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Julia

First Day of School – 2007

Julia just graduated from high school. It was strangely anti-climactic. She put on her graduation regalia and headed out the door to meet a small group of classmates in Group 11 at the Alameda Theatre where they were ushered in, socially-distanced, and took the stage, one-by-one, to pick up a diploma and say a few words into a camera for a video that will be spliced together for family and friends. No pomp, just circumstance.

The Class of 2020 has been through a series of unique events as they made their way through the public school system here in Alameda. They grew up learning how to adapt.

Her class was the first seriously impacted at the local elementary school as overflow from the lottery system in San Francisco drove parents to the East Bay. In 2007 it was no longer sufficient to say you lived in the neighborhood to send your kids to the local school. For the first time, you had to get in line and spend the night in order to guarantee one of the coveted spots for your child in the kindergarten.

As Julia made her way to Lincoln Middle School, her class ended up being one of the last that took the trip out East to visit Washington DC as part of the Close-Up program. Julia took band where she played violin and was part of the color guard team with the marching band that took a trip to Disneyland where they marched down Main Street.

Julia playing violin

In high school, Julia’s interests turned to sports where she ramped up her passion for soccer. She had been playing club soccer for a couple of years and made the varsity team her freshman year. She also dug into leadership at the school where she served on the Spirit Committee and helped organize several school-wide events including a fund-raiser which raised thousands for families suffering after the fires in Paradise, California. She called the program Pennies for Paradise.

Julia played defense all four years

Alameda High School went through a number of physical upgrades while she attended. Seismic fences surrounded the old school building as the structure was deemed unsound. Over the four years Julia was there, major improvements were made and by her senior year, they finished with the classic structure you see in the photo below.

Julia in front of the newly renovated AHS – 2020
Julia was interviewed on the local radio station this morning.

She took an interest in Psychology to the point where she convinced enough classmates to join her and put together an AP Psychology course. This interest served to focus her college search which brought her to Clark University which is known for its Psychology Department.

So Julia starts at Clark University in Massachusetts next year. Izumi and I sat in on a Q&A session and learned a little about the school’s plans to get started in the Fall. They will do everything they can to get everyone together for in-person instruction but are also planning on an extended Winter Break (Nov 20 – Feb 15) during which courses will be taught remotely should there be a second outbreak of the Coronavirus.

Izumi and I have been touched with the school’s inclusive approach. Their admissions package included not only the usual information and schwag for Julia but also a nice letter from the president, welcoming us to the community.

Clark University welcome letter

I think she’ll be in good hands. Congratulations Julia, I’m so excited to see what you do next!

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Skipper

My great-grandfather, Erlon H. Parker, flew bi-planes for the United States in World War I. As a Memorial Day project, I decided to pull on a few threads to see what else I could find about the man known in my family as “Skipper.”

The photo up top is Skipper in the cockpit of a biplane. Back then, planes were wood-framed and covered with canvas. When they first started flying they didn’t know how to synchronize machine guns with the prop so there was a danger of shooting the propeller off. Until they could work out the synchronization, the solution was too wrap the prop with bands of steel. Randomly ricocheted bullets was the solution which gives you an idea of how they did things in the early days.

Before that pilots went up with pistols which sounds quaintly like the Wild West. Other options included deploying a grappling hook on the end of some rope and try and cross your enemy’s path and tear up the their plane like some Afghan fighting kite.

This is what my great-grandfather signed up for.

Erlon Parker’s Italian pilot’s license (the Italian official misspelled his name and got the wrong state)

Once the United States entered the war, the Army and Navy raced each other to see which service would get to Europe first. The Navy implemented a recruiting program to enlist men for aviation duty. 100 men were chosen, two from each state. Skipper, signing up from Maine, joined as a member of 1st Naval Aeronautic Detachment in Pensacola, Florida which eventually was winnowed down to 20 enlisted pilots.

On a family Zoom call, I learned that the fledgling unit left for Europe before any uniforms could be designed and made for them. Once they landed in France, (fun fact, they sailed to Europe on the USS Jupiter, the first aircraft carrier in the US Navy) they were instructed to go to a tailor and get a uniform made for themselves. Apparently everyone interpreted what a uniform of a naval airman should look like so the resulting uniforms were not very, um, uniform.

