Posts Tagged ‘history’

Patterns of Force

27 July 2012

Dear J-

Well, it’s with visible relief that I note that Kearny Mesa in San Diego is named not after Dennis Kearney (although what kind of delicious irony would that be)  but Stephen Kearny instead, a general in the Mexican-American of the things that I was never concerned about growing up was the origin of various place names; I’d ride by places like Hangman Creek and Qualchan Golf Course without a thought to what those names meant. There’s all kinds of dubious history out there that soon becomes tradition and therefore involate, unbreakable; this is why I think any smartphone needs to have a wikipedia client installed.

Some time later is the date we seem to live in; we tut and cluck at the mistakes of the past and yet going forward we can’t convince anyone that we’re any better than we were, that we haven’t learned anything. The fascination that I have with history is seeing the patterns of the past echoed in our today, almost as if there is some genetic plan for the human race, our wars and hates predetermined, some long thread of fate spinning away and guiding us into these same paths over and over again.

And yet history itself is a kind of cheat; no one ever thinks to write down what they’re doing, only what they’ve done and there’s no end to the hyperbole that can flow from your own pen; I know I’ve been guilty of it which is why I scrupulously downplay everything in my resume in an effort to avoid that, swinging perhaps too far to modesty (which itself sounds especially immodest, sorry). Are we busy closing the gaps in our experience or learning that there’s an infinite land of possibilities ahead, driving us somewhat crazy with the sheer potential of everything? We only have two eyes, and it’s hard to be mindful of the past, looking for the future, and cautious of the present all at once.



Doomed to History

3 November 2011

Dear J-

In a peculiar display that can only be called a first-world problem, our TiVo gave up the ghost earlier this week and so we’ve been without TV for a while. Which honestly has been fine for the evenings as we usually spend the time consuming content, but lately figgy has been very much into YouTube and what she calls cake videos — which at this point have grown to include pretty much anything people make in the kitchen. Certain characters have therefore become huge heroes of hers and I hear her pottering away in the bedroom, arranging the pretend-cakes just so on a plate and signing off on her broadcasts by saying who she is and who she works for (“I’m Liv Hansen for the Betty Crocker Kitchens.”)

When I was six I discovered my parents old tape recorder and armed with a blank tape I was encouraged to go ahead and record myself broadcasting the news as I’d hear on the kitchen radio every morning: this is CBS News, with Dan Rather or Bob Schiefffer. I cleverly concealed their parody identities by reordering the names: Rather Dan or Schieffer Bob, of course. I don’t recall what happened to the tape (let’s just say that if someone didn’t already throw it away, it could be decent fodder for the Star Wars Kid of 1981), but I do remember there were follow-up tapes and that we listened to it in the car maybe a few times before I only got interested in making the VU Meter jump in a crazy fashion until that tape recorder gave up as well.

I see tendencies from both of us in the kids, good and bad. There’s frustration when the world doesn’t bow down before us and just work right (I spent a day or two weighing the purchase of something like a Boxee Box versus another TiVo given how little we actually watch TV lately, and how all we seem to need is a YouTube connection to the TV … or, y’know, an XBox would do just as well, wouldn’t it?). There’s the dead-on imitation of adult life and habits, at turns both funny and uncomfortable. I wonder if they’ll make the same mistakes and struggle through to the other side stronger for it or if I should find a way to teach those lessons more gently and realize that it’s quickly becoming not my life to lead for them. And I wonder if we shouldn’t move someplace smaller, or if the ego of big fish little pond is at work again. Do we escape the appeal of the past or are we doomed to history?


Kid Center

27 April 2011


Dear J-

Sometimes I think in a morbid mode and wonder what would happen to the kids if we disappeared tomorrow. The whole point of this trip to San Jose was to see my brother, back in the States after just short of two years in Taiwan, and we’ve had a good couple of days now to see he’s essentially the same devoted dad, happy to escape the regular grind of life but clearly missing them, having taken every opportunity possible to hold Calcifer and take the burden off of us. I think we’re set between my brother and theVet’s sister, and that makes us incredibly lucky. After today when figgy has been just about as trying as possible (between the extra sadness of hunger, the lack of sleep, and the lack of a same-age playmate to boss around [can’t wait for another visit from Baby J]) and they haven’t been scared off (I think) I think we’re doing all right.

Case in point: we ate two lunches today. The first one was at the Happy Hollow Zoo to revive her flagging spirits (she passed up a chance to ride on the carousel, and she never misses a chance to ride on the carousel — she will even badger us (as she did later that afternoon) to ride on the quarter-driven three-animal carousels in malls and grocery stores) and the second turned into a dessert buffet for her. After I went off to get her some watermelon and returned with a plate full of the most expensive buffet food I could find (nigiri sushi: total net cost to the restarant maybe $5) she plowed through that and her aunt, my brother’s wife, took pity on me and accompanied her to get a plate of coordinated pink jello and cakes.

The longer you spend immersed in your own family it seems like you know too much and too little all at once: the smallest things set you off without warning and the escalation proceeds unabated, unchecked. It’s not the current situation that’s driving you mad, it’s the thousand other things that have piled up over hours and days and all of a sudden it’s not about the situation, it’s the history spilling out. Sometimes the shared experiences keep you from really understanding each other. It takes time and distance to appreciate what you’ve always had.


