Culture

2+2= KKK

As a writer, I am supposed to despise math.

Look at it, looking all smug with its cosines and discontinuous divisors and irrational numerators.

It’s just so absolutely certain about the world. I must hate it.

math2f

But I don’t. Although I’ve always been drawn to words, I’ve never been intimidated by numbers. I did pretty well in math in school, although I never went past pre-calculus.

So I’ve never understood people who freak out about math, or panic at the mere sight of an equation. This fear, I believe, turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and soon people are insisting that they can’t do basic addition and throwing up their hands at polling data or stiffing the waiter because they don’t dare try to figure out the tip.

But maybe these mathphobes are on to something. Because to my great disappointment, it turns out that math is a big old bigot.

Yes, a recent book argues that “math is essentially being used for evil,” in that “algorithms and big data are targeting the poor, reinforcing racism and amplifying inequality.”

Now, inflammatory (and completely misleading) claims about math being “racist” aside, the point is clear. Numbers are only as good as the humans who input them. As such, “any algorithm can — and often does — simply reproduce the biases inherent in its creator, in the data it’s using, or in society at large.”

For example, “nearly half of U.S. employers ask potential hires for their credit report, equating a good credit score with responsibility or trustworthiness.” This is despite the fact that the reliability of these reports “has remained in doubt for more than a quarter century.”

But because of our faith in data — or our fear of numbers — we continue to think an equation is “superior to human judgment — never questioning the assumptions that get baked in.”

This is a flawed assumption, and it not only helps reinforce inequality, it taps directly into that most vile of human drives: racial prejudice.

It turns out that numbers are not as culturally neutral and objective as we would like. Again, this is not because the numeral “3” somehow dislikes Latinos or the figure “864” really hates blacks. It is because “while algorithms might work with data alone, it’s always human beings that decide what factors they weigh.”

So what can be done about this issue? To begin with, simple acknowledgement is necessary, combined with the awareness that one can prove just about anything with the right set of figures.

And then we can get the world’s mathematicians to work on creating a formula that will rid the world of bigotry. That will be one truly great equation, and it will, of course, most likely equal 42.


What Will You Do When the Gentrifiers Come for You?

OK, I have to admit I was thrilled when our landlord informed us that he was selling our building. This was a guy who would tell us how much he appreciated us as tenants and then — mere days or even hours later — threaten to evict us over some imaginary breach of our lease or Seinfeldian personal slight. Basically, he was nuts, and over the years, we grew to hate dealing with him.

However, my relief over being rid of the bipolar landlord was short-lived.

You see, I live in Los Angeles, which is very tenant-friendly. For example, rent control exists, and owners can’t just boot people out if they feel like it.

However, there are ways to send renters packing — even those who pay their rent on time and are model tenants.

One way is to buy a building and then move an immediate family member in. Now, this isn’t some vile loophole. It makes sense that if you buy a building, you or your kid can live in it.

But legal and ethical isn’t always the same thing, as you may have heard.

In our case, the new owners took possession of our building and promptly deflected any questions about their intentions — good or otherwise.

We were concerned about this for a very real reason. Our neighborhood, as I’ve written, has morphed from skuzzy to somewhat nice to flat-out hipster, all in a brief blink of time. We moved in seven years ago, when the area was still affordable, and young guys in Civil War-era beards weren’t clamoring for more coffee bars.

hhipsterbeards

 

I still love living here, and the rapid gentrification hasn’t been so egregious that the neighborhood has lost all its character.

Of course, old-timers might disagree with me. For example, our neighbors have been here for 15 years. And as a lesbian couple, they were at ground zero in prodding the area from seedy enclave to happenin’ LA hotspot.

Yes, let’s just get this out of the way. There is never a better development for a downtrodden neighborhood than the news that gay couples are moving in.

Our friends are a big reason why this neighborhood is so popular. They worked to turn this area into a beautiful urban garden.

And the new owners have responded by kicking them out.

Our landlords have announced that their daughter, in her twenties, will be moving into our friends’ apartment.

It’s hard to view this development as anything less than the following scenario:

Spoiled Millennial: Daddy, I want to live in that neighborhood that was divvy, but now it’s all hip and trendy.
Rich Daddy: You’re in luck, sugar plum. I just expanded my vast real estate empire by buying a building there.
Spoiled Millennial: So I can have my own place, rent-free?
Rich Daddy: Of course. All we have to do is kick out the couple who has lived there for 15 years and helped make the place great in the first place. Consider them gone.
Spoiled Millennial: Goody goody. Thanks, Daddy.

Is that a bit much? No, it’s not. Because regardless of how the actual conversation went down and the tone of voice used and the amount of angst that occurred, the result is the same.

The rich kid wanted our friends’ place, and she got it. And our friends are packing up.

