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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Disaster Grief Index

I don’t think that I am giving out any new information when I say that we live in a world rife with terror, disease, famine, war, and crime, as well as a host of natural disasters that can strike without warning. In fact, I found examples of each of those calamities in today’s newspaper—and all I read is the sports section and the comics. Tragedy seems to be a by-product of civilization. Some catastrophes are as naturally-occurring as the air we breathe, but most are man-made. Although I pride myself on being almost completely desensitized to the pain and suffering of others, there are occasions when I come across a news report of some horrific event about which I think I should probably feel bad. That’s almost like caring, isn’t it?

Over the years I have developed something I call the Disaster Grief Index to help me gauge the degree to which I should feign anguish when I read about the misery of others. The model for my index was taken from how television news covers these events. I figure if CNN deems something to be important, then I should, too. Let me walk you through this.

First of all, you should primarily only care about bad things happening to Americans. The way that television news explains it, if tragedy strikes non-Americans then they probably have it coming. Maybe they should try being more careful. If TV is somehow coerced into covering a disaster in some far-off land it is only because the event is of biblical proportions. CNN uses a sliding scale formula in order to calculate when deaths are reported. They have made a computation as to how viewers should regard the deaths of total strangers.

1 American life =
10 English-speaking non-Americans
50 Europeans who speak a language other than English
1,000 Latin Americans
10,000 Asians
1,000,000 Africans (except white, English-speaking Africans)

The way this works is if one American dies then that is news, but it takes ten British people to die to warrant the same coverage as the lone American death. Let’s be honest with ourselves, do any of us have time to hear a story about 5,000 Chinese people whose bus went off a cliff? Anything less than one million Africans perishing will be relegated to a small segment that airs somewhere between celebrity news and a funny security video of someone accidentally being sprayed by a shook-up can of soda. It is called proportionality and it is how we make it through the day without being crippled by anxiety.

Before you accuse television reporters of being heartless pricks, let me remind you that people die every day, or almost every day (I have a birthday coming up so I would appreciate it if everyone whose time is almost out to die either the day before or the day after). You can’t get worked up every time a tidal wave slams into some country you can’t even pronounce, let alone find on a map. According to CNN, what completely shatters the Disaster Grief Index, what you should really get hysterical about is the disappearance of cute white girls. From CNN’s bloated coverage it is apparent that if one cute white girl goes missing that is worth at least five thousand people dying in a volcano eruption in Bolivia. For the value of a dead, ugly American girl you can revert back to the original index.

Just this morning I read that there was an earthquake in Pakistan a few months ago that killed 73,000 people. I don’t even remember hearing about it when it happened, probably because there weren’t any cute American girls among the victims for CNN to report. Foreign disasters please take note: If you want to capture the attention of the American audience, be sure to include a few American victims—preferably cute white girls.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Lush Life by Richard Price

Lush LifeI normally don't mix my book reviews with this blog, but this book blew me away.
Lush Life by Richard Price
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel that I couldn’t recommend too highly to anyone who would love it as much as I did. To anyone who wouldn’t appreciate this rather long, rambling police procedural I would advise them to take a pass, if this makes any sense. If you didn't like this book it's not like you failed some sort of IQ test, I totally get it if you didn't. I did, a lot, like why didn't this win the Pulitzer back then? Because it's the wrong genre?

If your idea of a great novel doesn’t involve a 100 page interrogation scene, then this isn’t for you. I would have never thought this would make for compelling fiction until I finished it, but once I had I think that I was overwhelmed by the sheer audacity of the passage, like I had just seen some sort of magic trick. How did he do that?

If you’re looking for a crime novel, you probably didn’t have this book in mind. There is a crime and great efforts are made to solve the mystery, but the murder is water under the bridge. Does it even fucking matter who did it? Ike will still be dead and his father still blind with grief.

I won’t mention how great Price is at writing dialogue since everyone else does that, and his dialogue is so great that I don’t even feel qualified to praise it, but he’s has an uncanny ability to sum up a situation with a single phrase and he does this so many times in the novel and many times I had to stop reading to soak it in, like someone dumping the clutch and stalling out. You find one in this lengthy sentence describing the crime:

De hecho, se disponía ya a recuperar la pistola, a quitársela a Tristan de la mano agarrotada, cuando de repente, pum, demasiado tarde, el tipo, con una bala en el pecho, levantaba la vista por el impacto como si lo hubiera llamado alguien desde una ventana, luego caía sin volver a bajar la mirada siquiera, y Tristan se agachaba junto a él en el acto, como para darle un bocado en la cara, exclamando en un susurro «¡Oh!», al mismo tiempo que Little Dap exclamaba en un susurro «¡Larguémonos!» y se lo llevaba de allí a tirones, y entonces volaron los dos hacia el sur por Eldrige, corriendo tan deprisa hacia los Lemlich que Little Dap veía las persianas metálicas de las tiendas a los lados convertidas en un borrón.

The two detectives are probably too clever for their own good, and they proved it when they leaned on Eric Cash for the murder, going all in from the first few questions at the crime scene. They run their games on the kid and go all out until his friend wakes up from his stupor, corroborates, and they realize that they’re back at square one.

The narrative quickly spiders out like glass shattering. Survivor’s guilt? The remorse of bad fathering after it's way too late? While Yolanda whispers hope to anyone who she feels needs a push in the right direction, a pitiless investigator with a heart. To have heart to spare in her line of work is quite an accomplishment.

I read the Spanish translation by Carlos Milla Soler which must have been a monumental task. Chapeau to him. The audiobook narrated by Bobby Cannavale is a minor masterpiece in itself. He brought this novel to life like I have never heard before, much like Price brings this corner of Manhattan to life for the reader. Dialogue is sort of the private domain of Richard Price and for my money no one writes it better, so a really great audiobook is warranted here. It’s like Cannavale put in at least as much effort as the author in pulling off his performance.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Modern Problems

Electric scooters, or eScooters, or whatever they are called, are suddenly everywhere on the urban landscape. I want to like them, everyone should like them because they are green and silent, but they should require all users to possess the slightest thread of common sense. That’s a tall order in this era. Still, the asshole quotient of the people who ride them is far below that of car drivers.

I probably won't be killed by an eScooter, so that's in the plus column. I think that things will balance out as motorists, cyclists, and everyone else find a way to live together. The truth is that this new entry in the transportation model are the least of my worries.
In review: car drivers are the problem, and by "problem" I mean folks who have the power to kill cyclists and pedestrians and do so at a rather alarming rate. So why do people blow a bowel over electric scooters?