Talking to Pop: WW II, part 2

October 9, 2010

Fighting in the Pacific, stories with my grandfather, Pete Davidson. Every day life and problems of enlisted men in the 1897th Aviation Engineering Division from stateside training to New Guinea, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan from February 1943 to January 1946.

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Talking to Pop: WW II, part 1

October 9, 2010

Pete talks about what happened the day after he walked into the draft office… every day life and problems of enlisted men in the 1897th Aviation Engineering Division from stateside training to New Guinea, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan from February 1943 to January 1946.

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Talking to Pop: going to Cal

October 2, 2010

Today we talked about his time at Cal, before getting drafted, and some other interesting things — Old Fat Miller, his last summer in Vally Center, and more…

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Another Saturday with Pop

September 26, 2010

We spend another hour talking about Valley Center — and about Pop growing up and heading off to community college, and then to the University of California, Berkeley.

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Talking to Pop

September 18, 2010

Another hour with Pop – this time we talked about how he used to get Popular Mechanics; how kids didn't wear shoes; the Depression; FDR's election; a train trip cross-country with his father to pick up a new Buick and meet his grandfather when Pop was just 13; and so much more… I did have a smoke alarm go off at one point, but crisis was averted and the podcast continues…

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My Aunt Binkie Remembers Valley Center

September 17, 2010

Last Saturday I interviewed my grandfather, Pete Davidson, about the town he grew up in — Valley Center, California. I am going to make a habit of it and try to take an oral history of his life.  But after his sister — my great Aunt Binkie — listened to the podcast, she sent me this note:

Lat night I  listened to your recent interview with my brother and I’m so happy that you are doing this. We lived in unique times in a unique area with unique people.  Pete was pretty much on target on what he did tell you.  Hasn’t he ever shown you any of our childhood pictures?  That would help you get an added sense of what Valley Center was like.  I could send you copies of the ones I have.  Regarding our financial status at that time, Pete was right in saying we did fare better than some families-and some fared much better than we-but these were depression years and every minute of the day was directed toward providing. My parents opened their business close to 6 or 7 in the morning and we usually didn’t close until 9 o’clock or so, and this went on 7 days a week. Finally, I think after our parents were divorced, my mother closed the store on Mondays.  True, we always had food on the table and clothes on our back. In those days, if anyone wore blue jeans, you were poor-they cost about $1.00.  Everyone wore blue jeans-or as we called them, ‘overalls’.

And when Pete talked about no indoor plumbing, etc., when my mother washed clothes a big tub of water was heated outside over a fire and once the clothes were dumped in, she used a plunger to stir the clothes around to agitate them.  Then came the rinsing of the clothes and she had to wring them out by hand – no fun with big items like sheets.  Then they were hung out to dry.  (And let me tell you, there is nothing like the wonderful fresh smell of clothes that have been line dried outside.  Anyway, these are all fun things to remember, and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.  I am so grateful I was born when I was and where I was.

Another thing, the welfare system was a far cry from what it is today.  It hardly existed.  If a family was down and out, neighbor helped neighbor. I can remember my mother boxing up groceries and delivering them to someone in need. One Christmas in one family, the mother had come down with pneumonia and there were no gifts for their young daughter and not much food in the house.  On Christmas Eve my mother took one of my gifts from under the tree, boxed up some food, and delivered it to their home.  I never asked my mother what would have been my gift.  I didn’t want to know what I wouldn’t be getting.  I honestly think that the Lord wants communities reaching out to those in need instead of just having people pay their taxes for government subsistence to those people, thus leaving a void in true charity and the knowing of ‘giving from the heart’.

Well, enough of my idle chatter.  There are just lots of stories about prohibition days, the ‘taking of the law in people’s own hands in the ‘wild, wild west’, and of the different personalities who lived in Valley Center. It was quite a cross-section.

Oh, and when Pete mentioned that I was born in a hospital in Escondido, when the nurse called the doctor to tell him my mother was there, the doctor told the nurse, “Tell her to go home!  She’s not ready to have that baby.”  While the nurse was in the midst of this conversation, my father came out and said to her, “There’s a baby in that room so you had better come in and help us.” And so, Nicco, that’s how Aunt Binkie came into the world!

Saturdays with Pop

September 11, 2010

This morning I did a podcast with my grandfather, Pete Davidson. We started at the beginning: with his birth in Venice Beach, California in 1923 and his growing up in Valley Center, California.
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The “new” math of community

March 3, 2010

This post on the crazy new math of the modern era drives me crazy.

Just like I don’t believe in heroes, I don’t believe in genius. I believe in community.

The long tail is everywhere, even poetry. The age of the elite creator is replaced by your neighbor the poet/journalist/insert-craft-here. Is there really a problem with anyone being able to write a poem? Soon, with 3-D printing, it won’t just be “media” that anyone can create. Soon it will be anything – shoes, mobile phones, vehicles. (Think I’m crazy? Read this and this and this.) And then, once anyone can create anything, brands and elite notions of excellence will be obsolete. It will all come down to relationship — to my neighbor (physical or digital) and my neighbor’s work. We will really dwell in our communities — be they geographical or otherwise. Personal relationships will matter — and not much else. It’s a beautiful chaotic day that is arriving / has arrived. Instead of lamenting the death of something (“The loss would be incalculable“), celebrate the creation of a radical new way of organizing the world. Burn the money, and the press used to print it. This is something completely different.

To all you cynics out there

January 26, 2010

Cynicism is for cowards.

