Thursday, March 25, 2010

Books and Covers....

The Chicago Police held a community meeting last night to discuss the murder that took place last weekend. The person who was killed was indeed a targeted gang member who lived in a different neighborhood and was murdered by someone involved in La Familia. That's what it looked like to me from the beginning.

I suppose I've become desensitized to people who throw their lives away. I can't care about you more than you care about you. In fact I only care about someone wasting their life to the extent to which their choices impede or threaten other people who are making something of themselves.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Guy Was Murdered In My Neighborhood Pt. 2

There is a story about a renowned Russian statistics professor who refused to go into the bomb shelters during the raids of WW ll. "There are 7 million people in Moscow and the odds I will die are miniscule", he would say. One night however he shows up in a bomb shelter and his neighbors demand an explanation. "There are 7 million people in Moscow and one elephant at the zoo, and last night they bombed the elephant".

This is how we process danger, or more precisely the appearance of danger. We reach and overreach to form a narrative that supports its existence rather than entertain the possibility that danger appears in ways that can be purely random. That impulse is going to understandably be on display in my neighborhood in the next few days as a result of a murder at Central and Irving Park.

Towards the end of this news clip a neighborhood guy demonstrates pretty well how an event like this gets shaped into a larger story whether there is any evidence to support that story or not. The notion that we seemed to be wired to accept is that everything is getting progressively worse and that event spikes like this crime are the empirical evidence of that decline. But in reality that is exactly wrong.

In 2009 there were 453 murders in Chicago which was down from 509 in 2008 and while that may not be cause for rejoicing it is a vast improvement over 1992 when there were 943 murders in the city. Clearly the trend represents an almost unimaginable improvement in not only the number of murders but all crime statistics, yet people do not feel proportionally safer.
Indeed they feel progressively less safe.

One can understand an evolutionary advantage in over valuing negative information but it also
has a downside in that sometimes we do an exceedingly poor job of responding to things as they actually are. I think the case of McDonald v. Chicago currently before the Supreme Court is an example of exactly that. This is the case concerning the Chicago handgun ban and while Im not interested in discussing the 2nd amendment particulars here, which I agree with in principle, I am interested in trying to understand why a city with a crime rate that drops like a stone is populated by people who feel that instead crime is out of control and their only hope for survival is to own a gun. It can only be the entirely mistaken notion that the streets are out of control that feeds this and I think we arrive at that notion by placing entirely too much emphasis on the one spectacular event while completely de-valuing the overwhelming number of days where nothing happens at all.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Guy Was Murdered In My Neighborhood Last Night Pt. 1

Early last night someone walked into a barber shop in my neighborhood and clearly, with purpose, shot and killed a young man sitting in a chair. As I came home from the show last night the police had the street blocked off and crime scene tape was stretched around the storefront. I had heard nothing about it as of yet but to see it was to know that someone had died there that night.

My thoughts and feelings about this are complicated, diffuse, and don't make a lot of sense but here they are:

"Barber Shop"? Nawww This place is a hangout for young guys who don't give the impression that they think much about their hair. Lots of smoking out front, spinning rims, and dudes who are consumed with the relative degree of their flex. Feels out of place in this neighborhood and while I've never had the least problem with anybody walking past it, as I've done many many times, Im not at all surprised something like this happened there. It has always seemed like a front for something other than guys looking to touch up their fades.

Honestly I can't say that I feel badly for the person shot or the waste who killed him. Events may prove me wrong and make me look like an asshole but at this point the circumstances of the murder strongly suggest to me that this was an event involving people who have aggressively chosen to live a life that any reasonable person could conclude involved this kind of risk. When the stupid choices of your life finally catch up to you it really isn't my tragedy. I am sympathetic to the families left behind but again I'd guess that to one degree or another this has been enabled by people close to the participants.

But Im also thinking of how, just steps away from the murder scene is the entrance to Portage Park where my son has played football for years. Youth sports make an easy target. Overzealous coaches and parents are a reality and they can be a nightmarish experience for some kids. But in this case I think of the men and women who volunteer an enormous amount of time to provide positive examples and direction to kids who might otherwise not be aware of the choices they have. These are boys and girls often from single family homes that frequently don't have an overabundance of positive male role models in their lives and who are clearly starving for a man's attention and a sense of belonging. You can scoff all you like but I've seen kids grow and mature well beyond what they thought possible ,and this only happens because good people have chosen to put positive energy into the community.

