“Moving from New York to New Orleans”

Bright Lights, Small City by Jami Attenberg

In New York City, as with most big cities, there is the opportunity to be anonymous on the streets. For a long time, I loved no one knowing who I was or what my business was. I took comfort in the speed with which I moved through the streets of the city, head down, in my own little world, but still somehow absorbing a thousand details at once. It was helpful to my development as an artist, I felt. If all you want is to be left alone with your imagination, then there is no better place to do it than New York.

In New Orleans, there is an insistence to the way we all interact with each other out in the world. We share these streets, which are generally sparsely populated in the neighborhoods. There are good mornings, goodnights, how y’all doings, and head nods and smiles and eye contact. There are neighbors who walk out on their front porch to give treats to my dog. There is polite chit-chat even if we don’t know each other. There are waves from car windows. There is communication. My solo-artist instincts still sometimes rise up, but here, I can’t hide even on those rare occasions I wish I could. This is me now: I’d rather be seen and known than ignored and isolated.

It’s not just the streets to which I feel more connected. It’s the entire city. Part of this might have to do with being a homeowner, and being more cognizant of public services, especially in a city that has a complex and dramatic past with hurricanes and flooding, government corruption, and troubled, antiquated utilities. (We’ve had several boil-water advisories recently, not to mention power outages all year long; I keep a store of emergency supplies for the first time in my life.) My awareness of public issues has increased exponentially because they impact me and my neighbors on a day-to-day basis. Local politics is everything here. I witness the struggle every day, I listen to the conversations—in my neighborhood of the Bywater, affordable housing is a hot topic—and I try to participate in this community as best I can, whether through contributing time or money. I even clean the catch basin on my street before it rains. The smallest of gestures reverberates in a city this size.

Klein and Sullivan on Political Tribalism

Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein have dueling pieces about the rise of political tribalism that rather directly call each other out.

Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine: America’s New Religions

Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).

Which is to say, even today’s atheists are expressing an attenuated form of religion. Their denial of any God is as absolute as others’ faith in God, and entails just as much a set of values to live by — including, for some, daily rituals like meditation, a form of prayer. (There’s a reason, I suspect, that many brilliant atheists, like my friends Bob Wright and Sam Harris are so influenced by Buddhism and practice Vipassana meditation and mindfulness. Buddhism’s genius is that it is a religion without God.)

Ezra Klein at Vox: The Political Tribalism of Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan is grappling for an explanation of rising political tribalism, and there, he may want to dispense with the introspection and explore the work of people who actually study it, like political scientist Lilliana Mason. Her work shows that groups’ behavior hardens when identities stack on top of each other and weakens when they pull in different directions.

All else being equal, a 62-year-old white, Christian Democrats who lives in rural Montana will loathe Republicans less than a 23-year-old Hispanic, agnostic Democrat who lives in Los Angeles. A young, conservative atheist will be more open toward liberals than a conservative evangelical (which neatly solves the mystery of Trump’s intense support among the Christian right).

Polarization is rising, and to the extent that Sullivan senses a hardening of tribal lines, he’s not wrong. But the driving force here isn’t the waning of Christianity but the politicized sorting of it, and much else. Married white Christians made up 80 percent of voters in the 1950s, and were evenly split between the two parties; today, they make up less than 40 percent of voters, and they’re overwhelmingly concentrated in the Republican Party. The parties have similarly organized around race, geography, and even age.

National Attention and Local Restaurants

If you haven’t seen this article on the effect of being labelled the “best burger in America” you should really read it at least for it’s sort of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in the Internet Age: You can’t observe something without changing it.

But I want to specifically draw attention to the conflict between localism and national excellence:

The Oregonian restaurant critic Michael Russell told me about a little ceviche place in Portland. Its chef Jose Luis de Cossio had cooked at the greatest ceviche restaurant in Peru, and opened fancy places in America, but tired of all that, and opened a tiny 23 seat ceviche place named Paiche in a desolate section of Southwest Portland. He’d wanted it to be small and serve the neighborhood and allow him time to surf and lead a balanced life.

But there was a problem: it was too good.

Willamette Week named Paiche its 2016 restaurant of the year. It made The Oregonian’s best restaurants list. Portland Monthly gave it a great review. Despite de Cossio’s wishes, it became a destination restaurant. So he changed it. He got rid of dinner service. And the ceviche. And made it just a breakfast and lunch cafe with a focus on coffee. He  wasn’t interested in serving the “narrow kind of customer” that populated his restaurant. He was more interested, he said, in returning it to the neighborhood.

