Thursday, December 17, 2015

What's it like...

Abraham Lincoln invented Twitter on November 19th 1863. That day in Gettysburg, President Lincoln followed up an epic speech given by a noted orator, with a 5 minute micro-blog so perfectly crafted that there was no need to say anymore. Similarly, the seductive challenge to create the perfect tweet has recently consumed me, so as I look back at my recent blogging history, I realize I have shot blanks for the majority of 2015. The essay has died.

It's not that I've been idle or haven't come across new experiences to share. I am coming up on my second year anniversary of my residency in the United States. I have resisted the temptation to share my idle thoughts about the experience mostly because it's been a lot to process. Before arriving to Baltimore in January 2014, the U.S. wasn't new to me. I had travelled extensively around the country but I've learned that it is unproductive to make judgments about a place when you only see it on vacation. I can say that I have travelled to Fiji and Malaysia but to be honest, I simply visited the Hilton and the Marriott on those occasions; conclusions would be difficult from a hotel window - impressions would be as close as I could come.

But my two year employment in Baltimore has taught me a lot. Most of what I have learned has taken place on the light rail, on the buses and in conversations with a diverse cross section of Americana. And I've travelled! My Southwest account is full and my bag tag collection boasts an impressive list of destinations (Boston, Portland, Knoxville, San Francisco, San Diego, Houston, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Chicago, Greenville, Denver, Sarasota.... and that's only the start!). My conclusion is that I can't wait to learn more, see more and meet more people. This is the third country that I have called home in the past 6 years - that alone cultivates an openness to experience and culture. It's difficult not to compare experiences but the real trick is not to; don't look away, see the whole field and drill down to values; as the systems and politics are a result of deeply held convictions (with a hint of theatre). I know that I will always bring my inner Canadian to the perspective and in that context I often get asked.... what's it like to live in the U.S.?

Here's what I've learned so far:

Americans can plan a party. Events are big and austerity be damned. Volunteers are everywhere. There is no structure too big to create. Understated isn't a thing. And you will never be welcomed in a more authentic way than at an American gathering, southern hospitality is alive and well. Wow.

So you think you work hard? Americans work very hard. Long hours aren't even considered. It's an early to rise, late to bed, just try to keep up day - everyday. Innovation thrives through hard work and Americans have the uncanny ability to re-invent themselves economically, almost on a dime. Sorrow happens (often self inflicted), grieving lasts a day and we move on. I've never been to a place where the people are so resilient. They don't whine. They get angry, push, shove and get back to work.

This is my first time being confronted with America's racial divide. In the past two years I've been exposed to an African American Culture from a perspective I never had before. This is not my first time outside - I've been around many people of color in many countries and I enjoy learning about new cultures and belief systems. African American culture, from my perspective, seems to be in an unrecognized period of resurgence, perhaps having begun as early as the mid 1980's corresponding to new archetypes in the Arts within the Black community. It has been a quiet revolution and one in which African American culture is growing and celebrating itself. I've had the pleasure of meeting many intelligent young black men; DJ's, scientists and poets, who have educated me on their experience. I witness every day on the bus the "inside jokes" Black people share and the heartfelt commitment to their families. It is a culture. However it seems to me that White America fails to recognize that "White" is also a culture; instead they seem to feel that their experiences from Country Music to the baby blue eyed images of Santa are simply "the norm" therefore African American culture is aberrant, something to be feared and managed. This lack of self awareness is the tragedy of the nation. I have seen first hand fantastic examples of cultures that recognize their differences and take an interest in each other's unique perspective, even within the same nation. People tell me that America is "too big" and that my observations from places like New Zealand where White and Maori cultures synergize are inappropriate to be used as a model. I disagree. I believe that there is a process towards reconciliation; but it is White America's inability to recognize their own culture that prevents the proper apologies and reparations. Maybe to do so would be to deny American Exceptionalism - and perhaps that is the real place to start.

The America I experience daily has a wonderful heart and a tremendous rhythm. It's a soulful place made up of super music and too much tempting food. The people I have met in this country I count very quickly among my best friends. The infrastructure can occasionally seem precarious but everyone rallies to overcome the deficits. There's ownership. It's theirs. The Libertarian in me sees a country with the same enormous capacity for good as all others. Many Americans feel that the road to social justice is Activism - which in this country is generally associated with a minority group creating a momentary imbalance of power or consciousness to affect change. Americans will point to evidence that this process has led to movements in thinking and new policies. But with each passing day the country continues to get more unequal, more segregated and unhappier. Social change ebbs and flows but the underlying fundamentals are never addressed, the hard questions are never answered and the revolution never holds up. I have no solutions to offer.