The group needed instruction as they had little practice flying. The French pilots agreed to train them but, because of the language barrier, they had to be creative.

From Origins of Naval Patrol Aviation, 1911 – 1920s

One can only imagine how dodgy these early planes were. Nicknamed “flying eggcrates” there wasn’t much holding them together. These early engines were not very reliable some only good for 4-hours flying time. There was no radio so each plane went up with a carrier pigeon which was used to send home coordinates for a search party should they go down. There were also other uses for homing pigeons.

Skipper had other uses for pigeons (clipped from his obituary)

Skipper flew seaplanes (“flying boats”) that patrolled out over the ocean looking for enemy ships and submarines. They mostly would go out on reconnaissance but they also had some light bombs (basically hand grenades) that they could pitch over the side if they wanted to cause trouble.

HS-1 Seaplane

I also learned from Skipper’s obituary that his squadron was credited with sinking two German submarines but that all he ever shot down were, “two seagulls.”

After the war, Skipper joined a fellow war pilot, Eddy Rickenbacker, as one of the first commercial pilots with Eastern Airlines where he flew the Ford Tri-motor “Tin Goose” on the route between Newark, NJ and Washington, DC. Captain Pete Parker, as he became known, became the Chief pilot with Eastern and flew the first flight out of North Beach, Long Island which is now known as La Guardia.

The Eastern Airlines Tin Goose

I have seen Captain Parker’s flight log at my parent’s house which records regular flights between Newark and Havana on a DC-3 back in the 1930’s. My great-grandmother used to tell of the time when they were passengers on a DC-3 going through choppy air. Everyone was getting ill from getting bounced around so Skipper asked his wife to excuse him and went up to the cockpit and politely asked if he could take over for a bit. The plane soon smoothed itself out to the delight of everyone on-board.

This photo was taken in 1940, I think this was a DC-3

Skipper died before I was born but his stories and spirit last be on in my family. He is also the reason my middle name is Parker. I thank him for his service and hope you enjoyed this little celebration of his amazing life.

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Same as it, everwas

David Byrne was on SNL last night, performing this blog’s namesake.

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High Tech Alameda

Ever since they shut down the Air Naval Station on the western end of Alameda, there has been a number of cool businesses that have moved in to call the leftover gigantic air hangers their home.

St. George’s Spirits – a required stop when visiting the island – they offer tours of their distillery floor and will tell tales of their innovations and experiments that have resulted in the first modern (legal) absinthe and their award-winning single malt. Be sure to ask them about their wasabi vodka experiment.

The Bladium – when you’ve got an entire hanger, you can do a lot with the space. There’s a boxing ring and an indoor rock wall.

Rock Wall Winery – speaking of rock wall, Rock Wall was founded by the daughter of Kent Rosenblum who ran a very successful winery down the street.

The Rake – a pub attached to Admiral Maltings. They serve up beers that are brewed using their malts. Their beers are, of course, wonderful but the whole WPA, union shop design ethic is really cool too.

The Rake at Admiral Maltings

The Ocean Cleanup – boy genius Boyan Slat threw out an idea at a Ted talk and proposed a clean-up of all the plastic in the ocean. When it came time build a huge boom that they sent out into the Pacific Ocean to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, he chose Alameda. They are also working on a thing I call Roomba for Rivers.

Makani – a Google X graduate, this “moonshot” make huge kites which they fly in the jet stream and use to harness power.

Astra – just out of stealth, this rocket start-up that looks like a garage project that went pro. Astra has hired on some big guns and aims to launch their micro-rockets on a regular (daily) basis to serve the soon-to-be-booming commercial space industry. They will not launch out of Alameda but they found a jet engine testing facility from the Naval Air Station perfect for their undercover tests.

There are more on the way I’m sure – the old Mythbusters used to use the runway to blow stuff up. That same runway has been used to test drive an autonomous motorcycle startup of an unknown name and the movie studio behind The Matrix movies is back for more filming of their dystopian universe.

Who knows what will be next.

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HNY

Happy New Year!

