Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I started a new blog called Incompetent Gardener. That I illustrated a post on gardening with a picture of a Cuban taxi is a pretty good indication that I make as little sense there as I do here. You are most welcome to visit that blog or not. One way or another I hope you'll grow something this year; it's a good thing to do.

The wonderful blogger Phil Jones graciously has me on his blogroll at his Composing blog. A neat feature of his blogroll is that it allows thumbnails of pictures from the blogs. I thought of that when I posted that Wanker picture in my last post. At least this post will get that picture off his page.

Most importantly I wish all the visitors who come here on occasion a very Happy New Year! May you take joy in 2009. I am most grateful to you all.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Toss Pot Wanker

The image is a T-shirt design available at Fuctup, an online retailer in the UK.

On a thread I was participating the other day concerning Obama House Parties, a commentator queried:
just a thought guys... have you ever considered you might all just be a bunch of middle aged old toss pot wankers who just talk a lot about the "issues"...
Okay deliberately didn't post a link, questions like that are ripe for piling on. One of the responses seemed to take offense at the "old" bit. I suspect that's because he'd never heard "toss pot" directed at him. I hadn't either, so consulted the Urban Dictionary an invaluable online reference site. Hum, it seems "toss pot" essentially means "wanker," so added as an intensifier.

I didn't respond to the comment on the thread. If I would, I suppose it would follow along the lines of: "What's wrong with wanking?" Heavens knows I've seen plenty of similar comments more or less directed at me, so it seems worth my while to come up with some sort of come back. I never seem to manage one. Here's my problem: On one horn I am really jazzed about commons-based peer production. On the other horn, I sure do a lot of talking--writing--and other than that it's hard to point to doing much else.

The Urban Dictionary is a good example of what can be done by peer production. It's remarkably complete and accurate all from the distributed gifts of content from many users of the resource. Consider a single entry for the word jagoff. I strongly associate the word with my locale and its charming local dialect. The definitions note the geographic use of the term, but also suggest alternate entomologies and word histories. One of the subtleties of the term's meaning is not just a jerk, but a mean jerk.

When President Bush visited Pittsburgh on Labor Day 2002, I went to greet him. At the time I thought that with enough public outcry, the nation might avoid another Iraq War. One of the signs I took, with wording specially crafted by a friend read:
Hey Bush
We Scoff
After a full afternoon behind a tall fence and police cordon, one of those infamous "Free Speech Zones," it became pretty clear from insults hurled from the other side of the fence that my high hope for avoiding war were rather too lofty. And I wonder now just who was the bigger jagoff that day? Yep, I've still got the sign to prove it.

It's too easy to be a mean jerk on the Internet. Lisa Derrick is cool. I mean I really like what she says on her blog most of the time; I don't really know her. Friday night she did a piece about the One Laptop Per Child. She wrote:
They'd like folks to donate to provide kids everywhere with a computer. Which is real nice, except potable water, food and vaccines are a more pressing concern for kids in under-developed and developing nations.
The "real nice" part got under my skin. I've read and written a lot about the One Laptop Per Child effort over the last couple of years. I think it's a project that deserves more careful attention. So I left a comment, and suggested Derrick was self-righteous. I could search the Urban Dictionary for just the right word to fit my asshatiness, but I'll go with jagoff because it's local.

After my impertinent comment at La Figa--Derrick's blog--I headed over to Daisy's Dead Air, one of my favorite reads. Daisy had just posted Part 1 of a two part post Feminists on High Horses. Two problems with the comment I left there: 1) too long and 2) my asshatitude.

There must have been something wrong with me that night. I've done far worse. The remarkable thing about publishing on the Internet is stuff you put up sticks around, maybe forever. If I ever feel too full of myself I know just were to find evidence of me being a jagoff online--sorry no links. In part 2 Daisy picks up on the subject of people being accountable. I'm so math challenged that "accountable" isn't one of my favorite words, but I agree with what she says. When we're out there online, we're accountable in more ways than people of my age, i.e. people who for most of their lives there was no Internet, tend to anticipate.

There's a lot going on in Daisy's post, but there's a part in it I want to bring up. Daisy is working class. When she was younger she was part of "very rigorous political collective." It turned out that the collective was dominated by rich kids. During one of their meetings she asked: "[W]asn't it impossible for rich kids to have the proper class consciousness?" For that she was thrown out. Going out on a limb here, I'll suggest that Daisy feels some resentment about it. She's quite dispassionate in making the point that it's not so strange really that the children of the rulers of the world would presume to be rulers in every setting they find themselves in.

