Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Who Made All That History?

Look, we’ve all sat through high school history classes and learned about the remarkable people who fill the history books. They were so much better than us, imbued with qualities so much more worthy of respect than any of our qualities. They built the world that we simply live in.

Only, I’ve come to realize that’s not true. I’m not saying we’re all as great as anyone in the history books. I’m saying they weren’t as great as that either. Neither were they bad. The truth is they were just like us and they managed to make our history.

I’m thinking this because last week I went to yet another public hearing in Kirkland about the proposed redevelopment of Kirkland Park Place. This was the third one I’d attended and I learned that it was the 27th hearing on this topic to date. No one can say the planning commission isn’t thoroughly vetting public opinion on this one. The public hearing room is not large – about 100 seats, I would say. It was full on Thursday evening, as it has been in the past, but still 100 people is not many and not everyone spoke at the hearing. Those who did speak each got 3 minutes to make their case for or against the proposal before the planning commission and, at some point, based on that input the planning commission will make its recommendation to the city council on whether to go forward with the proposal. Already, though, the public input has had an impact on the project. The scale model the architect presented at last week’s hearing incorporates many of the changes citizens have requested at past meetings. And so, assuming the development goes forward, what gets built will reflect the input of ordinary citizens.

This whole experience with Kirkland Park Place has led me to one major realization: history is made by those who show up.

The bar really isn’t set all that high. You show up, you participate in the conversation, you stick your neck out a little bit, voice an opinion and the world changes shape.

It’s easy to get the impression from reading the high school history books that history is made by some class of people who are almost professional “history makers” – History Making Remarkable Person is their whole identity as they’ve been passed down to us and, therefore, history making must have been their full time occupation. Not so, I’ve come to believe. History is made by those who show up. And those who show up do so in time they’ve carved away from the primary aspects of their lives: they’re business people, parents, artists, retirees, high school kids. Being at the public hearing, raising their voice is not their primary occupation and most of them feel and act a bit nervous and awkward about it. But they step away from their lives for a short time and they do show up and they do speak and then the world reacts and history is different from then on.

Monday, October 27, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- October 24, 2008

Don't believe everything you read on a blog (except this one). See that "Next Blog" link up there at the top of the screen? I was clicking that on Friday when I came across a blog called "Backporchmusings" on which I saw a recipe for a dessert called Pumpkin Pie Cake. The blogger raved about it and posted the recipe. I saw an opportunity for some good father/son time, so I copied the recipe and on Friday night the boys and I worked together on making our own Pumpkin Pie Cake. Great anticipation led to great disappointment. Without a doubt one of the worst desserts I've ever had. My positive spin to the boys: "isn't it fun to experiment and see what happens?" Later in the weekend we went back to the safety of known quantities and made a Duncan Hines yellow cake with chocolate frosting. That one was a hit.

Saturday we met Grandma at the Seattle Acquarium:

And, thanks to Netflix, I got to see another movie this weekend. This time:
  • Iron Man -- This is a surprisingly good super hero movie. For one thing, Robert Downey, Jr. acts the hell out of the role. For another, there's actually a pretty good story here explaining the hero's motivations for becoming Iron Man. Maybe this is the Iron Man story, not something the screenwriter made up, but since I never read the comic books I don't know. Jon Favreau directed this movie; the same director who did "Elf" and "Swingers". He's really good. In the end, of course, this is just a super hero movie, so it's got the same annoying cliches that usually keep me away from these things: uber villains, bad guys who die but won't die, the hero who can't just win outright, but has to win by the skin of his teeth after it looks like all hope is lost. And this movie once again proves that if there's a character with a bald head, a beard and a fat cigar, he's evil, no matter how nice he appears to be in the beginning. Bald+Beard+Stogie = Evil every time.

And that is the weekend that was.

Friday, October 24, 2008

R Brings Home His Vocabulary List

My son R is 3 1/2 years old. He brought home his vocabulary list from preschool. Words they are using frequently in class and discussing:

Big Bigger Biggest Large Larger Largest Enormous Gigantic Medium Small Smaller Smallest Little Tiny Beginning Middle End First Second Third Fourth Fifth Under Over Above Beside Behind Beneath Around Across October Gather Flock Migrate Flight Store Hibernate Den Environment Nest Acorn Pinecone Cool Cold Coat Jacket Boots Overcast Gloves Hat Scarf Mitten Season Change Flutter Soar Drift Shiver Stomp Trample Conserve Save Recycle Bridge Strong Strengthen Connect Arch Triangle Square Rectangle Circle

I know what all of these words mean.

I get to be witness to the beginning of R knowing them. How often are we able to pin point the moment in time when we moved from not knowing something to knowing it?

When you don't know something you may never know you don't know. Once you know a thing, is it yours forever or do you someday not know it again?

Trample. It strikes me funny they're focusing on "Trample".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sooner or Later All Bloggers Must Explain Themselves

The day may come when people blog unselfconsciously. When those of us who blog don't feel compelled by some perceived societal skepticism to explain at length our decision to start recording our thoughts, viewpoints, experiences, frustrations, humiliations, triumphs and tragedies publically. But that day is not yet here.