Since flipping over into 2020 I’ve been on a bit of simplify kick. My goal is to either upgrade, give away or throw away one thing, each day this year.

So far Izumi and I donated several bags of old clothes, upgraded the alarm and thermostat systems (allowing me to rip out aging control boxes and yards of wires) and also upgrade this ol’ blog to run SSL (finally) on some new hardware.

everwas.com is still hosted with Laughing Squid (going on 13 years!) but on their new Managed WordPress partner, Pressable which allows them to offer a sweet deal for $12/month.

  • Jetpack Premium (with video hosting)
  • CDN
  • SSL
  • Daily backups

The site is much faster now and I’m happy to finally join the https world.

To celebrate, here’s a video of the Bay Area’s very own Space Lady performing Imagine on a tram in Helsinki.

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It can happen again

A couple of weeks ago, I took the family to see Then They Came for Me, an exhibit about the incarceration of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during the Second World War. The exhibit, at San Francisco’s Presidio, has been extended through August and I highly recommend it. The use of the courts to remove civil liberties and justify racism (let’s call it what it was) is an ugly chapter in American history. Lessons learned then are more relevant than ever in today’s political environment of bombastic pronouncements and unnecessary walls.

Most know about the forced removal of 120,000 Americans from California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington during World War II but did you also know,

  • Most families were given only a few days to clear out or give away everything they owned. Lifelong businesses were shutdown and sold off for pennies on the dollar. Houses were sold off, basically repossessed. You were only allowed a single suitcase and it wasn’t clear where you were going.
  • Until the actual camps were built, families had to make do in the horse stalls at local racetracks. Of course it stunk, was cold, and there was no privacy.
  • The “Internment” camps were a nice way of putting it. They were basically concentration camps, surrounded by razor wire and machine gun towers. The shacks were simple tar-paper sheds which provided almost no insulation from the freezing temperature in the Winter and baked in the desert sun during the Summer.
  • There were many acts of passive resistance in the face of extreme institutional injustice. This was 20 years before the civil rights movement.
  • Award-winning photographers Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange were hired by the War Department to document the round-up and show it in a favorable light. Photos that depicted machine gun towers or protests were censored. It didn’t go as planned and we have them to thank for their record of this time.
Jap “hunting licenses” and a page for Life Magazine on how to identify a Jap
Our guide, Don Tamaki

We were lucky to have a guide the day we visited. Not just any guide but Donald Tamaki, one of the lawyers who worked on the team that cleared Fred Korematsu from the landmark Korematsu v. United States case.

In the video clip above, Don talks about how his team uncovered evidence of a cover-up. There was no evidence of any shore-to-ship radio messages, the threat of Japanese spies was unfounded, made up. 120,000 people were ripped out of their communities for no reason. Farms, businesses, and homes were sold off and people were told to suspect their neighbors for no reason.

In the end, the Supreme Court took the military & intelligence at their word and went along with their demand for an exclusion zone and incarceration of all those of Japanese decent within it. Once the courts stop questioning the other branches of government, in this case Congress and the President, the balance that keeps dictators and tyrants in check is lost.

While the current Chief Justice Roberts has said Korematsu v United States ‘has no place in law under the Constitution’ the law still exists, The Supreme Court has not reversed its original decision so the law that gives the president power to round up people based on race in times of national security is still on the books. As the dissenting justice in the original ruling writes, such a flawed law “lies about like a loaded weapon.”

A military order, however unconstitutional, is not apt to last longer than the military emergency. Even during that period, a succeeding commander may revoke it all. But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. Every repetition imbeds that principle more deeply in our law and thinking and expands it to new purposes.

Korematsu v. United States, Dissent, Justice Jackson

It can happen again.

Related: California and Sanctuary Cities

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How we met

Izumi and I have told this story countless times so it’s ironic that I have never posted anything about it here, this place where I post stories to share. When people ask either of us, “So how did you two meet?” This is that story.

When I was living in Tokyo I worked at a Japanese company, Kyodo. My division was with a joint-venture Kyodo had with Dow Jones called Kyodo Tsushin. We sold financial news and market data to banks and financial firms. I was with a group that served Western financial firms so in our group there were some native English speakers as well as Japanese that spoke excellent English.