I’ve written before about gentrification, and how it tends to hit black and Latino neighborhoods harder. Indeed, there is a large Hispanic population in our neighborhood, but it has been dropping steadily for a few years now.

In our case, some very rich white people have decided that our area is now desirable, and they will ultimately take whatever they want.

Damn, maybe we were better off with the crazy landlord.

 

 


Look Back in Horror

I am the child of an immigrant. My mom is from El Salvador, so I grew up with the tastes and influences of a typical American teenager, all mixed with a strong awareness of Latino culture and history. I’m pretty grateful for the combo.

You know who else is the child of an immigrant? Omar Mateen, the psychopath who murdered 49 people in Orlando a few nights ago.

orlando-shooting-0612-large-169

Mateen and I clearly had different interpretations of the dichotomies that come with being members of the first generation to be born in America. For example, I blended a love of hamburgers with an appreciation for pupusas, and I gave the music of my mother’s homeland a fair listen before popping in a Soundgarden album. It was a bit of a mezcla.

But Omar Mateen wasn’t interested in mixing cultures. He found it easier to just embrace the problems, prejudices, and anger of his parents’ country. Mateen latched onto his father’s homophobia and the religious mania that is widespread in his family’s homeland. And in so doing, he set out to be more culturally authentic than his parents ever were.

This is not an issue of assimilation or integration, as so many people believe it to be. No, it is more of a cultural mindset.

It is a mindset that provokes young men, born and raised in America, to adopt the radical politics of their parents’ homelands. It is a mindset of fear and fury.

The massacre in Orlando — and the fact that so many of the victims were Latino — got me thinking about how this cultural perception forms one of the many roots of bigotry and violence.

Let’s ask, why are there no Latino terrorists, going on shooting sprees or strapping on bombs to avenge the pain and misery that the United States government has inflicted upon El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and other Latin American countries?

Indeed, there is ample reason for Hispanics to be more than a little pissed about our treatment and standing in the United States.

And yet, survey after survey shows that Latinos are more optimistic about the future and more positive about life in general than just about any other American demographic. We are pretty much the last people to use the injustices of the past to justify abhorrent behavior.

One reason for this is so obvious that it borders on the simplistic. But here it is: Latinos tend to look forward.

We pack up and move to new countries in search of better lives. We assume our kids will do better than us. We have faith that circumstances will improve.

And this forward-thinking mindset, this cultural tendency to dismiss the woes of the past, helps us to maintain optimism in the face of economic and political tribulations. It helps us to set aside our pain and disappointment, rather than hoist them upon our backs for all to see.

In contrast, angry and hate-filled people tend to look backward, toward some vague past, and then they threaten to make America, you know, “great again.”

And other people, like Omar Mateen, not only look backward — they glare at it with a white-hot obsession and rage. They believe that their culture’s best days are long behind them, that the present holds nothing more than humiliation and despair, and that someone — maybe American society or gays or left-handed dentists or whoever — is to blame.

Omar Mateen, in addition to being a pathetic and homicidal loser, was an unimaginative, scared person who had no faith in the future. And someone taught him that mindset, inculcating him with the belief that it was reality.

As for his victims — people with names like Almodovar and Guerrero and Rios and Flores — they most likely had great hopes for tomorrow and next year and the next decade. But that optimism and those dreams were cruelly taken from them by a furious man who could do nothing better with his life than stare backward into the distant past.

 


Old at Heart

Like many Gen Xers, I’m pretty tired of hearing how great the Baby Boomers were. Yes, they had amazing music, and that whole civil rights crusade is tough to top.

But as they age, Baby Boomers have made it clear that their bell-bottomed, peace-and-love, tune-in-turn-on idealism was a convenience of their youth, or it was the result of a loud minority that never reflected how most of them really felt.

I say this because recent surveys have shown a generation gap (really a chasm) between older and younger Americans on just about every social issue.

Perhaps this isn’t a big surprise, as people tend to get more conservative as they get older. But even with that caveat, some of the attitudes that Baby Boomers (especially white seniors) hold are alarming to Gen X and Millennials.

For example, more than half of white seniors “view the rise of newcomers from other countries as a threat to traditional American values and customs.” Let’s just say that most young people (many of whom have immigrant parents) don’t see things the same way.

And as anyone who has seen footage of a Trump rally can tell you, “much of the older white population — especially less-educated white males whose anger is being courted — appears threatened by the nation’s demographic change.”

 

Indeed, 60 percent of the white working class believe “that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”

In addition to being whiny, narrow-minded, and xenophobic, this attitude is — how should I put this? — fucking suicidal.

You see, the “demographic reality is that America’s youth — and more specifically its racial minority youth — is its future.” That’s because Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation in American history, and their future kids will be even more mixed. So there’s no going back to a 1950s mythological USA where everybody was white and things were gosh darn swell.

