Archive for the ‘why’ Category

Pegler Party

17 September 2008

Dear J-

We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.

— from Sarah Palin’s speech at the RNC (now attributed to Westbrook Pegler)

Well, it certainly made for a nice little paean to the joys of small-town life; I’m sure it resonated in a lot of heads, mine included (we grew up in Cheney, less than eight thousand people).  But at the same time, there’s a ton of reasons that I never moved back to a small town.  When we were looking to places to live after theVet graduated from Davis, the choice boiled down to either San Diego or Clearlake, a bucolic place where the local crime sheet was filled with tales of dogs breaking into houses and consuming food left lying out.  I thought that we had made a mistake, but now I can’t say we did.

There’s a certain naivete in trusting blindly in a populist view; free from the corrupting, decadent influences of city life and higher education, you’d think that moral values would blossom.  Back in Cheney — the entire eastern half of Washington, really — we threw out the sitting Speaker of the House, Tom Foley, in favor of a fast-talking George Nethercutt, who advocated term limits.  DC politics were in for a change.  No more business as usual, no more good old boy network, here we’d finally have a break from the same representation we’d kept for the last thirty years.  And then, breaking his own pledge and central tenet, he ran for a third term explaining that hey, he’d just got there and now he’d have a real opportunity to change things.  And better yet, we bought it and re-elected him.  So there’s a vote for the corrupting influence of politics, right?

The cynic in me believes that it was Nethercutt’s plan all along.  We believe in the myth of outside corrupting forces because it absolves us from blame.  Not my fault, if I hadn’t been exposed to that, after all … It’s funny when you consider the source of that small-town homily; as The Wall Street Journal reports, the author, Westbrook Pegler, was little more than an unrepentantly self-described racist.  Why should we live with the regurgitated lies of a half century ago?  We live in an era where lies grow lives when repeated often enough.  A casual disregard for the truth, for verifying sources, for excessive hyperbole is almost de rigeur now, unfortunately.  Where do we continue from here?  How can we trust someone like this?



Dream Now, Together

21 January 2008

Dear J-

Today at work I finally noticed the snickering undertone regarding THAT holiday today, for THOSE FOLKS. If absent, that called into question your work ethic, whether or not you took the day as a holiday or out ill. The same newspaper that ran this ad on Saturday (thanks for ever-more questionable decision making, David Copley) put up the AP article today about how Rev. King’s legacy has been reduced to a single sound bite — “I have a dream …” — without exploring the meaning behind the speech, the further legacy of the man, or even what the dream is.


Our local American Legion post would sponsor a yearly “What does Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech mean to you?” essay contest for the local schools, with the prize meaning you got published in the paper, and divided by grade level — all right, so our school was small (100-some odd kids in my grade) and the town was small too (the potatoes were, at best, teeny) — but it was a shot at something I always felt strongly about, and never won because I took too literal an interpretation of the subject, considering his speech as a snapshot without context from the perspective of comfortable 1986.

Set it against a backdrop of race riots, segregation, forced busing, buses forcing seats, National Guard troops facing off against the Army to protect the rights of children — children! — to go to school, a governor barring the paths physically and legislatively — set it against the fabric of turmoil and the message becomes clear. And relevant.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

Let those words ring in your head a moment. “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity” is molten gold that would consume all the dross arguments of enough’s enough or belief that there’s got to be some kind of limit to what’s available. How deep does your compassion run? How many times have you found more from seemingly empty cabinets? The “fierce urgency of now” tells me that there’s no reason to wait for change. Even here in liberal, egalitarian Southern California, we have the belief that there’s my world, and there’s your world, never believing the two overlap despite the evidence in the service (who cooks your restaurant meals?), entertainment (what’s your music?), and technical (why do all the engineers have accents lately?) industries.

