At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

Every now and then, I come across a news item that gives me pause...and takes my breath away. I experienced such a moment when I chanced upon news of the One Laptop Per Child Project.

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It’s 1971, and I’m applying myself in solving physics problems on a final exam, using...wait for it...a slide rule. Yep. I’m THAT old.

Over the course of my life, I bore witness to the birth and explosive growth of the “computer revolution.” I’ve seen, and experienced first-hand, the changes wrought in the workplace and the home by these wild and crazy things we call computers. I remember my first PC. I marveled at its capabilities although (in hindsight) they were laughably meager. I pondered then, and ponder today, the changes that computing brought to my world, our planet. I always assumed that computers will dramatically change the course of human events. They already have, in ways both positive and negative.

Computers are powerful tools indeed.

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Have you heard of Nicholas Negroponte? Until this past week, I had not. He co-founded and chaired MIT’s Media Lab. He became inspired.

I want to hug this man.

Nicholas Negroponte had a vision. He envisioned the use of personal computers to educate the uneducated. Big deal, you say? Yes. His vision is a VERY big deal. Mr. Negroponte became aware that 70 percent (!) of our world’s children receive NO formal education. None. Zip. Nada. He didn’t dream of harnessing personal computers to educate the children in developed countries. Many others have applied themselves (haphazardly) to that task. No, he dreamed of placing a laptop computer in the hands of every child in every god-forsaken, exploited, impoverished corner of the globe. Well, if one is to dream, it’s best to dream BIG. Oh my...a laptop for EVERY child...imagine THAT!

The amazing thing is that his dream may very well become reality...and soon. The necessary instrument is a laptop costing about $100 to manufacture. Not some cheap toy, mind you, but a full-blown, fully capable (more than capable) laptop that is self-powered, dust proof, waterproof, and loaded with the best educational tools that modern man can provide. A laptop that can connect wirelessly to the world, a computer that can serve its owners capably and well in far-flung villages bereft of electricity or phone lines, school houses or teachers. A laptop you and I would love to own.

Is this possible?

Yes. It already exists. You see, Mr. Negroponte marshaled the resources of bright minds and generous hearts to do the impossible, proving, yet again, that “where there’s a will there’s a way.” It’s a breathtaking accomplishment. Don’t believe me? Simply Google “one laptop per child” and you will find a wealth of information about the dream, its technological manifestation, and its deployment.

Go ahead, do it now...I’ll wait.

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I take a deep, long breath and imagine a world in which every child...every child...can access boundless knowledge, for the very first time in human history. I dream of a child who may come to study the Cosmos and become inspired to...achieve greatness. I dream of children whose once-blind eyes are finally opened to the world as it is...and as it may be. I dream of dreaming children...everywhere.

Who can predict what all this may mean for humanity? These laptops could be the modern-day equivalent of Pandora’s Box, revealing to all too many the disparity between the have’s and the have not’s. Maybe. Maybe knowledge and awareness will lead to envy...anger...
disgust...revolution. Maybe. Maybe knowledge will lead to further exploitation; maybe the laptops will serve as conduits for lies and more lies. Maybe...maybe...maybe. So many maybe’s.

But I truly believe in the innate goodness of the human heart.
I believe in the genius residing within each of us.

I believe in possibilities.

Each child is a boundless treasure trove of possibilities. How many scientists, engineers, healers, scholars, teachers, composers, entrepreneurs, visionaries, philosophers, mystics, poets and creators will be unleashed?

Excuse me while I catch my breath.

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Imagine the possibilities!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Peddling Poetry

I’m going to plagiarize myself again (shhhhhhhhh!). I wrote this some time ago (for that same, defunct literary blog) to sing the praises of the poet Mary Oliver. Those of you who have followed my ramblings over time have encountered a few of her poems sprinkled here and there. I thought it worthwhile to focus on her work a bit more. She is a marvelous poet. I daresay, even those not usually fond of poetry may find her words enchanting.

Catholic nuns impressed upon me, at a very early age, that it was a desecration (bordering on mortal sin) to dog-ear the pages of a book. In my innocent youth I strove to respect every book I touched. Miscreant that I am, however, I eventually succumbed to dog-earing the pages of poetry books. I wanted to find my favorite poems as quickly as possible. Hence…despite chronic guilt…I filled my shelves with tomes of poems, ragged but glorious in their defilement.

