After almost a year of trying, Blogswana, our blogging-for-others project, is still unfunded. After some initial press coverage and a few donations, nearly three dozen grant submissions and hundreds of appeals to private donors, we still lack the funding for the project. This is especially sad since we had such great cooperation from both the University of Botswana and Northern Arizona University (for a Native American version of the project). But, people have voted with their wallets, so that’s that. It’s not quite official yet, which is why I’m posting it here, but it’s quite likely. Brian and I have our very full and occasionally trying lives to live as well, so, barring a miracle it seems pretty certain.
- I’m readying myself to go out to Washington D.C. and speak to C.I.A. and State Department intelligence types at the Meridian House about blogging and democracy. My point of view? It’s a good idea. I should slap something together so as to not be completely unprepared. I’m thinking along the lines of a bunch of foul-mouthed revolutionary puppets doing skits about blogging.
- We did our first podcast over at Blogswana, which we’re calling “The Blogs Must Be Crazy.”
- It’s an adjustment not to be running the Committee to Protect Bloggers anymore. The host, Civiblog, restored the site’s posts temporarily, but they’re down again. Hard to complain since I’m not keeping it current, though I think it’s not a bad resource even if it’s not being updated. I get frustrated, though, each time there’s a new arrest of a blogger somewhere. Global Voices Online is planning an advocacy arm. They’re certainly competent. I hope their sense of diplomacy doesn’t keep them from the bold moves that are sometimes necessary to attract attention to the plight of these bloggers.
- Finally, I’m working Petia Maximova and her intrepid band as the writer for a documentary on the Gypsies of Granada, Spain, something I’ve long been interested in. I’m excited about the possibilities. The people involved seem very energetic and Petia has good film connections, so we’ll see what happens. She’s in Granada now and will hopefully meet up with my old friend Manolin, a Gypsy, and Sokari, a Nigerian blogger living in Granada now whom I know through Global Voices. If you’re in Granada and would like to meet her for a drink, let me know and I’ll pass your contact information along.
Some years back, my father and I started a nonprofit group called the National Combat Tape Archive. The idea is that we would gather, digitize and store recordings made in combat areas by members of the United States Military, as well as people associated with the military. This began after I listened to a series of tapes my father had sent home to our family during the year he was stationed in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy.
Due to personal issues (jobs were in short supply at the time), we were unable to go forward with this project at that time. I’m currently involved with a non-profit undertaking, The Blogswana Project. But given the fact that the new social software and hosted web applications have boomed, it seems to me that the NCTA is viable again. We could use Odeo or Evoca to host the audio recordings and YouTube or one of its competitors to host any video. We could create a blog to act as the interface with the digital archive as well as a place to gather and publish the experiences of the recorders.
If anyone out there is interested in getting involved with this project, please let me know by writing to me at bobfolder [at] gmail [dot] com. I’m uncertain whether or not the original nonprofit still legally exists, though I doubt it (I’ve got an email in to ol’ Regular Navy about it), but it could be brought in under the auspices of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, an active 501(c)3 U.S. tax-exempt organization that I run.
National Combat Tape Archive Mission Statement
The objective of the Combat Tape Archive is to create a repository where audio and video/film recordings made by members of the U.S. Armed Forces or by those attached to them, either in combat or in-country during hostilities, can be safely held, given proper conservation and made available to students, scholars, and interested lay persons.
Our desire is to communicate the most human element of the most inhuman events, the voice of the men and women who strove and endured in war. Using The Vietnam Archive’s state-of-the-art institutional storage facilities, library technologies and methods, and audio software we will make these recordings available via listening stations, physical media, including audio cassette tape and compact disc, and online. Using social software and web-based software applications, we will make the digitized recordings available to the world.
We will raise funds from government, business, educational institutions and individuals to drive our mission forward. We will solicit sound recordings from Veterans, their friends, families and organizations. We will also raise awareness of both the individuals whose voices will grow this chorus of witness and of the Archive itself through media coverage, presentations, exhibits and personal appearances.