America seems to me to be the America you choose to look at - so many faces and regions that blend into a pattern that looks like liberty; attempts justice and aspires to freedom. Whatever it is, I am grateful for it, hope to continue to discover it's mysteries and I wish it well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Tyranny of Measurement

"Dr. Bayes, thank you so much for coming and on such short notice"

"My Pleasure Chi, it's always a pleasure to come down to the Zoo and assist the staff, how can I help you today?"

"Well Dr. Bayes it seems that there is an unanswered question about the most recent acquisition to our collection,"

"Hmm..., sounds interesting Chi, tell me more"

"You see I have just returned from a procurement trip to India and next week we will be exhibiting our first Bengal Tiger, I believe it to be one of the most magnificent creatures we have ever housed at the Zoo. Our marketing department would like to create a campaign advertising 'The Beautiful Bengal Tiger', but I suppose what we really need your help with is in determining, if the Tiger is, in fact, Beautiful?"

"Of course, Chi, I completely understand your dilemma, and I'm glad you had me out to take a look, where may I locate this Tiger? Is that it sunning itself on the grassy, savannah landscape you have provided?"

"Correct, Dr. Bayes, you spotted it right away"

"Yes, well you see Chi, I am a trained expert at analysis. The first thing we need to do is anesthetize the animal so that we can take some measurements. With this tranquilizer, I have rendered the object completely lifeless. Now I will take some routine measurements; the distance between the eyes, the proportions of it's facial features, the precise shine of the coat, the mathematical patterns of it's striped design and by plugging those numbers into a rubric I have developed to assess beauty in a wide number of dimensions across the animal kingdom, we should be able to get some preliminary information"

"Wonderful, Dr. Bayes, it is nice of you to help us"

"Right, but you see Chi this is where a number of investigations might end, but I intend to give you a more complete diagnosis. You'll see now that I am slicing open the belly of the creature to do an analysis on all of the internal organs, kidneys, lungs, liver, the works. Most investigators are superficial in their process, but we all know that beauty is more than skin deep, in order to truly understand the object in front of us we need to determine the extent to which it's internal mechanics determine it's external features - such as beauty. Now I am draining all of the body fluids from the creature, so that I can measure it's volume and determine if the composition of the blood affects the appearance - it always does,"

"Dr. Bayes, I am thankful that you have devoted your considerable talents to this field. Where would we be without you?"

"Chi, the nice thing is that because of the processes I have developed I can give you an immediate answer, it's just coming up on the screen now and .... Yes! I can assure you that this Bengal Tiger, is indeed beautiful 19 times our of 20 at a confidence interval of 85%"

"Wonderful, that certainly backs up my hypothesis"

"And Chi, I might remind you that this analysis is only valid for this single object, if in the future you wish to determine whether other Bengal tigers are beautiful, a similar set of tests will have to be run under the same conditions,"

"Of Course, Dr. Bayes, we will call you straight away. Just one further question - What should we do with the tiger's corpse?"

"Ah, sorry Chi, you've got me there - not my department I'm afraid"

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Presidential Nine

Eight hour car ride from Baltimore, Maryland to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and somehow the conversation turned to U.S. Presidents. No, it's not what you think; nothing about politics, social policies or foreign affairs. It was the irreverent "Rice Family" treatment.

Hence, I give you the hotly debated starting lineup for the Presidential Baseball Club, courtesy of the Rice's. Do other families engage in these quirky diversions....

Starting Lineup

1. Andrew Jackson CF
Speedy lead off hitter with limited power but on base all day long. Cool Name. The guy is clutch, we call him "Money".

2. Barack Obama 1B
Slick fielding first baseman. Super hitter, always on base. Most popular guy on the team.

3. George Washington 3B
A stud. Team leader, perennial gold-glover and offensive dynamo.

4. William Taft DH
Slowest guy in the league, but man can he hit bombs.

5. Ronald Reagan RF
No surprise we'd find him in right. Bonus baby with big potential who talks a great game.

6. Teddy Roosevelt LF
Under-rated. We named the park after him but our Manager took the credit.

7. Richard Nixon C
All catch, no hit backstop. Wears the tools of ignorance well.

8. John F. Kennedy SS
His father got him on the team so we had to give him the best position.

9. Dwight Eisenhower 2B
All heart. He finally made a baseball team after getting cut at West Point.

SP. Abraham Lincoln
Bulldog. No quit in him, big game pitcher.

RP. Lyndon Johnson
We never have to go to the bullpen often but when we do, why not hand the ball to a 6'4" sociopath with unclear motives.

PH. Gerald Ford
Only comes off the bench, never a starter.

MGR. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Master Strategist noted for inspirational speeches,though truthfully, the team doesn't listen well.

Other Notables:

G.H.W. Bush - came in like he owned the place but we had to cut him for our sanity

Bill Clinton - overslept and missed the tryouts, comes to all the socials though

G.W. Bush - couldn't pick up the signals

Woodrow Wilson - Scorekeeper

Jimmy Carter - Concessions

Thomas Jefferson - too smart to be a ballplayer