Death in Orlando and What Else We Could Lose

In the room backs 1 cropped
Pre-Summit “Builders’ Day” where leaders of all races and generations share findings and innovations

Tattoos, weird clothes, tee shirts with funny pictures on them, pink hair, long hair, scruffy hair, sticker-saturated computers — and brilliance, geek humor, and deep respect for one another over generation,  gender, gender identification, religion and race: that was what I saw last week at the Internet Archive Decentralized Web Summit* — called partly to discuss the technology and ethical questions behind an increasingly centralized Web.

I kept thinking all weekend about this diverse crew of genius conference attendees as the horror of the Orlando shootings unfolded.  With it will come the inevitable racial and religious generalizations and this international crew of brainiacs included probably 20%  who, because of name or skin color or accent face a higher likelihood of reflexive suspicion,  potential online monitoring, extra security checks at airports, and frightened glances in elevators, Starbuck’s and movie lines.

Over the next weeks and months, we must decide how our country should respond to what is clearly an increasing threat, especially since mainstream security experts have implied a need for more surveillance, not only in person and through interviews but also online.

I have no answers and am barely fluent in the technologies powering these surveillance tools so there’s very little I can add either to this question or the sad jeopardy into which it may place so many of my new conference friends.  For me though, it’s another  – and very important – ripple in the pool of our outrage.

*New Connections
We are bringing together a diverse group of Web architects, activists, engineers, archivists, scholars, journalists, and other stakeholders to explore the technology required to build a Decentralized Web and its impact.

Call to action
The current Web is not private or censorship-free. It lacks a memory, a way to preserve our culture’s digital record through time. The Decentralized Web aims to make the Web open, secure and free of censorship by distributing data, processing, and hosting across millions of computers around the world, with no centralized control.


Grief, Prince, Bruce and a Lost Friend

This is one of just many musical tributes to the loss of a great artist and since it’s Bruce, it’s especially meaningful to me.

When a celebrity dies, the public memories of respected peers add a kind of emotional gravitas that helps all of us who love the mourner or the mourned – or both.

Personal loss. though, has a weight and impact hotter, sharper and deeper.

Sunday, we went to a “shiva,”a home memorial services held for a friend.  We’d met him and his wonderful wife on a cruise, sailed all through the Mediterranean and had a great time; we were so happy they lived nearby, especially since we  shared so much: they’d been married as long as we have, also had grown kids and grandkids and, it turned out, lived just across San Francisco Bay from us.

Gerri Larry tender fixed2
Gerri and Larry Miller Summer, 2015 Outside Gironda, Sp;ain

Larry was a blast to be around, intense, funny, smart and curious; he and his wife Gerri were a great pair and it was so very hard to see her grieving so intensely.

As I near my 8th decade with very little sense of age, I’m so aware of each loss of a peer and remember my dad telling me with astonishment every time one of his friends left us; it seemed to impossible to him.  Like so many other things, I understand this so much more now.

Of course it’s easier to grieve the loss of a public person, no matter how admired:  the sharp reality of a more personal one, deep feeling for his family and realigning of each memory of them, especially in the years that we become so much more aware of our own mortality, cuts and lingers so much more.


Posters From the Revolution, Rescued and Amazing


Photo from Trip Advisor comments of SakijR from Finland
Photo from Trip Advisor comments of SakijR from Finland

This poster, portraying China’s children energetically joining the assault against the U.S., is one of the remarkable Mao-era treasures hiding in this obscure Shanghai apartment complex, home to the Shanghai Poster Art Centre.

Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the years before and after produced an enormous range of political art, clearly targeted with great care to varied segments of the population.   As the Cultural Revolution’s image (and to some degree Mao’s) tarnished though, the new government ordered the posters – and their energetic messages – to be destroyed.

Propaganda exteruir

Yang Pei Ming edited
Museum founder Yang Pei Ming. Photo by Mao Dou

Thanks to this man, it didn’t all make it to the garbage bin.  As the website says: A labor of love, the museum was founded by Yang Pei Ming, who grew concerned about both the poster art and the unusual history <and> started to collect posters ever since 1995 when all the government organizations deleted the propaganda materials due to the political reasons. 

It was a thrilling, surprisingly moving visit; passing through so many years of cynically generated passion and ideas in just a couple of rooms added impact to every poster and its story.  Here are a few; there’s not much more to say.  Let the pictures tell the rest.
shanghai-propaganda-museum 1 Shanghai-Propaganda-Poster Museum1Political poster museum 5

Political poster museum 4

Xian: The Breathtaking Terracotta Warriors

Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BC - 210 BC)
Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

They stand in silence, sentinels for China’s Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BC – 210 BCE) , the visionary ruler who demanded this ghost army of 10,000 to guard his tomb (and also demanded the expansion and unification of the fragmented Great Wall – making it what it continues to be today.)