One evening our group went out for drinks and I struck up a conversation with Izumi who had recently joined our team. I was struck with how she had no trace of an accent and asked her where she learned English.

“Oh, I was born in Brooklyn and went to Montessori school there. English was actually my first language but my parents moved back to Japan when I was seven so I grew up in Japan.”

Thinking that was quite specific but also surprised because her experience matched my circumstances. I mentioned that I too was born in Brooklyn and I too went to Montessori school. We also discovered we were both discovered that we were both about the same age but left it at that.

The next day Izumi came in to tell me that there was a good chance we went to the same nursery school in Brooklyn. She told me that she went home and told her mother that she had “met a Mr. Kennedy who also went to Montessori school in Brooklyn” and her mom immediately asked, “Do you mean Ian? Did he have curly hair?” Izumi’s mom remembered my name, after all those years!

A couple of days later Izumi brought in an old, faded photo of me at her house for her birthday party.

Check out the clip-on ties!

Floored to see this old photo, I then went to visit my parents who live in Japan now and went thru the shoe box that is our family photo album and found this photo of Izumi, at the same birthday party, from a different camera.

White stockings were all the rage in the 70s.

Our two parents knew each other in Brooklyn.

The Japanese have a phrase called “the red thread” ( 赤い糸) which is like this invisible thread that was strung between us, over all these years since we’ve been apart. Within a year of the photos taken above Izumi and her parents moved back to Japan where she grew up and I stayed on the East Coast and grew up there. It was only after 25 years that we came together again, halfway around the world from Brooklyn.

I went back to the photo box at my parent’s house and later found this, our class photo from that Montessori school in Brooklyn. Can you spot us below?

Try now.

Epilogue

We discovered later that there were several other connections between our two families. My father, a restaurant critic, was a huge fan of Izumi’s aunt’s restaurant Marie Claude and had included one of his reviews of her restaurants in his book, Good Tokyo Restaurants.

Furthermore, my parents were eating at an izakaya in Jiyugaoka and sat next to Izumi’s parents. When they struck up a conversation, they made the connection that Izumi’s mom was the sister of Kazuko, the chef behind Marie Claude. While they celebrated making that connection, they did not realize the deeper connection, that they knew each other from Brooklyn at the time.

One final note of symmetry. My father was born on the longest day of the year, Izumi’s on the shortest. I have a younger sister and am the oldest of two siblings. Izumi has a younger brother and is the oldest of two siblings. Both our younger siblings are the same number of years apart from us.

I guess you could say the connection is strong 💪 Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

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Tommy Lee Jones in Japan

The actor Tommy Lee Jones has been the celebrity spokesperson for Suntory’s Boss canned coffee since 2006. Many Western celebrities do commercials in Japan, it’s a quick way to make a buck. But TLJ has been doing it for so long he has become synonymous with Boss coffee and his face firmly part of Japanese popular culture.

In all his commercials he is cast as an outsider, watching Japanese society as a melancholy observer. Over time, we discover he is an alien, sent to investigate the Japanese. He takes a series of odd jobs to get closer to his subjects but he is always removed, watching, alone, with his can of coffee. Stoic.

Last week the Emperor of Japan voluntarily stepped down and a younger generation took his place. It was the end of the Heisei era and the beginning of the next. Everyone in Japan was given 10 days off to reflect and, while I’m not there, I can imagine it must be a time of great retrospection as people look back on the past 30 years and how the country has changed.

The Tommy Lee Jones character is no different so in celebration, Suntory ran this 2 minute super cut of TLJ’s greatest hits as a nostalgia piece.

Further Reading

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Mr. Jimmy

One of the highlights of SXSW 2019 that I want to expand on a bit was seeing the premier of Mr. Jimmy, a documentary film about the Jimmy Page tribute artist, Akio Sakurai.

The film is a loving appreciation of Japanese attention to detail and craft. In much the same way that Jiro Dreams of Sushi introduced the world to the lengthy apprenticeship and dedication of the world’s best sushi chefs, Mr. Jimmy dives into Sakurai’s singular 35-year devotion to replicating the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page.

