A Crying Shame

http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/b630d3e106f7887704e8accad2747f225a810ea8/c=141-0-3650-2638&r=x513&c=680x510/local/-/media/2015/11/24/USATODAY/USATODAY/635839990787576262-EPA-USA-CHICAGO-POLICE-SHOOTING-77821974.JPGI don't need to embed the video because you have seen it: 17-year-old Laquan McDonald shot 16 times by a white police officer on the streets of Chicago, the footage of which was recently released on the heels of the officer being charged with first degree murder.  I have only watched the video twice, and have not consumed any other coverage on the original shooting or the subsequent legal proceedings.  But - and if you know me, this is an extraordinary statement for me to make - I don't really need to know anything more about this.  What I saw was a young black man gunned down in a way that you might put down a wild animal.  It doesn't really matter to me what the extenuating circumstances are that led to this, because there is no explanatory context that makes this incident in any way acceptable.

How we treat young black men in this country is becoming shameful.  I am embarrassed, I am angry, and - because I have an infant who is going to be a young black man in this country someday - I am afraid.  I am not sure whether my tears or my prayers are borne of embarrassment, anger, or fear.  But there has been a lot of all of that since this story broke.  May God have mercy on us all.


Complaining About Complaining

With Thanksgiving coming up, I figured I would devote a post to complaining about complaining.  Well, hopefully there is some insight and soul-searching amidst the complaining.

First, why do we complain?  A lot of reasons, which I won’t be able to comprehensively list off the top of my head.  For starters, we don’t realize how good we have it.  We may tend to discount the good and amplify the bad.  Or, we may have unresolved anger or disappointment or jealousy that manifests itself in complaining about one thing but really that’s just a proxy for a much bigger grievance that we haven’t yet worked out. 

Consider also the social element of complaining.  After all, when it feels good to complain, it’s not because of the complaining itself, it’s having an audience for the complaining.  (If you disagree, try ranting to yourself and see how unsatisfying it is.)  So what do we get out of complaining to others?  Maybe it’s a cry for much-needed sympathy.  Maybe there’s joy in sharing in a grievance against a mutually hated group, whether a sports team or a political party.  Maybe there’s a little bit of “humblebrag” going on – oh look at me juggling so many parental tasks at home or lamenting that I’m missing a key ingredient for the eight-course meal I’ve been able to whip up in the midst of working a demanding job. 

I’m sure there are other reasons why it feels good to complain, but I’ll stop there.  As a person of faith, complaining is an indicator of ungratefulness, which is more serious of a problem than you might think.  But before I get into that, let me just clarify that by ungratefulness I do not mean that we are chipper in all situations.  For sure, life is awful sometimes, and it is not meant for people of faith to keep up a sunny countenance through it all. 

But there is a difference between always having a smile and always being grateful.  Life may knock us down so badly that it seems there is no end to the darkness that has enveloped us.  We need not always be able to say easily that God is working good in the totality of our lives, including the rough patches.  We need not always feel close to God or feel He is close to us, or at least this is the conclusion I have drawn from my read of the Psalms, a surprising number of which are raw rants against God amid crushing devastation.  But somewhere in our soul, even if we have let go of God, we may hold out hope that He has not let go of us.  There is tumult all around us, but also a faint sense that there is an anchor nearby.

Thankfully, most of us, most of the time, are not swimming in such crisis.  And yet still we whine and bicker and generally harbor a cynical and snobby attitude towards life.  To steal a line from a Louis CK monologue, we gripe about flying (a common source of complaints) without considering just how miraculous and privileged an experience it is.  To extend this line of thinking even further, many of our most common complaints in this country belie a level of luxury that is unthinkable to the rest of the world and the rest of history – hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, TV shows, sporting events, and yes even politics. (Read the non-US sections of The Economist if you ever need a reminder about how good we have it here.) 