I don't know if Daisy would call it resentment. Over all, especially Part 1 is a bit scathing. But her language about the double bind that the rich kids' presumptions present is quite cool. Because wealth is a factor in the issue which provoked the post in the first place, it seems to me she's tried to lay out this aspect of the discussion in a calm and rational way. But, you know, it feels really bad to be put down like that and the feelings really matter.

I'm a white middle-aged white guy, even if I consider myself poor, I've got privilege that I take for granted. Over the last few years I've tried to collaborate with a couple of friends in Uganda. This is an important part of my life, but a part I find surprisingly hard to tell about.

This afternoon I was chatting with one of my Ugandan friends online. I'd written an email to him, which after I sent it worried some of my privileged presumption was showing. The good thing is we've been corresponding for years, and have developed strong regard for one another, so I didn't worry too much. What he told me in our conversation really moved me, but it's hard to relate because it's got to the feelings part of the double binds created by unconscious privilege.

He talked about how years ago he worked as an organizer in Kenya. He said people really listened to him there. A big part of the willingness to listen to him came from his being from a different place. Then he talked about hearing tributes to Christina Jordan of Life in Africa and that part of that respect came from something like what he'd experienced in Kenya; she wasn't from there. It's hard to relate a conversation, but the meaning I felt from what he wrote was how discouraging it feels when you are poor and put down over an over in little things everyday. My friend is courageous, but told me he felt fear. The fear comes from being told in so many ways you're no good. And his point was how hard it is to organize among people who feel the same way.

I've read lots of what Christina Jordan has put up online over the years, and participated in online social networks she's participated in too. She has been enormously transparent in all she's done. My friend has heard me mention Christina, but doesn't have the same experience of knowing what she's written over time. I hope he comes to see that the Ugandans who are running Life in Africa are confident and competent. Nevertheless, the point my friend was making about the sort of paralysis poverty causes in people is something not lost on those who've worked long and hard with Life in Africa. Getting over the hurdle of people thinking they have nothing to offer is tough.

Sometimes I despair that my online collaboration with my Ugandan friends has yielded not much. I can't dismiss it because, if nothing else, there are genuine bonds of affection. Still there's precious little tangible to show for it.

I turned 53 on the winter solstice. I think Daisy is younger than I am, but I've seen her use the word "old" to describe herself. I prefer the word "experienced." I know Daisy is experienced. Over the past year of reading her posts, I see she's adept at naming her fears and thereby conquering them. I felt my friend was taking a big step in revealing to me the fear he sometimes feels. We all know about fears, it's part of being human. Unfortunately it's probably also a part of being human to exploit the knowledge that we've all got fears. Some people are masters at it and most of us clumsy and unthinking at one time or another.

All of us can create something good. Every one of us has something important to give. What any one of us has may be small, but taken together it's a large amount.

Too many of us live lives in dire need of the essentials. Buckminster Fuller liked to say we live on Spaceship Earth. We've got to find ways for every person here to have enough while recognizing the confines of our little blue planet. Fuller demonstrated doing more with less in so many different ways. Designing ways to create value, to provide us with what we need, by doing more with less is one way. And it's an approach that fits nicely with a confidence in the creative capacity of everyone. But the most popular way of looking at needs in a limited world, one Spaceship Earth, is to imagine that it's fundamentally a problem of distribution. At least here in the USA the plan follows: making yours so the other are left without. There are so many reasons to think that the zero-sums strategy of taking yours before everyone else gets theirs ultimately leaves everyone the loser, but that's a whole other post.

For the purposes of this post I'll just say the zero sum game feels bad. Of course people feel all sorts of ways, so many ways that our feelings often seem unruly. What makes World Wide Web so engaging is we're reading and writing, both consuming content created by others, and making content of our own available. It's pretty hard not to have feelings or not to let our feelings show. A thick skin helps to negotiate around the world, especially around the online world. Ultimately I suspect a compassionate heart is better. Far from getting in our way, feelings can guide the way. It's better if "we give a fig" as Lisa Derrick suggests.

You remember Lisa Derrick? She's the blogger I accused of acting self righteously in re her opinions about One Laptop Per Child. Did you click any of the links to the Urban Dictionary? Maybe you've been there before, or already know our language is rich in words to ridicule. It seems pretty clear the Internet is speeding up the creation of new words to ridicule others. We're making our feelings known online and perhaps that's not so bad. Maybe the engagement with others can help us develop a more evolved emotional intelligence. Maybe we'll learn that our happiness isn't something we can take from others for ourselves, but rather something we can have only by creating it with others.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Photographs on the Internet

That's Alex the cat. She lives with us and often sits on my lap while I'm surfing the Internet. I adore Alex. I've never had a cat that would hug and nudge me so. If that weren't enough she's made my father adore her too. That he's got her to worry over and love makes me love her all the more.

