Truth Bleeds

21 August 2014

Dear J-

The byline is Ferguson, but the concept is clear, as it has been every fifty years. If someone powerful could be blamed, let’s instead heap scorn on the victim. How many times have you heard the trope of how oh, she was asking for it, dressed the way she was? Or because of what he did for a living? Mike Brown, who was stopped for jaywalking on a road between apartments (it sounds like a road that the city owns and pays for in order to subsidize some property owner’s costs), we’re told is now a robbery suspect (oops, sorry, it looks like he paid for those Swisher Sweets) who was violent towards the police officer (oh … perhaps we shouldn’t listen to anonymous, uncorroborated sources).

On the other hand it’s deeply disheartening to see what we’ve become: we’re so eager to hear those reports that reinforce our biases so we can go back to not caring so much. I’m a tumblr person who explores hashtags infrequently but I sat down and read through an hour’s worth of posts on Ferguson, paying particular attention to the folks who thought this was a mountain out of a molehill. It’s interesting that libertarians who regularly decry the use of police force to regulate, say, firearms or cults (Waco!) have been slow to condemn both the shooting murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent violent suppression of protestors and media. Apparently this isn’t a cause to be too worried about. Police overreach and brutality only happens when you don’t cooperate with the police, right?

I’m as guilty as anyone else of seeking out sources that confirm my views but this isn’t a half-hour lesson to be taught at bedtime (should anyone’s mother have to teach their children the phrase “hands up don’t shoot”? be thankful that you don’t, either) packaged and then forgotten until the next time. That’s what the protests are about; not that it happened, but hoping the lessons here aren’t so easily forgotten, that there shouldn’t be a next time, next time. There is a deep undercurrent of deserved resentment in Ferguson because of years of mistreatment in the wake of white flight, and that we should be able to understand it and bottle it up in half an hour, bolstered by potentially falsified, anonymously sourced reports (echoed endlessly in the media by folks who should know better) is deeply obscene.

Mike

P.S. Unnamed sources in my head tell me this is the best post ever!

Fright Night

20 August 2014

Dear J-

After today: is this even worth discussing? After today, what happens? What do I do next? There’s a fair amount of work doing the things I do … best? There’s a presentation. There’s some fun things, creatively, in knowing the audience is lawyers and you want them to gasp when they see some of the charts for the first time. I suppose there are many in that audience who would fancy themselves excellent poker players, full of nonplused faces and cool under pressure, but even the best are human and I’d wager (ha! like I wager) there’s something dramatic to be unveiled so they should enjoy that particular brand of fun too, right?

I dunno what I’m saying. I’m reading a novel — The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks which is probably a fine enough novel on its own (the omniscient narrator, in a nod to the concept of the panopticon, keeps dropping tantalizing hints about future plot points) but right now my eyes are riveted to Ferguson, Missouri and what’s happening in the streets along with the words being used to marginalize the protests (it’s not a demonstration, it’s a riot complete with looting (folks breaking in to McDonald’s to get milk to flush their eyes) and violence). It doesn’t help Frankie‘s cause that I just finished Saving Lucas Biggs, which speaks eloquently of nonviolent protest and the sacrifices involved.

What’s happening every night in Ferguson is uncontrollable grief born of love and loss, enflamed by the idiots in power who thought it would be a good idea to muddy the water through victim blaming. I understand the need to close ranks around your fellow officers, but when you look at what you’ve wrought then it’s clear your policies will no longer be tolerated. The latest vibe is how the violence is being incited by a few bad characters who are attracted by the violence and lawlessness, but I can’t help but wonder what you expect after knocking people down with rubber bullets and tear gas every night, decades after watching folks being knocked back with water cannons and dogs. I watch history being replayed — dark moments from fifty years ago — and I can’t help but wonder at the chasm between words and deeds.

Mike

We are We

19 August 2014

Dear J-

I’ll bet I know more about the people on train 102, southernmost bike car than I do about cooking at home. San Mateo: that guy’s getting out at Sunnyvale, the other one at Lawrence. Sometimes the guy who gets off at Redwood City is there too. Hayward Park and Hillsdale: those two guys who work for Stanford Maintenance. Belmont: the lady in scrubs, she gets out at Palo Alto too. So on and so forth; it was a long day yesterday and another long effort today will get me to where I need to go, although I do have to set up an appointment/meeting at some point. Business and opportunity; simple things will make your life easier.

