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.


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.


Robert Altman’s 40-Year-Old “Nashville,” Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin and a Song

Robert Altman‘s Nashville is a perfect movie. This very sexy song from the film, written and performed by Keith Carradine (currently playing Madame Secretary‘s (CBS) boss, the President of the United States) won the best original song Oscar in 1976.*

He is singing to Lily Tomlin, who plays a white gospel singer with two deaf children; despite her marriage, she is as isolated as the metaphor suggests.  Their attraction is clear and heady: as he addresses his performance to her it’s clear they will find a time  – just once – to be together.  It’s a lovely moment in a harsh story.

The film is political, angry and brilliant.  It would be remarkably relevant today; you could say the demagoguery and tea-party-like characters were “ripped from the headlines” if the film weren’t 40 years old.   See for yourself; in addition to a wonderful film, you’ll get to see Carradine and Tomlin knock your socks off.


*This iconic 1979 winner from Norma Rae , “It Goes Like It Goes”, never really got the attention it deserved either – and in some ways they’re so similar.

When You Ask Me About Smart Social Media – This Is IT!!!

The great Daniel Silva using the news of the day to subtly remind us, through this Facebook post, that his new book is coming (sort of) soon.  Nice job Daniel!

Billionaire art collector Steve Cohen, one of the most successful hedge fund managers ever, has become the unwitting catalyst in an alleged international art fraud stretching from New York to Monaco and Singapore.

The alleged fraud was uncovered during a New Year’s Eve dinner between Cohen’s New York art consultant, Sandy Heller, and Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev — when Heller told his pal that Cohen had just sold a Modigliani painting, “Nude on a Blue Cushion,” for $93.5 million.     NYPOST.COM

Did We Thank Title IX on Thanksgiving?

imageThere’s a beautiful breakfast buffet at the hotel we stayed at for Thanksgiving weekend; Wednesday morning was a pretty thin crowd so there was a lot of easy chat from table to table and in the buffet line. Just in front of me at the omelet station was a very tall young woman — around 30 or 35.

“My husband and I together aren’t as tall as you are!” I teased. “Did you hate that in high school?”

“Oh, no” she replied, “I played basketball so I was fine about being tall.”

“WOW – Thank you Title IX” I laughed.

You can guess what came next: she’d never heard of 42-year-old Title IX and had no idea what it was or why it had been so necessary or what would have become of her basketball opportunities without it. Like my most-admired friend Veronica Arreola,  we all need to help the girls coming up behind us understand how far we’ve come and how very far we still need to go.


Facing the Political Future: a Sadly Personal Perspective

Harold Ickes

I’ve been hiding from the news, which is weird since I spent most of my life as a journalist.  I’m not sure though, that after 8 agonizing years of W and then 6 frustrating ones with President Obama (much of it not his fault) I can face what the next congress will do.

Do you remember the various, endless Clinton hearings?  Even more than the impeachment battle, the moment that I keep remembering was deeply personal: Sen. Alphonse D’Amato questioning Deputy Chief of Staff (and my longtime friend) Harold Ickes, whose father, also Harold, had been Secretary of the Interior in the Roosevelt Administration, and credited with implementation of much of the New Deal.

His father, D’Amato told Harold, would have been ashamed of him.

I had worked with Harold when we were all young, so along with political anger came real pain that, beyond the issues, he had faced such very cruel personal grandstanding.

That’s not important in policy terms and is probably mild compared to the harshness that any witnesses at the pending, inevitable deluge of hearings under a Republican congress will face: two years of destructive power escalating the politics of obstruction to that of destruction.  Beyond what that will mean to our country, poor people, women, immigrants, ACA users, voting rights, Supreme Court nominations,  and the jeopardy we face around the world, none of which will receive much attention except as political weapons, it’s just not something that will be easy to watch, especially for an unrepentant dreamer like me.