El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Author: Jim (page 1 of 47)

El Paso Shooting

From his manifesto:

“Even if other non-immigrant targets would have a greater impact, I can’t bring myself to kill my fellow Americans.” The manifesto writer said he supported the Christchurch shooting citing the “Great Replacement” anti-immigration theory postured there. The writer says that his hatred of immigrants predates Trump so “don’t blame” the president.

Would this guy really have had to disavow Trump’s influence if their values didn’t coincide?

Hey guys, I thought of violence against immigrants first, so don’t give credit to Trump [even though we’re pretty much in lockstep with what we’d like to achieve, an America devoid of brown people].

Absolves Trump? I think it indicts him as morally complicit.

It’s Not Magic Folks – Recontextualizing the Precolombian

I had the privilege recently of visiting the Yucatán in México for a Suzuki music conference in Cancún. Jaimito and I and the group took the time to tourist around, visiting Mayan temples, ruins, learning the history, and the past and current political realities of the people. I have more to say on that, but I’d like to start with two particular things that really stuck out to me. Both of them reminded me that we humans are not so different, separated by time, distance, and culture.

First, the Yucatán is an arid place, dotted with limestone sink holes called cenotes. These water filled holes are entrance points to a vast reservoir system that runs beneath. Rains have been somewhat regular, but sparse and hard to predict for centuries.

Keep that in mind.

The other: The Mayan people were a highly developed organized society with a mature and systematized knowledge of agriculture, astronomy, and government. They were not the blood thirsty primitives portrayed in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (they hate that movie, by the way).

In Chichén Itzá I came face to face with something startling, a temple to the stars.

What does this remind you of?

It’s literally just an observatory, and even more incredible is that it looks just like modern observatories. These buildings and the others are well over 1,000 years old. What was Europe doing at this time?

The observatory was used to study the skies, predict cycles, determine when to plant, when to hold ritual celebrations. Think about it. This structure was practical. It was constructed at great expense, deliberately, with great precision to have a view of Venus and the stars and to track their paths across the sky. The structure wasn’t decorative. It wasn’t thrown together. It was engineered and constructed to last (over a 1,000 years and counting), all so that the Mayan people could understand their world better.

Science. Not magic. Not superstition. Not spirits and bogeymen. It was an achievement akin to the Greeks of the ancient world, the Arabs during their Golden Age, and later to the Europeans of the Renaissance.

Let’s leave that for a bit and head to the ruins of Tulún.

Temple to the Wind

This structure was described to us as the Temple to the Wind. I got chills when I saw it. It dawned on me that the word “temple” isn’t spiritual in our modern sensibilities of the separation of the physical and the so-called spiritual. Temple to the wind here is very clearly the place where they study the wind, the place wherein the knowledge of the wind is contained and studied. Knowledge may be communicated as spiritual, to know the essence of something, to own it, is as much a spiritual as a practical experience.

Look at it. Look at the palm trees bending in the wind. It was placed on a small peninsula jutting out to sea. It reminds me of a weather station. From this point, they would have the most advanced knowledge of coming hurricanes, changes in wind direction, temperature, and perhaps atmospheric pressure.

Learning about the Mayan people, seeing their land, putting myself in their context gave me tremendous respect for their accomplishments.

Less a bloodthirsty, primitive people for whom the world was a mystery to be feared, and whose response was resorting to human sacrifice and bloodshed to survive, I saw an organized, thoughtful people using science to support their civilization through observation and study.

If we call it superstition or belief in supernatural mojo, that’s on us, ’cause that’s not what I saw.

A Conversation I Have Had

“Europe? What does Europe have? We have the best of everything. I wouldn’t change America for Europe. They have stupid policies – socialist idiots who are driving themselves into poverty with free stuff.”

After a bit, the talk turns to immigration.

“We should be able to police our borders. Just try to get into a European country. Remember how hard it was for you to get a work visa in Spain? And you had skills. They had policies that chose their own people first. We should be able to do the same. We’re idiots for letting all these immigrants into the country.”

“I thought Europeans didn’t have any policies you admired”

Hope in the Face of Inevitable Loss

I tear up when “En Mi Viejo San Juan” is sung or played. I don’t know why. The song is a nostalgic lamentation from the point of view of a Puerto Rican living in the diaspora, far away from their beloved homeland, a reluctant refugee from their true love, their home. They hope one day to return to their beautiful isla, Borinquen.

Pero el tiempo pasó | But time passed by
Y el destino burló | and destiny mocked
Mi terrible nostalgia | my terrible nostalgia,
Y no pude volver | and I couldn’t return
Al San Juan que yo amé | to the San Juan that I loved,
Pedacito de patria | little piece of my land.

