From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Solar IS Civil Defense, Illustrated

Solar IS Civil Defense
Like this solar LED light and AA battery charger

or this solar/dynamo am/fm/sw radio, similar to the ones US and NATO forces have distributed in Afghanistan.

Solar IS Civil Defense
and, after all,
we are at war.

Solar IS Civil Defense
a flashlight, radio or cell phone, an extra set of batteries
solar powered
with hand or foot operated dynamo back-up,
emergency lighting and communication
day or night
from sunlight or
muscle power.

One solar component
is an LED flashlight
which also charges AA batteries.
This design allows for
battery switching,
charging a second set of batteries
to use in other devices.

The Bogolight is a charger and light
with an international development
each light bought
buys another solar LED light and battery charger
for someone who has no access to electricity
in this world.

Solar IS Civil Defense in another way.

US and NATO forces have distributed
solar/dynamo am/fm/sw radios
in Afghanistan.

Those solar/dynamos could easily charge
AA batteries
and establish a low power DC grid
through battery switching.
This level of survival electricity
would raise the standard of living
for most Afghanis,
helping to rebuild their lives
as well as their country and economy.

This circuit diagram is one way
to add this capability to the present
solar/dynamo radios now in Afghanistan.

solar/dynamo battery charger circit diagram

The image I have is of a
solar swadeshi, hand-made electricity.
Instead of turning the handle
of the charkha spinning wheel
making thread
for khadi cloth
an hour a day as Gandhi did,
turning the crank of a dynamo a half hour a day,
the direct production of survival power
for yourself, your family, and your community,
swadeshi, local production.

How did Gandhi's Pashtun colleague,
Badshah Khan practice it?
And could his example
help bring peace back

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Unknown Auschwitz Satyagraha

For all those
in war
and the danger of war,
refugees and dispossessed,
sufferers of famine, pestilence
and disaster
on this day.

Unknown Auschwitz Satyagraha

On April 21, 1985 I saw a public television program on the Holocaust. It consisted of the survivors meeting at the Holocaust Memorial in Israel, Yad Vashem I believe it is called, looking for those they had lost and telling the stories of what had happened to them. Most of the images were tight close-ups of faces saying things the eyes would not forget.

One woman said she had been a prisoner working in a typing pool in Auschwitz. The SS officer in charge told her when she arrived that she was allowed three mistakes a day or off to the ovens. They worked twelve hour shifts and typed thousands of reports all in quadruplicate. And only three mistakes a day.

Eventually, she was transferred to another job, another SS officer. He seemed to be a gentleman and she couldn't understand why he was in the SS. On the first day, he took her to a storeroom. It was in chaos. He asked, "Do you think you can clean this up?" Of course she said yes. He prohibited only one thing. She was not to open one certain door.

There came a time when she was working in the storeroom and heard screams. They were like the sounds "of a dying animal, being beaten to death, indescribable really." Naturally, they came from beyond the forbidden door. She had to open it. Behind the door was a set of stairs leading down. She descended and saw her gentleman SS officer beating a Polish worker with his belt in front of a group of other workers. She said, "The workers looked up and were struck as if they saw an angel. They had no idea women had worked above them. We had no idea there were men there below." The SS officer looked up too and saw her. He told her to get out but she didn't move. He came up the stairs and told her to go back but she didn't move. She said, "I'm not a hero but something happened. I grabbed hold of his sleeve and wouldn't let him go. He told me to leave but I looked into his eyes, for minutes, for a few seconds, for me it seemed like an eternity. And still I wouldn't let go of his arm. Finally he said, 'It's all right, go.' But I looked into his eyes for another eternity, holding his sleeve for dear life. Then he said, 'It's all right. I won't beat them anymore,' and I walked back up the stairs."

Later, she found out that the SS officer had been beating a worker to death with his belt every week, but from then on he stopped. Still later, just before a death march, the workers sent her a pair of high-topped boots and she believes it was only those boots that kept her alive through the march. She was an angel for them and those workers were angels for her.

Perhaps this story shows us what might have happened if Gandhi had met Hitler. Maybe he would have held Hitler's sleeve and searched his mad eyes into his madder soul until Hitler too said, "It's all right. I won't beat them anymore."

That evening there was a story on the Cambodian Holocaust on "Sixty Minutes" and the next morning on National Public Radio's Morning Edition a piece on the Armenian Holocaust.

The documentary I think was called "The Gathering," produced by Joel Levitch for Jason Films broadcast on April 21, 1985 on WGBH-TV Boston, MA.

Editorial Comment: I first published this piece online on August 1, 1997, although I wrote it the 80s, read it publicly in the early 90s, and produced a video version of the piece that was cablecast locally and exhibited in a museum show on courage in NY.