Sakurai’s intimate knowledge of all phases of Led Zeppelin’s musicology allows him to recreate any song from any era exactly matching the phrasing, pace and tone. He can even play entire solos from specific concerts that he has collected in the bootleg CD shops of Tokyo’s Shinjuku 7-chome neighborhood.

If you want to hear the famous 30-minute version of No Quarter played on June 21, 1977 in Los Angeles, Sakurai can play it for you, note-for-note. In order to capture the exact sound, Sakurai insists on using the same (now vintage) equipment that Jimmy Page used. The same guitars, amps, cables and even pick-ups. He plays the acoustic portions of Stairway to Heaven on the same guitar used by Mr. Page. The exact same one. He spares no expense in his pursuit.

Before the screening of the film, the director (Peter Michael Dowd) told a story of when he first heard Sakurai play. As a Led Zeppelin fan himself, he understood the time it must have taken to get the sound just right. Sakurai told him it took him 30-years to learn that particular song to his satisfaction. Dowd could tell from the look in Sakurai’s eyes that this was not just a term of expression. It really did take Sakurai thirty years.

There are wonderful snippets of dialog with the constellation of craftspeople who support Sakurai’s quest for perfection. They each have a gleam in their eyes as they know they are working for someone who notices every detail they put into their work. From Shinji Kishimoto makes Sakurai’s pickups to Rie Nakahara, the costume designer, who pours over concert footage with Sakurai in order to capture and recreate the stitching and creasing of the custom shirts worn by Jimmy Page.

It’s this pursuit of the pure experience that has attracted a devoted fanbase in Japan that is equally obsessed with the church of Zeppelin. His fans in Japan study his every move as if they are experiencing the band for the first time. Most of them have never seen the original band so a Mr. Jimmy concert is their only experience of a live Led Zeppelin show. It all comes full circle when Jimmy Page attends one of Sakurai’s concerts while visiting Japan. After the show, Page compliments Sakurai and they exchange a moment when Page recognizes a telltale lick that reveals which era’s style he was playing. The master giving an approving nod to the apprentice.

The film follows Sakurai as he leaves his family and steady job (at a kimono maker) in Japan for the United States to follow his dream. We see him struggle with his Western bandmates who are more realistic about playing the hits, selling tickets, and having fun. “No one wants to hear an 8-minute guitar solo, even if it is faithful to the time period.” they say to Sakurai. They are not used to getting post-show pages of feedback on their performances – criticisms about how they sang or placed their hands. Sakurai and Led Zeppagain eventually went their separate ways and Sakurai seems happy to leave the “jukebox band” behind.

But true artists eventually find each other and we see Sakurai form another band, joining together with Jason Bonham, the son of the late-John Bonham (drummer for Led Zeppelin) for a world tour. It’s a dream come true.

Please see this movie. It was a labor of love (the director sold his car to make a second trip to Japan) that investigates Japanese otaku culture through one person’s journey, a hero journey but with a twist. Sakurai can never truly become Jimmy Page but instead the audience has internalized a bit of Sakurai’s obsession. I have been listening to old Led Zeppelin bootlegs for the past week.

After the movie, we were treated to a few songs played by Sakurai himself who was in the audiences. Here’s a clip I filmed of him playing The Rain Song which we were told was written on a dare by George Harrison who complained that Led Zeppelin never wrote any ballads!

Jimmy Sakurai plays for the audience after the premiere of Mr. Jimmy

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octopus!

Feeling a bit overwhelmed from the events of the day? At SmartNews we try very hard to keep the number of times we interrupt users of our app to only the “whoa!” type news events but today those types of stories just kept breaking. Here’s a rundown of the day’s events:

Just when we thought we were done for the day – another tidbit would cross the wire. There were other stories too that would have normally qualified but we were getting numb. Tomorrow’s Kavanaugh hearing is bound to bring more fireworks.

In preparation, I’ve remixed a video posted by Taiyo Masuda, a kayaker in New Zealand, that basically summarizes how I felt today and share it here for all to use when you feel it just can’t get any stranger.

via GIPHY

Yes, that’s a seal slapping someone in the face with an octopus. Enjoy!