As a dad, it enrages me when my kids act like this.  Partly it’s because I’m trying to raise them as thankful and respectful people.  But partly it’s because it is a slap in the face to me and my wife.  We work hard to provide for them, and sweat so much small stuff as part of that, and as a result they live the charmed life, but don’t fully appreciate it.  Believing in a good God who is lavish and wise in His provision to all, I can only begin to contemplate how irked He must be at our potty attitudes. 

End rant.  Enjoy this Thanksgiving season, and give yourself more fully to a spirit of gratitude.  I know I will try to.


The Maturation of A Young Icon

Remember when Facebook first came out and Mark Zuckerberg was pilloried as an immature nerd not ready to lead a growing empire?  (I haven't seen "Social Network" but I understand he doesn't come off that great in that flick.)  That was like 800 million followers ago, and since then he has shown a deft touch in scaling up, correctly backtracking where he overstepped, and adding new features that have proven to be indispensable to our daily lives.

He also seems to have found his voice as a person of influence.  His philanthropy has become less impulsive and more reasoned.  He shared from his heart about miscarriages to combat the stigma many people feel about being open about such losses.  And, just last week, his announcement that he was taking two months of paternity leave made national headlines and reflected his understanding of both the importance of being away from work and the pressure many successful people feel to not take the time.

In other words, he gets that he has created an incredibly influential thing and seems sincere about wanting it (and himself) to do as much good as possible, understanding that all eyes are on it (and him).  To a smaller degree, we are all in the same situation and should try to think this way.


Lazy Linking, 156th in an Occasional Series

Stuff I liked lately on the Internets:
156.1 Big ups to my friend and grad schl classmate for doing well by doing good bit.ly/1OUN2iG @phillytrib

156.2 The best church programs not only don't cost $ but invite others' resources in bit.ly/1QxS7Oc @fexpressionsus ht @fredtmok

MORAVIA 1156.3 Fancy that: every time you add a govt reg you have to subtract one @mercatus bit.ly/1Mrbogl ht @margrev
156.4 Did media Beirut covered less than Paris or did we readers just not care as much? bit.ly/1QHqhhs @voxdotcom

156.5 HBR says humble leaders are effective ones (shades of Collins' "Level 5 Ldrs") bit.ly/1MmX4TU @harvardbiz ht @margrev

156.6 1.1B NYC taxi/Uber trips is a lot of data pts to play w/ bit.ly/1j8UB6W @todd_schneider ht @kottke

156.7 Unending extensions of original movie ideas (Star Wars, Marvel)...now that's an original idea! bit.ly/1MYFrJr @wired

That face. Here's what he pulls when he has to stay in bed because he's sick.156.8 Agreed: Caillou is the worst bzfd.it/1QSkkhK @buzzfeed

156.9 "The Rock" talks about his bouts w/depression bit.ly/1I15nIn @people ht @namicommunicate #iamstigmafree

156.10 Nice tool for seeing which banks invest locally bit.ly/1ME12Yf @nextcityorg


Recommended Reads, 22nd in a Quarterly Series

http://junesilny.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/ct-prj-0106-stack-of-books.jpgThis past three months included our Amtrak trip across the country, so there was plenty of time for reading even in the midst of the craziness of my work and family life.  Here are my favs from the past quarter:

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Aslan).  A really interesting look into the time period Jesus lived in.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Munroe).  The kinds of crazy questions you think of but never consider anyone will answer, and voila here they are.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (Obama).  Interesting to get into the head of our POTUS as he mulled over issues of family and race.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich (Metaxas).  An incredibly exciting book about a truly committed Christian who paid the ultimate price for standing up to dastardly evil. 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Kondo).  I don't buy everything here but I did get motivated to minimize my possessions and my living space.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (Venkatesh).  I loved this account of a PhD candidate who embeds himself in the life of Chicago's most notorious housing project and learns about the drug trade in the process.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Moss).  A searing expose into both Big Food's marketing ways and our mindless consumption of them.