Now. We’re tired of stereotypes. Now. We’re tired of pigeonholes. Now. We’re tired of assumptions. Now. We’re tired of glass ceilings. Now. We’re tired of you thinking you know us without knowing me and him and her. Now.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

The speech goes far beyond the oft-repeated “I have a dream” portion. Rev. King makes us understand our basic humanity — there are some things so shared in our experiences, so basic that we cannot deny how true they are. There’s so many who would pay mere lip service to hold on to their precious perspective on the world when those views become untenable; the storm is still casting the winds of change, even now, keeping the dream alive.

How much more discouraging was the atmosphere of forty-five years ago? Glacial change against an entrenched establishment; yet hope swelled with every freshet, every blossom and knowing that the vision was so powerful it could not — would not — be denied, Rev. King cast forth a challenge to each of us: make it happen, make it true, you can’t deny the magic of it. Challenge the assumptions you’ve built up, deny the quick judgments and easy fixes. Dream again.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.


P.S. There’s plenty of other speeches just as powerful, and not just from Rev. King. The holiday is for every one, remember, together; we honor his legacy by remembering it together.

Yell Coach

17 January 2008

Dear J-

Last week’s Reader cover story talks about the effect of poorly behaved adults on youth sports.  The author, Josh Board, is responsible for the regular features “Crasher” (where he drops in on parties and talks to the interesting guests — sort of a society page for the Hawaiian-shirt types — interspersing their anecdotes with excerpts from  his own life) and “Off the Cuff” (he asks the same question to different folks and prints the most interesting answers).  So it’s really no surprise that the article is filled with interviews and a few examples of what he’s witnessed.

One of the more interesting guests is Bill Walton, San Diego area native and former UCLA and NBA star.  Not so much for his history, but for the assertion that coaches should never yell at or browbweat their players.  You can call it mature behavior on their part, but there’s got to be something about it.  Never.  Huh.  Basically, for Bill, it boils down to the idea that as nice as it might be, you’re not going to play sports competitively forever — it’s far more important to learn how fun the game is, and from that, gain confidence in what you can do.

Brian Sipe was also interviewed for the article.  He recounted having read a book by Lou Holtz outlining the three keys to success, not just at coaching, but for life in general.  I also remember those principles from the one part of our newhire training classes that didn’t completely bore me.  Not sure if I mentioned it before, but we watched a video put together by the venerable coach as a slick motivational tool to be sold to schools and businesses.

The three keys were:

  1. Can the coach be trusted?
  2. Is the coach committed to excellence?
  3. Does the coach care about me?

Just remember, the next time things aren’t maybe going exactly as planned, remind yourself who’s in control.  When you shirk that responsibility and choose to yell and blame someone else, you’re instead letting that control escape your hands.  Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what’s more important, feeling the martyred victim of circumstance (and I know I’m as guilty of it as you — playing wounded for sympathy) or accepting it and moving on.

Me, I didn’t play too many youth sports growing up.  I did have a piano teacher who would yell occasionally, but only because she knew I could be doing so much better.  One of the myriad lessons was in sight reading — she had visions of young folks standing around pianos at parties (no doubt in our letterman’s sweaters and bobby sox), bored until someone bright enough to have brought sheet music in lieu of alcohol would REALLY get the party started.  The lesson was less how to read music quickly as it was in dealing with the inevitable mistakes; don’t look back and try to correct it, no matter what.  It becomes grotesque — if they didn’t notice the mistake the first time, they’ll certainly notice it as you flail and flounder.

Accept the mistakes.  Learn from them — but don’t dwell, don’t revisit them as a means of admonishing yourself or others.


Christmas Wishes

22 December 2007

Dear J-

Lots of reasons and excuses, but I’m glad that I checked Amazon for a few gift-y ideas this morning.  Thank you, one-day shipping.  Thank you, inordinate discount on otherwise full-retail items.  Another Christmas procrastinator saved, and all as far as I had to walk was the twenty feet to the computer.

It’s hard to plan around Saturdays, though.  Today, up at six and nap from nine to eleven.  Then food, and by then I had, at best, an hour to turn around and run out to the store to try to get something.  Yeah.  Nice try.  The internet does make shopping easier, I suppose.

