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)

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.

Simple Can be Hard

Don’t mistake the uncomplicated for the easy. Sometimes the simplest tasks are the hardest.
-Jim’s One-Minute Messages

Walls Don’t Actually Work

Walls don’t actually work was the first lesson in my Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) class at my university many many years ago. I don’t remember why it was the first lesson, perhaps it was an easy to explain concept, disabusing us of poorly conceived defensive strategies, or trying to set a paradigm for future problem solving based not on defensive but rather offensive strategies. Gen. Patton’s pithy “Go forward” expresses the foundation of US Military strategy and tactics. In any case, our instructor launched into a brief and simplified explanation of why the Maginot Line was not an effective war strategy despite its costly and well engineered construction.

Simply put, undefended or underdefended obstacles aren’t effective. Walls aren’t substitutes for boots on the ground. The Marginot Line was insufficiently defended and provided a false sense of security. Although part of its purpose was to redirect any attacking forces, the mindset that a passive barrier could be effective undermined the goals and objectives of actually defeating the enemy. In short, a wall or obstacle whether of concrete, steel, mines, barbed wire, or whatever without an effective operational plan isn’t going to solve your problem.

You can slow down or redirect the advance of your opposition with obstacles, but you ain’t gonna stop them.

This was the point that was hammered home over and over again throughout my military education. You have to have a plan to win, and you must advance. Use obstacles to redirect your opposition and as part of your overall offensive plan, but don’t think they by themselves will stop the enemy or win you the day.

If you believe that a wall built along 2000 miles of undefended border with Mexico is sufficient to stop immigrants from crossing, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell  you. I’ll take it further; if you think it makes economic sense to first build a wall then place the military or Homeland Security along the entire border to stop a few thousand people who want to come work, something in the basic educational process has failed.

That’s why nobody wants the wall. As it’s being sold, it’s an expensive proposition that will do nothing. Exactly nothing. It would be nothing more than miles and miles of undefended ineffective wall no matter how big, no matter how tall, no matter how thick. If it were to be properly implemented with appropriate levels of vigilance, it’s now an even more expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist in the first place.

If Capt. Bone Spurs had spent any time in the military perhaps he would have learned this.

« Older posts

© 2019 El Gringoqueño

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