Gathering the Recordings
Service records and medals cannot capture the men and women who fought in a war. No book or essay, no matter how insightful, no matter how well researched, can express a war’s reality. No documents nor maps can show a war’s brutality or import. But a human voice, speaking out of time, from the place where the conflict played out, from the time and place where the violence, boredom, beauty, bravery and trauma of war were real, can open a window into the lives and experiences of the men and women who endured it.
The National Combat Tape Archive will be the only national repository we are aware of that is devoted to the voice of war.
The NCTA seeks to collect tapes by the men and women of the US Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, and civilians serving with them, made while in-country during hostilities, either in combat or behind the lines.
In other words, we want to hear voices—your voice, the voices of friends, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothers—and we want to preserve and share them both with those who were there, and those who weren’t, including those generations who have yet to even be born.
We have established a partnership with The Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University. This institution has temperature-controlled vaults and other equipment, personnel and know-how to preserve and store the tapes. We at the National Combat Tape Archive will act as the gatekeepers to the collection, advertising, gathering and cataloguing the collection, promoting it in person and online and coordinating presentations, speakers and exhibits.
I want to turn your attention to an interesting new project called, “Enough is Enough.” Enough is Enough is a blog devoted to news and analysis of the African country of Zimbabwe, from the inside out.
Once the “breadbasket of Africa,” in recent decades, under the increasingly tyrannical rule of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has become a wasteland. However, in Zimbabwe, activists, including many bloggers, are attempting to reverse that trend. The editor of Enough is Enough, the blogger known as The Zimbabwean Pundit, is prominent among them.
Enough is Enough is a translation of the Ndebele phrase, “Sokwanele” and the Shona equivalent, Zvakwana. These are also the names of two cooperating pro–democracy groups in the country. (They are not officially related to this project.)
Zimpundit will write regular postings for the site, which also contains automated feeds of news, blog posts, photos and multimedia files. Enough is Enough is designed to act as a blog aggregator, an information exchange for concerned Zimbabweans within the country, and a “bridge blog” to carry the news in that country (now completely devoid of an independent press) to the outside world.
Stop by and give Zim your support. He and his fellow Zimbabweans have got a long row to hoe.
Blogging For Others
Brian Schartz and I are embarking on a new project, under the auspices of the Committee to Protect Bloggers. It’s called Blogswana and it is a project to increase HIV/AIDS education in the African country of Botswana through blogging.
In it, I suggested that Global Voices develop a program in each country that would send people out to blog for people who could not do it themselves (a bit like the approach taken by Microsoft’s Channel 9). In other words, they would create a blog for someone, say a farmer in a remote village who had neither the money for the hardware, nor the expertise, nor perhaps the time or literacy, to blog himself, or to an urban prostitute, or a nurse in an AIDS hospice, or a politician, or a minister. They would go out, at least once a month, interview this person, maybe take photos, video or audio, return to their computer and blog for this person. They would take the comments and questions out to the person the next time they went out.
Blogswana is an effort to practice what we preach. The one-year pilot project will work with a group of about 20 college students from one of the major universities, and provide them with blogging and journalism expertise and guidance. They would commit to a year of “blogging for others.” Each student participant would start their own blog, as well as a blog for their “partner” (the person for whom they will blog). Each partner would be someone who has been effected in some way by the AIDS virus.
The 20 pairs of blogs would be linked to a common blog. The latest post from each of the non-student blogs would be funneled to the Blogswana blog. If the project bore fruit, it could be rapidly scaled up, using students at universities around the continent and world.
The idea is to bring voices from the far side of the digital divide into the global conversation and to rehumanize AIDS in a time where the west has seen AIDS-related mortality decline. By blogging about a person first, the disease will be seen again, we hope, in terms of its human context. AIDS in Africa is, for many in the west, a combination of statistics and abstract tragedy.
Blogswana aims to take blogging beyond itself, beyond what can oftentimes seem like an indulgence. It also provides a platform to teach the student bloggers about communications technologies, about journalism, writing, photography, videography and radio. They would learn from us, we from them, and the bloggers from their partners and from each other.
Botswana is among the countries hardest hit by AIDS. At one time among the most robust economies in Africa, Botswana had been one of Africa’s greatest successes: rich in mineral deposits, gifted with enlightened leadership, and blessed with an unbroken peace since gaining independence in 1966. The HIV/AIDS epidemic, infection estimates running from one in three Batswana to two in five, is having a devastating effect on Botswana’s economic gains.