There's another cat here whose name is Barney. Barney is a wonderful companion cat, and I love him for somewhat different reasons. He's got a great work ethic and is gregarious. He's a buddy, but surprisingly shy; where Alex will look at me with her big eyes and let me look back, not so much for Barney.

One of the reasons I've got a photo of Alex is that despite her affectionate nature, she's always sure to make herself unavailable when people come to visit. Many have heard tell of Alex, but few have actually seen her. Right now she's laying a little distance from me and giving me a look that says: "You're up to something, and I'm not sure I approve." I really am not sure she'd approve of my posting a photograph of her, because she takes such effort to protect her anonymity.

Phil Jones posted a link to a talk by Kevin Kelley, Predicting the next 5000 days of the Web along with an essay Phil had written a while back. Kelley observes, from the perspective of one who was paying attention right at the beginning of the Web, that what's emerged in the first 5,000 days is really surprising. And he notes we're not surprised by it. It's become all so second nature to us. But he offers that if past is precedent our predictions about what the Web will look in the next 5,000 days probably won't be what we think.

My last post was seen by some as an argument for the legalization of marijuana. I really didn't intend to make that argument, mostly I was surprised that a respected intellectual like Juan Cole was making the argument and pointed to that. Then using the subject of hemp to jump off into a little talk about natural fibers. The deal with the Internet is all these links. Links to me linked back to my last post which was considered inappropriate for young audiences. Quite honestly, the last thing I want to do is lead. I most certainly do not want to lead young people astray. So it was no problem to remove my little icon that I was following a particular blog, so to make it less likely young people would see this blog. But it did get me to thinking about young people on the Web today.

First of all it seems to me the fears were a bit overwrought because even if a young person were to stumble upon this blog, my tendency to prattle on pretty much assures their visit will be quick. Secondly, kids involve themselves differently from people like me whose life experience is overwhelmingly weighted to times when there was no Internet.

I was looking at photos family members have put up at Facebook the other evening. Sometimes the Internet can provide and overdose of cute. I was enjoying the photos so much, studying the faces of babies and pets I'd never met. As you most certainly know, you can't really look at a picture of a baby's face without your own face taking on the shape it would if you were looking at the child face to face. So my face wore a big smile even as a few tears were rolling from my eyes.

A few of my friends' children have friended me at Facebook. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it may have something to do with keeping loosely tethered to their pasts as they chart their independent lives away at university. Managing the privacy settings at Facebook really isn't as obvious as it ought to be. It's easy for everyone using Facebook not to realize how stuff can travel in ways you don't expect. I suspect that many of these young people do know how to set privacy levels to keep stuff they want private but just don't bother to most of the time. Anyhow, in my Facebook newsfeed I can sometimes see photos in sets put up by friends of friends. I almost never click on those photos to see them in context. Even most of the photos my friends' kids put up I don't rush to see, because I'm not the intended audience. The point is that many young people today have long experience with the Internet and take their exposure more easily than old folks like me do.

Kids expose themselves more easily and are exposed to all sorts of stuff online. John Husband reports today on research, Imagining the Internet: A History and Forecast. Husband helpfully collects some of the quotes, and there's this one:
"Children will grow up with the knowledge that their every move is being watched. This is a recipe for killing the kind of independent thinking that creates innovation."
That sounds ominous, and I'm not sure it's necessarily so.

Ethan Zuckerman's blog is as far as I'm concerned is a "must read." On the righthand side is a list of categories and his category labeled xenophilia offers a whole bunch of posts about how the Internet can stunt the development of independent thought and what we can do to prevent that. Zuckerman introduces the sociological concept of homophily which boils down to "birds of a feather flock together." Xenophily is sort of the opposite number to homophily and means love of the different or foreign. In a wonderful post from this spring, Homophily, serendipity, xenophilia he makes a good case for how homophily makes us stupid. I think the warnings about children growing up knowing they're being watched and that inhibiting independent thought is related to the problems of homophily. Zuckerman acknowledges that xenophily is hard; it's just hard to care about another part of the world. That's where serendipity comes into play, people can be surprised to discover the unfamiliar yet interesting.

