“How the hell do we get out of here?” That dilemma evoked our plea to a kind guide at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence – “Where’s the door?”
Her answer: check above.
There are two major parts of the David experience here in Florence: Seeing the amazing creation that emerged from Michelangelo’s imagination when he was just 25 years old, and watching the incredible responses of each individual in the overwhelming sea of visitors who had joined us there.
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.
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.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from November 17, 2007.
There we are – Jane and me on her porch one summer during college. Friends since Brownies, we’ve always had a warm, respectful and sturdy relationship, interrupted by years at a time but never diminished. Recently she sent photos of a family reunion – her four kids and their spouses and all their kids. And some things she had written. Beautiful things. Especially about her parents. I knew them well; I spent so many Saturday nights at their house, even going to church with them in the morning. They never ate breakfast before Communion but Jane’s mom always insisted that I eat something even though I was going with them After all, I wasn’t taking Communion so why not?.
A “nice Jewish girl” in a mill town suburb (here I’m on the right and Jane on the left,)I had no Jewish friends; Jane, Catholic, was my dearest. What might have been a huge cultural gap was just a curiosity; differences in our lives but not in how we felt about one another. We’d always sworn to be at one another’s weddings; I’ll never forget her beautiful one in the cathedral at Notre Dame. Years later, when it was my turn, Jane was living in Dallas and already a mother; she just couldn’t make it.
Then, just days before our wedding, she called. “Do you still have room on that boat of yours?” (We got married on a boat.) “I have to keep our promise- I’m coming!” It was so great and meant so much. Just as she knew it would.
That was 36 years ago; almost twice the age we were when the top photo was taken. But it doesn’t matter. The blessing of shared memories — of remembering each other’s parents and the Girl Scout trip to New York and her first love, who died in Vietnam — and mine, who ran off, perpetually stoned, to Santa Barbara — those memories make her part of so much of who I was and who I’ve become. What a gift to me that the one whose friendship blessed me was so blessed herself – generous and fine — helping me to be what she knew I had to be when I wasn’t sure myself what that was…not at all.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from March 16, 2007.
One of the great gifts of an observant Jewish life is the lighting of Sabbath candles. At a prescribed time each Friday, 18 minutes before sundown, it is the obligation of the Jewish woman to light candles as a symbolic acceptance of the Sabbath upon herself. The prayer is said AFTER you light the candles because once they’re lit, the Sabbath rules – ignite no fire, do no work etc. preclude the lighting of a match.
Here’s how it works: you light the candles, move your hands above the candles three times to bring their warmth toward you, then cover your eyes and say a simple blessing. It’s in Hebrew, but it means “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us with his commandments, and enjoins us to light the candles of Shabbat.” Yes,the words of the prayer are plain; women say them in every corner of the earth – educated or not, every week and have been doing so for thousands of years. Many of us add prayers of our own, for those we love, for peace, for the lifting of burdens, for a better world.
I always take a very deep breath — the kind they taught us when I was quitting smoking — and exhale very slowly, releasing a lot of the stress of the week before I begin. One of my friends told me that when she was in medical school and having babies at the same time, she’d weep, every week, as she felt the burdens fall from her in the glow of the flame.
Makes sense to me. Something about this ritual is transporting. I also love the idea that this is a woman’s privilege. Much has been written about what observant Jewish women are NOT permitted to do – and much of it is true. That’s another conversation. But the impact of this particular duty is profound, beautiful and serene and I am grateful for it. So, as we move toward the close of this day and toward what I have found to be the true peace of the sabbath – I send to you, whatever your faith – a peaceful wish — Shabbat Shalom.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from October 16, 2006
I’ve never been to CBGB OMFUG. Why do I care about a punk music club whose entrance was always spattered with graffiti and most of whose musical appearances were by people I knew almost nothing about — except Bruce Springsteen [he wrote this with Patti Smith] , Patti Smith [two favorites: People Have the Power, Peaceable Kingdom], Joan Jett [I Love Rock and Roll] and a few others? (I don’t t know the lore all that well – but it always seemed to me that women really got a crack at center stage at CBGB.) I think it was just nice to see it there – waving its fist in the air. It has closed – maybe to reopen, maybe not – and I’m just kind of sad to see it losing its lease to what some have called “the suburbification of Manhattan.”
Patti Smith, whom I had the honor to meet at last year’s Media Reform conference in St. Louis, was a real CBGB heroine and I felt, meeting her, a deep connection. We’re the same age. She’s a heartbreakingly honest person who lost her husband way too soon (and wrote People Have the Power partly at his instigation) — a mom and a singular human soul. The music she made was remarkably articulate (she is a poet after all) and inspiring. I’ve linked above to two of my favorites — one of which, People Have the Power, was an anthem of the Vote for Change election tour in 2004.
