Thursday, April 22, 2021

Who knew?!

Migrants disembarking from ship, ca. 1885 
photo credit: State Library of Queensland, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain 

If you're interested in how ancestors influence later generations, do take a Look Inside my new book Finding a Future [Here], now on Amazon. 

It's a personal story of family history and reminiscence, recording some first steps to see what I could discover about the ways nurture, nature, and necessity influence who we become and the life we lead, using genealogy and recall. As a glimpse of one family's history, by analogy the story might resonate with life experiences in any number of families.

From the trails of genealogy and memory for all branches of the family, I've sketched: details of ancestors in the 1800s and earlier in the poorest areas of northern Europe; journeys and new settlement of voyage takers in the family; as well as the efforts of grandparents, parents, and other family in new lands; and what it was like growing up in subtropical Australia in the 1950s through the early 1970s, to find a future.

More than a decade ago, in a phone call with my Dad who was across the Pacific in Australia then, out of the blue, he asked how much I knew about my grandfather's time in the United States. He shared detail of what were also some of his own early years - in school in California! 

The scribbled notes from what became quite a long phone call helped in understanding his father's critical decision to travel from New Zealand to Spokane, Washington in 1919, while the toll from the Spanish Flu was still being felt.

As noted in my first blog-post last May, it was almost a year after my grandfather's voyage that Nana and Dad (aged four years) joined him in North America; after "Pop," as Dad and the grandkids called him, had become the west coast manager for a major milking machinery company, based in San Francisco. And, after an initial too-rapid reopening of San Francisco in the later stages of the pandemic, which had led to the Flu's resurgence.

During the current pandemic, I used the notes from the phone call to start tracing many milestone details in ancestors' lives. 

Beyond curiosity about who they were and the everyday conditions for living in these earlier times, I wanted to see whether some hints of values, norms, and habits were evident across generations, amid the largely unspoken past of family history. 

The book was sure fun to write. Please let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

When Fools Rule

Make Way for Ducklings Prank, Boston Common
Sign warns: No photography, to avoid erosion of sculptures from the light emitted by cameraphones.
photo credit: Whoisjohngalt, English Wikipedia CCA-BY-SA 3.0 Unported

Once the glory day for pranksters, April Fool's Day seems to be less dutifully observed these days.

Sometimes the pranks are good-humored, harmless, and funny. Unfortunately, some cause an injury to feelings at least. Perhaps any decline in this second type might be welcomed as a change to human nature. Are we now any less inclined to find humor in the distress of others? Let's hope any injury is modest enough to easily forgive and soon forget.

Some April Fool's pranks live longer than others though. One radio broadcaster when I was growing up, appropriately and affectionately known to his listeners as "Bird Brain Bert Robertson," caught the wrath of city officials. One April 1st, he told his listeners that the City would soon turn off the water supply to all suburbs. 

He so convincingly urged his large group of loyal listeners to get prepared for their day's domestic water needs by filling buckets, pots, sinks, and bathtubs, that the City's Water Commissioner asked Bird Brain to stop at once; the level of water in the Dam supplying the City was dramatically falling.

When Bird Brain informed listeners of their April foolishness, they delighted in his offbeat success and quickly forgave him. Regardless of the wasted water, for which he'd not be so readily forgiven today, the effect then was that Bird Brain's popularity rose further.

These days, a NOT-forgivable prank too often played out any day of the year is by some "bird brain" politician who dreams up outrage to get a headline. 

As my grandmother would have said, tarred with the same brush, and even less forgivable is the media sub-editor who publishes the outrage [even if critical of it - please see earlier blog posts on the uselessness of "not" and so-called fact-checking]. And, LESS forgivable because the media sub-editor sets an expectation in journalists that "we the people" are willing to still be the victims of the sickness in those outrage pranks of a politician.

Little wonder that the residual effect of such foolishness in public communication is an appetite among some media gatekeepers for more foolish fiction. I guess this was what caused journalists to turn up recently to their first press conference with a new President to put questions with in-built potential to manufacture outrage.

These journalists' questions sounded eerily like they were distilled from partisan talking points; which themselves result from questions that media-manipulators put to members of focus groups to stimulate pre-determined foolishness. 

Anyone who doesn't see this as truly bizarre, even without the other bizarre truth that political parties, media, and other companies actually pay money to support this whole set-up, needs at least another cup of coffee.

Also, little wonder then, that this charade of ever-increasing competition for media listeners is causing so many of us to find and enjoy other pursuits. 

It's remarkable that such a tragi-comedy continues - a relic of a bye-gone era that was itself manufactured by media rating agencies. 

Someone should point out that the world has changed.