Im not saying that if only the men involved in this incident had played football at Portage Park this wouldn't have happened, but I am saying that there was another potential life path availabe for these men just steps away from where both of their lives ended essentially and the people who work to make that potential available deserve a bigger thank you than they get. Lots of people will look at this and think the neighborhood has gotten more dangerous or they should perhaps move, ( more on that later ) but right now Im looking at this and thinking the neighborhood is lucky that people like Ebony and Dexter , Coach Flipper, Lupe, Omar, Charlie, and a host of other people feel moved to work towards making this kind of senselessness even less common than it is.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How Responsible Are Religious Moderates?

If the Catholic church were a private business or indeed anything other than a church it would be viewed as one of the most sinister conspiracies in history. As more information comes out globally about child abuse it is clear that the knowledge of that abuse and the concerted effort to cover it up reaches all the way to the papacy.

And yet today the church down the street is full of people giving their time and money to an organization that hides, enables, and protects pedophiles.

I know a good many of the people who attend the church down the street. They're good and decent people who would never support a secular organization with the same record but attend church because it appeals to a sense of moral nostalgia or to "give the kids a moral foundation".

Fine. But at some point these same people have to take some responsibility for their support. Their tithe, however small in real numbers, goes to pay the insurance premiums that pay off victims of Catholic pedophilia and supports the work of the countless Christian bureaucrats who have hidden these criminals from discovery. It isn't okay because its a church

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

For Better And Worse And Everything In Between.

Ran into a friend the other day who was going thru a parenting related crisis of self confidence that I easily related to.

Seems that for whatever reason we can lose ourselves in our work or whatever else we may be passionate about to the extent that we are defined entirely by our level of interest and people hate to see us coming because it means there'll be another long goddamn self absorbed discussion about our thing. But it doesn't reveal itself in the same way it does when we become so wrapped up in the raising of our children that it seems like that's all we are. That is easy to see in the mirror.

Before we had kids I had a lot of anxiety about how it would change my life and what those changes would cost. I was absolutely right about almost all of them and the ones I got wrong were underestimates. But I don't care in the same way. Life eventually comes back to you in a way that is different but far better.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gettin' my geek on..

I've been reading Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith for what is unfortunately the first time and it has set me to pondering how and why advances in technology have not lowered the bar for easier distribution in the making of films. Other creative endeavors; books, magazines, music, have obviously experienced a serious demonetizing due to vastly lower costs of production and distribution. Not so with film and in fact Im wondering if it'll ever happen.

Technological advances in film making have tended to increase the overall costs of production rather than lower them. So while Smith argues that a greater increase in the division of labor within an industry tends to make that industry more efficient and thus produce cheaper products the reverse would be true here. It seems that increased specialization in film production is leading to increased costs and is substantially raising the bar for entry into the market. Evidently advances in technology are not blurring the line between small and large budget films but in fact are making the distinctions all the more clear, to such an extent that its almost as if they are two separate genres.

Can we infer that what applies to the production of widgets does not apply to the business of creativity? Im sure Im not smart enough to know but it strikes me that this is exactly the opposite of what economists would predict.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

3rd Party Nonsense

From Bull Moose to Ross Perot to Teabaggers the allure of a third party in America is an easy sell to some. The idea goes that the two party system encourages government to bog down in partisan trenches and accomplish nothing but a third party would break the deadlock and force politicians to become more responsive to "the people"

Its bullshit.

From where does one get the idea that a politician elected with oh say... a 36% plurality will be able to govern effectively with an opposition of %64? Further balkanizing our political process will not interject more efficiency into the system. Things wont get better, they'll get substantially worse.

Its an idea whose main appeal frankly is to the yahoos who would get some charge out of seeing someone in office who thinks and talks exactly as they do. Only problem is that person would get absolutely nothing done.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Defending Pat Robertson

Why isn't he right? I've been having this conversation with several Christians this week and its been very interesting. The bible is full of examples of God using natural events to pass judgement on our earthly actions and of course as Christians believe God is the Ultimate Watchmaker He either causes or refuses to prevent catastrophes like the Haitian earthquake, so it is hardly insane to assume then that He would choose to cause or allow events that were in accordance with His plan. But where's the love for Grandpa Robertson?

