Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mr. Sprinkles

Welcome to the world of Mr. Sprinkles & Acceptable TV.

The Perils of Parking

Lately, I've become increasingly interested in urban planning -- another missed opportunity for me, it seems -- so maybe none of this is as interesting to you as it is me. But, surely you've been stuck in downtown traffic and have fumed, 'Where the hell are all these people going!?! MOVE!!' If so, check out this astonishingly interesting Op-Ed in today's New York Times about the relationship between traffic congestion in cities and the search for a cheap curbside parking space. (As for me, I'm always content to take the first parking spot I find -- no matter if it results in a half-mile walk. It's not that I'm a responsible person, it's just that I'm not the model of patience.)

[A] surprising amount of traffic isn’t caused by people who are on their way somewhere. Rather, it is caused by those who have already arrived. Streets are clogged, in part, by drivers searching for a place to park.

[. . .]

When my students and I studied cruising for parking in a 15-block business district in Los Angeles, we found the average cruising time was 3.3 minutes, and the average cruising distance half a mile (about 2.5 times around the block). This may not sound like much, but with 470 parking meters in the district, and a turnover rate for curb parking of 17 cars per space per day, 8,000 cars park at the curb each weekday. Even a small amount of cruising time for each car adds up to a lot of traffic.

Over the course of a year, the search for curb parking in this 15-block district created about 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel — equivalent to 38 trips around the earth, or four trips to the moon. And here’s another inconvenient truth about underpriced curb parking: cruising those 950,000 miles wastes 47,000 gallons of gas and produces 730 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. If all this happens in one small business district, imagine the cumulative effect of all cruising in the United States.

The writer's solution may seem unpalatable to some: increase the cost of curbside parking. But, all in all, I think his thinking is spot-on. We've accommodated the all-consuming culture of the car for far too long. This is but a token gesture in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"I've Seen Everything"

K. & I watched the first season of Extras a couple of months ago, but this scene still kills me:

On the Hereafter

This quote is completely stripped of its context, and I'm not even going to say much about it. But it's something I came back across this evening and thought worth sharing.

The secularist and the Marxist criticism of the vision of marching to Zion claims that the promise of pie in the sky bye and bye cuts the nerve of action today. The expectation of "fairer worlds on high" is supposed to detach the present from that which is promised.

This may well have been the case when in recent centuries the beneficiaries of the social system appealed to a future world to encourage their subjects to remain docile. But our interest is not in asking whether the eighteenth-century religion could be the opiate of the people, but rather understanding the function of the apocalyptic vision in the first-century church, whose seers were not on any drug.

In the world view of that time the gap between the present and the promise was not fundamental. What we are now doing is what leads to where we are going. Since the "this-worldly" and the "other-worldly" were not perceived in radical dichotomy, to be "marching through Emmanuel's ground" today is to be on the way to Zion. Terms like "hereafter" are in that kind of context affirmations not negations. They do not say that that to which we look forward is in a radically different kind of world from the world in which we now live, but rather that it lies farther in the same direction in which we are being led. The unforeseeable future is farther along in the same direction as the foreseeable future for which we are responsible. (John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 248-49).

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Little Basketball

As many of you know, this was the first year of a new rule in the NBA that requires kids just out of high school to wait one year before they will be allowed to play professionally. The problem, near as I understand it, is that team owners were increasingly frustrated by the fact that they had to invest money in unproven talent. Of course, nobody had a gun to their head when it came to drafting kids just out of high school. And, of course, for every Lebron James who came out of high school and became an instant All Star there were at least three players like Sebastain Telfair who will almost certainly end their career playing in Europe. Nevertheless, no team owner wanted to take the risk of passing up on that high school phenom who might be the next big thing. They're fun to market, they're potentially very lucrative (i.e., they put butts in seats), and they can revive an organization (for a while) if they're great. After several years of rolling the dice, though, the owners finally decided to change things up. Let the kids play college ball for a year, or sit on their butts playing with their Nintendo Wii, they said, anything but enter the draft.

This year, the rule has been almost universally regarded as a success for college basketball. It's brought long-time NBA fans back to the game, and it's turned football towns into basketball towns (e.g., Columbus, Ohio and Austin, Texas). Between Kevin Durant down in Texas and Greg Oden at Ohio State, NCAA Division I basketball was bursting at the seams with awesome talent. It was, in my estimation, a golden year for college basketball. Durant and Oden were choirboys, loved by their communities and colleges -- they said all the right things, even down to the obligatory "I might come back next year" lie. Of course they're not coming back next year, but we'll give them credit for playing along with the illusion of honesty and integrity that compels so many to adore college basketball.