In the spirit of the season, then, I know that generosity is its own reward:  I give of my time freely at work and home.  If you ask me for help, more than likely I’ll find an answer for you.  I give and give and give some more — blood every eight weeks, up to three and a quarter gallons so far — and some days I just feel tapped dry.  And now the holidays, and a whole new set of demands.  Please come visit.  Please host.  Please.

theVet’s right, J-, as usual, as always.  We should all be so lucky to have so many choices, so many demands.  How many out there alone?  How many facing frozen dinners?  How many in the grasp of substances, not arms?  There’s too much to be thankful for that I often lose sight of what’s important this time of year, swirling amidst the blizzard of cards and faces:  we celebrate everything we share and share everything we celebrate, all the thousand million silver magic threads linking us all.


Discovering You

14 December 2007

Dear J-

When we were growing up, did you ever hear stories about The Evergreen State College? As I grew closer to college-age the idea of no grades intrigued me almost as much as that small private technical college, Harvey Mudd (although perhaps that was as much the coincidental junction of its name and the lure of Star Trek with the two episodes starring Roger C. Carmel — as much as my daydreams of life in idyllic Pomona).

For whatever reason, reading about the grading system now makes me think of the scene in The Princess Bride where Count Rugen, after applying the life-sucking pain machine to Wesley, asks him how it made him feel. His only response is tears.

How do we end up making the choices we made? Where do we develop tastes and preferences? Why can we be sure something will work for us before even sampling it? It’s all part of learning who we are in this world and how we fit into it. The puzzle pieces fall in place, the mystery is solved and we move on to the next challenge, and the next, and the next.


September Topics

2 September 2007

Dear J-

Somewhat ironically for my ambitious plans (publish at least one post a day for September), I’m already late, so I’ll introduce the concept here.

Since August updates have been so spotty (no excuses; this heat is uninspiring, and I’ve been pretty lazy), I thought that maybe if I picked a list of things to write about, that would kick-start, well, something.  It sounds a little too back-to-schoolish (today’s theme is “What I did over my summer vacation” — er, no) and perhaps overly forced, but I see it as a discipline and focus exercise.

I’m not going to predict brilliance with every one, then.  The list of topics is something that I came up with over the past half hour, so  I’m sure they’re going to turn out trite and banal, in fact.  That said, I’m still going to try it on for size.  I forecast inevitable … entertainment.


List of topics

  1. Bad habits
  2. A recent dream
  3. Something you like about yourself
  4. A hero in your life
  5. A core belief
  6. Something that brings you joy
  7. Favorite book
  8. Why I write on the web
  9. A memory from childhood
  10. Nicest gift you’ve received
  11. Keeping in touch
  12. Tools you use
  13. Someplace you want to go
  14. Someplace you’ve been
  15. How does where make you feel?
  16. Unusual interests
  17. Photographic inspirations
  18. Musical inclinations
  19. Where did you see yourself now?
  20. Where do you see yourself?
  21. Favorite toy
  22. Bullies and persecution
  23. Connections to famous person(s)
  24. Pride and accomplishments
  25. Useless junk bought
  26. Thought that brings you peace
  27. Thing you most regret
  28. Dream you want fulfilled
  29. Grapes you found too sour
  30. Your Prime Directive

Always Next Year

22 May 2007

Dear J-

Well, the Red Wings run has come to an end — hey, at least they made it to the conference finals this year, although given their average players’ ages it’s never an easy thing counting on next year.  Congrats to the Ducks, but I always revert to rooting for the remaining Canadian team(s) once the Wings are out.