It’s really more of a damning statement about how little cooking I do, although I do it passably well if my hand is forced. We fall into our little patterns and me having to do it all yesterday makes me think I should help out more in the evenings; that’s a lot of work. The forced perspective trick is pretty useful, hey? We have our own view of what happened in the past and it’s easy to keep yourself needlessly wracked by guilt when in fact you may have been able to save yourself some worry by just talking, or even doing the proverbial mile in their shoes. No one knows all the answers all the time, even those kids with perfect SAT scores, so it’s useless to feel jealous that way.

I’ve been pondering this since last night; you choose your battles and whether to be angry and outraged or not, whether what’s happened is too much or the last straw or which straw is the last one you counted and doesn’t that seem pretty arbitrary any way? You choose whether to look at the world in a sympathetic light or when to pass judgment on people you don’t even know but for their actions (by my deeds shall I be known?). At home? Poopy diapers? Not a big deal. How about this: at home, bringing Ferguson into the living room via the news and what’s happening there amidst the words and prior history and tear gas? You define your attitude.

Mike

Hero Worship

18 August 2014

Dear J-

I’m glad I didn’t talk myself out of going to see Gene Luen Yang at our local public library this weekend. I had a whole list of potential excuses ready to go — oh, it’s too crowded, or the timing doesn’t work, or we’d have to pay for parking, or any number of potentially plausible reasons. Plus there was a creative component involved (create your own comic character!) and lord knows I don’t do creative under a schedule, but there I was, stuck for anything better to handle. I’m grateful that I had the chance to go, though, and that theVet took the kids to play in the kids’ area as well, so I was able to devote my full attention to the task at hand.

I’d forgotten it was on my birthday seven years ago that I got to read American Born Chinese for the first time — when I pulled up the entry, it was with some trepidation that I saw I’d titled it “… and now Miguel” and quoted liberally from that work by Joseph Krumgold. Yet I understand what I was doing: both are about growing up and learning where you fit into the world, what makes sense and what hard work does for you after multi-year dreams. And now I understand a bit better about the man behind the works, too; once they pulled the curtain back, how was the wizard? More than I had expected, and better besides.

You could draw a lot of parallels in our lives, I think. Both Cal grads (him, ’95 EECS; me, ’96 ME/NE: our paths must have crossed at some point). Glasses. Uh. There’s more, but I’d feel like I was prying at some point rather than proudly listing off ways we’re similar. I told him I found his work deeply resonant, though, and that was the highlight of the day for me, finding out that we had some things in common and that being one of the reasons why it felt so familiar when I first read it. I wondered if there are any ways to politely toot your own horn without trying to sound too offensive, but I’m starting to realize this is part of life: no one knows your story better than you, and if it’s worth sharing, you’d better get on it as soon as you can.

Mike

Content Creation

15 August 2014

Dear J-

I may not make it; there’s a lot of book left between where I am and the end, and while the writing is sparkling, I’m not convinced it’s for me, all the time every time. On the other hand I’ve been wanting to read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for years, it seems, and there will be other opportunities. More, perhaps, once I get over my current obsession (which is, thanks to an Android program, apparently pirated manga). Let me back up. I have in boxes somewhere two complete sets of Maison Ikkoku , one of which — the reversed first edition — I bought new as each volume came out, and the other — the un-flipped reissue with the “missing chapters” restored — I chanced upon in a used bookshop.

I think I’ve said before how cheap I am. Used things don’t necessarily bother me from a ew-someone-else-handled-this perspective (unless we’re talking food or underwear, and even with food I have a lowered sense of shame in eating, for instance, the kids’ leftovers), so it makes perfect economic sense to save money where you can — used movies! jeans! games! books! — and to support those retail establishments where you can get them, particularly thrift stores, which tend to benefit the community directly. Like they say, the rich stay rich by saving money (which probably means no frivolous/extraneous purchases). On the other hand, you end up overwhelmed with stuff cluttering up your life and things that you maybe watched (or played) once aren’t necessarily going to be replayed again in, well, ever.

This is where digital downloads make a lot of sense. They take up relatively little space (besides the physical storage medium, which is often incorporated into existing equipment) and they’re usually cheaper than a new retail boxed copy. More importantly, or at least so I hope, they benefit the content creator(s) more directly. Does that make sense? Amazon is blocking Hatchette books in a strong-arm attempt to lower ebook prices (new releases should be US$9.99, Amazon declares) and I’ve seen a shocking amount of comment cheering them on because, as they say, lower prices are always good for the consumer. I’m willing to pay more for the ebook — if my highest priority was price, I’d be borrowing from the library (uh, yes) and looking in used shops (not so much any more) — if it means supporting the creator in more creative works. If Amazon have their way in this, it’s not Amazon nor the publisher who are going to get squeezed on this, it’s the creators. How much do you value good content, and what are you willing (or able) to pay?