Mi cabello blanqueo | My hair whitened
Ya mi vida se va | and my life fades away
Ya la muerte me llame | and death calls for me,
Y no quiero morir | and I don’t want to die
Alejado de tí | away from you
Puerto Rico del alma, adiós | Puerto Rico of the soul.

My son, Jaimito made an observation after he had played it in a small ensemble recently. “Daddy, it’s funny, you’re not even Puerto Rican, and you have not left or plan to leave.”

“I don’t know what it is, Jaimito. You’re right. Why does that song hit me so hard?” I laughed, wiping my tears. “Damn these onions.”

I’ve reflected, and I think I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, I get emotional because everybody else does. This song never fails to impact a group of Puerto Ricans especially older. I cannot, not be impacted by the emotions of others. Like a contagious yawn, I think of all the scattered families, the years and distance between them, the struggles of making it in a new place, the worry of those in the mainland when calamity befalls others on the island. We will return, they say, and they hold out hope that we will be together again on their beautiful island.

And that leads me to the second and perhaps deeper significance in the song. An essentially hopeful and spiritual people, I can’t also help but reflect that the song touchs at what drives us all forward, keeps us going.

Hope.

Although, we know in our rational mind that the outcome is hopeless, our heart, our spirits will that it be not so.  This song captures it perfectly – hope in the face of inevitable loss.

One of these things is not like the others

Trump Tweet: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”

Later in a round table discussion on the economy, Trump called Notre Dame “one of the great treasures of the world,” and said it “looks like it’s burning to the ground.”

Less than a month ago, 3 historically black churches in Louisiana were torched by a white nationalist terrorist, the 21 year old son of a local sheriff.

*crickets*

Trump initially expressed sorrow and solidarity for the victims of the massacre at a mosque in New Zealand. Recounting a conversation she held with him, New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern said, “He asked what support the U.S. could provide. My message was sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.”

*crickets*

Technology, Culture, and Knowledge Ownership

I’ve written about this topic before, that owning and using a technology is more than just purchasing it, but I’d like to delve further into this general topic using the Boeing 737 Max as a departure point.

But first, a little bit of backstory.

When Laura and I lived in the Basque Country I learned an interesting concept. An euskaldun is a person who has the Basque language, Euskera. The morpheme -dun connotes ownership, to have and to own, but it goes deeper than that. It’s an intrinsic “have” that is more than simple acquisition. It’s the kind of ownership an inventor has, or someone who was born into something. English speakers might use the word, “native” to communicate a similar sentiment. The Basques have various words for describing those who are new speakers of Euskera, those that are fluent, perhaps even perfect, but were not born to it. The -dun communicates an intrinsic knowledge that cannot be separated from the person. You know it, you own it, it is a part of you.

The term helps us, I think, when we consider how to design technology exported for use outside of whatever culture. It would also be important to consider the hidden biases and assumptions baked into a product whether it be software or a jet aircraft or software on a jet aircraft. No matter how much we try, exported invention and knowledge will always contain unexpected challenges to those that use it outside of its native context.

Let’s put this all in the context of commercial aircraft operation in the US. The US has the largest military air force in the world. The US has the highest quantity of pilots and ex-pilots. The US invented the airplane. There are certain assumptions that go into aircraft operation, like there’s a good chance that the pilot has spent some time in the air force, has flown many types of air craft, is male, is white, and is older and more experienced. But it also goes without saying that the aircraft was probably designed for him by people that look like him. Engineers have long struggled with biased assumptions in design.

I have confronted numerous challenges trying to integrate technology knowledge in Puerto Rico among non-native English speakers. There are cultural and social factors that play a role in how a person sees and uses the object. If it wasn’t birthed from their values, their assumptions, and their social construct, there will always be unexpected gaps. The best they can do is to learn to adapt themselves to its construct and its context. The Puerto Rican people are very adept at context switching between two cultures and languages, but it’s still a band-aid solution.

Back to the Ethiopian Air 737 Max crash. Boeing has said, that “…experienced 737 pilots needed little training for the new Max 8.” What is an experienced pilot? Is Boeing basing this recommendation on what it knows about American pilots, that they are generally more experienced and older?

Boeing engineer says, “Yeah, if it gets dicey, flip the switch and turn off the MCAS system. It’s really not necessary anyway, Bill, it’s mostly to make you feel better about the new handling characteristics of airframe.”

We now know that there were incidents where the MCAS system had responded adversely in US airspace. The pilots turned the system off and filed a complaint. No crashes, but it pissed off a few pilots.

It may also be the case that US manufacturers all ordered the optional second redundant sensor model. Other carriers around the world may have less money or may interpret “optional” in a different way. Optional may mean unnecessary to them. How optional is it? Well, apparently it’s only optional if you don’t care if your plane stays in the air.

