Category Archives: Social

An allegory for life

It’s said that the universe follows natural law, but it seems to me that the real force behind the big events in life is allegory.

A few years ago, I was bemoaning my poor memory while wandering around Nice, France. This came to a head as I treated myself to a prix fixe menu, and resolved to practice committing more to memory. I looked at the awning above me to start with the name of the restaurant I was in. As it turned out, the restaurant was called “Memoire”.

Allegory has a way of creeping up on you. Reading books slowly over several weeks is a good way to realize the allegorical nature of life. You recognize yourself in the book, start seeing new developments of the book reflected in your own life, and realize that you are walking in lock-step, hoping the book ends well for you.

Periods in which much is changing are prime targets for allegorical forces. Flame and I are going through just such a period now, preparing for our trans-Atlantic move, a new city and a new job for me, and moving back in together.

Two months ago, my parents sold the last house I lived in with them. They were trying to downsize, with their emptier nest, but accidentally got a bigger house. Now they live 20 minutes away from that house, in a different state (Ah, New England), and are happy to be out of the city.

Two weeks ago, my childhood neighborhood in California was burnt to the ground. Thankfully, my grandmother and uncle, despite getting mandatory evacuation orders (which the uncle ignored), are safe along with their homes.

I am convinced that the universe is trying to tell me something. Something about leaving home, as I am preparing to do.

Travel has always been a good way for me to uncover the allegorical conspiracies around me, so I suspect that this is all just a prelude. Tuesday, we start out on a two-week honeymoon to South Africa and Tanzania. A little beach time, a little safari, a little good food, a little exploration we haven’t planned yet. A lot of leaving one temporary home and acclimating to another. I just hope it tempts the gods to spill their secrets, because I am slowly reading some works of military history, and I don’t think those will end nearly as well.

Following my ancestor

For the last couple months, I’ve been following the journey of my Y-chromosomal ancestor, also named James Rising, as he found his way to the New World in 1635. He turns out to be a fascinating character (at least to me). From a print-only article in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register:

James Rising was born in 1618 in Beccles, Suffolk; he and his twin brother were the youngest children of an illiterate cordwainer. James had just turned 17 when he sailed from London for Bermuda on a ship filled with very young laborers for the tobacco fields. For twelve years he remained in Bermuda, a country with few prospects for new arrivals. In 1647 he was among the seventy settlers who sailed from Bermuda for Eleuthera, an island a thousand miles away in the Bahamas, with the intention of establishing a Puritan colony. Near its destination, the ship floundered and their provisions were lost, but with help from Puritans in New England, the passengers survived. The colony struggled for ten years, but gave up in 1657, when the last of the settlers sailed back to Bermuda– all except James Rising, who sailed, instead, on a ship bound for New England.

I’ve been using a few different sources to follow his progress. John Ogilby’s 1675 road maps are incredible, with descriptions of the towns, road-side markers, and individual buildings some of which are still there today. I’ve been using one site to find the plates and a different one to get high-resolution images. Here’s the path I followed, from Beccles to Ipswich to Cambridge to Oxfordshire to London:

One of the most interesting source I’ve found for a sense of walking through these cities is Through England on a Side-Saddle in the Time of William and Mary, a 17th century woman’s diaries of her prolific journeys.

On September 30, 1635, James Rising boarded the Dorset in London, and I’m using current winds to try to get a sense of how it got from there to Bermuda. Here is where he is “now”, on October 23, finally having caught a decent wind:

I just hope he isn’t caught by a hurricane before he ever has children. My other records of his journey are on Twitter #rtnewworld.

Wedding Weekend Memories

A year of planning, and many thousands of dollars later, the wedding is over. I am thoroughly (and happily) married. With 4 days, 18 activities, 133 guests, about 20 speeches (most short), 11 vendors, there is an awful lot to remember. I am putting together a collection of photographs (and see Toh’s more extensive set), but I wanted to also record some memories for perhaps the biggest event of my life to date.

Friday Night:
Friday was set aside for “Bachelor activities” (read: “activities Johanna does not endorse”), which turned into a BBQ-sushi for the wedding party, karaoke, and midnight prophesies. Some of the karaoke highlights for me were Mary F.’s enthusiasm during “We are family”, Amir and my “A whole new world” (I got to be Aladdin this time), and all the Flight of the Conchords lovers getting into “Most beautiful girl in the room”.

Saturday:
The day started slow, but when a dozen people showed up for Flame’s aunt’s yoga class, I knew it was going to be good. Friends and relatives helped us put on a day of “ad hoc” activities, including a bike ride, a hike, a walk around Provincetown, and a dance class. I stayed at the wedding party house, instigating games: I taught people Rythmomachy and orchestrated a new game I call “The Ephemera Game”, for people go guess where I got maps and pamphlets.

