Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Much faster than you would have thought

Paul Krugman, a Nobel-prize winning economist who writes a column for The New York Times, wrote about the accelerating crisis of global warming.  He pointed out that we shouldn't generalize from what this moment looks like to what the future will look like.  He wrote:

... there’s a well-known proposition in my original academic home field of international economics known as Dornbusch’s Law, named after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist (and my mentor) Rudiger Dornbusch: “The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.” 

At the University of Orange, a free people's urbanism school in Orange, NJ, we have been observing this process.  We have been warning about the threat of gentrification for over a decade.  Now, seemingly overnight, market-rate apartment buildings are springing up all around the city and it is obvious that the crisis of gentrification is upon us -- as Dornbusch put it, "much faster than you would have thought."

It is worth knowing that this is, in fact, a law -- meaning that it is a phenomenon which has been observed repeatedly and can be translated into a series of mathematical equations.  In this case the mathematical equation would produce a graph with a line that rises slowly from the baseline for a long time but then turns sharply upward, rising very quickly in a short amount of time.  

What we see today does not tell us what we will see tomorrow, especially in periods when many variables are moving quickly.  We have to take threat seriously.  We can't delay.

Monday, May 16, 2022

One Million and Ten

I get home delivery of The New York Times. Sunday, May 15th, the "front page" was two pages, front and back, with a map of the US, showing where the 1,000,000 people who had died of COVID in US had lived. In the same paper were the first reports of the massacre in Buffalo, in which 13 people were shot and 10 killed by a white supremacist teenager. The subtext of the news was that the mass abandonment of the marginalized, poor and people of color is escalating in our country.

Sunday afternoon I joined friends and neighbors at the Music City Festival. The Festival partners with restaurants in Orange, NJ, so Sunday's event took place at a park in my neighborhood opposite Hat City Kitchen. The crowd of young black and brown artists sparkled with genius, like the sun glinting off diamonds. It is a true thing that specific places can nurture specific geniuses, and Orange is such a place for musicians. 

I suddenly felt the dissonance between the implications of the news and the evidence of my own eyes. It made me dizzy. I asked one of the organizers if we might pause to memorialize our losses.  As the echoes of the steel drum faded, I asked people to stand for a moment of silence. One young woman looked at me quizzically for a second. When she understood what I was saying, she shifted gears swiftly, from the languor of the listening to music on a sunny afternoon in the park to the intense energy of youth dedicated to the cause of our survival. She stood tall.  We all stood. 

There was no music in that moment, yet there was lots of music standing there with us. We Shall Overcome was there, and so was We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder, War (what is it good for), and Give Us Bread and Give Us Roses. And every song that the artists performing there that day had shared with us. We stood in the music, embodying the sure knowledge: Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

We Are All Colored Girls (who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf)

I haven't posted in awhile -- too busy trying to keep up with daily life to have enough time to think about. But yesterday, which was April 9th, I saw the new Broadway production of "for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf." The rainbow of actors instantly won me to their cause and I couldn't stand fast enuf at the end to join the standing ovation!  

It was one of the rare moments in this time when my heart felt better -- that a deep truth had been revealed for me: that the rainbow is present in our suffering. Like a revelation, but only when we are broken enuf for the light to get in, thank you, Leonard Cohen.

And then I thought of the whole world, aching over nuclear bombs, Covid variant BA2, fracturing ice shelves, gas prices -- whatever. Around the world depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and actions have increased to remarkable heights. The ache in the world is palpable. I took the train to New York and a group of young Yankee fans got on, on their way to opening day. They were defiantly NOT wearing masks as required by the train. And they were drinking, also a No-No. But they were drinking as fast as they could, drinking to get drunk, drinking to be removed from whatever is on their hearts -- they, too, were longing for the rainbow but didn't know where it was. 

And that is the trick with rainbows. A rain shower was ending as I drove into my driveway on my way home from the play. I looked up to see if a rainbow had come out. No, but my dog Toby greeted me at the door with hugs and kisses. 


