This May I will visit Machu Picchu with Jessica, my wife, and Libby, our friend from Des Moines. I’m currently in Des Moines, attending interviews of some would-be new web developers at my company, which is putting me up in a hotel for a few days. It’s an odd experience, both because I’m living like a tourist in a city that still feels like home, and also because I’m living like a businessperson, which I don’t feel like at all.

For example, this afternoon I was sitting in the hotel room, which my company paid for, eating leftovers from last night’s dinner, which my company will also pay for. I feel like I should instead be going out for lunch, since my company is paying for meals anyway, maybe take out some other businessperson and explain to them the synergy of our new product or something. But I was happy eating my cold Pad Thai and watching the end of a show on the History channel about Machu Picchu.

In that show I learned something that you might have learned if you followed the previous link to Wikipedia’s article on Machu Picchu: that Peru is suing Yale University over some bones taken from Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham. In 1911, Bingham rediscovered the Incan city of Macchu Picchu, which had been abandoned since the 1500s, when the Spanish conquered the Incan empire, after first dividing it. The Incan government did not have clear lines of succession, and the Spanish took advantage of this by promoting a competition of authority within the government, which ended up destroying the empire. History repeats itself.

So then everyone left Machu Picchu, and it was empty when Hiram Bingham started digging up bones. He brought the bones back to Yale, where they remain today. Then he went on to become Governor of Connecticut, then US Senator. Interesting footnote: he was only governor for one day before he became Senator. In 1929, Bingham was censured by the Senate on corruption charges involving lobbyists. History repeats itself.

Hiram Bingham was a Republican, and was pushed from office in 1932 when Democrats won in a nationwide landslide following the Great Depression. Bingham’s father and namesake was a missionary to Hawaii, as was his grandfather. Interesting footnote: his grandfather was also pastor of an African American church in Connecticut. One of his sons was a Democratic congressman, while his namesake son helped Jews escape the Holocaust in France to the US, despite official US policies intended to limit such immigration. US Secretary of State Colin Powell later praised Hiram Bingham, the 4th, for his “constructive dissent.” History repeats itself.

Getting back to Machu Picchu, I found one line from the BBC’s report on the lawsuit from Peru particularly interesting: But Yale says it followed standard collecting practices at the time, and that it has made a reasonable offer to return some of the artefacts. That phrase, a reasonable offer, was recently used by the White House to explain why members of the American government will not be testifying under oath about their actions. History repeats itself.

President Bush, you may recall, is a graduate of Yale, so perhaps that’s where he developed the impression that an offer in clear violation of established rules is "a reasonable offer." Unlike the Incans, there is little ambiguity about authorites in the American government. And there is apparently little ambiguity over who owns the Machu Picchu bones at Yale. Hiram Bingham the third, the one who took the bones, wrote Now they [the bones] do not belong to us, but to the Peruvian government, who allowed us to take them out of the country on condition that they be returned in eighteen months. That was ninety five years ago.

I suspect riding up the Hiram Bingham Highway to Machu Picchu will be just as odd an experience as this week in Des Moines, or most of my travels for that matter. Another place I don’t really belong, playing another role I don’t really understand. I guess that’s what makes this life interesting.

 

A while back I was thinking about my grandfathers. I believe I was listening to some radio program in which a man was sharing a memory of his grandfather. Both of my grandfathers are dead, and I remember very little about them. I know a lot more about them than I actually remember, from stories others have told me or pictures I’ve seen. But I think what I remember is more interesting. I remember two things about both of my grandfathers.

My mother’s father was Charles Weaver. The first thing I remember about him is puzzles. We did puzzles together. Big puzzles with small pieces. They took a long time, and being a kid, I did very little of the work. Usually the puzzles were completed by my grandfather late one night as I slept. But he’d always leave out one piece, so when I woke in the morning, I had that satisfaction of completing the puzzle, even though I didn’t do the work. So my grandfather Weaver taught me to be lazy.

The second thing I remember is that he wouldn’t repeat himself. He would say something when I wasn’t listening, and I would say “what?” and he just wouldn’t respond. I think he explained this once as an attempt to encourage listening. Or maybe that was just how I thought of it — I’m not sure. Either way, this taught me not to let my principles turn me into a jerk, a lesson I apply less consistantly than laziness.

My father’s father was Cornelius Reynen. He was a minister, but I don’t remember him ministering in any professional capacity. I think maybe he had retired by the time I was born. I do remember two things about him that revolved around his ministry. The first was the post-dinner Bible readings at his house. My brothers and I were expected to sit around the table after the meal while he read to us from the Bible.

I don’t think it was even the interesting stories either — just whatever happened to come next. Sometimes he would ask us questions at the end to make sure we were paying attention. It was a horrible experience for a child. But from it, I learned how to never be bored, by thinking.

My second memory of this grandfather was Rummikub, which my family would play with him in the evening. If you’re not familiar with Rummikub, it’s almost exactly like Rummy, only with tiles instead of cards. You might ask: why would anyone bother with tiles instead of cards? Well, because playing cards are evil, naturally.

Granted, there are some slight differences between Rummy and Rummikub that make playing with tiles a little easier. But Cornelius, my grandfather, wasn’t interested in those differences, as far as I could tell. He was interested in avoiding cards because he was raised with and maintained the idea that playing cards are evil. So from playing Rummikub I learned to keep faith bounded by reason.

That’s it. That’s all I remember. I wish there were more, but given the small amount of time I spent with my grandfathers, I think these are pretty good lessons to take away. They’ve served me well so far. When I die some day, I hope the lessons I unintentionally pass down will be so useful.

 

I've never watched much I Love Lucy. It was before my time. But I had a vague idea who Lucille Ball was. What I didn't know until just a few minutes ago, when PBS informed me, was that she divorced Desi Arnaz and bought his share of Desilu Productions, making her the first female head of a major Hollywood Studio. Under her leadership, the studio produced a lot of forgettable shows, but it was also home to the original Star Trek.

I Love Lucy ran 180 episodes. Star Trek spawned 6 different series of 726 episodes, ten movies, books, video games, an entire subculture, and it's not over yet. Star Trek has been wildly successful. A temporary page on Wikipedia, not yet included into the main article on Star Trek, gives a history of Star Trek in which Lucille Ball was pivotal to the series making it past a pilot:

NBC rejects the pilot as being too cerebral for 1965 television audiences. However, they like the concept enough to allow Roddenberry to film a second pilot. (This needs to be checked, but I believe "Inside Star Trek" indicates that the decision was the result of Lucille Ball playing hardball with the network regarding other Desilu productions and therefore championing Trek.)

If this is all true, it's especially odd that everyone knows Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy, but hardly anyone knows of her role in the much more successful Star Trek series.