 

1950s

It also means that “because of the growth of Hispanics, Asians, blacks and other races, the United States will be able to replenish its younger population.”

Going forward, this implies that “America will not suffer a European-style demographic crisis as Baby Boomers retire. Young Latinos are stepping into the workplace and paying the taxes that will keep the nation’s fiscal house in order.”

Keep in mind that when it comes to Hispanics, we “are much younger than Americans as a whole, and young Latinos in America are better educated and earn more than ever.”

The bottom line is that “to ignore or wish away the nation’s youth-driven minority growth is short-sighted as a national economic development plan.”

Very soon, old Baby Boomers are going to be dependent on young Latinos to fund Social Security. But try explaining this fact, and you’re likely to be drowned out by a sixty-something cranking up Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock.

Yeah, I guess those were the good old days.

 


Help Is (Not) on the Way

I’ve never been in therapy. I don’t say this as a boast, just as a simple acknowledgement of luck.

You see, I’m fortunate in that I’ve haven’t been afflicted with depression or addiction or any of the myriad issues that arise when brain chemicals go all kabloowy. Nor have any of my personal traumas been so severe that I had to address the PTSD of it all.

But as we all know, many people aren’t so lucky. It’s estimated that around one in five Americans suffers from mental illness at some point in their lives.

And now comes news that for Latino youth, the numbers are on the rise. A recent study showed that “an alarming rise in the psychiatric hospitalizations of Latino children and young adults in California, even compared to the youth of other ethnicities.”

Between 2007 and 2014, the rate of mental health hospitalizations of young Latinos (age 21 and younger) jumped 86 percent.

upward-graph

Why is this?

Well, researchers believe that “a number of social issues play a part in the trend, including the recession, separation and disintegration of families, and the trauma of escaping the violence in their home countries.”

In addition, a “lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate psychiatric services available” means that young Hispanics often don’t get help addressing their festering problems, with the result that they eventually blossom into full-fledged crises that require hospitalization.

Also, one has to wonder if being constantly demonized gets under the skin of young Latinos. But this very fact — that so much of America despises Hispanics — provides another reason why this issue is unlikely to get better any time soon.

It’s a vicious, and rather sick, circle.


A Latino Millennial Walks into a Bar…

 

We Latinos are known for many positive characteristics, such as our strong family bonds, fierce work ethic, and inherent sexiness (really, it’s a thing).

However, we don’t have the reputation of being particularly funny people. As I’ve written before, Hispanic equivalents to Jon Stewart or Chris Rock or Tina Fey are tough to name.

But maybe that has less to do with culture than with access.

Historically, there has been no hub for Latino comedy. To fill that niche, Broadway Video Enterprises (founded by SNL creator Lorne Michaels) recently launched Más Mejor, a new online comedy studio powered by Latino voices.

The site will feature content by Hispanic comedians and/or about Latino themes. Among the big names involved are SNL alumni Fred Armisen and Horatio Sanz, who joined together to contribute one of Más Mejor’s most popular videos so far. Other early hits include a takedown of Mexico City’s tourism campaign and a jab at every Latino’s favorite presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Future content will include topical sketches, cultural and political satire, and original web videos.

One of the site’s partners is Batanga Media, which will distribute premium content to its 70 million monthly users.

Rafael Urbina, CEO of Batanga, agrees that few Latino comedians have broken through to the mainstream. But he sees that as less of an issue — and even less of a goal — going forward.

“Crossing over into the mainstream is great,” Urbina says. “But Más Major isn’t so much about breaking through to the traditional media. It’s more about engaging with the audience directly.”

Urbina points out that Latinos in general, and young Hispanics in particular, are voracious consumers of online media. For example, Hispanics watch 62 percent more digital video than non-Hispanics.

To a Latino Millennial, therefore, it doesn’t matter if a comedian has his own Comedy Central show or was featured in a Judd Apatow movie. All that matters is whether the guy makes them laugh when they click on a video downloaded to their phones.

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporation

“We can reach exactly who we want to reach, and not have to water down the content in hopes of reaching a mass audience,” Urbina says. “If we do that well, we will create our own mass audience. A new mainstream.”

It’s an ambitious goal, and one that goes beyond proving that Hispanics can be funny. If Más Mejor is successful, it could indicate a new model not just for Latino audiences, but for an increasingly digital world.

Urbina adds, however, that one element will always be essential when it comes to great comedy.

“Authenticity is a key pillar,” he says. “Young Latinos love comedy, and if people are authentic and talented, we now have a way for them to build a dedicated following.”

 


A Permanent Upside-Down Frown

Most of the people in my family are fairly cheerful people. My mom, in particular, is the most upbeat and optimistic person I’ve ever met.

