Monthly Archives: November 2009

how pizza came to queens

I recently came across this multimedia composition by the New Yorker artist and children’s book author Maira Kahlman: And The Pursuit of Happiness. I’ve described it as the perfect anthem for my Digital Media Literacy Slow Food Movement Movement.

Ultimately, Kahlman believes a democracy would insure access to nutritious foods for all. Our democratic ideals would be reflected in our ability to appreciate where that food comes from and the degree to which we take the time to enjoy meals together. Slowly.

I knew Kahlman first as the creator of wildly colorful and uniquely lettered children’s books like “Hey Willy See the Pyramids” and “Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman.” I thought she was also the author of “How Pizza Came to Queens,” which was  published at around the time of those early Kahlman books.

Turns out I was wrong.

Dayal Kaur Khalsa, the actual author of “How Pizza Came to Queens,” created a beautiful tale that captured my adult imagination. As a kid who grew up in Queens and who ate a LOT of pizza, I was astounded by the overlooked obvious notion that some idenitifiable individual could be responsible for introducing an iconic food into our culture. It helped that the story was also beautiful and colorful.

I loved that the main character, Mrs. Pelligrini, given the chance, unrolls her prized rollling pin just before making pizza with the two children in the story. It reminded me of the display cases at the Ellis Island museum in which what immigrants brought with them is showcased. In many instances those making the long arduous journey to this country carried with them cooking utensils. Will they have samovars? How will will I find the right cast-iron pots? I cannot part with my rolling pin! I imagine the would-be immigrants saying to themselves as they choose what to bring and what to leave behind.

These cooking utensils provided the means for meeting basic survival needs, yes. But they also represented the transplanting of culture, the underpinnings of new communities, the beginning of a reshaping of the country in which they would land.

Until pizza could become so ubiquitous and readily available that a Korean-American kid from Queens would find it unimaginable that it was ever different.

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slow-cial networks

During a run through Riverside Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan yesterday, I noticed a community garden.

An older man tended flowers hanging on until the first freeze. Two women – sisters? mother-daughter? – shot pictures of each other among the fading blooms.

This particular community garden is a slice of green in a sliver of a park in one of the busiest cities in the world. A city that purportedly never sleeps. An information nexus.

The tableaux represents what I wish I had been able to accomplish as a teacher and what I fear is becoming even more challenging in classrooms: providing students with opportunities to become digitally literate and engaged citizens of the 21st century – to navigate busy crowded spaces – while also elevating the importance of smelling the roses. Of knowing where to find roses to smell. Of knowing how to grow roses. Of growing roses.

My friend Allan Hoffman talks about “distracted living” – the inability to focus on enjoying the moment and understanding the critical importance of our human, social networks, as we embrace the power of our online versions.

I feel lucky in that many of the teachers I follow on twitter: Bud Hunt, Troy Hicks, Peter Kittle, and many many other colleagues also live this duality. I see pictures of them with their children at the playground or after anti-hunger road races and am reminded to force myself to become unwired, too.

In fact, I would argue that they’re successful as disseminators of information about social media because they’re willing and able to engage with a wide range of people. Because they appreciate the offline moments.

Robert D. Putnam wrote the seminal book, “Bowling Alone,” about the ways in which our current cultural state can atomize and isolate us.

The health of a community’s bowling leagues, he argued, was a good indicator of its social capital. I’m sure community gardens are also a signal of healthy social capital.

If we can incorporate bowling leagues, community gardens, front porches, with our online communities, so that both not only co-exist peacefully but share an exalted place in our lives, then I’ll know that we’ve succeeded in constructing what I call “slow-cial networks.”

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veteran’s day war story (part two)

My dad tells me that he was granted leave at one point. He had not heard from my mom since they were separated outside Pusan, when he was forcibly enlisted into the army of the Republic of Korea. So he decided that during his leave he would try to find her, and my sister, and my grandmother.

The only place he could think of to look was on an island off the coast of Korea where refugees were living, in tents. When he arrived, there were masses of people. The lives of everyone had been affected already by the war, and many had uprooted themselves, like my family, and fled. The tents were orderly, but everywhere.

All my dad could do was walk the lines of tents. He didn’t really expect to see my mom or my sister, a baby at the time, or my grandmother. The odds were too great.

And yet, as he walked toward one tent, he saw my mom emerge.

My dad ended that part of the story there. I continue in my mind’s eye, though, and imagine a happy reunion, an embrace laden with relief and joy and tears. I imagine that after a moment, my mother ushers my father into the tent. They sit, silently. What is there to say when your life has become completely unrecognizable? And then something happens to jolt them back into the world. Perhaps my sister cries, not knowing who my father is and needing my mother’s attention. Perhaps it’s a noise from outside, the sound of a nearby refugee neighbor.

Perhaps it’s nothing at all, but just the recognition that it is not possible to sit for too long in any one spot in the midst of a war.

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veteran’s day war story (part one)

One afternoon, a few years ago, I sat with my dad at the McDonald’s in downtown Flushing. It was then that my dad told me the story of our family’s flight south at the outbreak of the Korean War.

After World War II, my family lived close to the border between North and South, in what was technically the Communist North, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The border, though the site of small armed skirmishes, was relatively porous.

The way my dad tells the story, on June 25th, 1950, North Korean troops stormed into South Korea unexpectedly, and began a five-week-long march down the peninsula, overwhelming the South Korean and U.S. armies.

Hearing of the impending attack from neighbors, my parents buried their belongings, gathered up my older sister (a three-week-old baby at that time) and started traveling south. They also had with them my grandmother – my mother’s mother – and my great grandfather.

