Sunday, August 22, 2010


[Cross Posted at Cranial Gunk.]

I’ve been calling it my “succumbing to mid-life crisis” purchase (in addition to the electric guitar). For my birthday this year I bought myself a Playstation 3 (or as the young people refer to it – a PS3).

I convinced myself that the PS3 was more than just a video game console – like the ads say “It Only Does Everything” –

My “investment” in a PS3 game console was a “family” purchase as well as being a money saving “investment” because I wouldn’t need a Blu-Ray player, a DVD player, or a CD player. It connects to the Internet and with only some difficulty can be networked to play music, video, and image files via WiFi from my laptop. And using a DVD that Netflix sent me over the mail, I can stream movies – This month Netflix is streaming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

A child of the Pong generation – teen of the Pac Man era - I am easily awed by the sophistication of PS3 games in play, storytelling, and cinematic presentation (just to name a few). We have a Wii and it was exciting at the time but the PS3 has broadened our (the kids and me) gaming experiences.

I am not a hardcore gamer. My understanding of videogames and the surrounding “culture” is an amalgamation of whatever I manage to glean from G4 and talking the guys behind the counter at my local Game Stop. I am enjoying learning the language and the aesthetic expectations they have for a “good game.”

One of the games I kept hearing positive things about before I bought our PS3 was Little Big Planet. It was one of the first games I bought and has turned out to be a great game! Like a Nintendo Mii (but better), the game’s central character, Sack Boy, is amazingly customizable – and it’s dynamic! – you don’t have to leave the game for a different screen to change your Sack Boy’s facial expressions - that’s how much control you have over the character!

While extensive character customization is cool and fun, it is the ability to customize the environment and create your own levels and share them that lifts Little Big Planet from “good to great.” (I’m referencing the Jim Collins’ book here.)

The game is also great because for the kids and I (casual gamers at best) it is hard enough to be challenging, while not being frustrating (we never get stuck at a level long enough to give up… at least we haven’t yet). And the controls are pretty manageable. Being from the Atari Generation and estranged by the ColecoVision, I am easily confounded by all of the buttons on the controllers.

The PS3 has unarguably seen much more play than my electric guitar. And it certainly has fulfilled its promise of being a “family” purchase. Sony has joined with the MacArthur Foundation to host a National STEM Game Design Competition - “Sony will participate in one segment of the competition and encourage the development of new games that build on the existing popular video game Little Big Planet.” So I guess you could view my purchasing a PS3, as my preparing my kids for academic success.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Preorders for the iPhone 4 in South Korea were so overwhelming Wednesday that they brought down the servers of carrier KT Corp., which sold 130,000 handsets by 7 p.m. local time. Interestingly enough, this article indicates that Koreans due to their cultural upbringing don't really like to blab:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mnemonic Rocks

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

Even before my eldest could write proper words, I made him keep a journal. I was inspired by a friend of ours whose daughter (same age as my eldest) kept a sketchbook diary – images of events she felt were important to record. Every week I would ask him to “write” – usually a picture or invented words (spelling) - about something good that happened and something bad. Or he would be asked to draw something after a “special outing” – a trip to his grandmother’s, a trip to the zoo, a friend’s birthday party, etc.

My eldest knows words now but despite my starting early still has trouble putting them together and figuring out where to start. I wonder if it is really from a lack of something to say or not wanting to contend with the challenge of where to start? OR just a general lack of interest? (I am careful not to push him into my mold – just because I enjoy writing, doesn’t mean he does.)

He likes to read but writing is troubling for him – despite my “spelling doesn’t matter right now” approach. He’ll draw pictures – comic strips chronicling his days and thoughts but he’ll struggle for something to write when asked to write without the benefit of pictures.

Digging around the Internet for resources I came across this 2008 Rocky Mountain News article putting forth this scenario:

Put a blank sheet of paper in front of a girl and ask her to write about three things she did over the summer. She might think it's a dumb assignment, but she'll do it.

A boy, on the other hand, might go blank as he struggles to assign words to complex scenes and emotions. But let the boy draw a picture of his memories first, then hand him a pen. The words just might flow.

That’s my son! – struggling “to assign words to complex scenes and emotions!”

While I do not agree entirely with all of the teachers’ opinions on the issue, I do believe in gross generalization girls are better at communicating complex emotions than boys. I would add that this phenomena has its roots far deeper than the 21st Century classroom – it’s cultural and it’s social.

However, I don’t buy into the argument that girls are better decoders and more patient than boys. Again, it is a result of socialization and upbringing. I do agree that girls and boys learn differently – In fact, I believe how children learn is partially genetic and partially a result of environment.

Do you remember your first words? The first words you strung into a phrase, a question, or statement? The first sentence you wrote?

I can barely remember the first book I read on my own. I have no recollection of my first sentence. I only remember that it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began keeping a journal. It was mostly poetry that rhymed. My sister had been writing her journal since middle school. There was a poem or two but it was mostly very overt thoughts and emotions.

