Thursday, December 31, 2009

Into Africa

My son Matthew visited us at home in Connecticut recently following a trip to Tanzania to explain to the presidents of the five East Africa states the benefits of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program. He serves that non-profit organization as a marketing director. I asked him how it went and this was his response:

“I was invited to Tanzania to give a presentation to the East African Legislative Assembly where I represented the organization One Laptop per Child. The occasion was the tenth anniversary of the East African Legislative Assembly. In attendance were the Presidents of Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, and Zanzibar (a semi-autonomous state).

“My argument for OLPC was simple: learning should be the most engaging, most rewarding, most positive aspect of a child’s life, inside and outside school. High-quality education should be the paramount objective of any government. Connected laptops provide a cost-effective way for countries to create learning environments that facilitate the greatest possible development of all children, rich or poor, urban or rural, male or female, white or black.

“To turn that idea to a reality, OLPC, headed by founder Nicholas Negroponti, developed the world’s only low-cost, low-power, rugged, connected laptop, and has already distributed more than 1.5 million laptops to primary school children around the world. Because of the success of early deployments, national governments as diverse as Peru, Rwanda, Uruguay, Mongolia, Ghana and Nepal have committed precious resources to the purchase of XO laptops. The total number of machines deployed will soon reach 2 million. In the coming year, OLPC’s primary objective is to reach even more children in communities around the world in need of a transformation in education and increased access to knowledge.

“My invitation to address heads of state in East Africa represented a clear desire on behalf of the five East African nations to address head-on the need to transform education with technology, and to give their children the opportunity to become part of a rapidly growing global network of connected and educated young people. I was there to introduce the idea that if this generation of children could grow up able to design software, to think critically, and to connect to each other and to the world’s body of knowledge, then there is nothing that isn’t possible.”

Matt was previously a program manager with the United Nations World Food Program in Rome and has served as legislative director for Common Cause. He lives now in Connecticut.

In the video below, Matt starts his address at the 2:46 mark.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Good Year

Opening his TALE OF TWO CITIES, Charles Dickens famously said “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” He could have been talking about 1983 from my point of view. That was the year my father died, the year Terry and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Europe, the year I got a dream job and the year I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

The trip to Europe was transient; 25 years of marriage gave way to 50; my father has been gone 26 years now and my dream job evaporated as the two partners in the joint venture wound up at odds with each other. But Multiple Sclerosis remains, morphing from minor inconvenience to a life-altering roller coaster of a ride as unpredictable as it is distressing. It is not a disease for the faint of heart or for anyone without a strong supportive cast. I count myself lucky on both scores. I give myself no credit for avoiding the faint of heart thing; that’s a function of hardwiring, it just IS. As for support, I am blessed with a wife who is both caring and intelligent and willing always to take the extra step to assure my safety and well-being. And three grown sons and their wives, including Joe and Ilsa next door who provide muscle and emotional help when needed.

I would, of course, rather I didn’t need the help.. Funny how life works out. When my doctor steered me to a neurologist 26 years ago to figure out why I was experiencing dizzy spells, I underwent a battery of tests. The diagnosis was Multiple Sclerosis, which sent me into gales of laughter as I puzzled over the incompetence of anyone with the temerity to suggest that I--me--might have this thing called MS—whatever that was. Other than some athletic injuries, I had been remarkably free of anything approaching illness of any kind. I was a full-fledged jock; an All City basketball player in high school, a four-year scholarship player in college. I played in the Marine Corps; I played on an industrial league team that later became Cleveland’s entry in the professional American Basketball League.

I went on with my life. My dream job had taken me to Manhattan where I was running the communication efforts for a joint venture of IBM and Merrill Lynch. We took out a second mortgage on our Ridgefield house and bought a co-op apartmentt in the city. I continued my program of running several miles every day at dawn, taking advantage of the early quiet of the city, and run up Fifth Avenue to the Park from our apartment in Murray Hill. It was a great run, a look at the city eerily quiet and virtually deserted. MS be dammed! Like fun I said. I ran in Corporate Challenge races; I ran in races through Wall St. It was a great time.