Mike

Fears Realized

14 August 2014

Dear J-

I’ve figured out a way to automatically generate histories based on simple principles and average operations; now if I just knew a way to make it useful. These are the thrills of the spreadsheet operators, whose very stock in trade is lining up numbers on a sheet and making them march in clever time, though I may never be quite so smart as to figure out how to get consecutive nonzero cell counts without relying on search powers and smart Internet people. Let’s see … I could do a half-assed job at some of these things, or we could instead try to concentrate on one project at the suffering of others. What’s probably going to end up happening instead is me taking the laptop home to work tonight.

I like the concept of the noble suffering for art (or in this case, work)’s sake, but in practice it’s a lousy thing to execute. The longer you spend on false trails and manual work, the less time you have to spend on actual analysis, stuff that’s useful or what you were supposed to be doing all along (hey, no one is interested in being billed for mechanistic rote work), right? So now the question is whether or not you want to cut your losses here and write up what you have, or if it’s even worth continuing to tweak and tweak and tweak some more. The smart thing is to know when you’ve done enough and stop, for the love of everything, stop refining to the point where it’s completely unrecognizeable.

Plus no one wins with your self-inflicted pariah syndrome. Let’s be clear: the amount of effort you spend is masked by what your analysis has to show; if you can’t write up your conclusions in a cogent way, you might as well be continuing to work in obscurity; no one will understand or care what you have actually done. These things will continue to darken your outlook until you’ve acquired a reputation for overthinking the problem; I know, it’s a terrible thing, right? It’s a question of effort and management: know where to spend your energy, and if all that’s needed is a reasonable answer quickly, then by all means, figure out the most efficient way to get there. Next time I’ll know but this time … there was a lot of development.

Mike

Let’s Talk

13 August 2014

Dear J-

The first rule is this: can I do something to affect the outcome? It’s a simple question, just a yes or no answer (“I don’t know” is also perfectly acceptable) but it goes a long way to the next few steps. I need some kind of a mantra to keep the initial impulses under control (yelling out at strangers and family and friends is not the correct choice; it is almost never the correct choice, in fact, but there you are, lips flecked with spittle and ranting on about something else again) so let’s try to think of one. I used to believe that being awesome was sufficient excuse for being right all the time, but having a family has thoroughly disabused me of that notion. I’m not. And the charming mess that is me ranting at the world is less charming by the day; I’m like the world’s oldest four year old instead.

You know how people will stop counting birthdays after a certain point? “Hey, I’m twenty-one for the fourth time …” No one stops counting at four; there’s still a lot of life to be led beyond that and milestones and achievements to be had, places to see and so much to look forward to, too. So let’s start with “can I control this?” and build something from that. Suppress the first impulse and put your hand in your pocket and touch something. There’s gotta be something in your life that makes you think of control. For those kids who grew up holding Nintendo pads, the iconic square controllers will have to do. It’s better than trying to fit a whole Atari joystick into your pocket, at any rate. Maybe you have an extra key or something?

Put your hand in your pocket to put your tongue away.

Touch a control to see if you can control your situation. Or if you have a key, let that be the key to the situation.

Can you talk without yelling? If not, go back to touching.

Realize this: the negotiation between the forces inside your head (the yellers versus the rationals) will have to go on at the same time that you’re talking to other people. The other people are there to help. They are not there to try to hurt you, or argue with you, or any of the attacks in your head, whether imagined or real. Weather the storm instead, and return when you can speak rationally.

More later.

Mike

Don’t Look Back

12 August 2014

Dear J-

What do you miss from San Diego? We’re coming up fast on a year since we left and haven’t returned yet, nowhere near in fact. This confirms a pattern we’ve had with other moves; I remember leaving the duplex in Davis and never passing by there again (as far as I know I’ve only been back once since we left, and then only to the campus). We did swing by the little house in North Park a couple of times, but that was because it was on the way to the Big Kitchen and we were in the area. I wonder what might be brewing in Clairemont, but neighborhood-wise we have it nice here in San Mateo: walking distance to parks (we need to go visit some parks more often, I think), nice breezes off the Bay and quiet. We had the quiet in Clairemont, too, but it wasn’t really laid out for walking.