Dispensationalist Christians will tell you that since the crucifixion we're in a separate state of grace and God does not express His will in the same way He did in the Old Testament so that's why we should not interpret these natural events as expressions of God's Will and I find it kind of surprising that this tends to be a fundamentalists' view. However they seem not to also consider that even if God has been toning down the thunderbolts of late He clearly used to smite folks left and right so this kind of thing is very much part of His nature and should sound more old fashioned than crazy.

Well okay...but if disasters are not expressions of God's judgement then neither can good fortune be a sign of His favor or blessing. Right? Well not exactly. Insofar as I can tell ALL Christians believe that God blesses us on earth even if He isn't passing out disfavor. In fact I'd go so far as to say that fundamentalist dispensationalists are especially inclined to see God's favor expressed explicitly. This is finally what American Exceptionalism is all about, but it really can't run both ways AND be serious.

But even non dispensationalists, like Catholics, do not see the hand of God at work here even though they tend to be more comfortable with the idea of God's judgement in our time. All of which brings us back to Robertson's bat shit crazy comments.

I find that believers in general struggle mightily with the notion that their active God might behave in a way that offends their sympathy. For instance I think most Christians are somewhat comfortable with the idea that AIDS is God's judgement on gays. Ostracizing gays is part of their socio-political agenda but watching children suffer the consequences of a natural disaster is not and I don't think it is an accident then that almost no Christians see the hand of God in Haitian suffering.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why Don't Conservatives Make Blockbuster Movies?

I think the conservative critics of Avatar are dead on correct. Even Jonah Golderberg, and while I don't anticipate his making another cogent point this decade he is spot on to observe that if the redemptive entity in the movie had been Jesus Christ rather than some pantheistic organic mainframe computer Avatar absolutely would not be raking in The Big Money. It is clearly an "apologia for pantheism" and a disappointingly simple minded one at that, and I say that as someone who generally agrees that corporations tend to fuck over the world and that our values are out of whack with our natural selves. Im just not entertained by watching severely dumbed down versions of ideas I agree with.

So score one for the other side in this culture war dust up.

But it has me thinking. Why aren't there more major blockbuster releases with conservative themes? Part of it is cultural sure, Hollywood is a liberal bastion populated with fewer conservatives, but why should that be so? On some level big business is big business so why wouldn't Big Hollywood attract conservatives in the same way Big Oil does? And why is it then that with all the complaining conservatives do ( often correctly) that our pop culture is deeply skewed with a liberal bias that conservatives are not able to offer popular alternatives that advance their biases? I mean if conservatives believe markets in all things, then its fair to ask why aren't people buying their product in the cultural marketplace.

Im thinking that perhaps it has to do with something intrinsic in the creative impulse.

Liberalism as a world view lends itself to spectacle and fantasy and I think packs a bigger creative punch than conservatism and is just more likely to produce a big fat popcorn movie hit. Furthermore I think almost any sort of creative endeavor that calls people to entertain the possibility of uplifting change on a grand scale is more likely to organize itself along liberal principles as change on a grand scale isn't generally a conservative theme except when associated with religious constrictions.

None of which is to say conservatives can't create very good movies. Say what you will but in my opinion The Passion Of The Christ is a masterpiece but having seen it once I can't imagine feeling the need to see it again. But I think there is something to the suggestion that the range of stories that are both conservative and likely to connect with a wide audience is severely limited.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Wisdom of Bumper Stickers

In her column today Maureen Dowd fairly asks if we can't catch a Nigerian whose own father contacted the CIA with concerns about his increasingly bat-shit crazy son then who can we catch? I suspect we're doing a better job catching crazies than this incident might suggest but the huff and puff about whether or not the system worked or failed in this case misses the larger point I think we're losing.

The government's job is to protect the security of the nation, that's not the same thing as being responsible for ensuring that no harm befall each of us individually. The bad guys are going to get some of us, guaranteed. Things that are feasibly preventable will happen and lots of people who shouldn't will die and suffer. This is not a defense of shoddy security or poor forethought, its just reality. Its why no one needs to have the "Shit Happens" bumper sticker explained to them.

The responsibility for our safety lies with us and when people like Jasper Schuringa stop taking primary responsibility for their own well being and expect government to do all the heavy lifting of survival then we're screwed well beyond the point that any terrorist threat can muster.