The North Korean army pushed forward rapidly, always seemingly one step behind my family which was struggling to make it to Pusan, a safe haven at the southern tip. Along the way, my father had to leave my great grandfather behind, at a house with friends, because my great-grandfather was not physically capable of traveling so quickly and for such long distances. Meanwhile, as it pushed south, the North Korean army was purging the intelligensia. My father, a school teacher who spoke English, feared that if caught he would be killed. So my family continued its race south. My father never saw my great grandfather again.

Just outside Pusan, when my family would have been relatively safe inside what was the last line of defense put up by the American Army and known as the Pusan Perimeter, my father was conscripted. The army of the Republic of Korea swept him up and, since he spoke English, made him a liaison to a U.S. artillery unit.

My mother and grandmother and sister, left to fend for themselves, were forced to a refugee camp on an island off the mainland.

It was early August, 1950. The Korean War would stretch on for yet three more years.

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it’s better in finland

Last month, Finland became the first country in the world to declare broadband access a legal right.

This in contrast to the United States, where we’re gouged for access to broadband, either in our homes, on our cellphones, and – most egregiously – at hotels. Honestly, I don’t understand how hotels are allowed to get away with the prices they charge for Internet access.

I’m attending a conference in Philadelphia next week, hosted by my organization, and we are choosing not to pay the cost of Internet access for our workshops because of what the venue would charge us. If the free market is always right, as Milton Friedman has argued, then why aren’t hotels undercutting one another and offering reasonable rates for broadband? I’ve stayed at hotels that offer free broadband access – though they tend to be smaller, and in smaller cities or towns – so I know it’s financially feasible.

Which brings me to airports. Again, many smaller airports offer free broadband. And even some larger ones, like Denver. (At DIA, the wireless network is supported through ads that pop up when you log in. Who wouldn’t sit through ads for free wireless?) At least with hotels, there is the potential for competition someday, however unlikely. But what incentive is there for an airport like SFO to offer free broadband when it is the only game in town?

I realize that with the growing popularity of smartphones, free wireless is becoming slightly less critical in these places. For people with smartphones. That means, as usual, the less privileged have to do without, must be disconnected.

Whatever happened to movements like Philly Wi-fi, in which the idea was to make an entire city one big hotspot with free wireless for all? I understand that efforts like Philly Wi-fi face stiff opposition from telecommunications giants who want to be able to continue to bloat their profit margins.

Perhaps we’d have a fighting chance against these corporate interests if we as a country were also to adopt the stance that access to broadband is a right.

Way to go, Finland. Let’s hope you’ve started a worldwide revolution.

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korea, in the news

I read three articles in today’s paper that referenced either Korea or Korean heritage:

Navies of Two Koreas Exchange Fire – Ironic on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Korea remains divided and seemingly farther away from unification.When I think of this division between the two Koreas, I think of my mother, fleeing from her home in what is North Korea at the outbreak of the war, burying her prized possessions in the belief that she would soon return to retrieve them. I’m quite certain she could not have imagined the calcification of a one-mile-wide demilitarized zone between her home and the south.

Ward Helps Biracial Youths on Journey Towards AcceptanceHines Ward, star wide receiver of the Pittsburgh Pirates, meets in South Korea with teens who are, like him, have one parent who is Korean and one parent who is not. These children have led a difficult life in a country that is, for the most part, culturally and racially homogenous. Hines Ward is the only Korean professional football player I’m aware of.

Adopted From Korea and in Search of an Identity – A heartbreaking story of cultural denial by Korean children adopted by white families in the U.S. and their ultimate efforts at reclaiming their heritage. This story hit home most for me because, though I wasn’t adopted, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and shed much of my cultural identity in order to assimilate.

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strat-o-matic

Joe Olecki introduced me to Strat-O-Matic, a table-top baseball simulation game. We went to Wesleyan together and lived in the same freshman house. Joe drove a big brown Plymouth Satellite – so hideous as to be almost interesting – and worked summers at the now-defunct Hough Bakery in Cleveland with a bunch of hard-nosed union guys (including his dad).

stratomatic

Strat-O-Matic

I would describe Strat-O-Matic as the intellectual, abstract, even dorkier (if you can believe it) cousin to fantasy baseball.

It is, simply put, old-school.

Basically the way the game works is you have cards for players that govern what happens when you roll dice. The cards are based on careful statistical analysis (the game was invented by a Bucknell University math student back in 1961) of a player’s actual performances over the course of his career. The better a player’s stats, the greater the chance that player has of doing something positive in Strat-O-Matic.

That’s it. You roll dice and see what happens and keep score. A far cry from, say, using the Wii to hit a virtual baseball by swinging your arm in the air.

Joe and I would play my Mets against his Indians, four-out-of-seven, like a playoff series. Which took up a big chunk of our time while we probably should have been doing things like going to class. I loved that game, though, loved the slowness of it, the need to make managerial decisions, the element of chance, the numbers. Baseball is a game defined by numbers. Ask any fan how many home runs Ruth hit, or the last player to finish a season over .400, and they’ll be able to tell you. Instantly. Stats are intertwined with the history of the game and help constitute its most prized possession – shared vocabulary.

I was reminded of Strat-O-Matic while reading today’s New York Times. The founder – that math kid from Bucknell, Hal Richman – decided to add a set of Negro Leagues cards to the game. It apparently took a lot of effort to uncover the statistics needed since, according to the article, coverage of Negro League games was spotty. But through sheer determination and, ironically, the publishing of more records online, Richman was able to realize his long-held desire to include this important part of baseball’s past.

I may just have to find out if Joe still has Strat-O-Matic and challenge him to a game. This time, we’ll be able to include players like Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard and Satchel Paige, greats who were unjustly marginalized for so many years.

Pass me the dice.

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