In response to this epidemic the Government of Botswana has collaborated with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Merck Company Foundation/Merck & Co., Inc., to form The African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership (ACHAP). ACHAP, established in July 2000, works to decrease HIV incidence and increase the rate of diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
ACHAP asks, “How (could) an epidemic of such alarming proportions develop?”
Factors exacerbating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Botswana include alcohol abuse, poverty, the high prevalence of specific STIs, a high proportion of single parents, and widespread early parentage. Officials have also identified four key determinants: the low-social standing of women in Botswana society; societal fears of HIV/AIDS and the stigmatization of infected individuals; the mobility of Botswana’s population; and Botswana’s rapid urbanization, which has undermined traditional mechanisms for controlling social and sexual behavior and has exacerbated sexual exploitation of the poor.
I lived in Mahalapye, Botswana from 1985 to 1987 and was aware (to some degree) of these same exacerbating factors and determinants. I recall initial efforts to increase HIV/AIDS awareness. One such effort was fleet of jeeps, AIDS posters on all four sides, roaming through the villages with loudspeakers announcing in Setswana that a new disease was at hand. I found this to be blunt but effective. People were talking about AIDS. Fellow Peace Corps volunteers were requesting more condoms from the medical office in Gabarone than they could possibly use and handing them out to fellow teachers. I applauded these efforts and believe there are more than a few people who did not become infected because of them. I also applaud the continuing efforts of ACHAP and partners to both prevent and treat HIV/AIDS infection.
There has been some skepticism regarding public education and awareness campaigns; a program officer in Serowe noted that “This country has been bombarded with HIV messages, but there hasn’t been a change in behaviour.” Some skepticism is to be expected where the aforementioned exacerbating factors and determinants are so strong and the infection incidence is so high. It is becoming evident that ACHAP’s goal of an AIDS-Free Generation is indeed taking longer than one generation to come about.
Our intent with Blogswana is to bring voices from the far side of the digital divide into the national (Botswanan), continental (Africa) and global conversation about the disease. But not just about the disease. People are not merely vectors.
It is our desire to create a rich, interesting site about the daily lives of Batswana. The public awareness and education campaigns are doing a great deal to make this problem a part of the national consciousness. Organizations such as the Botswana Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (BONEPWA) are working to reduce discrimination against and the stigma attached to people living with aids. We would like to add to the public awareness and hopefully to help reduce the stigmatization of infected individuals.
My experience with Tswana culture leads me to believe that an approach that combined honesty with discretion could be quite effective. There are some things that are discussed in Tswana culture with a great deal of circumspection. For example, nobody ‘dies’ in Botwsana but people do ‘pass’. We want to raise public awareness discretely, we want risky behavior, decision to get tested, living with HIV/AIDS, etc. to be a part of these blogs but only insomuch as they relate to an individual with other concerns. We want the discrete language that the ordinary Batswana uses to be used in these blogs.
Being confronted with a world in which you either have it or you don’t (or you don’t know) must feel overwhelming to some people. We would like to create a blog site in which the reader is informed, not bludgeoned. We would like the blogs to be about the ordinary men and women of Botswana with the same concerns, hopes and dreams as the viewer. Some of these concerns will undoubtedly have to do with HIV/AIDS, but such concerns will not make up the entirety of the blogs. Reading about a sympathetic individual who is wrestling with an AIDS related issue may help the reader to come to terms with a similar issue themselves.
There is a saying in Setswana that I have adopted as part of my life. “Boiteko ke boikone.” Trying is success. I believe that our project could be part of the solution to this crisis that plagues Botswana. I believe that our efforts will, at the very least, get our 20 bloggers to consider more fully the HIV/AIDS problem in Botswana and their attitudes towards it.
We are currently writing a grant for the project, which will be administered under the aegis of the non-profit Committee to Protect Bloggers. If you wish to contribute cash or encouragement, you can reach us at blogswana[at]yahoo[dot]com. You can also contribute via the PayPal button on the Committee’s site.
Mark Glaser was good enough to mention us on PBS’s MediaShift blog.