Stanich explained that, as these issues were going on in the background, it was hard to read the social media screeds attacking them, and listen to the answering machine messages at the restaurant calling him a fat fuck and telling him to fuck himself for closing his own restaurant. He didn’t care about them, he insisted. He only cared about people like that woman who’d shown up, the regulars who live in NE Portland. “I need to take care of the people who took care of me,” he said. “They don’t turn on you.”

This was the same sentiment the chef at Paiche had expressed, and that I’d heard from others. If there was one main negative takeaway from the raging fires of food tourist culture and the lists fanning the flames, it was that the people crowding the restaurant were one time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place. In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.

Lodge 49


Vox reviews the breakout critical darling “Lodge 49.”

It’s not particularly easy to explain what Lodge 49 is about, because it’s not really like any other TV show I can think of. Its premise revolves around a Long Beach, California-based lodge maintained by a (fictional) fraternal order known as the Lynx. (Think the Masons or the Elks, but with a stronger record of gender and racial equality than those groups had.) The lodge is an all-purpose hangout for its members, but also seemingly a weirdo portal to some other, more purpose-driven life. It’s sort of, uh, Cheers meets Twin Peaks amid the ruins of late capitalism.

Lodge 49 uses this lodge as a window into the lives of its characters and the city of Long Beach, which is caught in transition between its working-class roots and its increasingly hipster-focused rebrand. (I used to live in Long Beach, which is perpetually in danger of becoming Los Angeles’s latest version of Brooklyn, though Silver Lake may have something to say about that.) But there’s also a lot of medieval symbolism and references to alchemy amid the tales of gentrifying neighborhoods.

What’s quietly beautiful about the show is how it positions the lodge — and by extension, a more community-based way of thinking about the universe — as the “other way to live” that Dud is looking for. It’s no good to live your best life if you don’t have others to live it with. Or, as Ernie puts it in “Sunday,” “What’s the use of living forever if you’re all alone on a Sunday?”

MTG Color Wheel and Tribalism

How the ‘Magic: The Gathering’ Color Wheel Explains Humanity

Often, a person who’s three colors won’t draw evenly from all three — for instance, someone who’s blue-black-red might identify heavily with blue-black’s growth mindset and red’s sense of presence and passion, but not particularly resonate with “creativity” or “independence.” But for the sake of argument, you could imagine a balanced trio as [the sum of its two-color connections] and [the absence of whatever the two remaining colors agree upon]. Some slightly cheesy and horoscope-y examples below (note that the cheesiness is because I’m trying to describe a general archetype, rather than pulling from specific subsets of each color as I would with a real, narrow example):

The Mainline Paradox: Memetics and Liberal Christian Collapse


Warning: Just a theory

I wanted a graph that went back further in time, but this is what I found. Courtesy of Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape”

Liberal Christian denominations (ie, Mainline Protestants) are caught in a paradox: even though they have increasingly defined themselves as open to everyone, their membership roles keep decreasing. It’s as if the more people they let in, the fewer people show up.

[insert Groucho Marx cartoon about not wanting to belong to the set of all clubs that would have him.]

Recent data from Minnesota highlights the precipitous decline:

Mainline Protestant churches have been hit the hardest. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Minnesota has lost almost 200,000 members since 2000 and about 150 churches. A third of the remaining 1,050 churches have fewer than 50 members. The United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in Minnesota, has shuttered 65 churches since 2000.

Catholic membership statewide has held steady, but the number of churches…

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Gentrification Analogy

Thing of Things

Some of my upper-middle-class to upper-class YIMBY friends have said that they don’t understand at all why anyone would be upset by gentrification. This is an analogy I use which I think helps them understand.

Imagine your neighborhood is an actually functional community. You know your neighbors; you say “hi” to people when they walk down the street; you know people who will watch your cat when you’re on vacation, or tell you about jobs they’ve heard that you’d be perfect for, or play with your kid when you’ve had a really hard day and you need a break, or help you move, or give you casseroles when someone you love has died. (For some people, this is going to be a really difficult part of the thought experiment; you might want to imagine living near all your closest Internet friends.)

Now imagine that a bunch of billionaires have…

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