Latest Posts

Discourse on Fate and Free Will

Some ten years ago, Nathan and I were sitting on the floor of our college dorm in St. Louis, waxing poetic about nothing and everything at 3 AM. On this particular night, which I remember vividly, we were focused on the topic of fate, destiny, and free will. Over the years, I kept thinking about what I described and my thoughts have changed much on the subject. Personally, fate, destiny, and free will all fit together as pieces to the greater whole of life. So how do they fit together?

The idea is really quite simple, despite debating all night about it. Fate is generally the idea of things happening as preordained by some higher power. Destiny is that specific or necessary events will happen – set points in life like having three kids. An apt analogy would be a book. Fate is the existence of that book while destiny is the chapters of that book. Free will, then, is the unwritten or forgotten details in between the chapters. This seems contradictory, because is free will really free will if it leads to the same conclusions regardless? The argument is that this is the same as having the parameters we face everyday. If I don’t have the ability to invent the next generation of renewable energy sources, then I don’t. No amount of free will can bring me that outcome. Likewise, if I cannot dunk a basketball, then no matter how much training I choose do, I still won’t be able to jump high enough to do so. Therefore, free will is the ability to choose and make decisions within the given parameters. Fate and destiny are those parameters.

In some sense, fate and destiny is akin to socio-economic background and personal characteristics. The place you are born, the culture that you are born into, the economic condition that you had growing up, and the way you act all have influences on outcomes later on in life. Some are able to rise above it because of choices they made. Others choose to remain where they started. Of course, chance and luck has some part in this as well. Some people want to rise above but are unable to and they can’t explain it. This unexplained lot in life was traditionally attributed to fate and destiny. In this framework, fate and destiny encompass luck as well. It does not mean hard work and merit has no place. As some have suggested, luck can be created. I believe that to a large extent, certain choices and effort in certain aspects can generate luck. For example, your destiny might be living abroad but where you live and what you do may be the luck from certain choices.

If free will can create luck and fill in the blanks between chapters, then can destiny be changed – can the chapter titles be changed? When I first discussed this with Nathan, my answer was yes. Your choices can alter the trajectory of your destiny, though you are still bound by certain parameters. As you progress through life, those parameters can slowly shift. So, destiny can be changed but not to a drastic degree immediately. Small changes can accumulate into a significant difference in future outcomes. Today, I am not sure if I will give the same answer. This is the question I am still pondering and this was the question that we spent all night debating. The framework I believe in does provide leeway for overcoming destiny but it can also be interpreted to be immutable. In the end, I still lean towards destiny being open to change but your fate is yours.

The book is cast in stone, the chapters are alterable, and the details are up to you.

Advertisements

The Stories I Write Are Stories

The darkness stretches before my eyes; the sunset is just beyond the skyline. I know, I know but I don’t see the light. The rain is pounding. It is rattling on the windows. It is pounding, pounding, pounding; it is unrelenting. I find it soothing – the drip drop against the awning. The world has changed. I see the high rises with lights on all night. I see the bright skies shining from below, instead of twinkles of white. It has definitely been a few months since the air was dry. It has been a few months since I cried.

It is cold outside. My fingers swell up from the cold. I can barely hold on the railing so I go inside. There is a bed. It is not my bed, but it is my bed. It does not matter, it is time to sleep because I need to dream to remember. I need to see. I smell the past in the sheets I brought from across the sea. I close my eyes and I see everything. I hear the words “最想念的人是你, 別走.”

I open my eyes. I cannot think in Chinese. I cannot think. This bilingual, third-culture bullshit has me reaching again. That recurring nightmare that haunts me. “別走 寶貝 別走.”

The rain is pouring. A hole opened up in the sky. I can see the moon, hiding her light. She is hiding the ceremony of purity. She is hiding that which can rescue me from fear. Is this punishment or deliverance? I am looking for salvation, but I cannot dream. Sleep only brings fear. That fear is fueled by three simple words. That fear lingers behind the strain of my eyes. Bloodshot, as I get up and check the mirror. It is not yet midnight.

I have to think. In the darkness of my eyes, in the blinds of my mind, I switch, I switch, I switch. 妳好嗎? 我到了 妳卻離開了. 還是其實離開的是我. 說過不走 妳當時拉著我 我卻沒牽住妳的手. 到底是到了還是倒了. 這傾盆大雨中 妳還在嗎? 我分不清 這到底是不是夢.