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Omnicron (imagine spooky music) and gratitude

The World Health Organization has declared another variant of the Covid virus that is "of interest" and it has been given the name Omnicron. Stocks tumbled, markets shook, countries began to block borders in anticipation of another round of death and upheaval. As Rob Wallace pointed out, he told us so. It is impossible to leave the world unvaccinated and then to be SHOCKED (cue the handkerchief) when variants show up.  

But what does anticipation of Omnicron have to do with gratitude? Some people say, "I'm for [something terrible] because [something good]," which leads to the logical question, maybe we just misjudged the first event or leapt to a conclusion or something like that. In fact, why make judgements? I have judged exercise as a bad thing and how did that work out? Not well -- now I have to exercise AND improve my terrible attitude. My doctors are giving me that "very-sorry-to-say-prognosis-not-good-because-you're-a-jerk" look. If you can't judge exercise, what's the point of judging anything? 

But even if we don't JUDGE Omnicron, that doesn't get us to gratitude. No it doesn't, except that Reverend James Forbes reminded me today of the man who'd been sick for so long and to whom Jesus said, "Pick up your bed and follow me." And the sick man got out of bed and followed Him.  Now, as they say, if that don't beat the Dutch. 

Last night, which was Friday night, my family gathered for Thanksgiving. It was a day late because one of us had a Covid exposure and we had to wait for the right time to do the tests. Everyone was flexible, something we learned in Covid. The cooks were relaxed and had a day of rest before the cooking marathon started. We didn't sweat the small stuff, like running out of cinnamon or not having a lemon -- a relaxation of rigidity we learned in Covid.  Then point is -- it's all mixed together -- the tragedies of Covid and the plethora of useful experiences are a package -- a LIFE package, we might say. The yin in the yang and yang in the yin, to note a fundamental truth about how it works, big picture. 

I'm quite sure Omnicron arrived because we didn't listen to Rob, but we can also be grateful that Rob is reading the tea leaves as fast as he can and telling us the future -- we could listen and vaccinate the world. Learning is slow: maybe we needed this epic failure to learn to listen to Rob?

In the meantime, poet Michael Lally loves to quote his mentor who said, "Michael, if you get a check, say 'thank you, God.' And if you get a bill say 'thank you, God.'" Don't waste time judging: you might miss the big picture. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

K-drama: Cream Rises

In my twenties I was obsessed with The Whole Earth Catalog. I studied its pages and imagined doing all the crafts and activities laid out on the pages. I really enjoyed the inset boxes labeled "Cream Rises." These underscored items that were special in one way or another. As milk that had not been homogenized was something we had from time to time, cream rising was a vivid image for me. 

I recently re-watched Romance is a Bonus Book, a K-drama that tackles discrimination against mothers in the workplace. It is built around the transformation of Cha Eun-ho and Kang Dan-i's lifelong friendship into romance. There is one scene that rises in my memory, like cream rises from milk, to borrow from Stewart Brand: Cha Eun-ho's celebration scene.   

Dan-i, struggling to get back into the force after raising a child, hides her qualifications to get a job at the publishing house co-founded by Eun-ho. When her omission is discovered, she is forced out against Eun-ho's strenuous opposition, and after she anonymously enters a contest for new publishing ideas. On the day that the contest winner is to be revealed, Eun-ho sits at the computer to link the winning entry to the entrant's name. He reads it, abruptly stands up, says, "I'm going to get some coffee," and walks out of the room, leaving his colleagues to learn the news for themselves.  

Eun-ho goes to the office kitchen, puts a pod of coffee in the coffee maker, and begins to take in the delightful news that "oori Dan-i" has triumphed in this way. He shakes his head in disbelief, he grins, he does her favorite power pose, and finally just lays his head down on his arms in delight at the magical affirmation that has been offered -- balm to the suffering of the woman he loves. 

I think Eun-ho's savoring of Dan-i's triumph is key to the whole situation story.  It is, indeed, a story of "cream rising," as Dan-i over and over again shows her skills and commitment. Yet the social opposition because she is re-entering the workforce nearly kills her. The story, in giving her an opening, asks the Korean futurist question, "What if we give people a chance?" The answer is clearly magical. It reminds me of a review in the Times of a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which asks the Afrofuturist question, "What if we hadn't destroyed Seneca Village, the black community leveled to make Central Park?" 