Zuckerman's writing on the subject is very much worth checking out. My sense is that many young people who have grown up with the Web are rather primed to expect serendipity. Although, Zuckerman has been busy building bridges that allow for serendipity right from the start of the Internet, so when he says it's hard to do it, I'll take him at his word. But his insights do present a dilemma and challenge for adults concerned for the future of our kids. There's so much we'd like to protect them from, yet to prevent their following bridges, to quash serendipity, is to put them at a disadvantage as they move forward.

The last quote Jon Husband culls from the research about the Internet is this:
"It is better to be actively, thoughtfully and humanly adapting technology than to be creating inertia to resist it."
Yep, the Internet means "we'll have to rethink a few things" as Michael Wesch said in his famous YouTube video The Machine Is Us/ing Us. For those willing to watch an hour long video, Wesch's address at the Library of Congress this summer, An anthropological introduction to YouTube is just great. What the Internet will look like in the future is hard to predict, even while smart people all over seem to be making predictions lately.

It's not always easy to read a photograph. One of the fundamental problems is that a photograph represents such a tiny moment in time. Yet we tend to impute more meaning into photographs than we should. People have been looking at photographs as far back as the 1820's and they're ubiquitous now. Yet after all this experience we still have a hard time reading photos. But I think most people know this and hold a bit of skepticism in reserve. The stream of exposure our lives and creations online present is perhaps something our experience with photographs can inform us. BAGNews Notes is a blog dedicated to analysis of news images and support of photojournalism. Up at that site is a picture of young Barack Obama during his Occidental College days. The photo will be in this week's Time and I'm sure we'll see it around quite a lot. I won't be surprised if the photo is used as a sort of cautionary tail for the kinds of photos kids shouldn't put up at their MySpace or Facebook pages. I don't think that will serve much purpose; the kids are already exposed.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pot and Other Tragedies

Odetta passed away on December 2nd. The image is from a screenshot of a beautiful recent performance of House of the Rising Sun, made and uploaded by mmazur1o5.

Odetta's voice has always stopped me in my tracks and made me listen. I'm kind of a slow learner and only recently discovered how powerful Search is at Last.FM. In addition to wonderful wikis for artist descriptions, Last.FM lets you look at the artist by tracks. There are 18 pages of tracks for Odetta. It's astounding to me how many of those songs I know, if not necessarily performed by Odetta. I'm sure my singing voice is pretty awful, but lots of the folk songs are ones I've sung at the top of my lungs at various times in my life.

When it comes to folk songs I feel old. With my limited exposure to young people it seems to me their knowledge of music is encyclopedic. I've heard mix tapes children of friends have made for their parents and they're full of surprises, obscure songs from long ago. When we were kids we listened to records, but then CDs came along. So it's not exactly right that these kids can make such great mixes because they know their parents' record collections. Well, obviously they do know what their parents listen to now, but that doesn't account for the Way Back Machine affect they seem to manage. It seems the kids are in tune with a vibe, they know what will tug on our heart strings even if they don't really know the songs or associations that play their magic. For people of a certain age, folk music is inextricably bound to hopes for social change.

With the economy as it is along with other disasters times look rather bleak. Now is a time to sing out. Music can make us feel better, music can restore some hope within, if even for a short while. I'm not sure what "Americana" means, but that's a tag applied to Odetta's music, and it seems to fit. A listen to Odetta sings forth not just songs Americans have listened to over the years, but songs we've sung ourselves.

Intrepid blogger and University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole wrote an atypical piece this week State Universities versus State Prisons; And Marijuana Legalization as a Solution. Well, I guess I'm showing my age again, but the post really popped out at me. Where I live, in Western Pennsylvania, there are lots of towns and townships named Hempfield around. Clearly growing hemp is a part of the regional history, indeed it's an important crop in American history. The shorter version of Cole's piece is that Americans are imprisoning too many of us at a cost to our education system as well as distorting our society in other awful ways. I agree with him that decriminalizing marijuana is one way to begin to redress this sad situation.

Drug use is dangerous, real people are hurt. Drugs are also an enormously profitable criminal enterprise which are distorting politics all over the globe. The Christian Science Monitor had a piece earlier in the week about cocaine transshipment in Ghana and drug money in the presidential election. Drugs are an important and complex problem that deserve more attention and more creative approaches.