It is a special army indeed. Singular figures each, their faces unique.  

After 2,200 years, in 1974, farmers digging a well stumbled upon them —  just a few shards suggesting more. The village elder understood what might be, gathered the random pieces in his home, and called the experts. They found ten thousand soldiers, discovered through a leader’s instincts and a small farming village’s need for more water.

 It’s not possible to describe passing through a wide passageway and coming upon these:
Closeup of a portion of a single line
A kneeling archer; his hands are placed to hold a crossbow
A high-ranking general whose single raised finger suggests that he may be second only to the Emperor
High-ranking general
little boy - general
Look at the bottom right: even little ones are not immune

This entire trip is exploding my brain in the best possible way.

Bruce, Stipe, Mellencamp, Matthews & More (and Farewell NABLOPOMO)

Consider this post a public service announcement.

We’re ending this month with so much sadness and bad news and facing an election year sure to bring much more. SO instead of the long NABLOPOMO meditation I’d planned I offer you the last song from the best concert I have ever been to IN MY LIFE, not just because this amazing lineup* (it was almost too much to absorb,) but because it existed to serve the 2004 Democratic ticket as John Kerry challenged George Bush.

Yeah I know he lost, but the song – this song – written by Patti Smith, still helps to remind us today of the task that lies before us.  “The People Have the Power.”  We, the people, need to do all we can to protect our rights and fight to revive those stolen from us:  the Voting Rights Act, the terrible assaults on women’s healthcare providers, especially Planned Parenthood, racial injustice and pain beyond describing, xenophobia and hate speech from those who would lead us.  We can’t afford to lose.

So, enjoy the music and take it to heart, then remember for the next year that those people who have the power?

They’re us.


*Babyface, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews Band, Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, Jurassic 5, Keb’ Mo’, Pearl Jam, R.E.M.

Syria, ISIS and Women: Painful Stories

ISIS Women NYTIt’s all horrible, of course; morning news junkies that we are, we dread waking up each day – always sure there will be yet another terrible story to contend with.  Anger, fear and grief are only a few of the emotions riding roughshod through all of us, yet Sunday, one story about three young women once again crystalized the hideousness we face.

Labor unions often call their members “brothers and sisters;” and women do it a lot.  I can’t count the number of times the words “my sister” or “our sisters” appear in women’s rights pieces and posts and books like Robin Morgan’s classic “Sisterhood is Powerful “—  and it is.

Sunday the 22nd of November, a trio of “sisters” appeared on the front page of the New York Times — three friends who fled Raqqa, their home town in Syria and now ISIS Central, and found shelter in Turkey; girls who grew up in houses, not tents, who went out in their summer dresses, and west swimming with the guys — and went to college — girls who are now prisoners of their gender.

Their stories emerge almost bloodlessly: tales of forced marriages, of severed heads, of complete loss of freedom and of the deeply troubling work they did as members of the religious police, taken on to help insulate their families from the terror of ISIS’ fierce punishments, all described in the simplest of terms.

This very unexceptional tone insures that their stories will haunt me for a long time – this tale of three of our sisters, suffering like so many of theirs.

ISIS: They May Hate Us but They Thrive on Our Stuff

Like most of us, I don’t think I’ve felt like this since 9/11, although Paris may feel scary in a different way because the scope and savvy of ISIS makes Al Qaeda look primitive in comparison.

I spend hours on the Web every day, and probably understand the reach, creativity and strategic smarts of ISIS outreach more than most of my peers.  It’s kind of amazing that people committed to such a regressive lifestyle are so adept at using modern methods to build it.  They’ve been using Twitter, Whatsapp and other basic tools for some time but even though I raised two gamers, it never occurred to me until I heard it this morning that online game consoles are great, almost invisible, ISIS communication tools.

There have been hints though, in our popular culture. Portraits of these tactics have appeared  in TV shows as disparate in audience as NCIS and The Good Wife: plots about the online recruiting American teenagers for homegrown violence and about exploiting western commitment to privacy and free speech and thought, as well as the seemingly insurmountable gap between the world that nurtures these terrorists and the world we have tried to create for our own kids.

