16 March 2011

Youth Explosion

A few weeks ago, the Urbanophile posted a piece on the generational shift happening in this country. I largely agree with what Mr. Renn had to say. I've written about this a little bit as well, but I would like to add something to the discourse. I am 33 years old, an age that puts me just at the tail-end of the accepted range for Generation X'ers. Just old enough to know what a busy signal sounds like or what a mimeograph machine was for. However, unlike people just a few years my senior, I grew up amidst what will no doubt come to be seen as an epochal event, the revolution in data processing and telecommunications that gave us everything from personal computers to mobile phones to the 24-hour news cycle. I'm not saying that somebody in their 40s can't wrap their heads around these modern marvels, or that there are many computer scientists & engineers older than me who are doing things I myself couldn't even begin to comprehend, but they were certainly at a later stage of brain development than those of us my age and younger by the time they were introduced.

Our family got it's first of many computers, an Atari 400, in 1980. My dad was an early adopter, as he's always had a penchant for gadgetry. That said, there is a disconnect between myself and my parents when it comes to technology. My mom still doesn't know how to use e-mail or send a text message (two things I'm secretly grateful for), and my dad apparently has yet to find a better use for a computer than playing solitaire or checking stock quotes. For me, growing up with microprocessors and modems that got exponentially faster every year, the possibilities were more limitless. For one thing, inside a computer, national borders are meaningless. I've been interacting with people from a multitude of countries since I was in high school, all it took was a 2400 bps modem and finding people who could speak English. We take websites like eBay & PayPal for granted now, but the notion of having a global marketplace with an instant payment system is pretty revolutionary stuff in historical terms.

And it's a revolution that's still playing out, as we've seen recently in Egypt and elsewhere. This is a generation that is just coming into it's own, and as should be expected from a group weaned on satellite tv and the internet, the expectation of instant gratification is high. Egyptians too poor to travel abroad could go online and see that people in other parts of the world took for granted the same freedoms that they desired. It's the great promise of the freeing power of mass communications technology that our neo-liberal State Department has pushed for the last decade...until WikiLeaks came along.

The long-term implications of what's taken place over the last twenty years will take decades to sort out. Some have wondered whether our brains can psychologically deal with all the information that we're now bombarded with. Technotopians counter that this is just going to unlock parts of the 80% of our brains that we're not currently using and human evolution will advance as a result. Who knows? We're only now coming to terms with the darker side of the automotive revolution that changed this country after World War II. And as technology marches on, it's hard to fix an end date. We've reached a point where microchips can't get much smaller and still work effectively, so it may be close. There's no "new" technology in the iPad 2, for instance, just improved and repackaged ones, some of which have been around since the early '80s. What is clear to me is that the younger generation and those that follow are likely to have much different views of the world than our parents. That's always true, of course, but I think that today's youth are much more flexible than their forebears. It's out of necessity, mostly. We can't expect to find a job that will employ and feed us for forty years and give out a nice pension at the end, because they just don't exist anymore.

In part, I think the reason younger people have embraced low-tech solutions to the world's problems, like riding bicycles or producing food locally, is out of a desire to reconnect with "simpler times". If you attend an event like the Renegade Craft Fair, you may be surprised at the entrepreneurial spirit on display. Hundreds of small businesspeople, selling handmade whatnots, to people who appreciate such things. It may seem overly precious to some, but none, or few, of them seem to have set out to become huge financial successes, and there's a cooperative attitude which is refreshing. Many business owners I know in Chicago work out trades for their services, libertarians would no doubt be appalled at such a collectivist mindset. Lest we forget, Portland, often seen as the incubator of such things, saw the country's largest protest against the Iraq invasion in 2003, nearly 100,000 people on the streets of what George H.W. Bush christened "Little Beirut". Mostly young people, and now that they're older they are trying to break the country's addiction to petroleum products in myriad ways.

Every generation that comes along bemoans the mess left by the prior one, it's nothing new. But it's certainly true that the leaders of the last sixty years have really done a number on this country. I take a small amount of solace in thinking that it could be worse, we could be Greece. Then this morning, I read this opinion piece from a Greek newspaper which could just as easily apply to the United States. The youth are just as undervalued in this country, as older workers are either unwilling or, as has been the case with my parents, unable to afford to retire, it's left huge numbers of recent college graduates (myself included) unemployed or underemployed. an entire generation's potential is being squandered, largely due to economic conditions. Something has got to give, I hope it doesn't take a Greek-style collapse (either in the financial sense, or of the kind that left it in literal ruins) to awaken the change.