Favorite Wings team?  Gotta be 1996-97.  I’m still old enough to remember the Wales and Campbell conferences, after all.  I started cheering when Quebec City, Winnipeg, and Hartford all had franchises …


Secret Places

11 March 2007

Dear J-

Some of my favorite places in the world are tiny unmapped corners.  Maybe it stems from having grown up in one-stoplight Cheney, but there were always tons of places you could go off and hide without a single soul passing by.  At the store, I could slide into the back/stock room with its dim lighting, and imagine the grues lurking in the shadows, or down the trapdoor, beneath the foundations to stare at the ancient grumbling compressors keeping food cool.  My first conscious recollection came while we were looking at houses in Spokane, though — my parents kept thinking we were going to move to be closer to the store, so every year I’d get up at the end of the year and announce my probable departure, and every fall I’d show up again in the next grade.  One of the houses we looked at had what was essentially a walk-in closet suitable for maybe a bed with a small chest of drawers, and a skylight — I was immediately sold.

When I went to Berkeley, the first thing I noted was the maddening crush of people — 20 000 undergraduates, maybe 10 000 graduate students and 5 000 staff and faculty all moving someplace new at the top of each hour.  Next, the wealth of secret holes; small stores, to begin with, and then publicly accessible yet untrodden paths:  the top of Evans, the stairwell of Wurster, the basement of LeConte.  All hyperbaric chambers to keep my mind intact after swimming out of that sea of humanity.

Prior to the remodel, one of my favorite places was the stacks in the main (Doe) library.  The floors were tempered glass and the (fixed) shelves narrow — you’d see shadows above and below, but as long as no one else was looking for your particular corner of the catalog, they were ships in the night.

At MIT, I was doubly blessed with its maze of corridors as well as living so close to the Arboretum.  Late nights spent in the lab frequently featured side expeditions to see how far I could get underground, or the most unusual vending machine locations — I wasn’t brave enough to try bypassing locked doors, or attempting steam tunnels, but I think I would, now.  And the Arboretum, Saturdays, was great to be lost in to discover new paths and nooks; there the cemetery, abandoned for how long, here the unexpected stream, where was that amazing view again?

Part of what’s saving my sanity at work is discovering its secret places.  There’s an adjunct room carved out of the warehouse, its shelves groaning with unused catalogs and obsolete manuals; my claustrophilia dares me to venture further into its dim reaches, spelunking for treasure.

I think that’s what keeps me coming back to abandoned spaces / urban exploration websites (the now-sadly-defunct video-fenky cleverly called it Japandonland, my first exposure to such places.  It dovetails nicely with one of my favorite video games, Panzer Dragoon Saga (aka Azel), set in a crumbling world of faded, fantastic technology incomprehensible to the current occupants.  It’s the tail wagging the dog, just like science fiction cover art — if you ever get the chance to dig up one of my most checked-out books from the Cheney Public Library, Spacecraft:  2000-2100AD (Stewart Cowley), it’s impressive how they’re able to fit stories around commissioned art.

Man is a social animal.  But this one needs to be deliberately alone some times.


Pet Peeves

18 February 2007

Dear J-

Honestly, I don’t try to feed them. They just hang around waiting for something new to come along and pounce on. Then, before you know it, you’re dashing out to the porch in your underwear gibbering incoherently at someone while those peeves, all those peeves you’ve collected over the years twine around your ankles purring contentedly.

On the other hand, maybe I can put my finger in the dike here and keep it from overwhelming the future. Please please please use the words correctly: ‘infamous’ is not a synonym for ‘famous’, and ‘enormity’ has nothing to do with size.


Nothing New

17 February 2007

Dear J-

One of my personal conceits is that I strive for uniqueness and originality, although in truth what comes out is more like what happens when you cage monkeys with typewriters.  Yes, poo-flinging and screeching jungle noises.  Cue drums, torches in the underbrush.

No damnit.  Back on track, this internet thing keeps showing me that not only am I completely unoriginal, other folks do this blog thing much better.  It was kinda fun being a small celebrity for my laborious plagiarism/collection of Nikon information back in 1998 (small thrill when someone ‘recognized me’ via e-mail (“Hey, are you that Nikon F Mike Liu?”), but the world has moved on from those days.