Mixing It Up

A week ago I posted the following statement on social media:

"We say we want mixed income nhds but then resist rich ppl moving into poor nhds or poor ppl moving into rich nhds. Discuss."

What ensued was a lively discussion with all sorts of perspectives and statements.  But I could've guessed this: whether in the blogosphere, academia, or here in the streets of Philadelphia, gentrification is a hot topic.  And why not?  In one issue, we're talking about race, economics, home, change, cities, and justice. 

I'm not going to wade any further into the topic today.  I did want to counterbalance the focus on gentrification (i.e. "rich ppl moving into poor nhds") by touching on something no one reacted to, which is the heat generated towards "poor ppl moving into rich nhds."  Those with means have many defenses against this, the most common of which is exclusionary zoning, whereby houses have to have a high minimum square footage or lot size, thus deterring the smaller and cheaper options that are needed to allow people of less means gain a foothold in a nice neighborhood or school district. 

On my very block, there's been a lot of hand-wringing over an old rowhouse being torn down and replaced by a plain-looking building that holds eight two-bedroom apartments.  In a sea of twins, the new construction may look out of place.  And parking, which is always a challenge, will become more difficult.  But this is how you make our nice neighborhood and school catchment accessible to a lower housing price point.  By my rough calculation, a family that can move into one of those two-bedroom units can make half to a third the amount that families that bought single-family homes at the peak 8-10 years back. 

In my book, that's a nice diversity of income levels all in one place, all accessing a great neighborhood and a great public K-8 school.  But, again, there's been a lot of hand-wringing.  On the surface, the issues are aesthetics, parking, and historic preservation.  But, below the surface, is it that people actually aren't that comfortable with a wider income distribution?  I can't say I can read people's motivations.  But I can say that whenever there is something that makes possible multiple price points in the same neighborhood by adding lower price points in the midst of higher ones, those of us who can afford the higher price points find all sorts of reasons to protest. 

Sometimes it seems it's easier to give up on mixed-income neighborhoods altogether.  So long as all neighborhoods, at all price points, have basic characteristics like a functioning school and public safety and reasonable municipal services, isn't that a pretty good thing to aim for?  I'm sympathetic to that thrust, although it feels too much like "separate but equal" for me to want to give up just yet on the possibility of more mixing.  Then again, easier said than done.  I'm glad for my block, and the diversity represented on it, and I realize that most Philadelphians, and really most Americans, don't enjoy the same experience.  I still wish more did.


Lazy Linking, 155th in an Occasional Series

M-Doors Open 2015- Rooftop maze 3.93 GRID KIDS.jpgStuff I liked lately on the Internets:

155.1 Milwaukee wastewater plant, unlikely tourism destination bit.ly/1MmgzM4 @amercitycounty

155.2 Taxpayers spend more subsidizing driving than other transp modes (>$1K/person/yr) bit.ly/1zwH1BX @uspirg

155.3 Do male execs favor young men b/c they're afraid initiating w/young women = sexual harassment? bit.ly/1PmKZUw @hrexecmag

155.4 Immigrants: 16% of labor force, 18% of business owners, & 28% of Main Street shops bit.ly/17HJzAu @ascoa
155.5 Do stop talking about Starbucks' red cup; don't stop talking about whether there's a war on Xmas bit.ly/1kPDNTG @fdrlst

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/money/dam/assets/151108180859-starbucks-red-cup-780x439.jpg155.6 Why brushing teeth w/your left hand helps you be an elite NFL receiver, by ODB on.wsj.com/1OGBdwk @wsj
155.7 Yelpers want poor white nhds to stay authentic but poor black nhds to change bit.ly/1kOjrdB @citylab
155.8 CA basing its transp projects on VMT vs LOS may make transit projects in the US easier to advance bit.ly/1qGCFB1 @citylab
155.9 Middle-aged white folks are seeing a troubling rise in death rate bit.ly/1Qqjysj @newyorker

155.10 How food tastes depends on how it smells/sounds/looks/feels bit.ly/1kK2CAm @newyorker