I think there is a reason my sister was comfortable with straightforwardly stating the facts, whereas I used rhyme. I am very susceptible to ear worms - Not the kind your dog might get but the kind that you might get when you find yourself humming a song you wouldn’t readily admit to liking.

This can be a curse socially – I drove my wife to the brink of insanity once when Brtiney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” got stuck in my head for two weeks. But in retrospect it also works as a blessing because it helps me remember things – phone numbers, screen names, passwords, and school facts like the multiplication table and the Preamble to the Constitution

There is a lot of writing available about using songs as a mnemonic technique. But just putting facts to music isn’t enough. The song has to be “good” - Good meaning it has to be catchy and include enough important facts on the subject to be useful. That’s what Schoolhouse Rock did well – And what it’s still doing every time I count change or put together a budget.

It is still too early to tell whether the Schoolhouse Rock songs about grammar and punctuation have made my eldest a better writer. However, he enjoyed the songs so much I recently ordered the 30th Anniversary DVD. I also bought a CD of Schoolhouse Rock covers.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of ending this post with two of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pass the Peas

I always knew this day would come but nothing prepares you for when it actually does. The above picture is our 5-year-old son Maceo posting up with funk legend, and his name source, Maceo Parker. A nice security guard hooked us up with the privilege of a face-to-face with a musical icon.

These things could turn out disastrous (I feel bad for all the kids named after Mikes Tyson or Jordan) but Maceo P. was a solid stand-up cat and couldn't have been nicer. He expressed delight over young Maceo's shirt (an $18 custom job that references Maceo & the Macks' funk gem "Soul Power '74"; it says MACEO 74 soccer-style on the back). They shook hands, we took a couple of silly snaps, and gave him dap.

Our Maceo got a day to savor his name being announced repeatedly over the loudspeaker and watch another Maceo tear it up. We got our 2010 Christmas card pic and a lasting memento to frame in his room.

Pass the peas! Thanks Maceo!


Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Deferred

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

I grew up among a handful of Chinese families in Hollis, Queens. I have been mugged three times in my neighborhood. When I was 12, two or three kids around my age tackled me off my bike, kicked me, told me: “This is our neighborhood! Go back to China you Fuckin’ Chink!” They rode off on my bike, celebrating and Hi-fiving.

When I was 14 or 15, three kids asked me for a quarter. When I said I didn’t have any money on me (which was true, I had just stepped out to pick my mother up at the subway station), I was hit from behind and pushed to the ground. On the ground, one kid pounded my head on the concrete pavement, while another rifled through my pockets. They were angry that I was telling the truth – I had no money. As they left me dizzy and bloodied on the ground, I heard one kid scold another: What the Fuck, man? I thought you said they all had money.”

After college - and failing to make it on my own – I moved back into my father’s house. Coming home in the wee hours (I think it was 2AM), two men approached me. I thought they wanted cigarettes. They wanted money. I only had five dollars on me. I offered them the wrinkled bill. They got angry and beat me. When they rifled through my pockets and found out I was telling the truth, they left me on the ground and bloodied, laughing: “Shit Nigga! You broker than me!”

That night they took my wallet. It had irreplaceable family photos. Over the years, other members of my family have also been victimized by muggers. In all the instances the assailants were black.

Having had these painful experiences it would be easy for me to become bigoted and believe all black people were street thugs and criminals – especially having grown up through the generation of Gangsta Rap that celebrated violence and victimization.

But I don’t.

I don’t because – having been judged myself - I know it is wrong to judge an entire people based on the actions of a few. I don’t because growing up in America I am shaped by the “Black Experience.” For every black mugger there are two or more black artists or social activists who have inspired me to dream bigger dreams despite the expectations that come with stereotypes and social biases.

Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Mother Hale – are just some of the people – black people – who have inspired me to do more inside and outside my social sphere.

When the Anti Defamation League (ADL) implies it is OK to be bigoted because you have suffered an emotional loss -

“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he [Foxman] said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

It is particularly upsetting for me because it is the temptation I fight the hardest whenever I read about blacks victimizing Asians like at South Philadelphia High School. Adding to my disappointment is my admiration of the ADL for expending the resources to extend its campaign against anti-Semitism to a broader campaign against bigotry (including post 9/11 anti-Islamic sentiment).

I do not have the words – nor do I ever want the words – to describe the pain of losing someone in such a horrific manner. I am fortunate not to have lost anyone close on 9/11 (though I know family and friends who have). I am afraid the anguish of losing someone like that never really goes away. But this doesn’t mean these emotional wounds are just left to fester. They need to be treated – to be cleaned and bandaged to bring about proper healing and reduce scarring.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross changed the face of grief counseling with her book, On Death and Dying. The book organized and introduced the general public to the emotional stages a terminal patient experiences. These stages are commonly referred to as the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Since its introduction, it has been applied broadly beyond counseling terminally ill patients to people “affected by bad news, such as losing their jobs or otherwise being negatively affected by change.”