And so it was when I picked up Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems – Volume One. Each page ended bent and frayed. Dog-eared page after dog-eared page, I found myself transported to a profoundly beautiful world of owls, hummingbirds, swamps, forests, daisies, sunflowers, ravens, deer and herons. Mary Oliver renders the ordinary extraordinary and finds deeper truths in the living world surrounding us. I found her poems so captivating that I realized, about halfway through her book, that I had dog-eared every page. There was simply no need to mark all the pages. Each poem was a joy, a gift, a revelation. Yes, she is THAT good. She truly deserves her Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award. This book is, without a doubt, my favorite poetry collection of all time (sorry Pablo and May…).

For those of you who have yet to experience the wisdom and innate goodness of Mary Oliver, here are a few morsels:

“…and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms…”

“…for it’s true, isn’t it,
in our world,
that the petals pooled with nectar, and the polished thorns
are a single thing –
that even the purest light, lacking the robe of darkness,
would be without expression –
that love itself, without its pain, would be
no more than a shruggable comfort…”

“…where the hummingbird comes
like a small green angel, to soak
his dark tongue in happiness –“

“When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms…”

“Look, I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.”

“In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.”

“…you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal:
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

“Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.”

“Because we lived our several lives
Caught up within the spells of love,
Because we always had to run
Through the enormous yards of day
To do all that we hoped to do,
We did not hear, beneath our lives,
The old walls falling out of true,
Foundations shifting in the dark.”

“…and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing that you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.”

* * *

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Rainy Night

It’s 2 AM, and the rain is pouring down. Outside my window, the thunder growls and lightning cracks the sky. Maybe I’ve had a glass of wine too many.

Maybe I haven’t had near enough.

The rain pours down, the heavens cry, and I feel an old, familiar hunger. It’s nights like this when solemn ghosts and broken souls rise silently from the graveyards in my mind...

Cold mists crawl through open bedroom windows. I feel the raindrops on my naked back and shoulder. It’s another rainy night, and I’m lost again in my old, familiar shattered dreams.

What's left for me to do, but dream of what may someday be?

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Awwwww. Universal Music Group just had this video removed from embedding. Such a pity. Here is the URL if you'd like to view it:

(P.S. - Watch it in "Full Screen" mode)

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Shifting Perspectives

I’m going to plagiarize myself today. I feel no guilt. I’m indolent by nature. I wrote most of this entry over a year ago for another blog (a now-defunct literary blog). I had just reread George Orwell’s 1984 (for the umpteenth time), and had put my thoughts to paper.

Orwell’s words continue to resonate within me. Karl Rove’s recent “retirement” brought this book back to mind. In case you haven’t guessed, I consider Karl Rove (well, the entire Bush administration, actually), the embodiment of evil.

I realized how much one’s perspective can change over time. I first read 1984 in high school. I was attending an all-boys’ Catholic school (as a student in the “Honors” class). Anyway, we read this book and argued its meanings vigorously. Oh, how we debated Nazism, Stalinism, European Socialism, Marxism, Maoism, Capitalism, etc.! We averred that 1984 could never happen here in America. We were full to bursting with book smarts and testosterone. We felt our opinions had gravitas. We considered ourselves to be thoughtful intellectuals. My God, we had even begun to shave!!! Turns out we were nothing more than downy-whiskered children.

We understood nothing.

I picked up this book again in my late twenties. I had been to the Soviet Union. There I met my paternal grandfather for my one and only time. You see, he had been exiled to the Russian gulag slave-labor prison system for 20 years. He spent several years in Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo prison being tortured and beaten repeatedly (he was rendered an epileptic as a result). It was in Lithuania that I heard about aunts, uncles and cousins who had starved to death in the frozen Siberian wilderness. I had red-faced, alarmed strangers hush me on the tram when I casually offered an opinion about what I witnessed all around me. I had visited the Doleriniai, the “Dollar Stores” (stores that only accepted U.S. currency…i.e., money from tourists) with shelves creaking from the ponderous mass of merchandise…and the empty bakery and butcher shops that supposedly offered goods to the average citizen. I saw long, dispirited lines in front of depleted shops. I saw despoiled, abandoned churches. I saw political posters and slogans everywhere. I slept in a room where the radio played constantly…eavesdropping on my every conversation (the well-traveled hotel guests and several staff had warned me the rooms were bugged). I saw frustration, hopelessness and fear. My perspective had changed. George Orwell was right. He had brilliantly foreseen the motives, means and methods that would be used by those in power to stay in power.