It’s a little odd, in that nobody in my family is a millionaire, and we’ve all had our fair share of traumas. And yet, here we are, apparently happier than your average stressed-out American.

stresed worker

And a recent study found that Latin America is arguably the happiest place on Earth. Yes, even with all the region’s socioeconomic problems, residents of Latin America don’t sweat the small stuff.

Why is this?

Well, I’ve written before about the Latino tendency to be positive, even in the face of grim news and dreary statistics. But I recently came across a scientific theory for this relentless smiling.

Now, it’s old news that research “suggests an association between mental wellbeing and a mutation of the gene that influences the reuptake of serotonin, which is believed to be linked to human mood.”

Basically, much of our happiness, or lack thereof, may be traced to our genetic makeup.

Scientists have found that the Scandinavian population is most likely to have this gene. This may be one reason why Denmark, Finland, and other counties in that region perennially rank as the happiest nations on Earth.

Of course, a progressive government that ensures a high standard of living for their citizens may have something to do with that perpetual singsong attitude. But let’s not dwell on that because it’s, you know, socialism.

In any case, additional research has found that like the Scandinavians, Latin Americans are “more likely to contain a specific allele involved in sensory pleasure and pain reduction.”

As such, Latin Americas and Scandinavians are more likely to be chipper than, say, the Chinese or the Iraqis (of course, there are very real non-genetic reasons for their respective unhappiness too).

Is it possible, then, that as more Hispanics intermarry and intermingle and inter-you-know-what, they will spread their happiness genes among more and more Americans?

Hey, there’s only one way to find out.

 


A Day Long Remembered

Tomorrow is my birthday. This means all of you have run out of time to get me a gift this year.

But don’t feel bad. I plan take the day off and finally go see the new Star Wars.

And yes, I will now mention that I’ll be happy to see Oscar Isaac join Jimmy Smits as one of the few Latinos to exist in a galaxy filled with countless Jawas, Gamorreans, and Wampas.

oscarisaacs

Of course, this latest chapter of the epic has drawn attention for being more multicultural and female-positive (a development that has caused way too many people to freak the fuck out).

Really, when it comes to light saber duels, Jedi mind tricks, and hot princesses in gold bikinis, can’t we all just get along?


Freaky

I’m a big fan of ideas that are supported by hard data. In fact, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ve seen that I don’t just assert that climate change is real, vaccines are safe and effective, and that immigration is down. I back up these claims with facts.

So it’s no surprise that I listen to the Freakonomics podcast, where a couple of academics analyze and verify and quantify all kinds of concepts that are supposedly unquantifiable.

That’s where I found out that free parking is a scourge, tipping is racially motivated, and learning Spanish is a waste of time.

Wait, what was that last one? It’s a shocker.

shocked-baby-expression

Well, the researchers at Freakonomics discovered that learning Spanish increases your income by less than 2 percent. They concluded that the effort you put into learning how to conjugate “decir” doesn’t justify a measly 2 percent income boost. It constitutes poor ROI (that’s “return on investment” for you non-economist types).

Now, it’s depressing to think that nativists have a fact-based argument for dissing Spanish. So you’ll be relieved to hear that there is more to the story.

Additional research has shown that learning a second language (it doesn’t have to be Spanish) has advantages that go beyond income.

For example, bilingual people have more nimble brains and seem to ward off Alzheimer’s more effectively. And Americans who speak another language appear to display greater awareness and empathy for other cultures.

So it just might be worth it to learn Spanish, after all. But the key is to learn is while you are young, so that the process is quicker and less labor-intensive, thereby leading to greater ROI.

OK, that last sentence has convinced that maybe I have been listening to far too many economists lately.

 


Well That Was Fun

So this past weekend, some blowhard megalomaniac hosted Saturday Night Live. Depending on your perspective, this event was a harmless pop culture happenstance, a dangerous promotion of xenophobia, or a tired comedy show jumping the shark into irrelevance once and for all.

In any case, everyone seemed to agree that it was 90 painfully unfunny minutes.

bored girl

As you may have heard, many Latinos were aghast at SNL for asking this lunatic to host, and demonstrations broke out against the show’s tone-deaf decision. And of course, many Hispanic groups urged viewers to boycott SNL, the NBC network, and its advertisers.

While I find the sentiment understandable, even commendable, I also find it to be futile.

You see, the protests only gave more publicity to this fiasco. In fact, this installment of SNL was the show’s highest-rated episode in years. So much for the power of demonstrations.

And I’m no economist, but it seems to me that boycotts in the modern world rarely if ever work. Weren’t right-wing Christians boycotting Disney for years over the company’s gay-friendly policies? And how did that turn out for the homophobes?

No, I prefer to refrain from giving the bigots and the nutjobs more attention. It only encourages them.

And to be honest, I haven’t watched SNL in years, so they wouldn’t even notice me boycotting them.

So it’s on to the next freakshow or outbreak of smug prejudice. And this time, maybe we should all just look away and not even talk about it.

 

 


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