All along, though, there have been naysayers to this new rule. Take for instance, Bobby Knight. For all his personal flaws, Knight is an educator at heart. College basketball is not, for him, a NBA minor league; nor is it a junior circuit. Kids are given athletic scholarships ... in order to go to school. The fact that they are athletes of the highest caliber is secondary. Obviously, then, he doesn't take kindly to kids coming in for a year only beause they have to. He contends that what you have is a bastardization of college athletics as a whole.

"Because now you can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn't even have to go to class," Knight said Monday during the Big 12 coaches call. "He certainly doesn't have to go to class the second semester. I'm not exactly positive about the first semester. But he would not have to attend a single class the second semester to play through the whole second semester of basketball.

"That, I think, has a tremendous effect on the integrity of college sports."

Now, I don't know what Oden or Durant's academic schedule or grades look like. But, on the whole, Knight makes a pretty good argument here. Thus far, though, both players have been such class acts that's it not really been a big issue to too many people. What happens, though, when a high school kid without their apparent maturity comes along -- who understands the illusion of integrity in college basketball, but who revels in openly flaunting it rather than repress or deny it? What happens when a kid comes along who will not say the things we want to hear, or play along the way we want; who understands the college game purely in terms of his pre-professional marketing; who has his coach wrapped around his finger? What happens then?

We'll find out next year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Redacted Cross-Post From Elsewhere

I've been meaning to post something for a few weeks now, but something always comes up just at the moment I feel like I have the words to express whatever was on my mind at the time. I've no such excuse now, but I won't subject you to a series of catch-up posts. One should do just fine. So, a few thoughts:

  • I don't generally have a lot of positive things to say about Indianapolis, but, wow, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is pretty damn nice. Def. worth a trip. Should keep you busy enough to ignore the rest of the city. Esp. check out their fine collection of crafts & three Frank Stella installations -- oh, and one of the most curiously vulgar nudes in late-19th century American painting.

  • Chicago gets nicer each time I visit. I may very well never leave the next time I'm there. A couple of random Chicago notes. First, just before I left, I wandered around Lincoln Square, and was really thrown off by how much it (or at least the street I was on) felt like the Main Street of Small Town, America -- except for the fact that (a) people lived there and (b) the people who lived there had families -- an annoying number of kids, actually, now that I think about it. I even saw a shopowner putting out two bowls on the sidewalk, one filled with dog biscuits & the other with water. I didn't feel the least bit bad about stealing one of the biscuits for my dog back in Cincinnati. Second, I think the weather must've put everybody in a good mood, because I never had a more pleasant city-driving experience. People were waving me over, smiling, using turn signals. Bizarre. I flipped off an old lady driving the speed limit on Lake Shore Drive just to make it feel more like home.

  • While in Chicago I was very pleased that I got to hang out with death-of-god theologian & friend, Tom Altizer, who was lecturing at Chicago Theological Seminary. His visit was, I think, a success. I had a good time anyway, and I think many aspects of it meant a great deal to him, esp. the return to the site of his first 'real' conversion -- *dramatic pause* a conversion to Satan! I don't think, though, most of the people there were prepared for how attuned he is to preaching. If he considers himself a Satanologist, he surely is its most engaging evangelist. Of course, as he would quickly admit, he is not as 'on' as he used to be, and doesn't feel he is as effective. This is probably true. But I'm still pretty staggered at how engaged he is with the life of the mind at nearly eighty. His first talk, in my estimation, was his best. Here, he very concisely talked about nihilism & American politics, and engaged in a lively debate about his appeal to nihilism as both a positive & a negative force -- there is, in my opinion, something to this worth exploring all the more. His second talk was about the absence of Satan in theology. For a moment, Jonathan Edwards was smiling in his grave. And for his final talk he read an unpublished chapter from his memoir. I felt this last talk was the weakest, but only because it dragged a bit toward the end -- esp. compared to his previous presentations, which were amazingly concise & clear for being fully extemporaneous. The man, one of the last who welcomes his damnation, can also still drink & curse like a sailor.