Of course, that dissonance means nothing if your goal is to return us all to a particularly fierce, and very old, version of holiness.  It’s so sad to note, too, that our wonderful technology is once again taking us away from all we’d hope it would be.


NaBloPoMo and the Cold November Rain


NaBloPoMo_1115_465x287_THEMEAnd it’s hard to hold a candle In the cold November rain   —  Guns N’ Roses

We’re on our way now- committed to NaBloPoMo*: the pledge to post every day in the month of November.  Needing the discipline of a public pledge, I’ve taken it on.   November: the month when my second son and first daughter-in-law arrived on the planet, when I first saw Africa, when the hero of my youth died in Dallas;  the month of Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Sherman’s burning of Atlanta and the launch of Queen Elizabeth’s record-setting reign. So much has happened in this month that ends with our beloved Thanksgiving.

There’s plenty to talk about: a Presidential election that’s precisely a year away, an unprecedented assault on women’s rights, faith, grief, the vagaries of our popular culture, families, grandparents, holidays, admired friends, books, music, movies and the world in general.  Oh, and the wonderful work of the women whom I’ve joined on this adventure.  You can find them all here.
*National Blog Posting Month



Mom to Mom: “Is There a Gun in Your Home?” #playdates2015


shooting question edited

Guns in other people’s houses: here’s what one mom wrote last spring in the Washington Post, that emerged again on Facebook after the Oregon school shooting.

The other mom might say, “Can Chloe come over here tomorrow to play with Maddie?” I would ask, “Do you keep guns in your house?”….I’m not quite sure what compelled me to ask about guns when my children were small. I just added it to the litany of things I would tell parents – we have a dog, we have a pool that’s fenced, we don’t keep guns. It seemed that if a parent told me about their child’s food allergy, I could and should ask if they kept guns.

When my older son was in kindergarten, he used to visit his friend Michael.  One day he came home and announced that Michael’s father had a gun – he had seen it.   Thirty-five years ago that was a shock, especially on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  We decided all playdates with Michael would move to our house and explained to his parents, who weren’t particularly troubled by our decision.  But it’s not easy.

It’s in our nature to be polite, civil to another parent, especially when their children like each other, but even I, the pathological people pleaser, couldn’t do otherwise.

As I watch what is unfolding in our country now, recalling the frightening relief that we learned about The Gun before anything happened, and reading on Facebook how many of our younger friends’ kids have lockdown drills even in 1st and 2nd grade, it’s tough not to feel sad — and angry.

There are more than enough words written about this already, but as we experience the continuing epidemic of tragedy and our national unwillingness to confront the issue, and I see my oldest grandson almost the age at which our son first faced this, I just wonder if our country has any will left to improve anything – even the safety of our children.

WWI, Women and Jon Snow: Testament of Youth

The bravest women of their (and just about any other) time, they left their protective parents and a world of white gloves and chaperoned afternoon teas, where they were barely permitted to touch the hand of a male companion, for the French battlefields of World War One and the hellish field hospitals there, washing naked, wounded men, treating their wounds, the stumps of their amputated limbs, their lost sight, their mustard gas-poisoned lungs and their shell shock.  Mocked as privileged snobs out for a thrill, they struggled to prove their strength and capacity over and over again, and they did.

Vera Brittain as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, 1915. Photograph: the VB Estate/McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Canada VIA The Guardian

Among them was Vera Brittain, who’d fought to be one of the earliest women at Oxford, her father permitting her to enroll and risk “becoming a blue stocking” only because her beloved younger brother Edward refused to go if she could not.  Testament of Youth , the story of her struggles to attend Oxford, her brief presence there and her life-shattering experiences as a wartime nurse, is a classic, still in print and still beloved.

Kit-Harrington-and-Alicia-Vikander-Testament-of-Youth-534165Now it’s a film, and the stature of the cast, including our own Jon SnowKit Harington, as her fiancé Roland Leighton, The Wire‘s Dominic West as her father, Emily Lloyd as her mother and Miranda Richardson as her mentor  suggest that British headliners wanted to be part of her remarkable, very British  story, even in a small, if gorgeous, art film like this one.

I first met Vera in the 1979 PBS Testament of Youth series, moved from there to her trilogy: Testament of Youth, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience and found a sister.  A young activist in the 60’s, I understood  her need to contribute, to be part of the crisis alongside those she loved, and as a woman fighting to function in a mostly-male profession, her battles as a woman were mine too.

So, if you share the political memories, ideal and goals of so many of us,  Testament of Youth needs to be part of you, too.  Go see it.