I cannot think anymore. I close my eyes. I sleep.

Sunrise awaits, in a few days.

This is Not the End

You die at sunrise; you died in your sleep. Every night, you dream. Every time, you fall in a little bit. Six inches under, six inches deep. Just as the sun is below the horizon, your destiny is in the East.

Rise from the last day’s ashes; you find yourself sweating, unable to breathe. Is that fear I see?

Yesterday’s knowledge congeals into baggage. Today is another day for mistakes. Tomorrow, you know nothing.

So you died in your dream, over and over again, chasing what you want to believe. What you want to believe is the gravity holding you down, the air above. What you want to believe is tomorrow. Tomorrow, the sun will rise. Yet, at sunrise you are dead. You see nothing in the light. You see nothing as the night fades from your blinds.

There is only one thing you see. One person you actually see. Who am I seeing? Who I am seeing? The one person you see, staring back blindly, blinking.

The face is familiar, the smile is peculiar. Dimples? You see. It is nothing but someone from your unpacked baggage. It is something you tucked away in the West, someone you unpacked in the East. You stare back with your fingers tracing. You outline the hair. You outline the chin. You outline the chin.

You realize, who you see. You see fear in the darkness in the eyes. You see fear in the darkness. You see fear. You see.

Tomorrow, the sun rises.

2017-10-21 15.40.19.jpg

New Beginnings – Columbia

The past month has been a whirlwind, from my departure from the City of Los Angeles, my cross-country roadtrip, to my first week at Columbia University. A lot has changed. I am no longer engaged in building public policy or writing feasibility studies.

Everything has become a blessing after the hardships I endured the last eight months.

There is much truth in the idea that new beginnings allow you to do something new and be someone new or even to feel something new.

I have never worked so hard or felt as assured in my life, from handling grad school coursework to really trying to organize and bond our cohort together. This change really came from the lesson during my time at DCP, especially the last months. The importance of knowing the people you see and work with everyday cannot be understated. Babak, Cally, Nina, Jason, Iris, and Angela you taught me so much during the last few months we spent together. I cannot thank you enough.

2017_IMG_5607_DeptPhoto_EH_Cut.jpg

What a ride it was – City of Los Angeles, DCP 2017

Though everyday has been pretty much a 9 AM to 9 PM affair, by personal choice, it has been such an eye-opening experience. First, of course, are the amazing classes. I really forgot how much I loved the sciences. Our professors are also amazing lecturers and teachers. They are all incredibly approachable and engaging, both inside and outside the classroom.

33964662_10157223319144179_6510844213674901504_n.jpg

COLUMBIA SIPA MPA-ESP BABY!

However, the most important thing is my cohort. My classmates are such inspiring people. Everyone comes with such strong experiences in so many different backgrounds and disciplines. Though it has only been a week, it has been a blessing to meet and know every single one of them, not only by name but also to have had at least one conversation with each. I am so thankful that they have responded positively and helped organize the many social events we have had in the last week to bond.

I will keep it short for now cause it’s getting late.

Much love to everyone. Don’t stop striving for greatness.

Flowers for Algernon – Knowledge and Distrust

Where do I even begin to discuss this book? With everything that has happened over the course of my life, the impact now is more profound than if I read the book any earlier than I did. To put it simply, it is about the journey of a man who undergoes an operation that lifts him from ignorance to knowledge.

The book contains a multitude of themes I have yet to ruminate over, but here I want to discuss the issue of knowledge breeding distrust. As Charlie becomes smarter, he wants to learn more to know more about himself. Through that process he realizes that the people around him all have something to hide; they all have imperfections. He becomes ashamed of himself as well, because of his own past and imperfections. His coworkers at the bakery, though they take care of him, laugh at him because of his lack of mental acuity. The professors who performed his intelligence enhancing operation are not motivated by his well-being but rather their own professional advancement. His mother tries her hardest to make him smarter, yet it is because of her own fears of producing an abnormal child. The moment his sister demonstrates normal intelligence, his mother sends him away.