Others who’ve given their two cents include Neha in the U.K., Antony in Australia and Carolyn at Foreign Policy’s blog. We’re deeply appreciative of everyone’s support and interest right out of the gate.
Cross-posted from the Committee to Protect Bloggers
Looks like we’ll be heading back to San Francisco on November 6, until the 9th. During this time we’ll pitch our documentary to The Gentlemen. I don’t think it would be a good idea to talk about the story itself yet, but I can whisper this into your ear: Alien Bikini Monkey Car Wash.
“Do you feel me?”
Apparently we’ll be filmed, which sounds super. I’m attractive and skeletal. They’ll follow us around as we snack at Jardiniere, hang from the cable car at the Hyde Street turntable, laugh fetchingly in the rotating bar at the Hyatt, crap in the planters at the Top of the Mark and wind up gyrating wildly in our tiny shorts at 5 am at the End Up.
Then we do the pitch at a loft in the Clock Tower building.
I’m considering various names for my fictional production company.
Global Wig Out Productions
Fugue State Expeditions
Sacromonte Productions – Hay que tener arte
Pyroclastic Events Management
Stop Drop & Roll
Here are some projects I’d like to tackle.
My Life on the Holy Mountain: Manolín in Granada (the Gypsies of Granada, Spain)
A Good Man is Hard to Find: Luis in El Salvador (the effect of the civil war on a wealthy Salvadoran family)
State of the Nations (visit each of the over 500 federally recognized Indian tribes in the U.S.)
Dope: From Seed to Stem (follow marijuana from a seed planted in the Hawaiian highlands to a joint being smoked by a buyer in L.A.)
Ask Jeeves: The Start Up, Fall and Rebirth of an Internet Company (pretty self-explanatory; I was the ninth full-time hire at Jeeves)
Hugo Ball: The Man in the Gray Metal Suit (the very first documentary about dadaism and a dadaist that does not reduce everything to a tidy explanation: punch yourself in the face and drop dead)
Berlin: there’s a great deal of talk, especially by the German political and cultural establishment, about the “new Jewish” Berlin, though most of it consists of non-observant Russian refugees; it would be interesting to counterpoint the hand-wringing enthusiasms of Der Mann with the wry attitudes and experiences of members of this grand new renaissance and the possible realities of yet another episode of Slavophilia.
Getting a House: a series that tackles the history and meaning of home ownership.
How we define a home and who we allow to own one says a great deal about our society, about who is included and excluded. Various episodes would cover the following topics:
- Classical Greece and the seclusion of women.
- Rome: the enfranchisement of slaves, disenfranchisement of farmers and property awards to soldiers; the “public” and “private” rooms of a Roman house.
- The “closed gardens” of Arabic Spain.
- The reconstruction era of the American South: freed slaves and the Exodusters.
- Pre-independence southern Africa and the experience of later leaders with initial housing injustice.
- Contemporary predatory lending practises.
- Booms and busts in housing speculation, including the current one.
I have spent some of my time over the past couple of weeks putting together a proposal for a documentary, which my producing partner and I have pitched to a group called The Pitch Room. The Pitch Room is a documentary project for HBO. In a sense it is the blueprint for a “reality show,” but instead of competing to see who can eat the most urinal puck or be hung from their hair while running in place the longest, the competition is to successfully pitch a documentary or long-form broadcast news story.
We’ll find out next week if we’re heading down to pitch the documentary in person. From conversations we’ve had with them, it doesn’t seem like too unlikely a prospect, though it is not a certainty. If we do, our song and dance will be filmed and that material will be presented to HBO who will have two months to decide whether or not they’ll fund the pilot in its entirety (and more perhaps). If they do pick it up (and considering the caliber of the people involved and HBO’s relative bravery in its programming choices, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised they did) our documentary would be funded as part of the pilot. If ours winds up being one of the two winning projects out of six or eight in competition for that episode, that is.
Unfortunately, I can’t say any more about the story we’re pitching. That’s not out of some desire not to tip off the competition (as if) but because of certain elements of the story itself, which will become clear once the thing is done and we can talk about it. For the same reason, I have to forebear from talking about my producing partner.
It’s all very hush-hush, very cloak-and-dagger.
(I live a mysterious life.)