I like gardening and find plants fascinating. Seems to me people who want it should be allowed to grow pot. On the other hand the commercial uses of Cannabis as a fiber and oil seed crop definitely intrigue me. During the 1930's American forests were indiscriminately logged, and oddly the national criminalization of pot played a part. During the first part of the 20th Century most states had laws regulating the sale and use of pot as a drug. But the national scheme for criminalizing it essentially destroyed the commercial culture of hemp as a fiber and oil seed crop. The Wikipedia article Legal history of cannabis in the United States provides a good overview of a complicated history. The connection with the forests is that wood pulp paper interests triumphed over paper made from annual fibers.

Despite my position in favor of decriminalization of marijuana, I'm not holding my breathe. That a mainstream professor like Juan Cole speaking out publicly in favor of legalizing pot rather argues against my premise. I'm afraid when it comes to pot it's an issue I care about but rather wish others would fight the battles about decriminalization. So it pleases me to no end that Juan Cole has stuck his neck out about the issue. Many countries, for example our neighbor to the north, Canada, have managed to separate the issue of marijuana and hemp as a fiber and oil seed crop. A similar sensibleness here doesn't look anywhere near on the horizon.

We ignore the importance of annual fiber crops at our peril. There are so many that are entirely legal and research on their practical uses is seriously needed. So I am pleased to discover that the United Nations has declared 2009 The International Year of Natural Fibers.

One fiber plant I'm high on--not that way--is Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L. One of my favorite families of plants to grow are hollyhocks, of which Kenaf is a giant member. The plant hails from Africa but is already grown in the USA. Many of the areas that it grows well here don't have a long enough growing season to produce ripe seeds. This plant has a great deal of potential for useful products, some of them even without a whole lot of high tech infrastructure. There is some infrastructure in place for Kenaf paper and cardboard making in the USA now.

Anyhow, I hope that the International Year of Natural Fibers spurs on some conversations about the importance of natural fibers for more sustainable production and I'll have something to write about in the coming year about it.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has produced a video about the Kivu crisis in the DRC called Condition Critical. I'm not sure how to get as many of my friends to watch it as I can, but I sure will try. The video is made from great photographs and video clips, and much of the narrative is people directly telling their stories. The war is so tragic and there's an odd desensitization that happens where we might know a bit about the conflict but never put a human face on it. This video is great storytelling and in a short amount of time conveys a lot of information.

Speaking of folk songs, being reminded of them by Odetta's passing, some of our songs are songs from the times of slavery and some from the time of our Civil War. The songs contain our memories of suffering and yet the very songs foster hope and social change. Songs help us to feel empathy with others. To be human we must face suffering. I suppose it's a bit cheeky to say that many Americans my age can't think of folks songs without a memory of the smell of pot smoke.

More than any other time of the year the times leading up to Christmas, and during the holidays, is a time for singing together. I look forward to singing and hope others will sing along. In our singing we'll take joy, but also sing for all those suffering in the hope we can as people find courage and conviction to end suffering as we are able. I hope for songs that help us always to take notice. When a great artist dies like Odetta dies, there is sadness. I also feel a sense of gratitude for their contribution which lives on.

Update: Daisy left a comment and leaving the comment reminded me that I was negligent not to provide a Hat Tip to LarryE and his great blog Lotus--Surviving A Dark Time for the link to the video of Odetta's performance. I'm too lazy. I'm sorry not to have linked nonetheless because the communities that emerge from blogs and comments are really important to me. Sorry for my neglect LarryE!

Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day

It's late in the day on World AIDS Day and I'm still not sure how to commemorate the day.

It's the 25th Anniversary year for the Pitt Men's Study. I started participating in that shortly after it began. Two years ago I wrote about giving a speech in a speech class shortly after giving my blood and fluid samples in the Pitt Study. One of the main things I wanted to get across in the speech was the importance of confidentiality to assure an effective public health response. In that University Times article I just linked to Charles R. Rinaldo one of the chief researchers of the study remarks about his regrets:
He said his research team walked a fine line between wanting to grab people by the shoulders and shake them to alert them to the danger, and the desire not to intimidate, insult or disrespect their choices in life. “Maybe if we had been more fear-inducing … maybe we would have saved more from infections, more lives.”
Maybe if they had been more fear inducing, but I'm not so sure. At the time the fears about social stigmatization were acute. That's why my speech was pleading for confidentiality in the public health response.

The principals at the Pitt Men's Study have other regrets. Their sample was overwhelmingly white. The same small town phenomena that allowed the recruitment of so many in the study, also revealed how isolated the broader community of Pittsburgh is along racial lines.