I miss being a member or holding passes to the various world-class attractions in the area; we would always have something to do on the weekends, and jostling with tourist crowds seems different when you have to pay to get in. Going to San Francisco and doing the same isn’t quite the same as pushing your way through a Sea World crowd, y’know? I’d hear a lot of accents at the Zoo, too, and that would fill me with a sense of pride, knowing that we were a destination, a desirable destination. On the other hand we have yet to scratch the surface of some of what this region holds; like I was saying yesterday we need to get out and make some more summer memories.

Let’s think about that for a moment; are there more memories or regrets when associated with experiences compared to things? How many times have you said “oh I wish I had …” when you think about what you did versus what you bought? My parents were singularly disapproving of the annual fireworks expenses, asking if we’d be better off just setting twenty dollars on fire instead (standard disclaimer: do not light your money on fire) but instead it’s the memories of the various excitements (I can’t wait!) and the actual events that stand out in my mind. Sure it wasn’t cheap but it was worth it, right? So me looking back at San Diego fondly has to do less with the house and more that the fun we had isn’t continued.

Yet.

Mike

Memento Summer

11 August 2014

Dear J-

Monday is when I’m supposed to be the most well-rested and ready to tackle things; on the other hand there was the preceding weekend, which was less strenuous (less driving, more laziness) than the past few, but also less exciting too. I’ve been contemplating a few more activities to round out the summer, now that summer has fled the building in favor of school and schedules. First: we need to go to a baseball game. Second: the circus is coming to the Cow Palace, which we have to visit just because it’s a palace for cows (no, literally: the Grand National Rodeo). Third: no beach yet this summer? Fourth: Santa Cruz; there’s a classic carousel there and rides for the kids, though they’re smaller than what’s allowed for most of them, so maybe in a few more years instead?

I’m ambivalent about the circus; they do have elephants and elephants in captivity are like orcas, exhibiting the same social hierarchies but also unobserved behaviors and various neuroses. I’m sure we’re anthropomorphizing our observations but at the same time how do you show the kids these animals without being independently wealthy enough to go on safari every few years? Are the zoos any better? We can do what we can to balance out and make their exhibit as close to the wild as possible but I’m sure it’s not nearly enough; I’m acutely aware of how public perception can affect your livelihood (hi, ex-SONGS people, whose ranks swell by the day) and I have sympathy for them.

There’s something undeniably seedy about the circus, but there’s also an undercurrent of excitement. Sure, it’s an excuse to have snacks and popcorn but also an opportunity for some memories. If nothing else that’s what I’m taking out of the weekends we were lucky enough to spend with our nephew and niece. There are lots of opportunities to buy things and do stuff but only a few times you get to make lasting impressions; when we went to Monterey and then Watsonville a few years ago, I still have indelible images printed on the front of my mind which got nice echoes this year as we went ahead and tackled the deeper questions of how to spend your summer.

Mike

Roll On

8 August 2014

Dear J-

For half a minute there you could almost imagine yourself rolling backwards as you pull into the station while the other train pulls out. All your visual reference is filled by the train running in the opposite direction and you can’t tell for that brief interlude if the brakes aren’t working or indeed, if you’ve reversed direction smoothly and without cease. I recommend it. Even as your inner ear tells you you’re slowing, you pick up on motion visually and … trippy. I suppose that there is more to it than tricking the lizard part of your brain but hey, if you’re looking for cheap thrills …

I keep thinking I should have spent more time with my family this summer; there were days off I could have used or places I could have suggested more in line with where we were ultimately planning to visit: rides, fairs; when they say there’s stuff for the whole family I need to honor that with a good effort to find things that all four kids would want to attend. I think we’ve eaten hamburgers at least once a week (remember when we used to get McDonald’s no more than once a year, growing up? are we killing the kids with good intentions?) for the past few months and me being me, I should know that I should just quit ordering for myself and fixing up a big batch of leftovers from the kids instead.

Summer is fleeing; the days are warm and the evenings still light, but for someone who watches the sun rise from the bike saddle I’m seeing a lot more darkness in the mornings, which is likely to persist as we march on towards another fall and winter; I’ll break out progressively heavier shirts and pants until the eye is no longer fooled by the inexorable movement of time forward always forward. Expansion. Entropy. What does next year hold? Next month? Tomorrow? We’ll meet up again soon enough, and all the first impressions I might have had will be either without merit or familiar, personas to slip on and pass along.

Mike


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