People writing about the Five Stages are quick to note that grieving is an individual process. Patients (or the grieving) should not be rushed through stages. However, there is also a concern that patients do not also linger too long in any one stage. I don’t know what the timeline is for an emotional wound to heal but I do know you need to treat it.

Is accepting bigotry as a salve for healing the right treatment for the pain? I want to know about “collateral damage” – those who the grieving target their anger and pain on. What are they to do while they wait for the grieving to heal? How much are they expected to endure?

I understand loss and I understand the temptation of bigotry – it’s easy to use hate to sooth the pain and grief. However, I just can’t accept it! – It’s not what I was brought up to believe – It’s not what I am raising my children to believe. You can rationalize accepting bigotry but it doesn’t change the fact that is it wrong.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Newly Chinese

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

It’s not hard to draw comparisons between the new century vilification of Mexicans and the turn of the century vilification of the Chinese just leafing through Jean Pfaelzer’s Driven Out -

Although the poorest of the poor, the Chinese bore the blame for the era’s widespread hunger and homelessness… Racial stereotypes began to reflect the desperate economic realities of the decade. The myth of the docile Chinese coolie, readily enslaved and easily purged, gave way to the myth of the scheming ogre, rather like the shifting stereotype of the African American, who morphed from the compliant, happy-go-lucky slave to soulless “beast” after the Civil War.

And even more disappointing because it is not unreasonable to expect African Americans to understand that vilification and stand against it -

William Hall, a black leader in the Bay Area, denounced the Chinese for the effect “which coolie labor is exercising against poor white and black men.” (Philip) Bell believed that the presence of the Chinese would further reduce blacks’ wages, and he asked readers of The Elevator (the African American newspaper on which he was editor-in-chief) to boycott San Francisco businesses that hired Chinese workers… He urged African Americans to vote only for public officials who would deal with this “thorn in the flesh…”

The disappointment extends to descendents of the Italian, Irish, German, and other immigrants who faced the same discrimination when they settled here. Each ethnic group has contended with nativist hate mongering upon touching American shores and yet, once settled, each joins the nativist chorus against the newer immigrants.

I am saddened – shocked – frightened and threatened by how quickly assimilation into the dominant culture occurs. And how old immigrants so quickly forget their struggles in the “New World.”

The Encyclopedia of the New American Nation explains it this way:

in the last quarter of the twentieth century antiforeign sentiment erupted during periods of economic duress, especially in areas in which these groups settled and in contexts where political candidates like Pat Buchanan courted voters with antiforeign themes. Residents of the postindustrial rust belt seemed most sensitive to antiforeign ideas, which often emerged with antigovernment tones. For example, the downturn in the American automotive market negatively affected Asian Americans. The Ku Klux Klan and other survivalist and hate groups still sputtered along, erupting occasionally, as an unhappy underside of multicultural reality. Defenders of an older America denounced nonwhite newcomers, as their predecessors dunned immigrants in the 1840s, 1890s, and 1920s. But the nostalgic nativism… did not hide the point that newcomers since the 1970s had often done the kinds of work that native-born Americans choose not to do. In this way newcomers continued to reap the promise of what was still the most powerful force on earth—the American dream.

As the parent who is easily distinguished as being nonwhite – a second generation child (born here of newly immigrated parents) and a father of third generation children – I am perhaps more stubborn about clinging to the “old world” than my parents (whose primary concern was successful assimilation into the new world). I am a firm believer that a strong ethnic identity and a strong personal identity are deterrents to the negative aspects of nativism.

When my children are old enough to stand in my shoes, will they be as comfortable with their cultural roots as I want them to be? Will they recall the history of American persecution of Chinese immigrants and use those memories to inform their discussions of nativism? And if they are fathers, will they teach their children to value the same freedoms and take on the same responsibilities as I believe I do for them?

The sentiment behind Arizona's anti-immigrant law is not new. Throughout history, tough economic times and a lack of resources, has brought all the negative aspects of nativism to the forefront and the newly immigrated have suffered. I am worried, if not my children, my children’s children will forget their immigrant roots and join the chorus of hate ringing out now across this country.

As far as I know my children are unaware of what is going on in Arizona. They do not understand racism yet. We live in the most diverse city (in terms of race, religion, culture, and subculture) in the world. And they have not yet studied the American Civil War in school. They don’t know about slavery and the Civil Rights fight a century after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. They’ve seen videos but are too young to appreciate the inspirational message and the awe of Martin Luther King’s Dream.

They don’t understand why people are treated harshly because of their skin color or ethnic background. They only understand there are kids who are fun to play with and kids who are mean and who they don’t want to play with. They still appreciate the excitement of trying a new food or learning a new game.