  • And last, don't let her innocent appearance fool you, my dog is a badass. Yesterday the wife & I were invited to bring her along to a cookout. Things were going fine for about fifteen minutes. There are about four or five other dogs. Ireland was bouncing around and having a good time running after balls & trying to steal sips of beer, when suddenly she & a dachshund named Dandy caught scent of a wild rabbit in the yard. They both went on the hunt, but only Ireland emerged with the prey. Blood on her snout & teeth, Ireland paraded through the circle of guests and around the firepit with the poor animal dangling from her jaws. As I chased her down, I heard the screams of children & adults alike, 'That poor bunny!!!', and sternly tried to dissuade this newly feral beast from shaking the rabbit any further, as the fur was beginning to fly dangerously in the direction of the food. I finally got the dead rabbit from her, despite her token growls & cries of protest, and the bunny was flung in the front yard for the family to deal with later. The last time she caught her intended prey (the only other time), it was a bird at the park, and it took about a week for her swelling pride to diminish to a nearly manageable level. Until then, she will race with all the vim & vigor her newfound bloodlust can manage toward every bird & squirrel downtown. It should be a fun week.

  • Oh, I almost forgot. Barring something unforeseen, namely me getting one of the jobs I've applied for, I'm going to be moving to San Francisco sometime late next month.
  • The Collect

    Heads up all in-town readers, a good friend of mine is organizing an art exhibition that you are invited to help with. Don't worry, it doesn't involve public nudity or bodypaint. Just your trash. And so the new wave of recycling begins. Be the first on board.

    Monday, March 05, 2007

    'Take What You Need'

    Last night I was talking to a friend and he told me about a church service he'd recently heard about. Just after a sermon about giving & receiving, the preacher had the offering buckets distributed throughout the congregation/audience and told everyone in attendance to 'take what you need'. When the buckets returned to the stage, there was still money in them. So, he proceeded to exhort them all the more to take the money, and if they didn't he would shread it at all (as he did with a few bills). The upshot of all this was to tell them about how the church's benevolence ministry is there to help people out when they've fallen on hard times.

    Okay, so here's my question, is this a good lesson? I'll confess that I'm pretty ambivalent about it. On one level, sure, this is all well and good. They're sharing money with one another, etc. I get that. But my initial, and stronger, reaction is more negative. I'm just not entirely sure why. Part of the reason is that I know the Sunday services of this particular church are (or at least used to be -- no clue about how things are now) 'seeker-oriented', and thus not intended to be a full manifestation of their fellowship & teaching. If that is the still the case, this just seems really flashy to me, and possibly (though I'll hold off from assessing their intentions here) a little disingenuous.

    Also, just what exactly did he mean by 'take what you need?' Now, my friend wasn't at this church, and he couldn't be sure what the minister's exact words were, but they had to be something like this. He wouldn't say, 'Take what you want', would he? And if he did, well, there'd be no ambivalence about this at all -- I'd be thoroughly against it, but still very keen on attending the next time I saw he was preaching on the subject. But 'take what you need'? I think I'm pretty representative of a lot people's financial burden's -- even with my catastrophic student loan debt, since the value of most people's houses are bound to go belly-up in a few decades and explode the assumption of their long-term investment value -- and my 'need' would surely go beyond what I would be expected to take out of a church offering bucket. I could dig in there until I pulled out enough for rent & utilities, or whatever amount would actually put K. & me in above zero each month, but if I did so, oh dear, the IHOP would be abuzz with snickers & gasps about 'that greedy guy who took over a grand!' (None of this even addresses that one's financial need might be brought about because somebody just bought a new boat that's really straining their budget, or that gas-guzzling SUV parked out in the church parking lot, or the superfluous education one sought for the sake of getting a job that'll let him have summer's off -- not out of a real lack.)

    And the heavy-handedness of cutting up money? Is the point of this to situate the reception of a church's benevolence alongside the (evangelical) Christian message that one accepts ('receives' even) Jesus as savior not simply because he loved us first but because of the content of that love -- because he was broken, beaten & killed for our guilt as sinners? Is the reception of this grace and the reception of financial stability so close?

    And yet, as I say, I'm open to the potentially positive aspects of this object lesson. I'm ambivalent, though obviously not the insidious brand of ambivalence that sees a 50/50 split between the good and the bad. What about you? I'm genuinely curious what many of you make of all this.