Yet, that is not to say these people in Charlie’s life are bad and deserve punishment. We all have that capacity for evil, we all have that darkness within each of us. Furthermore, we are all constrained by our own personalities, circumstances, and pressures. This point is worth repeating, as it is representative of the people in our own lives, and it is something I have struggled with.

I struggle with the balance between the need to know, to trust, and to forgive/forget that arises from knowing humanity’s darkness. Perhaps, my own pursuit of knowledge (in the general sense) is much like Charlie Gordon’s: impartial, manipulative, and selfish. Like him, I need to know and I need to know why. Do I really need to? Even when the why is given to me, I question its truth, unable to trust myself and to let go of what I know.

Some things are best left alone, some things are best forgotten, and some things are best forgiven. Yet, I have struggled. I empathize with Charlie’s insecurities driving his need to know and to prove himself, leading to destructive personal relationships after his ascension to intelligence. He ends up being fired from the bakery where he worked for seventeen years. He destroys the relationship with Professor Nemur who developed the technique that led to his intelligence enhancement. He fights with his own selves, past and present, until he realizes his own imperfections.

In a way, knowledge is suffering. How true that statement can ring. The moment you find out about something, you will never unknow it and it often leads to distrust of those around you. The more you know about the dark side of the world, the easier it is to fall into a dark spiral of distrust, especially once your realize your own darkness. The moment Charlie finds out about his coworkers behaviors towards him, he finds himself unable to be friends with them. When he finds out that Nemur is not as smart as he claims to be, Charlie no longer respects him. Thus, this destructive cycle goes on until Charlie finds the emotional maturity and intelligence to empathize, as shown by his love and relationship with Alice Kinnian, who treats him equally from the beginning to the end.

Charlie grows up emotionally and finally tries to balance knowing, trusting, and forgiving because he is no different from any one. He sets out to mend his relationships, to find some semblance of peace before the end.

Charlie Gordon says, “[I]ntelligence and education that hasn’t been tampered by human affection isn’t worth a damn…Intelligence is one of the greatest human gifts. But all too often a search for knowledge drives out the search for love. Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis.”

So where are you on your journey?

There is more to be said, but I need to compose my thoughts.

Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentive Program

On Friday, September 22, the Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentive Program (TOC) – implemented by Measure JJJ last November – became effective.

This has been a project I have worked on for most of this year and it has been very exciting to see it become a reality. With the rising housing costs in Los Angeles, it has been crucial to develop initiatives that spur more residential housing development.

This program can be viewed as a super Density Bonus, which is an ordinance that allows for increased density in exchange for the provision of affordable housing. Affordability is defined as 30% (very low), 50% (low), and 80% (moderate) of the area median income. Though the program is limited to a half-mile radius around Major Transit Stops, as defined by the California State Public Resources Code Section 21064.3, many developers are excited because this new program allows for the possibility of a density increase up to 80% off the base zoning, along with a variety of incentives such as reduction in parking and increase in floor area.

There are four Tiers of TOC areas, based on distance from and type of Major Transit Stop: regular bus, rapid bus, and rail. In addition to drafting the program, I developed the prototype maps earlier this year before leading our department’s GIS Division’s efforts to create the official reference map with the data uploaded to our public zoning information portal, ZIMAS.

Based on my analysis and the program’s provisions, only around 13% of the City’s total land is eligible for this program and only 42% of that land has access to the full range of incentives. This small number is partly the result of the still developing public transit network in the city and partly due to restrictive zoning (a majority of the city’s land is zoned for single-family residences). Hopefully, with a greater population being housed near quality transit through this program, the city can accelerate its efforts in creating more transit options.

In this view, TOC not only will affect the housing market, it will hopefully allow Los Angeles to become more sustainable by increasing demand for better and higher quality public transit.

*The following are my views and mine only. I do not claim to represent the views of the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning.

As an aside, since TOC is based on Density Bonus, the same supply-side arguments apply. The basic idea is that by increasing the housing supply, the market will adjust accordingly and result in lower housing costs. The required affordable housing is an added bonus to the city’s housing affordability. Though in reality, these initiatives typically increase the property values of the lots affected and there are strong arguments that precisely due to the increased value, supply–side solutions actually lead to higher housing costs. This is a philosophical debate for another time. For now, let’s rejoice in the passing of a policy initiative that is sorely needed in a city with some of the most illogical and restrictive zoning.