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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chinese Christmas Dinner

The #1 restaurant to go to on Christmas Day is still the Chinese Restaurant. This dates back to when they were the only restaurants open on Christmas because Chinese didn't celebrate Christmas. It's since become a tradition in many families as an alternative to repeating the Thanksgiving turkey.

Chinese restaurants outnumber McDonald's restaurants in the United States. Part of the reason for this is the length of time that Chinese restaurants have been open in the United States. The first Chinese restaurant in the USA was the Canton Restaurant in San Francisco. After the transcontinental railroad was completed and mining began to play out, a law was passed prohibiting the immigration of Chinese workers. An exception to the immigration ban was for business owners. The two major businesses that Chinese immigrants showed an affinity for were laundries and restaurants. That's why so many Chinese run Chinese restaurants. It's actually a delicious artifact of a restrictive immigration law.

Another unusual thing about Chinese restaurants is the perceived affinity between Jews and Chinese food. Actually the biggest group of consumers of Chinese food is a horse race between Jews and Asians. As one character in the movie "My Favorite Year" (one of my favorite movies) remarked, "Jews know two things," he said, "Suffering and where to find great Chinese food." The reason Jewish people patronize Chinese restaurant because Chinese cuisine doesn't use dairy products. Because dairy products aren't cooked in Chinese restaurant kitchens. It is therefore closest to kosher standards which prohibit dairy and meat to be cooked in the same vessels or eaten together.

Funny how traditions get started; in this case, all because Congress thought there were too many unskilled Asian workers entering the country.
They did slow it down some, but Chinese immigrants still managed to flood the country illegally, mostly through, wait for it.......California.

© 2017 by Tom King

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Facebook - The Digital Front Porch

First picture I posted of me and Daisy
People make fun of Facebook friends who post pictures of their dinners, their dogs and cats, or the first snow falling on their patio. Yet, somehow, these are some of the most popular posts on FB. I can post a profound piece on politics or religion that I think is earth-shaking and get a couple of thumb's up. But I post a picture of Mama's mashed potatoes or the dog napping in my lap and generate dozens of likes and comments. Why are people interested in all that mundane stuff. Why do I get 95 "likes" for a picture of my wife laughing her head off while we're taking our anniversary picture.

I think it's because these posts are like an invitation by a friend to come by the house. It's an spontaneous kind of intimacy with friends and neighbors that we've somehow lost when we quit building homes with decent front porches.

Oh, I occasionally tweak a liberal friend and get into a running debate over something Trump did or some comment I made disparaging some beloved tenet of progressivism. And we've had some tub-thumper arguments, but hey. Back in the olden days, we used to do that sort of thing with a Coke in hand with friends on the porch of the local grocery and gas station with a bunch or other old geezers looking for a fight. 

Facebook has taken over the role of the old front porch. In exactly the same way that we used to talk about our cars, our grandkids, or the latest backyard project we have going, we post pictures and comments about our personal lives on Facebook so people we know and like can feel like they are keeping up with us.

I occasionally bump into an old friend or family member that I haven't seen in a while, and as we talk, I realize that we are taking up threads of conversations leftover from posts we made on Facebook or other social media. "How was that trip to Cancun?" you ask, having seen the 44 pictures she posted of the trip. "I see your granddaughter is really sprouting up."  You can say that because grandma has posted 157 pictures of the kid documenting every day of the child's life since birth. A lot of millenial precious snowflakes make fun of us older folk for posting the stuff that we do, but hey, at least we don't post hourly selfies showing who we are with at the moment, where we are standing and what we are wearing.

I try to post interesting things, but I'm also guilty of having posted more than my share of cute doggie pictures over the years. I still occasionally post pictures of my dog Daisy even though she's been dead a year and a half. Facebook even helps out by suggesting that I repost old pictures I posted five or six years ago. I am often surprised how many of those old pictures are of me and the dog.

You can criticize Zuckerberg all you want for his liberal bias, but the boy does understand the appeal of the digital front porch he's created. If he and his minions can just stand to not try and tell us all what we can talk about on our own porches, Facebook could last forever in some form or another - or at least till the world comes to an end (a subject about which we can also debate on the "porch" with several dozen of our closest digital buddies).