The wedding rehearsal was were it finally became real. Some 40 people showed up to play their parts or offer moral support, and proceeded to mill around. I don’t know how these things are supposed to go, but someone needed to take charge, so I started directing people. The questions started rolling in: where should we put the chairs, the blessing givers, the grandmas. We had put together a 4-page step-by-step document for the ceremony, and yet there was still so much to decide.

The highlights of the day was definitely “Welcome Event”, organized by my parents. The puttanesca flowed like wine, and the wine gushed like our reconnections with so many people. My step-father began his speech apologizing for not writing one, and then spoke for 20 surprisingly riveting minutes on how Flame and I got together, our travel and take on life, and something about crashing through waves. Then 9 more people came up, with tributes, roasts, and one number for us (the golden ratio, since J^2 = J + 1).

Sunday:
As Sunday began, Flame and I split up for our separate preparations. I drove the groomsmen to the top men’s barbershop in the area for a straight-razor shave: what better way to start my wedding day then a knife at my throat. Flame and I reunited around the bend of a Doane Rock trail, for a clichéd “first look”. Nonetheless, Flame was absolutely beautiful in her wedding gown, and we alternated lovey and silly until I think the photographers had all they could handle.

Our first scare came while doing relatives photos back at the ceremony location. We realized that the ceremony programs, which we had spent hours printing and folding, were nowhere to be found. I was about to derail the photos and send people racing back to the parents’ house, when one of my groomsmen, Amir, said he would take care of it, and then did so.

The other scare for me came as I was waiting at the front of the ceremony and Flame was walking down the aisle. I suddenly remembered Heidi’s admonition that, whatever else happens, I remember to bring my vows; and I remembered that my vows were in my backpack, far out of reach. Then I remembered that Flame had told me to give a copy of my vows to my best man, Toh, the day before, and I wondered if he happened to remember them. I turned and asked him, and he said not to worry, he would hand them to us at the proper time.

The only other ceremony event I only heard about two weeks later. As my sister’s children did their blessing, a commotion of squawks arose in the tree behind us. A hawk had alighted, and dozens of crows and other birds had began mobbing around it. After a couple minutes of this, the hawk picked itself up and flew directly over the assembled people. This must have been some kind of omen (the word auspices actual means to look at birds), with the hawk being a Native American symbol of a guardian, my late father being a zoologist, and my diverse community being all about mobbing. But the interpretation is still unclear to me.

After that came the reception, the hora, the dinner, the speeches, the tosses, the first dance, the dessert, the dancing, and the afterparty. During dinner, we had our special wedding puzzle at everyone’s place (individual pieces and solution), and though no one solved it, two groups made some great progress. Flame threw a bouquet to the tune of Put a Ring on It, and I did a thesis toss to Weird Science. For our first dance, I had taken the choreography from the Ed Sheeran video Thinking Out Loud and adapted it to Flame’s song of choice, Crazy Love by Van Morrison. I had swapped the man and woman parts, and we got plenty of appreciation and laughing. Dessert consisted of the best pies in town and an organic chocolatier, Chequesette Chocolates, which crafted a sea-scape of sugar sand with chocolate turtles and oysters. Even the afterparty was a blast, with 30ish people coming out to hear some live music (we had bribed the band to stay an extra hour) and snacks (including grilled cheeses).

Monday:
After a perfect weather weekend, Monday finally succumbed to the rain, and Linda and Ron’s house became filled with people, love, and brunch. We were saying goodbye until it was time for the hackathon. The Hackathon turned into a brainstorming session, worth its own post.

Finally, here are the acknowledgements for a weekend that was really a labor of love:
Acknowledgements

As Amir said, the whole event went really smoothly: it went off with just one hitch!

A New World Order

The rise of Trump can only be understood in a global context. It isn’t just Citizen’s United or the Voting Rights Act– or rather, these are symptoms of wider trends. Trump’s election parallels the shock of Brexit, the rise of extremism and anti-semitism in Europe, and the rise of religious extremism in the United States and Middle East.

This is a movement against much we hold dear: humanism, pluralism, progressivism. This is a rejection of the institutions upon which society has functioned since World War II.

The progressive movement believed that what people wanted was a good job, health care, stability and peace. And surely people do want that, and Clinton won the popular vote because of it. But there is another group in society that is anything but fringe. Apparently they form a third of California, Massachusetts, and New York voters. What they want is entirely different, but I do not know what.

Is this the end of a pluralistic world? Is this a new rise of global fascism? Is it a lead up to world war?