I've explained myself on this blog already here and here.

Christopher Buckley, late of The National Review, felt compelled to use finger quotes and verbal italics on The Daily Show last night when he said he had "just (pause) blogged today" about a hot campaign topic. When Jon Stewart reacted to his self-conscious delivery of the word "blogged", Buckley himself laughed and said he felt odd saying it and admitted he sounded like he was talking about some dread disease rather than a form of writting.

Now Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic has published an essay about why he blogs in which he traces the origins of Web logging back to the earliest forms of log keeping.

As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving
backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book. As you
piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems—and is—more truthful.

More truthful because it is more immediate.

For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to
writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more
accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out

Interesting piece, worth reading. But I still wonder why we're all so driven to blog but so compelled to explain ourselves while we do it. In the end, I think it comes down to a fear people have of others thinking they take themselves too seriously.

Out the Back Window -- October 22, 2008

On this date in 1962 President Kennedy announced the presence of offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba. And so began the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The view out my back window today:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One Lesson from the Bacon

I worked at Henry Bacon Lumber Yard for one year after college. My job was to load the contractors' pickup trucks with the lumber, drywall, pvc pipes, etc. that they had paid for inside the store. So I was just the dumb muscle in the yard.

But one day, for reasons I don't remember now, I found myself on the phone in the delivery manager's office talking to a very angry customer. Seems our driver had delivered the wrong door to her house, her contractor was showing up the next morning to install it, she was pissed that now her project was going to be delayed, she wanted a refund so she could take her money to Lowes and get the right door from them. I apologized for our error, talked her down, arranged a special delivery for that evening and hung up.

When I turned away from the desk, my manager was there looking surprised. "That was great, man. The way you talked. You could end up as a manager some day."

I was a little taken aback by his reaction and also a little pleased. I didn't understand why he was so effusive. So I asked him.

"Most guys," he said. "They'd get mad at the customer if the customer was getting mad at them. They'd tell the customer it was their fault. But you kept your cool."

I don't think most people would act that way to an angry customer, but that was his experience. Bottom line, though, he was impressed that I hadn't gotten defensive. And that's the lesson I learned. I didn't get us off the hook for being wrong with that customer's order, but I did get the customer to stick with Henry Bacon. Nobody likes defensiveness; defensiveness never works.

It's not the crime, it's the cover up.

People will forgive you your mistake, but not if you won't admit the mistake.

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- October 17, 2008

Headed out to the Seattle Center on Saturday with the boys. I've criticized that place before as being kind of empty, sad, dirty and covered in asphalt, but I must have been experiencing a more upward-trending biorhythm on Saturday, 'cause it struck me as a pretty wonderful park. The sun was shining, lots of people, and the kids got a thrill from the giant fountain.

After the fountain, we went inside to the Children's Museum. We hadn't been there in almost a year and I think the boys had forgotten about it. They reacted to everything with so much excitement it was like they'd never seen it before. What a great place to spend the day -- so relaxing as a parent to be able to just turn your kids loose and let them go everywhere, touch everything, without having to run around behind them policing their every move.

Sunday was a quiet day of hanging around the house, and swim lessons in Bellevue. But it was not without it's moments of entertainment. The boys got into a bout of "dress-up" in the morning. No princess costumes; they discovered the closet with all the old halloween costumes in it. So we were visited by Batman, Spiderman, a couple of pirates and even a Super Doctor -- everything's got to be a superhero or it's not worth doing, you know.

I'm also happy to report that over the course of the weekend, I got to see three movies! The Happening, Smart People, and W. My reviews:
  • The Happening -- It's M. Night Shymalan. People start dying mysteriously. The beginning and ending of this movie are way too far apart.
  • Smart People -- A genuinely good, but not great comedy about a curmudgeon widower (Dennis Quaid) his estranged children (Ellen Page as the daughter) and doofus adopted brother (Thomas Hayden Church). There's great tension and emotion in the relationships between the father and daughter and if the movie had been about resolving that it would have been a whole lot more satisfying. Instead, it gets sidetracked in a really implausible relationship between Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker. C'mon! Who believes this crap? It was a good movie, despite the love story between Quaid and Parker, not because of it. There's a story between father and daughter, father and son, brother and brother, and old ugly dude and too-young-for-him chick. The screenwriter focused on the wrong story.
  • W. -- Very engrossing political drama, more like a greek tragedy than an American political history. But ultimately, I couldn't buy in to it. It's just not a believable story -- it's about this rich kid from Connecticut who screws up everything he ever tries to do -- can't keep a job, fails at business -- but gets saved every time by his rich, powerful dad who's a big wig in politics. Eventually his dad becomes president but loses his bid for re-election. To avenge his dad's defeat the screw-up kid decides to run for president, thinking, if he's successful, his dad might finally be proud of him instead of disappointed in him. He reinvents himself, pretends to be from Texas, and he wins, becomes president and then he screws that up too. Like I said, an interesting story, but hard to buy in to since something like that could never really happen.