Facebook posts don't have to be profound. Social media is the digital successor of front porches, Saturday night jam sessions down at the VA, the town square, the pen pal, and the sister who calls you on the phone and talks for two hours. So I'll go on posting my dog pictures and my latest do-it-myself project photos and I'm not ashamed! If you want to look at the couch I reupholstered myself or the cigar box banjo I built or me playing with Jellybean, you're welcome. If you'd rather look at selfies of your friends, then there's a place for that too.

Tell you what; I won't make fun of your selfies if you won't make fun of my photos of homemade pizza!  Okay?

© 2017 by Tom King

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Searching for Heaven - The Enigma That is Youtube

You choose....
The YouTube phenomenon is something nobody predicted back in the 60s when I was coming of age. I read a lot of science fiction and I don't remember that anyone ever predicted that the advance of technology would create the creative explosion that it has. Everybody was actually predicting that we'd gradually all become prisoners of our TV sets and that creativity would die away from neglect.

Then came the Internet! Who would have guessed that what was essentially a military communication tool designed to survive and apocalyptic nuclear war and still function would metamorphose into a digital Wild West where anything goes and almost anything can happen. And who expected the personal computer would get smaller and smaller as it grew more and more capable of doing things. Who knew that for a few dollars one could have his own video production and sound studio in his living room and to produce CDs with professional looking labels? Who expected technology to open the gates of opportunity to creative people to disseminate their art, sell their goods and bring down the gatekeepers (record companies, broadcast companies, and shake the movie moguls down to their toes?

The explosion of beautiful things that have burst forth as the Internet opened up a world of opportunities for creative expression to choose from. People responded by producing some quite lovely things in places like YouTube. Music, films, and documentaries are everywhere. Some is ugly. Some is beautiful. I like to think that the beauty we create is just us looking for heaven and trying to create a little piece of it using that ability to create beautiful things that free will gives us.

We are observing the outworking of decentralized freedom of choice, technological capacity, and increased opportunity. It's shaken the economy to its core. The old gatekeepers are losing their power. Oddly enough, thought, at the same time the generation which has learned to navigate the wild new digital landscape so masterfully, at the same time have come to embrace a political system which promises to wreck this decentralized, wild in the streets growth of individual opportunity in favor of massive centralization of power and authority.

It has become fashionable for cynics of this generation to demand that, if there is a God he would solve all these problems by waving his hand and forcing people to be good. Yet no one really thinks much beyond some kind of magical instant problem-solution to what it would mean if God did that. It would mean the end of free will. You see free will is part of the problem. If people can choose, then taking away their ability to choose makes them not  really human anymore. We're robots if we cannot choose. If we can choose, it creates a problem. If we can choose we can choose to do bad things.

We are a self-destructive lot, we humans. We want to do what we want to do, but we don't want to deal with the consequences. Like spoiled children, we humans want to do what we want to do and then we want someone else to clean up the mess. That's more than a little unrealistic, but people do manage to cling to the delusion that somebody, somehow should come along and solve all our problems and then not make any further demands on us.

We want a Santa Claus that doesn't keep a naughty list and there ain't no sucha thang! Which brings me back to the Internet and technology. The freedom of choice that makes the Internet work so well as an incubator for individual art, music, and business, is anathema to centralized, authoritarian utopias.  You cannot have safety by selling your freedom. You cannot have freedom if someone else makes all your decisions for you.

It's scary as all git-out to navigate a world in which good and bad things can happen. So long as humans can choose, bad things can happen. The only way to solve that problem is to get rid of everyone who chooses to be bad. Socialist dictatorships try to do that, but since they can only look on the outward appearance, their judgment about who should be executed tends to be seriously flawed. Only God can separate the sheep from the goats and that's what it's going to take. The only reason He hasn't done it yet is that He's giving us time to decide whether we're going to be sheep or goats.

In the same way the Internet produces beautiful music, movies and independent businesses alongside porn and hate speech, a world where humans have free will creates beauty alongside horror and misery.  It's a brave old world we live in, especially those of us who believe in doing good rather than evil. We have to have the courage to risk a world where men and women may choose. We have to believe that the risk is worth the actual worker's paradise we've been promised by a kind and loving God who chose to create children and not robots.

© 2017 by Tom King