Extreme inequality and technological disruption are certainly partly to blame. But what role does our most treasured innovations have to play: the Internet, the capacity of data science, and the guilty benefits of vertically integrated corporations, in particular?

And finally, what do we do? This was never a problem just with the presidential election. If we are going to understand Trump, and ultimately eliminate him and reverse his damage, it is going to be by taking a hard look at the foundations of our own society, because ultimately, that is where his support has come from.

The end of history

They say that history repeats itself. The strictest form of the claim is like the world view of the aboriginal Yir Yoront, for whom every generation is a repetition of the one before. Even if our Western world view cannot admit such stasis, many people would say that the rise and fall of civilizations is a story that has repeated itself many times, and many future civilizations will walk on the ashes of this one.

However, when it comes to the history of human civilizations, history will never repeat itself again. Our species is on a one-way road, and if our global society collapses, no future Homo sapiens will enjoy the benefits of industrialized society.

Empires may rise and fall, but the modern world is intrinsically interconnected, and as a civilization we rise and fall as a globe. We are interdependent: were it not for international trade, most regions could not feed themselves, much less build and support their own industries. The stories of future history are confined to a single narrative.

So what happens if the global economy collapses and trade ceases, and each region is left to pick up the pieces on its own? These enclaves would not have the benefits of readily available resources that our ancestors enjoyed when they started our journey in industrialization. We have exhausted readily-available high energy sources: new sources of energy, like shale gas and tar sands oil, require immense technology to access. They would be trapped in perpetual pre-industrialization.

Add to this the harsher climate, destabilizated ecosystems, and exhausted ores that we are bequeathing to them, and their lives will be mean indeed. The planet will recover, given 50 million years or so, but far too late for our species.

What if we colonize other stars, with virgin resources and the room to collapse at our leisure? Those planets will have their own stories, and maybe there we can avoid becoming to big to fail, but colonization is a one-way process. Without a way to travel or communicate faster than light, our futures will be disconnected.

By the way, this also limits our use of any Prime Directive on Earth. Non-industrialized cultures cannot achieve development on their own– not that any culture ever did. We are in this story together, taking it forward because there is no way back.

So, let’s celebrate our dependence. Our lives and the lives of all our descendents depend upon it.

A USexit next?

The Brexit is happening. I’m starting to wonder which US state will be the first to leave the union. Oklahoma, maybe when Clinton becomes president, as mounting budget deficits and poor populations make printing money look really good? Or a richer state like New Hampshire, a closer analog to England, citing the decay of the US?

We are in a time of changes. Old institutions will fall. But it all might be happening too late for a further Fourth Turning-style crisis. The Baby Boomers are starting to die, Millennials are insatiably hopeful, and Gen Xers won’t give a fuck so they’ll broker a peace just to be left alone.

Balkan Ballad

I’ve dropped off the net with looming deadlines at the end of this month. But, before the deadlines were scheduled, Flame and I planned a trip to the Balkans, where we are now! Well, we didn’t exactly “plan” it. But we bought tickets, and are figuring it out as we go.

You can follow our journeys as she blogs them at http://ift.tt/1SUn3ZT! There is also a steady stream of Instagram photos (featuring food, scenery, and art, in that order).

Travel plans

It’s going to be a busy six months for travel! I returned to Berkeley after a week in NYC, and in just a month I will be there again. And again in March and May. Between now and June, I will also touch New Orleans, DC, Boston, multiple Balkan countries, and Iceland! (Both of the last have had great sales recently– you might still be able to get $99 tickets to Iceland if you don’t mind being encased in ice.)

In the spirit of Mystery Hunt (except that I’ll give you the month names, so you don’t have to infer them from the month pictures of my shiny new Worlds of Fiction wall calendar), I give you my travels:

Travels planned for 2016

Homemaking

Flame is in Berkeley for the week, celebrating the new year with me and helping me make this house a home! After a whirlwind of IKEA, World Market, and the Alameda Antique Faire, she has transformed the space completely.

Before:

After:

A few items to note in particular:

    • The wall art is from the Antique Faire, a beautiful canvas for $60.  We had to strap it to the car with an ATM sign.
    • The bookcase is a really hip wood and metal mix, and I definitely need more books to fill it up.
    • The Willow lunchbox is from my families most recent White Elephant, labeled “Jim Rising”, so it must have been my dad’s…
    • The cabinet next to it is built into the apartment, one of many beautiful original fixtures.
    • Hanging on the knob of the cabinet is a MIT-Columbia-SusDev pendant which my mom made (Johanna has a Wes-Columbia-SusDev one to match).