And the business was exciting. We were developing an information system for the brokerage industry that would do everything but butter a broker’s bagel It was a large scale development effort with a whole floor filled with bright young programmers working well into each night. We were a media darling and were featured in the news magazines, the New York Times and all the trade magazines.

Terry’s and my personal life was at a high. We enjoyed everything the city had to offer. Lots of off-Broadway and good neighborhood restaurants. She became the executive director of a city greening effort called the Green Guerillas. She came to know every corner of the city where there might be a vacant lot on which to start a gatden. She became well known for her expertise and was later asked to start a similar program for the NY Botanical Garden where she became executive director of the program she started called Bronx Green Up. She was in demand as a speaker and let me tag along on trips to places like Brazil and Columbia.

But there were disturbing signs for me at work: the development effort was tougher and slower than expected, the target market of the nation’s 25 largest brokerages was being slow to accept the offering of their own single largest competitor—Merrill Lynch. Then the squabbling between the partners began and on New Years Eve in 1986 we were forced to issue a one-paragraph news release about the halting of operations. We took a terrible beating in the press where we had boasted loud and often of our prowess.

It was about that time that MS began taking its toll. I was taken back by IBM and moved into a new role, but my balance and coordination had become problematic and I had to begin using a cane, which I ascribed to a running injury to anyone who asked. I got myself enrolled in a clinical trial of a new drug at Yale New Haven, which showed promise for my chronic progressive MS. I was getting uncomfortable in the high anxiety environment in which I worked as I found it increasingly difficult to get around on one cane.

Then, miracle of miracles, IBM offered an early retirement program I qualified for. I took the money and ran. That turned out to be a good move. I spent the next couple of years as a consultant putting together some needed cash for retirement. Terry kept her director’s job at the Botanical Garden. MS had begun began to gallop and traveling became a memory as I moved to two canes then to a walker and finally to a wheelchair. My ability to speak clearly was affected. My mental processing speed slowed. I chased miracle drugs. Physical therapied myself to the wall, ran some prayers upstairs but never heard back. Despite it all, life was good. Both Terry and I had and still have an active life, good friends, three great sons and daughters-in-law, and six active grandchildren. I count myself lucky. Having been diagnosed later in life, I will probably avoid the more severe aspects of the disease like blindness and paralysis.

We play it one day at a time. Terry has the tougher role. She is by necessity the caregiver, housekeeper, bill payer, driver and cook. She is playing an active role in the raising of our latest grandchild. We worry about her own health. But while at times bemoaning lost opportunities, we are not in any way disconsolate and continue to do whatever we can to keep a healthy perspective and an active hand in the game. We have rented a rambling big house on the Rhode Island coast for a week this summer and the whole family will be there. We did the same thing in Tuscany a couple of years ago and we all still talk about it at our frequent family get-togethers.

Life, real life with all its rhythms, goes on.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Plausible Scenario?

Sara. Sara. Everywhere it’s Sara.

Everyone knows it’s absurd. Lazarus was only a story. Right?
Palin had been seriously hurt, some said buried, in her race for the vice presidency in 2008, compounded later by her decision to walk away from the Alaska Govenorship. But she’d stayed in touch with the core of admirers she’d attracted in her run with McCain in ’08. And here she was emerging again as the Republican front runner.

And nobody is laughing.

She remains the party’s lone rainmaker and the ultimate fulfillment of women’s rights with a charismatic style that turns Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson into stone men, Mike Huckabee into a carnie barker, Mark Sanford and John Ensign into sexual caricatures. Her autobiography came out in November ’09 and was a runaway best seller, just a month after Barrack Obama had made his prestige-laden trip to support Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic games only to lose to Rio de Janeiro. Coupled with the humiliating take down of his ambitious health care plan, his prestige was wobbling and the stars aligned for her.