Someone I don’t even know very well recently challenged me to name three leaders who were true to “public service”, suggesting there weren’t any and that “those who might have the ability and resources to “change our world” put their professional and personal agendas before the need of those they might help, and therefore the world is screwed and there is no reason for anyone to think they can make a difference.”

Cynicism is a form of fear.  You’ve got to have personal courage – among other things, the courage to believe that your actions will make a difference, even if you cannot see or measure that difference, even if that difference does not come to fruition in your own lifetime.

But in trying to name some “heroes” of public service, I balked. I don’t like the idea of heroes.  None of us are heroes.  A couple weeks ago I watched on Netflix Streaming a documentary about Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi-hunter, called “I Have Never Forgotten You“. To me, the most intense part was in the last two minutes, when he is very old, in his 90s, and receiving another award, and he starts to cry and he tells the crowd — don’t give me this award. Don’t make me special.  I am not hero.  We all carry this responsibility. And if you make me a hero, and you don’t carry this responsibility as yours but make it a hero’s responsibility — then this will happen again.

We are each called to our own kind of service. I believe this.  We may ignore service to our neighbor, to our fellow men and women, but we are each called to it — it’s part of the human experience, to help each other.  Every society, every culture, every tradition, every history on earth has it.  So if we each carry some responsibility — well, then it’s up to us.

Our culture is obsessed with heroes — not only with heroes, but with celebrity, and the lines are getting very blurry, and that’s bad for everybody.  I really believe that service, public service, needs to be a deep part of our lives — and the only way to get there is to live it, to look for your own public service, your own generosity and your own responsibility.  And for me, public service is tied intimately to the idea of change: we need to change this world we live in, to make it a better place.

Change requires struggle.  We forget this.  Change in this day and age is accomplished primarily by money changing hands; you go from walkman to CDs to iPods to iPhones in just a few short years and all it costs is money.  We elected a president who urged change by entering our credit card number and clicking. At this time last year, we could not help but feel giddy with the change that was upon us – Barack Obama as the President of the United States! Consequently, when epochal change on an issue as fundamental to our very breathing as climate change fails to materialize in the face of what feels like broad global public consensus, it feels like defeat.

I’m amazed to read about artists like Picasso or Thelonious Monk, who managed to imagine an art beyond the present, seeing beyond their contemporaries and the traditions of the past, striving for something new.  Activists for social change do something similar: through an act of imagination, they see a new world, a brighter future, and then struggle to take us there.  But in this day and age it’s easy to leave imagination behind, indulging in the insanity of our media-saturated world obsessed with every incremental step forward, each new version release.

The start of a new year is a good time to amp up the imagination and decide what kind of world we really want to live in. I am reminded of the tenacity of activists of earlier eras, who imagined a world and then struggled to bring it into being – even when the struggle was apparently fruitless for lifetimes.  We all have our heroes, people we look to for inspiration in our movement-building; one of mine is Ammon Hennacy, a self-described Catholic Anarchist. If that description doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will.

The networked nature of the modern world offers new opportunities for movement-building – for bringing the imagined brighter future into reality – but at the same time it seems to threaten the act of imagination with the amount of noise it introduces into our lives.  The struggle is to find ourselves, to take personal courage to heart, to seek out stark beauty.  That’s what work is.

My favorite quote for almost twenty years is from an HG Wells novel (from a book, incidentally, that was given to me by 10th grade Geometry teacher — now that’s Public Service!):

But in these plethoric times when there is too much coarse stuff for everybody and the struggle for life takes the form of competitive advertisement and the effort to fill your neighbor’s eye, there is no urgent demand either for personal courage, sound nerves or stark beauty, and we find ourselves by accident.

HG Wells wrote that in 1909 in the novel Tono-Bungay, 100 years ago.  Today I saw a Teddy Roosevelt quote from the same era that could have been written this morning, it so perfectly described our current political dynamic.  My point is that this is our world and it is what we make of it — and people haven’t changed that much. It’s up to each of us. What kind of world do you want to live in? Go make that world.

Go ahead, be cynical and let fear rule your life.  I’ve got (stuff) to do, worlds to change, and it’s fun, so I’ll see you later.

Cross-posted to

10 days in Haiti

January 13, 2010

In December of 2007, I spent 10 days in Haiti. Most of my time was spent up in the Central Plateau in a town called Thomonde, near Hinche. I spent a day or two on either end in Port-Au-Prince. I was working on a solar power project with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, which had paired each church in Diocese with a church in Haiti. Watching the images pour in today from Haiti, my mind keeps returning to the intense ten days I spent there.

It’s less than a two hour flight from Miami to Port-Au-Prince. How could one of the world’s poorest countries be in the same time zone as Washington DC? I grew up around the world, in Africa and Asia, and I have seen exceptional poverty. But the gritty, intense poverty of Haiti was brutal and beyond my previous experience. The country had a hopeless, desperate feel to it — even as the people of Haiti opened their hearts and homes to me. The generosity and spirit of the Haitian people was an inspiration and remains to this day a reminder of grace.

Even the landscape was desolate. It seemed as if every single tree had been cut down — not so far from the truth, it turns out — and when we attempted to visit the beach, we discovered that the deforestation had led to severe erosion that had destroyed the coral reefs.

But the most striking thing was what appeared to be an almost total absence of government. Once we left Port-Au-Prince, it was hard to discern any institutions at all — other than the Catholic Church. Roads, banks, hospitals, courts – really any kind of systemic institutions seemed absent.

Today, watching and listening to the news of the earthquake, I feel my heart breaking for Haiti. How much more heartache does Haiti deserve? Please do what you can, and keep Haiti close to your heart.

Cross-posted to