I finally understood what it all meant in human terms. I had witnessed the reality of what George Orwell had foreseen.

Fast forward three more decades. I’ve come to understand that Orwell wasn’t decrying a particular regime. Not at all. He spoke to a universal truth: that people in power, the wealthy, the privileged and spoiled (regardless of political persuasion), maintain control through artifice, fear and illusion. The Bush administration is chillingly reminiscent of the regime portrayed in 1984. Not as extreme, certainly, but close enough. Too close (Gitmo, waterboarding and warrantless wiretapping, Alberto?).

But it wasn’t politics that drew me back to this book. No, I’d had my fill of doublethink and the realities of power. I was haunted by the final vision of Winston and Julia sitting in two iron chairs facing each other with nothing to say. I wanted to revisit their love story.

I’ve come to see that George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair, actually) saw the world with an exceptionally keen eye. He was not writing about a particular regime. He understood universal truths. He wrote that there are three kinds of people in this world: the High, the Middle and the Low. I’ve come to understand the truth of that. I look at the world, and my own United States, and I see how the struggle manifests itself. We live in a time of doublethink and Newspeak right here within our very shores. Orwell understood power and control even better than Karl Rove. But Orwell wasn’t just an observant critic. He understood that, while we will always be subjected to the whims and the grotesqueries of the High’s, our human relationships are our only salvation. Our only refuge against the horrors and injustices of the world is our basic humanity. Love is our only sanctuary. I’ve come to understand what I think Orwell was trying to communicate. Only love can protect and save us. That “what mattered were individual relationships, and a completely helpless gesture, an embrace, a tear, a word spoken to a dying man, could have value in itself.”

I see now that Orwell wrote a cautionary tale. The world is harsh. Power is greedy and cruel. All we have is love. Deny love, betray love, reject love and we are surely doomed.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Even Mannequins...

need a little love...

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Quenching Our Thirst

We met in grammar school (many decades ago), my band mates and I. We each spoke three languages: Lithuanian, English and...Music.
Of the three, it was the language of music that bound us together...and keeps us together.

We led radically different lives, were pulled in diverse directions, traveled down different roads. No matter. Inside each of us is Song. We hear it. We share it. And we love each other all the more for that. All the more.

Last night, we (this band of brothers) went to see Dream Theater in concert. Ever hear of them? A pity if not. Here’s a savory sampling:

If you, Dear Reader, have followed my blog, my ramblings, you know I have so little faith in words. Words can be such traitorous things. Words can cut sharper than a knife, lay to waste one’s hopes and dreams. I can live just fine without words, thank you very much. But music? No. I cannot survive without music. Neither can my brothers.

And so it is that when we find ourselves standing knee-deep in the River of Life...and dying of thirst...we turn to music, the only true language of the Soul.

Music sustains us. Music heals.

We went to a concert, my brothers and I, and quenched our thirst.

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I drove home in the dead of night. It was past midnight when I left the city and sped down country roads. I drove through mist and fog.
I hurtled through the earthbound clouds. All the while, my soul was singing. All the while, I felt in love with every musical soul...I felt in love with my brother band mates. I felt in love.

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OK. I simply can’t resist. Here’s another tasty morsel of two musical souls playing:

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

She's Just Killing Me


Oh! Play it LOUD, OK!?!

Really...REALLY LOUD!!!! (OK, OK..."loudly." Satisfied?)

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hot Summer Night

Curtains hang slack aside the open window. The midnight air perspiring, dank. Outside, a furtive craving moon peeks through veils of mist. Inside, just glow enough to illumine ghosts. Skin, breath and blood are hungry hot. Sheets drape wet on the sleepless bed.

A woman can rob your soul on a night like this. Make you crazy.
Make you do bad, bad things. On a night like this, enveloped in sweat and heat and’ll do anything she wants...

A night of sweat, soft skin and searing seed. The night you surrender to her needs...

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