Gongol.com Archives: May 2021

Brian Gongol


May 21, 2021

Broadcasting In praise of the screenwriter

Thanks to the explosive growth in streaming platforms and related options, we went with lightning speed from a world dominated by double-digit choices in cable channels straight to the a video multiverse. We started at "57 channels and nothing's on", blew right past the promised step of 500 channels, and landed in more options than can be accurately counted. ■ Many of these options are worthless or even harmful. One does have the choice to watch an idiot TikTok creator try to remove her own mole, but that isn't going to edify anyone. And the shock-jock appeal of bite-sized content on Snapchat isn't any more enriching. ■ Despite all the unscripted and semi-scripted visual sludge, a sincere and reasonable case can be made that we live in the golden age of television writing. Today's "average" show is often more densely written and more intensely engaging than all but the very best programs of yesteryear. The pace of a "Seinfeld" rerun -- groundbreaking in its own time -- is positively lackadaisical compared with many contemporary programs. ■ Thanks for this is due to the writers. We fawn over the acting, but it's the writing that makes or breaks a piece of work. Screenwriters should have the same kind of celebrity as Hollywood stars. Yet they don't, and it's a mild mystery why. ■ Perhaps the second-screen phenomenon will help, as people are not only free but encouraged to do more than just watch passively. And the emergence of the writers' room Twitter feed opens whole new doors. All due respect still goes to the actors who can breathe life into the characters they are given, but when a show lets us down, we (deservedly) blame the writers. The good ones ought to be celebritized a bit, too.

News Don't remove your own moles

Dermatologists are the ones to call for issues with your skin, not TikTok. Regrettably, someone missed that advice and tried a DIY treatment using a nail drill. Some people are about half a case of Busch Light away from pulling all their own teeth and replacing them with tiger fangs drilled from cubic zirconium and backlit with LEDs.

Business and Finance Keep looking for root causes, even when it hurts

Reporter Natalie Moore of Chicago public radio station WBEZ reveals in a detailed report that differences in the racial composition of Chicago neighborhoods appears to account for a shocking degree of difference in the value of otherwise comparable homes in Chicagoland. ■ The WBEZ reporting builds on academic research on the disparity, but also identifies individual case studies illustrating gaps that just don't make sense: Appraisals that appear to miss the rightful objective value by tens of thousands of dollars, and a gap of hundreds of thousands of dollars between comparable homes found in communities with different racial demographics. ■ Policies that nudge Americans toward thinking of (and treating) their homes as a household's biggest financial asset have a whole lot of pernicious side effects. One of those is to disproportionately depress the wealth of some people based on the color of their skin. It's not right. ■ There are obviously multiple root causes of this problem -- racism clearly being one of them. But we also can't deal honestly with the problem without acknowledging that we've built and preserved a whole lot of public policies that enshrine homeownership as a financial investment and that protect entrenched interests. ■ We treat new housing starts as a key financial metric (in no small part because construction represents more than 4% of the economy). With lots of cheerleaders (and policies like mortgage-interest deductibility), it's no surprise that Americans build bigger homes than most of the rest of the world. ■ Those incentives, though, do some real practical harm to other interests. The mortgage-interest deduction favors families with high incomes and expensive homes. Treating homes as investments to be preserved rather than "machines for living in" (in the words of Le Corbusier) leads to NIMBYism and contributes to obstacles to the supply of middle-density housing (also known as the "missing middle" problem). ■ And there is the undeniable aspect that anyone who owns an asset benefits from the scarcity of that asset (merely as a function of supply and demand), so the roughly 65% of households have an inherent and perverse incentive to oppose the construction of new housing (even if that housing is smaller or cheaper than their own) -- which makes it difficult to forthrightly address homelessness with solutions like the construction of tiny homes. ■ Which loops us back to the problem of neighborhood disparities: Those who benefit from real-estate booms tend to be those who already have wealth. The rich simply do get richer. That widens the financial gap between the housing-wealthy and those who are not, and perversely sets those with meager household wealth and real-estate equity at even greater odds with what might otherwise be desirable policies for expanding housing overall, if those policies enlarge the supply of housing that would compete in the market with the housing other people already own -- and consider their biggest assets. (Households in the bottom half of the US income distribution have a median net housing equity of $89,000 -- versus $346,000 for the top 10%.) ■ Easy solutions are elusive, since these are complex problems with lots of contributing factors. But with median home prices breaking new records, there is no time like the present to examine the root causes of housing inequities and to consider what useful policies might contribute to disentangling the universal need to get people into housing from the good that comes from helping people to increase their household wealth.

Humor and Good News Simone Biles does the seemingly impossible

Her gymnastics displays are as impressive as any touchdown pass you'll ever see. Truly an incredible athlete.

Humor and Good News President Biden's yellow eyes?

Anti-Biden propaganda emanating from China shows the President with glowing yellow eyes. Now you know why he wears those aviator sunglasses all the time.

News Good criticism is an art form

The very best kind of criticism is specific, clear, and supported, without any name-calling or cheap shots at the authors.


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