And that is the weekend that was.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thoughts After Another Cat Nap

At work at the University, my dad would often close his office door in the afternoon and lean back in his chair for a 15 minute nap. He claimed it kept him sharp.

Lately I've been doing the same thing. I find myself limping along by 2:30 in the afternoon and only a few minutes with my eyes closed will get me back on track. It's a helpful practice, but it raises the question in my mind: have I just gotten wise, or have I just gotten a little older?

Improvement is not limitless. We can't always get better. At a certain point, we start getting worse. If everything that goes up must come down, and our lives (personal, professional, physical, intellectual) reach a zenith, will we know the moment when it arrives? Will we recognize it and say to ourselves "This is as good as I will ever be"? Or do we always believe we can get better and only once we're headed back down the other side of the mountain see behind us that moment when we were at our best?

In the end maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe you just always push yourself to do your absolute best and measure your output against what you feel you're capable of but don't measure what you're capable of today against what you did in the past.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- October 10, 2008

On Friday there was no reason to have a party. And that was all the reason we needed to have a party. We invented No Reason Day. Went to the party store for balloons, streamers, party hats, cupcakes. Let the kids decorate however they wanted. Best party ever. Happy No Reason Day everyone.

Saturday, we were off to Craven Farms in Snohomish for pumpkins. I don't like pumpkins, but I like watching the kids like pumpkins.

After the pumpkins, friend Monica's in Issaquah for a Halloween Party.

Sunday, a day of rest at Qwest. Got a chance to go to the Seahawks-Packers game at Qwest field in Seattle thanks to Jeff. Great seats. Seahawks lost, but I was secretly pulling for the Packers anyway.

And that is the weekend that was.

Friday, October 10, 2008

If You Are a Fish, You Shouldn't Live at My House

...If you want to live, that is.

Another gold fish has died, people. That's two in 2 months. At least this time it was R's since the last fish that died was C's. So they're even.

The fish came into the house 2 months ago greeted by great fanfare and excitement. We prepared a fish bowl with gravel and a plastic plant. The next day C's fish was belly up. He said kind words over the corpse and flushed it down the toilet with tears in his eyes and cried all the way to Wal-Mart as we rushed to get a replacement.

Over time -- very little time -- R's original fish and C's replacement fish shed their novelty and became just two more things on the kitchen counter. But annoying stinky things in a bowl of water that turned green every couple of days.

This time when the fish died Suzanna was the first to notice it when she got out of bed to make coffee in the morning. I identified it as R's, we sighed with relief that now C would be spared the complex of being a reverse King Midas of gold fish (I wouldn't want him burdened with the belief that every gold fish he touches turns to dead). Then we dispatched it quickly down the crapper, poured some coffee and turned on the Today show.

We should not be entrusted with the care of anything that can not ask for food.

It took the boys three days to notice the fish was gone. When they did, they paused briefly to take in its absence and then went on with their business, but not before asking us "Why do fish die so fast?"

Good question, son. A mystery. I wish I knew.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Post Turtle

These are momentous times we live in. I have resisted saying anything here about the presidential election simply because I talk about it everywhere else I go and I thought I would keep this forum for discussing other things.

But if it's true that one purpose of a blog is to record your thoughts in a particular moment in history so that you can look back at them in the future and be reminded of what you were thinking, then I probably should say something about this election.

The truth is I am fervently pro-Obama for his grace under pressure; for his focus on restoring the middle class because he recognizes it as the backbone of the American econmy; for his emphasis on demonstrating to the world the power of the American example not the example of American power.

And the truth is, I believe John McCain and Sarah Palin are a dangerous combination for this country. I think they're shallow and/or wrong on the issues -- deregulating banking, taxing health care benefits, saber rattling instead of the face-to-face diplomacy that was good enough for Ronald Reagan (whom they claim to admire, who scared me in 1980, but who looks like a graceful throwback to an age of reason compared to these two); I think they've run a cynical and duplicitous campaign; I think they talk about honor while acting dishonorably. And with regard to John McCain specifically, whatever remaining respect I had for him evaporated the moment he picked Sarah Palin, so obviously a political choice designed for momentary gain and so obviously a compromise of his values of putting country first, because she is not ready for the job and he knows it. His ambition got the better of his judgement in the case of picking his VP, what does that say about his ability to make the right judgement as president? Rhetorical question there.

Rolling Stone has just published an amazing investigation of John McCain's history, showing that what is true of him is universally 180 degrees different from what he says of himself.

And what of Sarah Palin? This just came to me in an email from a family member, and I think it's the perfect assessment of Palin (and, by extension, McCain), so I'll let it speak for itself:

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old rancher, who's hand was caught in the gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Palin and her bid.

The old rancher said, "Well, ya know, Palin is a Post Turtle'".

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post turtle' was.

The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a 'post turtle".

The old rancher saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he
continued to explain. "You know she didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't belong up there, and she doesn't know what to do while she's up there, and you just wonder what kind of dummy put her up there to begin with".