Fred Korematsu

30 January 2011

Dear J-

Important: Today is Fred Korematsu Day in California. I know, the rest of you are thinking that we’ve got all kinds of dingbat holidays, but this is the first observation of it, and its timing is no accident, coming close to both Martin Luther King Jr Day and the anniversary of Executive Order 9066. Although the odds were stacked against him and his original legal arguments were not successful (evidence suppressed during wartime in order to speed a favorable verdict for the government) it’s as equally important to recognize that change did happen, albeit gradually — the conviction was finally overturned in 1983. At that point, Fred Korematsu’s dam burst forth:

According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can’t tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American. I thought that this decision was wrong and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country. Therefore, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed or color.

Fred Korematsu, statement to Judge Patel, 1983

There’s only a handful of Americans who fought the internment, including Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, so the day should be shared with its namesake. Remember how easy it is to sign away freedom in the face of getting along.


Revision History

10 May 2010

Dear J-

I like to see V1.0 on something — it’s telling me that they’ve gone through some beta testing and believe that now, some important niche in my life has been filled, whether it’s something as prosaic as putting zombies to a final rest or as profound as giving my words license to take flight (although to be honest the Internet is full of self-published cranks like me). There’s real innovation here, and they’ve reached a point where sufficient stabilitiy means that you can get real work done here. The sandbox is open for play, and there’s all kinds of new tools and goodies (or new ways to get things done) that you might not have guessed at before.

I also like seeing V2.0. That’s telling me there’s a major overhaul in the interface or toolset and the capabilities are greater — like early Stephen King, too, it’s not such an obnoxiously high number that the feature/prose set has gotten too bloated (c.f. The Drawing of the Three, still easily the best in The Gunslinger series, to the original The Gunslinger, or the ultimate disappointment that awaits in book seven, The Dark Tower). They believe they’ve wrought useful changes, or implemented their initial-concept wishlists that may not have had time to make it into the first release, this before they’ve had a chance to overthink it to death. I’d almost argue that this is what their vision of perfect would be, the right balance between needs and wants, true to the founding principles.

Where are we at in our lives? At eighteen you’re supposed to be a fully-formed V1.0, at least according to some definitions: ready to make life-changing decisions on your own. It’s a frightening and exciting time, stepping out of the nest and watching yourself change your world. When do we get to 2.0? There’s no specific age, and no definite criteria (no, getting your first Porsche doesn’t count, unless you count it as selling out), and it’s not like we wear our version history on our sleeves. I suspect that many of us muddle through at a 1.x level, incomplete bugfixes based on reaction to stimuli without taking a long-term approach to improvement. But you start by outlining a vision and committment, right?


P.S. There is no version 42. Don’t even go there.

9066 Today

21 February 2010

Dear J-

I am a couple of days late this year — sixty-eight years and two days since FDR signed Executive Order 9066 into being — and it’s more relevant than ever. Lessons of the past mean that we can avoid mistakes of the future, ranging from the small (subheadline from this morning’s Union-Tribune: “Asian emersion: Kim Yu-na of South Korea leads a crop of skaters trying to keep the U.S. without a medal”) to the large (the current flap over the UCSD fraternity party with a “Compton Cookout” theme).

The actual article about the rise of Asian figure skaters was pretty good, actually (there are cultural and physical reasons, even if those were based on dated assumptions), but (1) I’m not even sure that “emersion” is a word and (2) if any country is kept off the medal podium, the fault can be traced directly to that country and not some other country’s nefarious machinations. Blaming other folks for things within your control seems to be the lesson passed down lately; if you can’t pass the buck, then you’ve failed your mission. It’s the little things that lead to bigger misunderstandings, though; you start with a small assumption that acts as a key to unlock a whole world of ugly.

And speaking of ugly, folks are quick to flock behind the UCSD students as youthful hijinks and to wrap themselves up in the First Amendment: yes, you are as free to be as offensive as you want, and I’ll defend your right to do so. Yet you can’t have both: the silence of the fraternity and television programs are telling — you’re willing to claim the right of satire, yet unwilling or unable to claim the responsibility for your words. Part of maturity is learning consequence; if we understood what we might set into motion sixty-eight years ago, perhaps we wouldn’t be rushing into satire so quickly.


Innovative Aggravation

1 December 2009

Dear J-

The only thing you really know about how a given mutual fund performs is its history (I suppose that if you were motivated enough, you could dig down into the actual fund portfolio and do your own research on the investments — but that’s why I give them my money:  that’s their job, and they should be doing that work) but all histories are accompanied by the disclaimer that past history is no indicator of future performance.  It’s like your grades:  if you got high marks last term, there’s a reasonable expectation to get similar marks given the same effort and time.