So what do the final days of a gritty music club where I never went have to do with my life as an observant Jew? Believe it or not – plenty. Both of them were fascinating universes I always observed from the outside and wondered about. Both stood for making one’s own way to truth. That search has taken me, for some reason I’m still grappling with, to the Orthodox Jewish community where I’ve found a home and spirit that brings a new kind of meaning to my life.
At my last big birthday I complained to a friend about my age and her response was “but you’re completely reborn in this new life – you’re not old AT ALL!” In some ways she’s right. I certainly feel that there’s a universe I’m traveling through that’s new, moving, inspiring and mysterious. Sometimes though it’s also a pain. For the past several weeks, from Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) to the end of Simchas Torah (Ending the annual, week-by-week reading of the Torah: the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and beginning again) the holidays consumed days of time: in synagogue, inviting guests to meals and going to meals at friends, building and dismantling a sukkah and observing the prohibition on driving and work. Since this year many of these days fell on weekends it meant NO catching up on work on Sundays and no farmer’s market. (two weird examples, I admit.) Since it’s the end of tomato season that last was sad though not critical to the future of the human race or my household.
Even so, all these small requirements, which I try to follow since I’ve made this commitment, can consume time and tax serenity and spirituality. I’ve come to love the prohibition on the Sabbath and enjoy the quiet days reading, taking walks, visiting, napping and sharing ideas. But the surrender to and acceptance of all these rules is a peculiar experience and I grapple with it daily. Even so, the quest, like that of the young rebels who put CBGB on the map, is a great adventure – and the learning is exhilarating.
Go listen to People Have the Power whether this post makes sense or not. It will make you happy on a Monday – although that’s easier here today since it’s the third amazingly gorgeous fall day in a row – with leaves turning and leaf smells beginning to fill the air. Which, I just realized, takes us right back to faith and gratitude for the world’s beauty when it shows up.
We are at the end of our stop in Hong Kong – such a special time with good friends. But after Angkor Wat I was so exhausted that I never wrote about it. Here is a bit – mostly in pictures.
As you can see above, the approach is stunning. The complex is surrounded by a moat, and because of the heat we arrived very early so it was especially lovely. It’s a mystical place, massive and beautiful. Below is a Buddha guarding a series of hallways. It’s one of the few who still has a head. As you can see in the next photo, many were detached and sold by smugglers. I was surprised to learn, when I asked, that for all the horror they created, the Khymer Rouge never touched one Buddha. I had assumed that they would be like the Taliban or ISIS in their rampant destruction of holy places but oddly, that was not the case.
Finally, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple,studded with Buddhas, and the Ta Phrom Temple, where parts of a Tomb Raider film were shot. That’s us, too!
We’re leaving Vietnam and I’m still astonished that we were here! I keep remembering the history and the battles and pain and rage and guilt of those years. We had a long discussion with our guide on our Mekong River cruise. His father fought for the South Vietnamese, his uncle for the North. His dad spent 8 years in a prison camp after Saigon fell; to this day he doesn’t speak to his Viet Cong brother. So much pain. So much might have been. So powerful to pass signs that say Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, Tan Son Nhut Airport, Mekong River, China Beach.
People here are definitely not as poor as those in Cambodia – not nearly, although the South is definitely better off than the North, and there’s a sense of forward motion that isn’t as present in Cambodia.
In both countries, it’s been important to think beyond the history so traumatic to them – and to us – and see them for what they are moving toward today. Just look:
We weren’t supposed to bomb Cambodia, but we did. I remember the day that the revered Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield first learned of Nixon’s “secret” attack on what seemed to be a gentle, somewhat innocent country for which he held considerable affection. He was almost trembling with rage. I know now that his anger arose from what he knew would happen to Cambodia as a result of this assault on a nation so far not actively involved in the conflict.
Here are the tenets of Buddhism described by our guide YuKu; they inspired gentle Cambodia then and still do today: Neutralism, Tolerance, Compassion and Sympathy; Learn to know, Learn to do, Learn to be, Learn to live together. In many ways, our bombing wiped out the capacity to follow them.
In the years before Richard Nixon ordered the bombings in 1970 (there were, to be fair, Viet Cong racing over the Vietnamese border into Cambodia to avoid US and South Vietnamese troops) Buddhism offered a foundation, and the Cambodian economy was growing well. The bombs put an end to that growth and threw the country into the vicious chaos that brought on the killing fields. In thosse terrible years, the Khymer rouge herded most of the people into the countryside to farm. Those who were were well educated were often executed instead. More than 2 million met torture and death.
