memorable, so I searched for it. And the search came up blank. The best match came from a blog post by Matt Birkhold, Politics, Love, and a Radical Revolution in Values at the YP4 Blog (that's Young People for). My friend M holds close an idea of cosmopolitanism. In his views I see something akin to Arendt's desire to exclude love and hate from the political sphere. In part this exclusion seems necessary to allow individual freedom in the private sphere. I'm not sure, I'll have to talk with M some more before expounding on what he thinks. But the whole conversation and serendipitous reading does make me look more carefully to see what I think. It's clear to me now that I do earnestly believe that love must be brought to bear upon political problems. Arendt's objection: "In politics, love is a stranger" cautions me to look deeper at my presuppositions.

Colm Toibin sees many similarities between Baldwin and Obama. But he also draws a distinction:
Whereas Baldwin sought to make distinctions, Obama always wants to make connections; his urge is to close circles even when they don't need to be closed or the closure is too neat to be fully trusted. Whereas Baldwin longed to disturb the peace, create untidy truths, Obama was slowly becoming a politician.
It seems that Obama's making connection is "a feature not a bug." Many, of course, do see his tendency as a flaw; if not outright hypocrisy, at least opening himself to the accusation of it. Online there's a effort to enlist Bold Progressives to hold an Obama presidency and a Democratic-led Congress to a progressive platform. I'm rather wimpy, and hesitant about signing pledges of any kind. But I see the point. Obama's capacity to make connections is essential, but such connections need the tempering of the those who like Toibin says of Baldwin who are ready to "disturb the peace" and "create untidy truths." Love, if it is to play any part in politics must be true.

Update: changed a confusing sentence.