09 March 2011

The Thick Blue Head

"You were put here to protect us, but who protects us from you? Every time you say 'That's illegal' doesn't mean that that's true." - KRS-One, 1989
I guess I've always had a mistrust of authority figures. My attitudes toward the police were formed by a misspent suburban youth listening to hip-hop and punk rock, and I came to see them as a reactionary force meant to enforce the status quo. But I'm no wild-eyed, bomb-throwing anarchist, and I'm far from a criminal. I realize that for all the bad cops you hear about on the news, most are decent folks who join the force for the "right reasons". Most of the personal interactions I've had with individual officers have been relatively pleasant, and I've always assumed that after all these years of not being a criminal (and being white), I deserve that privilege. So I found myself dumbfounded this afternoon, after daring to question an officer's seemingly inconsequential actions, to be on the receiving end of a torrent of verbal abuse.

Pasted below is my verbatim report to the Independent Police Review Board:
Today, I was verbally assaulted by a plainclothes officer. At approximately 3:30 PM on Wednesday, March 9, 2011, I was walking southbound on N. California Avenue, south of W. Logan Blvd. A silver unmarked police SUV ran through the intersection on a red light, and blocked the crosswalk as pedestrians waited to cross the street. I am very sensitive about motorists flouting the new crosswalk law, so I made a gesture of the arm toward the crosswalk. Driver of the vehicle flashed lights at me and the passenger asked what my problem was. I told him. He proceeded to verbally assault me, using much profanity and repeatedly insulting my intellect before driving away. There was absolutely no reason to act in this manner to a citizen who had tried to do no more wrong than point out an infraction of traffic law to authorities who are supposed to be on the lookout for the very same behavior. I found his actions to be reprehensible and completely unprofessional. Unfortunately, I did not get the license plate number before they drove off. I am copying this complaint to the fourteenth district and to the first ward alderman's office.
And that's my story. I guess it must be my own fault for thinking that the police should follow a law that they rarely enforce. The defense was "what was I supposed to do, run over the car in front of me?" Spoken by the passenger. That definitely makes me a "fucking moron" (in the repeated polite words of the officer). And my attempts to protest civilly and explain what upset me in the first place (all of which were interrupted with profanity-laced tirades) are further proof that I have a "big mouth". Further proof of my moron-hood was when I finally told him "Whatever, just go away." I didn't feel the need to be run in on some made-up bullshit because of this guy's control issues.

I suppose what he didn't count on was that this big-mouthed moron would know how to read the Chicago Police Department's Code of Conduct, which prohibits: 
Rule 8: Disrespect to or maltreatment of any person, while on or off duty. 
Rule 9: Engaging in any unjustified verbal or physical altercation with any person, while on or off duty.
Yeah, I'm a moron. I don't have very high hopes that anything will come of this. I didn't get the miscreant's name or badge number, but I do possess a very small bully pulpit in the form of this blog. I'm not so offended personally at being called a moron, and I probably would have walked home and shrugged it off. But the use of obscenities by a public servant in speaking to a law-abiding citizen was totally over the line in my opinion. Maybe Rahm Emanuel's election made him think this was an acceptable way to react, I dunno. I do know that if I spoke that way to somebody at my job, I would expect to be fired. This guy's probably laughing about it right now. Police constantly complain that the public doesn't assist or trust them, and with behavior like this it's not hard for me to see why. If you want to get respect, you need to give it. I wasn't keeping this guy from responding to an emergency, I wasn't questioning his skills as a policeman, I wasn't even all that upset until after the fact. This isn't about me, it's about a general lack of respect and civility on the part of the police. I'm not a prude, and have been known to use salty language on occasion, but I save it for the proper times and channels. One place I don't do it is on a public street, at full volume, in the middle of the afternoon, when there are kids nearby. If my 95-year-old grandmother were there, I think she would have slapped this asshole. 

And please, don't interpret this as a screed against cops. It's a screed against dickheads on power trips.

02 March 2011

Two Different Maps of the Economic Downturn

A friend posted a random question on Facebook earlier, and I wound up doing a bit of unintended research into business closings today as a result. Put together a couple of interesting thematic maps as a result. (H/T Deanna McMillan)

First, a map showing the percent change in total number of employees between the second quarter of 2007 and the same period in 2010:

The only state in the contiguous US to add jobs in that three year period was North Dakota. And yet, I haven't heard of any land rush in Grand Forks. (Alaska also created 994 jobs in this time, a .39% growth, while Hawaii lost 9.75% of it's workforce.) As you can see, most of the rest of the country has taken a licking.

Secondly, and much more interesting to me, is the percent change in total number of "establishments". The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines an "establishment" as "an economic unit, such as a farm, mine, factory, or store that produces goods or provides services."

A broad classification, to be sure. I would venture that Louisiana is an outlier, and that much of the growth is related to businesses reopening post-Katrina. But I don't think it's any coincidence that states like Wisconsin, Indiana & New Jersey, which lost workplaces, are going after businesses in Illinois, which actually gained. Furthermore, this map would seem to indicate to me that despite current budget woes, Illinois and California would seem to be on the right trajectory for creating new jobs, while the South and Inland West may be in for an extended period of stagnation. Only time will tell, of course, but interesting to consider.