Friday Assorted Links

1A. The new “Coolest City on the East Coast“.

1B. Some of the best television in history.

2. Better to buy or rent? The American Dream is a Financial Nightmare.

Spoiler.

“Housing has always had a terrible track record as an investment – from 1890 to 2012, the inflation-adjusted return (i.e. taking inflation out) on residential real estate was 0.17 percent. That means a house purchased for $5,000 in 1890 would be worth $6,150 in 2012.

Over the same time period the stock market returned an inflation-adjusted 6.27 percent. That means a $5,000 investment in the market would be worth over $8 million.”

3A. First-generation students are finding personal and professional fulfillment in the humanities and social sciences. The Unexpected Value of the Liberal Arts.

3B. A “Seismic Change” at Cal State.

4. A friend of mine, a former high school principal extraordinaire, says school leaders need at least five years to implement meaningful reforms. The D.C. public schools have not got the message. One in four D.C. public schools have had at least three principals since 2012.

5. About 50,000 people live in Olympia, WA and in Venice, Italy. Approximately 20,000,000 visit Venice annually. That’s approximately 55,000 people every day of the year. If that many people visited Olympia each year, I would do what young Venetians have already done. Leave.

6. Venezuela is collapsing.

7. Hypothetical. Say at some point in the future I’m out mowing the lawn and decide to take a “nature break” behind a big tree on our rural property. Will mountain goats later appear? One other thing, what kind of person whizzes where those mountain goats are licking in the lead picture?

My Turn to Crime

It’s not my fault. I’ve fallen in with some bad dudes. It started a few years ago when The Sopranos drew me in. Then The Wire. Then Breaking Bad. Now The House of Cards. I should be eligible for a mail order degree in Abnormal Psychology.

What is it about Tony Soprano, Avon Barksdale, Walt, and F.U. that makes it so hard to look away as they leave ruined lives and dead bodies in their wake?

My theory rests on the assumption that I’m a part of the 99% that has a social conscience, but sometimes still wrestles with doing the right thing. At 2a.m., with the streets deserted, we still wait for the red light to turn, but not before imagining going. We get frustrated with people all the time, even irate at times, but we successfully suppress our violent tendencies. We get used to the tension between our better and worse-r selves. And fortunately for society, our better selves almost always win out.

Tony, Avon, Walt, and Frank are the 1% that effortlessly give in to their worse-r selves. Their lives are not complicated by other people’s feelings. Once off the rails, they have zero regrets. On second thought, scratch Tony from that foursome, his earnest therapy sessions with Melfi disqualify him from the truly pathological.

In large part, I think I find these dramas so compelling because I can’t fathom what it would be like to live completely unencumbered by doing the right thing. To not give a single thought to authority, social convention, and the social contract we enter into as drivers while running the light. To not care whether someone lives or not.

There’s another important variable in the equation. For me the gruesome violence is usually just palatable enough because I know they’re fictional dramas. After watching The Wire, I can reason, “That teen drug runner didn’t really die at the hands of the other teen drug runner, because they’re acting.” LIke when watching a play or reading a novel, it helps to know it’s imaginary. In Breaking Bad the innocent kid on the bike in the New Mexico dessert didn’t really die. He’s probably a popular eighth grader somewhere in SoCal.

Could the time I’ve spent with the Mount Rushmore of television criminals have a deleterious effect on my normal, law-abiding self? That’s doubtful because the Good Wife makes me take a powerful antidote to these intense crime dramas every Sunday night. Downton Abbey.

Postscript—Watch this 60 Minutes segment (13:40) on Wolfgang Beltracchi (13:40). Beltracchi, as evidenced by the final exchange which begins at 13:28, has Mount Rushmore criminal potential.

 

A Land of (Still Imperfect) Opportunity

Watching an ESPN documentary about Mary Decker Slaney, and The Wire, and the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black“, has me thinking about the American Presidency, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and how illusive equal opportunity still is.

Without a doubt, U.S. citizens have greater opportunity to improve their lives than the average world citizen. And U.S. citizens have more opportunity today than fifty years ago when King and others marched on Washington. Those two points are inarguable, but too many U.S. citizens extrapolate from them to argue that everyone in the United States—young, old, female, disabled, dark, poor, heterosexual, non-English speaking—has equal opportunity to succeed. Thinking that we’ve achieved equal opportunity for all may be the most pernicious myth we tell about ourselves.

I was shocked by a scene from the middle of the Slaney documentary. In one of her best performances ever, she won the 3k at the 1985 World Championship in Helsinki, Finland. Amazingly, there wasn’t a single East African in the race. Today, nine or ten of the fastest ten middle distance women runners in the world are Ethiopian or Kenyan. They have only had the opportunity to demonstrate their excellence on the international scene for a few decades. Now, the international track is a level playing field.

Watching the Wire and Orange is the New Black back-to-back is eye-opening. They remind the viewer just how white and middle class most television is. And the incredible amount of acting talent that resides in every ethnic group. The Wire, about Baltimore’s inner city, had a mostly African-American cast. Orange, set in a women’s prison, has a culturally diverse, predominantly female cast. The writing, acting, and producing on both shows is remarkable.

It makes one wonder how many other just as talented culturally diverse writers, actors, and producers are trying desperately to get their feet in Hollywood’s mostly monocultural door. For every actor we see on a small or large screen there are at least another hundred who are equally talented. The only difference is they lack connections and opportunity. Give black, hispanic, asian, and female actors equal opportunity and they will do memorable, award winning work.

And if that’s true in athletics and the arts, why wouldn’t it also be true in education, business, medicine, politics and every aspect of modern life? It’s laughable that we maintain the myth of equal opportunity in the U.S. when we’ve had 44 in a row male presidents.

We should celebrate the slow but steady extension of opportunity in the United States, but not kid ourselves with claims of equal opportunity writ large. Everyday, some in our communities are told by others that they’re too young, too old, too female, too disabled, too dark, too poor, too queer, too foreign. Refusing to see that doesn’t change reality.