If we don't destroy people -- if we love them and give them a chance -- we will blossom and have joy unimaginable, just as Cha Eun-ho has in Dan-i's affirmation. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

K-Drama: Word Play

This article made me wish I were a journalist, covering the Hallyu beat. Wow, to get to ask directors, writers and producers what they were thinking -- that would be a dream come true. I would want to do more than scratch the surface on such tantalizing tidbits as this:

“When we made ‘Mr. Sunshine,’ ‘Crash Landing on You’ and ‘Sweet Home,’ we didn’t have a global reaction in mind,” said Mr. Jang, who worked as co-producer or co-director on all three hit Korean Netflix shows. “We just tried to make them as interesting and meaningful as possible..." (emphasis added)

What did Mr. Jang mean by "meaningful"? That is what I would have asked. In the meantime, I'm enchanted by meanings that are wrapped up in these shows and eager to understand them. Left to my own devices -- and the subtitles -- I'm sometimes at a loss, as with a strange scene in Hometown Cha Cha Cha. The heroine's father said something to the hero, Hong Du-sik, which caused him to back away and walk off in shock. The subtitles said, "It's not funny to me, you bastard." But the father is smiling and his wife says to him, "You like him, don't you?" 

Happily, Professor Kyla Park, who is my Korean teacher, explained that what the father said was a word that could be translated "you punk" or "my little baby," something that is said to children. 

Reconstructed, the whole exchange is: 

Father (to Hong Du-sik): Why do you speak to me informally?

Hong Du-sik: It's my philosophy, I think it's friendly.

Father: Not to me, "my little baby." 

Thus, the father, who had been shocked by Hong Du-sik's informality since first encountering him, trumps Hong Du-sik's friendliness, and at the same time, makes it clear that Hong Du-sik may date his daughter. Hence, the dad can drive off with a big grin on his face and his wife's observation, "You like him, don't you?"

I could be wrong about how the scene plays. I do think it introduces a small piece of meaning that shows up over and over in K-Drama: the joy of turning the tables. Ri Jeong-hyeok turns the tables on Yoon Se-ri (more than once in Crash Landing on You), Yu Ji-ho turns the tables on Lee Jeong-in (One Spring Night), etc. I love these small moments. I find myself chuckling over them, and appreciating the balance they offer to the world. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

K-Drama: What Jae-in Learned

One Spring Night, like much of K-Drama, has many layers. One of the intriguing small stories is that of Lee Jae-in, the younger sister of the show's heroine. In the finale, Jae-in sits by the river with her boyfriend, Park Young-jae. He asks what she is thinking about, and she replies she's thinking about the reason for her return to Korea. He says, "You said you didn't want to study." She answers, "I learned a lesson." He is interested, but she simply offers to clink beer cans with him and looks at him with admiration. 

The central reason for her return was that she was stalking a man in France. As that was a crime, she returned home to escape prosecution. On her return, she was plunged into the dramas of her older sisters who were being abused by men who wouldn't leave them alone. The parallels to her own transgressions are profound. She had chased Young-jae at the beginning, seemingly repeating the kind of behavior that had gotten her in trouble in France. This seemed to have sorted itself out as Young-jae realized his own feelings for her, and Jae-in became calmer. It is clear that they share a kind of perspicacity for the doings of those around them. It is a new basis for a relationship, not the obsession that had driven Jae-in before. It is also clear that Young-jae is not the heavy-handed patriarch Jae-in had experienced in her father. Young-jae is kind, loyal, and accepting of others, all qualities Jae-in finds honorable. 

I think what Jae-in learned was that the freedom she was longing for was not to be found by abusing others. She couldn't be liberated from the patriarchy by replicating its bad behavior. Rather she needed to find the people who offered breathing room so that she could be herself. In K-Drama, everything is put to use. The quiet scene by the river is perhaps the metaphor that Jae-in has found a man who sees and respects her path and her right to breathe.