May we remember the example 
of this woman and Dr King and Desmond Tutu and Gandhi
and Tolstoy and Thoreau and King Ashoka and
create peace on this day,
if only for a moment,
for a breath,
for ourselves.

Video version

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Monday, May 30, 2005

Solar Swadeshi, Hand-Made Electricity

After much thinking, I have arrived at a definition of "Swadeshi" that perhaps best illustrates my meaning. Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote.
Speeches and Writings of M. K. Gandhi, 1919 (

Gandhi was a middle-aged man when he first asked his wife Kasturba to teach him to use the spinning wheel. Once he had mastered the wheel, he practiced spinning every day for the rest of his life. Home-spinning became a symbol for independence and self-reliance throughout India under his encouragement and direction.

Gandhi would spin for an hour each day, usually producing a hundred yards of thread, and helped develop a simple spinning wheel (charkha) that allowed many to do the same. He believed that spinning was the foundation of non-violence. I believe this type of practical labor has to be the core of any sustainable ecological action.

We need a solar swadeshi, an ecological practice on a daily basis that allows us to live within our solar income. Gandhi used the charkha, the spinning wheel. What would be an ecological charkha, a solar charkha? I suggest a hand cranked, pedalled, or treadled dynamo. Work it for 30 minutes a day and generate watts and watts of electrical power for your own use or to put back into the grid for the benefit of others. Solar swadeshi. Hand-made electricity. 21st century khadi cloth. Real electrical power to the people. True energy independence with minimum waste, at least in terms of generation. Doing what Gandhi did with cloth but now with electricity.

In this "deregulated environment" with oil used as a weapon and national security identical to energy security, direct ecological and economic action toward renewables and away from the nuclear, gas, coal, and oil that we presently use can be a primary political as well as economic act. A treadle/pedal/crank powered generator with a flywheel can be the solar swadeshi, an ecological and economical electrical charkha.

One humanpower is about one sixth horsepower. A healthy person can put out 100 watts of power for hours on end and 300 watts in a sprint. Let's not be batteries in the Matrix but generators in a net metered ecological Network.

The ultimate goal I envision is to meet all electrical non-space-heating and refrigeration needs within the space of one south-facing window (4-10 square feet of photovoltaics) and a half hour to an hour a day's human power. The realistic goal today is most of the electrical load with the exception of refrigeration and space-heating: lighting, TV, audio, computer, phones...

This isn't Edward G. Robinson in "Soylent Green" pedalling a broken down three speed to light one sickly incandescent bulb. This is more like Lance Armstrong powering his energy efficient Spanish villa with a morning workout on his state of the art Tour de France simulator stationary bike and power generator.


The essential ingredients of the Swadeshi thought may be summarised as follows :

1. Swadeshi means that which is natural and native to a country and society, but allows scope for assimilation of wholesome and beneficial elements from the outside. This applies to economics as well as politics; culture as well as technology.

2. It is the principle of prefering the neighbourhood over the remote.

3. It commands need-based life, and rules out unlimited consumption as an end.

4. It renews and relies on family, community and society as socio-economic delivery systems. It does not substitute these traditional institutions by the State and the Market.

5. It is not autarky; but a global alternative which accepts only need-based transnationalism.

6. Swadeshi restores economics to its earlier definition which even now the dictionary meaning of economy indicates, namely, practical human needs, frugality, savings, thrift etc. and seeks to remove the latter-day distortion of defining economics as multiplication of wants and efforts to satisfy them, powered by greed.

Stated in simple terms, Swadeshi rejects materialistic and imperialistic homogenisation and aimless transnationalism of the Western assumption. Swadeshi is a multidimensional thought, embracing civilisational, political and economic aspects of human life and presenting an integrated vision of life in harmony with nature.


The message of the spinning-wheel is much wider than its circumference. Its message is one of simplicity, service of mankind, living so as not to hurt others, creating an indissoluble bond between the rich and the poor, capital and labour, the prince and the peasant. That larger message is naturally for all...

The message of the spinning-wheel is, really, to replace the spirit of exploitation by the spirit of service...

There is no "playing with truth" in the charkha programme, for satyagraha is not predominantly civil disobedience but a quiet and irresistible pursuit of Truth.

NB: I've been thinking about these ideas for quite a few years now. It seems appropriate to be publishing them on Memorial Day. People laugh at Gandhi for his insistence on swadeshi, on "wasting" his time by drawing thread from a spinning wheel but he was doing something fundamental in terms of self-reliance and self-respect on a level so obvious and so deep that most people can not see it at all. This lesson is one we need now more than ever. This practice is something that can generate the beginnings of real economic freedom.

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