Her staff in Alaska released her position paper that laid out her positions on every issue. No abortion, no gay marriage, immigrants beware. Her speech to a world wide audience of business leaders in Hong Kong was like soothing syrup to the business community battered by what they had perceived as an impossibly hard left hand turn under Obama. The nation’s seemingly intractable high unemployment rate was a backdrop to everything she said.

The Republicans geared for the mid term elections and looked ahead to 2012 and the polls that had once dismissed her showed a remarkable turn in her favor. She had built her relationships with the media into a love affair, and she hammered home her twin messages of fiscal restraint and family values.

Everyone knew she would stride into the convention in 2012 like a female colossus, preaching her message of fiscal conservatism and the historic role of women as keeper of the purse strings The Republican leadership was already rejoicing. .She would win the nomination on the first ballot, vowing fiscal restraint and world leadership through market leadership.
She would pick up the ball and never drop it, storm the country, dominate the talk shows ride the Internet like no one before her. Not content with saturated media coverage she will take herself into the country, speaking to the City Club in Cleveland, the McCormick Convention Center in Chicago, the Masonic Temple in San Francisco.

Somewhere in her travels she’ll be dubbed America’s Margaret Thatcher and she’ll never shrink from it. The economy, unemployment and family values are her stock in trade. She never wavers. She speaks in her down home style, with tasseled hair, steel rimmed glasses and off the rack pin stripe suit.

She never lets race enter her campaign but it sits there like the proverbial elephant in the room, kept alive by right wing followers and the racial tumor that still exists in the nation’s heartland. She defines Obama’s selection as the Nobel Peace Prize as an absurd gesture that demeaned the prestige of the award and hinted at the politics behind it.
Her popularity soars. “Long live our Margaret” became the nation’s cry. In a brutally close race she defeats Barrack Obama.

Within days of taking office, she begins the dismantling of everything that Obama had accomplished in his single term. The bounty once again begins to flow to the corporations, Wall Street, the wealthy and to a greatly relieved middle class, ready to begin the party again. The disadvantaged flinches but had lost their advocate. She had reinstated the tax breaks for the wealthy that had been laboriously taken apart by Obama; she slashed taxes across the board and lo and behold the economic engine of the world’s most productive machine began to pick up steam.

In the hill country outside Austin, in Silicon Valley and in upstate New York the production of semiconductors was surging, presaging the return of the information technology industry that had driven the economy for decades.

And yet…

There was a deep pocket of national unease at the opportunities that seemed to have slipped away. Obama had based his argument for universal health care on a moral imperative and the nation had slowly and reluctantly come to agree with him. But the health care program passed by congress had only dealt with it on the fringes and there was concern that s great opportunity had been squandered.

And the effects of her distain with Foreign Policy had become, apparent in her almost infantile grasp of foreign affairs and a complete lack of interest in the subject. It surfaced at her first meeting of the world’s industrial leaders who showed no interest in her charms and were appalled at her lack of understanding of their common concerns.

Back home she found herself on a collision course with North Korea and Iran who tested her with their plans to not only continue development of nuclear weapons but clear indications that they planned to put their nuclear secrets on the market.

Forced to react but nearly paralyzed by conflicting advice she reached for some degree of certainty. She gives Israel thumbs up to go after Iran and is gratified by the almost instant blitz on Iran that threatened to send that country back to the stone age, She met with Chinese leaders about N.Korea and while details were never made public China began military action against the North. The Korean peninsula reeled.

Russia, always suspicious of the giant on its border bared its nuclear fangs. Roiled by the rapidly developing deterioration of the world order India and Pakistan readied their nuclear armament. The world was in turmoil.

The U.S, which had served so effectively as the cop on the beat since the Second World War had lost moral leadership since Palin, had showed her distain for world affairs. The world was leaderless.

The nuclear trigger that began the end of civilization came from Pakistan where an aggressive military cabal took control of the nuclear firing room and sent multiple nuclear warheads into India’s population centers. India retaliated and suddenly Russia was making moves to put its vast nuclear arsenal at the ready. U.S. Intelligence sources and Palin’s military advisors convinced her that only a first strike against our old foe would save the country.

The world waited.