For me, the visit to the temple and the rest of our day were haunted by my growing awareness of just what our bombs had retarded or destroyed. Not just temples and Buddhas. Not even just the futures of the educated or political. No.
We destroyed lives.
Cambodia has had to build or rebuild much of its infrastructure from roads to hospitals to schools.
We visited a school. And we met Monica.
We all know poor countries have fewer resources to educate their children but the gap between our worst school and this one is pretty big. The kids go to school free but must buy their books, workbooks and supplies. And the teachers? Their documents and supplies are stored in a dusty filing cabinet in the one-room office. Not a computer in sight.
This is a tiny school that lets tours pass through once in a while. I know it’s a tourist resource but there is no way to fake 41 kids singing to you about hygiene and brushing their teeth. Or to imagine the poverty and determination that surrounds their classroom. They lost so many years — maybe chunks of a generation, in fact, and are still far from recovered from those years.
For the village farmers it is the same. The simplicity of their homes and paucity of resources is shattering.
Part of the reason it is so painful to remember those days, whether here in Cambodia or in the US, where US universities exploded and four students died at Kent State at the hands of the National Guard, is that it doesn’t take long to determine that there is a basic sweetness in the Cambodian people that ill-prepared them to face down what landed upon them once the bombs began to fall.
You can see it in the face of our guide here as he sang to us before we left the bus to fly to Vietnam. I know this post is all over the place but I kept rewriting it and there’s so much more to tell you about that I’m just going to leave it as a meditation on a terrible time. Being in Cambodia and even more in Vietnam (that’s next) has awakened all kinds of things in me. Which is what is travel is for. It doesn’t help Monica and her friends though.
These are pictures from Bangkok’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha, where we spent much of Tuesday. So much beauty and mystery here. Above is part of the multiple-building temple. Below are a couple more scenes. It was really really hot and really really crowded as so many people, both the devout and the tourists, gathered to see the painstaking work that created this beautiful place.
I couldn’t resist this adorable little guy, sitting on a small block outside the building where Thailand holds coronations.
Our next day was fun – lounging and picnicking on the beaches of Ko Kut.
I had to include this; you’ll never guess what it is. Part of our adventure was “Caviar in the Surf” which is just what it sounds like. It was really weird – not the event but what it looked like. Droves of our fellow passengers moving together from the beach out into the sea to the tables of caviar — kind of spooky looking from the shore but a great treat for all.
We leave in the morning for Angkor Wat. More from there.
This is just a little bit of what we’ve seen wandering around this confusing city. Its level of exotic mystery is considerable; so too is the sense of an over-governed, highly disciplined universe. These photos are just a peek at the color, variety and mystery popping up all around us. A diverse community of Hindu, Muslim, Chinese, Malay, Indian and Anglo live together sharing four national languages (Malay, Mandarin,Tamil, and English.)
As we made our way in from the airport just past 1AM Thursday, we saw wide avenues and planned parks that seemed stifling within their neighborhoods, so we were delighted to learn how much more there is to this city than that first impression. However.
This is a tough, tough government. Even the tour guides note ruefully “Well yes, but I can’t talk about that.” In other words, if it’s about government rules, or the fines for littering or parking in the wrong place or or or — no comment. And caning transgressors – nope.
I thought it was just me who felt like I’d walked into a scene from Fahrenheit 541 or 1984 but no. Rick agreed that it’s kind of spooky here despite the ethnic variety and history and hodgepodge of design and architecture.
Whether at the gigantic conservatory “Gardens by the Bay” or the Chinatown Heritage Center or Orchard Road – an endless Rodeo Drive crammed with shoppers and women dressed like Donatella Versace – there’s a sense of programmed unreality.
Then there’s the government-sponsored Singapore Kindness Movement. designed to “improve the characters” of the people of Singapore. Kind of weird but OK… Still, on a tour bus the recorded guide’s rhetoric was infused with defense of the rules and policies that govern this place and its behavior. Government rules and monitoring affect attitudes, sense of humor and behavior. I was in Eastern Europe when it was behind the Iron Curtain and it was scary but people laughed about it and spoke with irony and a sense of the absurdity about much of what they faced.
In Singapore, the impact is worse, I think: scary, resigned acceptance and a spooky inhibition that slowly but surely lands upon a visitor.
It’s quite an experience to swing between the visual (and culinary) feast here and these authoritarian undertones.