That, I suspect, has to do something with how people (okay, men) are prone to reading war and competition into everything we do:  my dad waged an unsustainably expensive war of computer one-upsmanship with our neighbors, I conspicuously pull out the big lens when faced with the putty-and-red-ring L-lensed Canon set at the Zoo.  Surely, I think, there’s something better out there:  we as a society are trained to be dissatisfied with the status quo, driving innovation and aggravation alike in equal measure.  I see the already-ridiculously expensive gear hanging off me on weekends and wonder what I could do with more costly stuff.

The truth is that if I had to live with only one lens, say, I could; the fact that I have a silly roadmap in my head of what would make up a complete photographic toolkit for me doesn’t mean that missing tools make me unable to work.  I have pressed Vise-Grips and pliers into service as (or even in favor of) adjustable wrenches when needed; the ridiculous idea that I need something because I don’t have it leads only to that rapidly escalating war with wages, money flowing out as quickly as it comes in.  After all, the US won the Cold War by spending the USSR into oblivion; who are we to argue with past precedent?


figgy’s Eyes

16 August 2009

Dear J-

Every now and again I have to remind myself to take it down — as much as I believe the world revolves around me, my emotions do affect my family: retreat into a sullen shell and even the most patient person would be hard-pressed to remain cheerful in such a dour presence. Perhaps we need a bit of sulk time to recalibrate our baselines; the trick is figuring out the right amount. Spend too much time and you get all pruney with self-pity; not enough and you’ve gotten no insight.

figgy Smash 0520 -sm

What is it we’re after in this world? I sometimes spend days convincing myself that I’ve gotten over the depression that used to keep me awake nights and then it catches up again in the middle of the most mundane activities. The smallest problems present insurmountable obstacles and that pile of chores represents an impossible odyssey. I begin to understand the appeal of pharmaceuticals offering a quick way out; understand it and keep finding other paths through the sparkle in figgy’s eyes.


Mixed Media

24 June 2009

Dear J-

One of the supposed advantages to the Macintosh back in those John Sculley Mac-versus-Windows days of the late 80s was that the Mac didn’t have to carry the legacy limitations of the DOS software base dating back to 1981.  Of course, the Mac was introduced a bare three years later in 1984, but at the time it was a generation in computing; since then both systems have survived relatively well despite breaking all kinds of legacy ties — Macs are now on their third processor family and Windows has evolved from a wrapper for DOS to having a terminal window for DOS.  Yet old code never seems to go away; just in the realm of games, you can still find ways to play Rogue, Zork, and Star Trek, if not the originals, then very close facsimiles of them.

Likewise for the US, a relatively young country, we still seem fixated on preserving laws and legacies passed down from years ago.  Paul Fong introduced a bill to address recognition of the contributions of Chinese immigrants, which conservatives have predictably jumped on as being over-the-line politically correct.  Florida voters rejected an initiative to repeal a law banning legal immigrants from owning land.  Then again, this is a country that has inconsistent liquor laws — growing up in Washington and its state-run liquor stores, it gave me a shock the first time I walked into a drugstore in California to find rows upon rows of jug whisky, vodka, and tequila.

When you pass by car dealerships and their naked appeals (I saw one this morning with “Fix America — Buy American” in the showroom window) you have to wonder how much research the average voter puts in to understanding the issues before marking for a candidate or position.  For the record, Camries and Accords are assembled in America with mostly (80%) American parts, while Fusions and Astras are assembled out of country.  Being a thoughtful consumer of goods and a smart voter takes time; it’s too easy — and tempting — to stick your head in the echo chamber of listening to campaign advertisements or radio/TV/media which already reflects your own viewpoint to reinforce what you’ve already decided.  Worse yet, it’s uncomfortable to hear things you don’t agree with, but such are your responsibilities.


Trip Done

25 March 2009

Dear J-

Back in San Diego; something — whether it’s the weather, relief, hugging figgy, or the two Tylenol — has finally erased the headache I woke up with this morning.  Of course, it didn’t help that I demonstrated that I could still stay up past midnight, given the right incentive (unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a category for marathon crap-sitcom watching; otherwise, I’m your man).  It’s just that sense of displacement again:  I woke up this morning driving a Mustang, and now I’m back at home just a few hours later, looking forward to resolving all the e-mail that must have piled up.

I did manage to feel at least reasonably technical during the audit; you spend enough time wrestling with the calculations and it starts to make sense.  Methodology, numbers … although to be honest, I’m not sure that I would have been able to come up with some of the same approaches to the calculation issues.  It’s interesting, though, that of the things I learned on the trip, the most important was learning about the supplier himself:  just one guy, with rented warehouse space, supplying to the nuclear industry; he’s responsible for design and program controls.  It can be done with one person.


Last night I begged off going to PF Chang’s (the first time we went, I leaned over to theVet and stage whispered that it was just tarted-up American Chinese food) and went to my Aunt’s house instead.  Granted, what I had there wasn’t any more authentic (take-and-bake Philly Cheesesteak), but I’m finding that I’m turning into my parents:  I want to talk to adults and find out about the history of my family.  I didn’t know that we had twins in the family; I didn’t know how overlapped the generations have been (not just my dad growing up with his uncle, but also my aunt growing up alongside her nephew).  It’s a greedy feeling, getting to know more of your history:  suddenly the world starts to make more sense.