So we go down the list, how well written was the training manual? Was it translated properly into Ethiopian? What was that person’s cultural knowledge? Was it not translated at all, relying on the Ethiopian engineers’ knowledge of English? I can tell you first hand, that no matter how well you speak/write in a second language, there will always be gaps. I have done a master’s degree in Spanish, have lived in Puerto Rico for over 20 years, and there are still things I learn every day, things that my kids already know at a high school level. So, in order for our Ethiopian pilots to have the same performance characteristics as our American native pilots, they would have to have complete and total ownership over the culture of flying, American specific cultural nuance, all the tacit and implicit meanings of the terms found in technical manuals, and the assumptions made in order to achieve parity. It’s a tall order, and even if our Ethiopian pilots were twice as talented, twice as smart, and bilingual they are still hamstrung by a technology they didn’t invent and they don’t own. Their knowledge no matter how spectacular will be degraded by a context and assumptions that are not their own.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

So in the spirit of St. Patrick’s day, Laura whipped up a delicious dish of corned beef and cabbage. The interesting part was the conversation about how the dish came to be, what goes in it, and the dynamic of families that might have shared it together. We meditated on the Irish immigrant families in America that didn’t have access to their preferred pork, and suffering economic hardships, resorted to using cabbage as way to extend the cheap and somewhat familiar corned beef. Add some onions, carrots, and potatoes and it’s a complete and healthy meal.

“You know,” Laura observed, “I just cannot believe that nobody mentioned garlic in this dish.”

“I know, who doesn’t put garlic in a dish like that. It’s sacrilegious,” I replied. “Throw it in. It’s a family dish.”

“Should I add some corn?”

“Oh yeah, definitely, a hint of sweetness, and a native American staple, peasant food with a dash of this and a dash of that, borrowed, available, and left over.”

It doesn’t necessarily look great, but ours was delicious.

The verdict: I don’t know about you, but I could happily survive on family style poverty food.

Stop Treating Politicians Like Celebrities

Biden calls Pence a “decent guy.” The internet implodes. He’s not a decent guy, it says, he’s anti-LGBT, he’s a misogynist, he supports Trump’s agenda. BAN HIM! CENSURE HIM! And the pitch forks come out.

As it’s not an election year, you can’t really do any of those things. Pence is wrong, to be sure, but we the people as represented in the legislature are obligated to work with him and the current administration. We cannot simply disappear him ala R. Kelly or Kevin Spacey or any other celebrity who says or does the wrong thing. Haven’t you learned that by now?

We need to stop treating politicians like celebrities, because it leads us to dysfunction. They are elected representatives with millions of constituents, put there lawfully by a majority of the electorate (* well in most cases, but bear with me here for the sake of argument). We cannot just turn our backs on them, tune them out, or stop working with them, because barring some sort of impeachable offense (and most of the time even that’s not enough), we are stuck for better or for worse.

To call them decent, or to speak positively about them in the places where our values may coincide leads us to find consensus, to productivity, and to progress. Turning our backs, holding our breath until our faces turn blue, and stomping our feet like petulant children is not how a representative democracy works. Well, maybe it does, what do I know.

The old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” holds true here, I think. And rather than as a nicety, concocted in the time of the Ward and June Cleaver status quo, it is a rather useful tool for not engaging in pointless battles. I think the old guard in Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden get this, but perhaps some of the newcomers may not. They were raised on the quickening pace of the rise and fall of celebrities and the power of the twitter take down. Politicians are not celebrities and I think they will learn soon enough that twitter rage isn’t enough to get what you want.

Somebody said it better, I think. “Uuuhhh, don’t boo. Vote!”

True Love is Like Good Ribs

I was chatting with Jaimito and Javier in the car this evening and we were talking about the feelings of love and new relationships. I mentioned a relationship I had that fizzled out because it went too fast. I remarked that with Laura it took two and a half years for there to be a spark. It was a slow burn.

Jaimito piped up, “It’s like good ribs.”

I paused, not quite getting it.

“Daddy, good ribs are cooked slow and low. So true love is like good ribs.”

We all rolled. “Jaimito, that’s going in my blog. Truer wisdom has never been spoken.”

Los Sabores del Amor, The Flavors of Love

I had been wanting to share this for a while. It’s what I’ve been listening to for the past year, and I love every single song. They are songs of love, passionate, yearning, sweet, sentimental, and loss. They can be deep and abiding, carnal, lighthearted, irreverent, and unconditional. It’s all the flavors, all the facets, wrapped into an interesting blend of Caribbean and Latin rhythms.

If you’re not necessarily into Latin music, I hope that these may just pique your interest.

And yes, Despacito is there. How could I do a lista de los grandes éxitos and not put on Despacito. Shutup. Haha.

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