Looking back all of us wonder why we haven't done more to stop the spread of AIDS. AIDS is a preventable disease. Why, why we ask have we been so ineffectual in preventing new HIV infections? While the preventions are simple actually employing those preventions prove not to be quite so simple. Prejudice and intolerance stand in the way.

Unprotected sexual intercourse is a primary way that HIV is transmitted. In much of the industrial world the disease has hit men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users hardest. In the developing world the demographics of HIV infected persons looks quite different.

Sometimes this difference can be hard for AIDS activists to talk across. For example my friend Nathan's organization the BSLA has a program to assist widows caring for dependent orphans get more money from agriculture. A key part of the program is AIDS prevention education. They are aided in this effort by The Slum Doctor Programme out of Bellingham, Washington. Many of the Americans involved with the Slum Doctors are were AIDS activists here before becoming involved in their out reach in Kenya and Uganda. I don't remember the circumstances exactly, but in discussions an American in discussions with the BSLA said "You can't say that, some of the people helping you are gay."

The other side of the coin comes from a friend in Uganda, the capital city Kampala. He was moved to do something about the suffering caused by AIDS. For him the issue couldn't be divorced from the extreme prejudice against same gender loving people. He tried hard to attack the prejudice and misinformation and was knocked down hard by the government for that. Public discussion of homosexuality is not tolerated. In thinking about my friend's experience, I'm so grateful for Gay Uganda's great blog, his courage for speaking out and the dialogs he's entered into. Of course trying to count the ways I'm grateful for all the work Sokari at Black Looks does, I loose count. But I count first how she has helped to provide a voice for same gender loving people across Africa and has highlighted the real issues involved.

Just recently my friend in Kampala found out about Ryan White. He asked if I'd ever heard of him. Well, of course I had. Ryan died at age 19 in April of 1990. It's hard to believe that he's been gone almost as many years as he lived. Ryan was diagnosed with AIDS when he was just 13. He gained national notoriety in his fight to attend regular school like an ordinary kid. Something I love about kids is their highly developed sense of fairness. Anyone who's been around kids will know: "It's not fair!" is a common complaint. What was so extraordinary about Ryan White was his confidence in knowing he was right. That confidence allowed him to confront the taunts and vile rumormongering with compassion and truth. He taught Americans not to hate. Almost 18 years after his death Ryan White's story still provides a beacon of hope that prejudice can be lessened and people can be real.

Across the world courageous individuals have risked social isolation and abuse to announce their HIV+ status publicly. Their genuine faces make AIDS prevention more urgent and effective. They also provide voice for AIDS treatment programs. There are very real and lasting solutions being implemented in conjunction with the treatment of AIDS. In Rwanda TRACnet, a system of computer and mobile phone technology presages improvements possible in developed countries. So much has been accomplished, but there is still so much to do!

A friend sent me a link to Infinite Family an organization which allows people all over the world to become mentors for AIDS orphans in Southern Africa. I think it's great. The Web site has a short introductory video. One statistic jumped out at me: 75% of the households in Zambia are caring for orphaned children. All over Africa the care of orphans is a great burden.

The request I hear most often from community based organizations in Uganda is assistance for school fees. The need is so great that you can find many great ways to support organizations in providing school fees. I'm really a fan of community to community solutions. Ask around among your friends and I bet that one of them at least is involved with a program to assist children affected by AIDS world wide. Most of the orphaned children do not have AIDS. Some, of course, are in orphanages, but many more are being cared for by extended family. Providing assistance for school fees is an enormous help. School immediately changes children's lives for the better, and has so many long term benefits too. Life in Africa has a program for assisting with school fees. Kayiwa Fred's Kampala Junior Team too.

I have no money and feel overwhelmed. So if you're like me, we just have to be creative in figuring out ways to help. We must not forget the those suffering as a result of AIDS. Clearly one person can't do much, but we can all do a little. The many of us doing something adds up to a lot.

Sometimes when the talk turns to AIDS a speeches about personal responsibility come out. Personal responsibility does play an important part in slowing the spread of AIDS. Too often, however, the speeches seem designed as a rationalizations for not doing anything. The attitude is: "It serves them right to suffer." But even for those who feel that way, the numbers of people affected through no fault of their own is huge: women raped as part of armed conflict, HIV free children orphaned by AIDS, people infected by medical equipment, and on and on. AIDS is a human disease and like all illness affects people; people not so different from ourselves.

All of us can do a part to prevent the spread of AIDS, and to heal the terrible toll the disease takes in all of our communities. The theme of World AIDS Day in the UK is Respect and Protect: Together we can end HIV prejudice. Now more than ever I think: Yes we can!