Thinking About Why Gang Tagging Still Exists on My Block

It's been another long summer, which on our block means one thing:  tagging on the walls!
And it's not just some crews interested in tagging or doing artistic murals or anything --- it's gang tags, or kids representing a gang that has existed since the 1950s.

On Stop signs, you will see a "CANT" scribbled on top and below the "STOP", you will see the gang's name scribbled underneath, so that Stop Signs around the area read "Can't Stop [Gang Name here]"


 
This morning, I watched the graffiti team sandblast the gang-tagged walls along the street for probably it's thousandth time.  It's the end of July but it's the first time I've seen them all Summer.

Its the first Summer where I've lived here and seen another gang combat the dominant one here.


The tagging has been a persistent nuisance, but I am told by neighbors who have lived here for 20+ years that there was a time when the sandblasters would be painting a wall and a tagger would be right behind them throwing up a tag just minutes after they had finished sandblasting the ball.

That's not the situation now.

But the Summer is when school is out.  Presumably school kids are keeping the wall plastered with their hastily spray-painted insignias representing their gang.

My most immediate neighbors call the current crop of gang taggers "remnants" or "knuckleheads";  the ones who caused all the trouble in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are either dead or locked up.

I don't know any of the kids currently doing any of the tagging, but I was thinking deeply about why these kids (I presume that they have to be kids) felt such a need to continue tagging.

I think of Bambu's Old Man Raps.



I think about who in our neighborhood says anything if at all, and how we seem to let the tagging persist.  I am glad that this appears to be the only issue that I see nowadays.

I realize that there are deeper issues than just tagging.

From my point of view, as an unconnected resident, but a kind of academic, I think it all comes down to individuals recognizing their place in the larger society as being permanently marginal.

 'Permanently Marginal' in the sense their place in larger society can't actually change.  But within their own place in society, they will try to make the best out of what they have (or perceive themselves to have).

Drinking, partying, threatening violence is what they have been, and where they will be.  It's kind of immutable facts of life (which I wonder how much has changed in this age of media 2.0 and the omnipresence of the phones).

I try to imagine what materials and resources they own.  I don't imagine most as home-owners, and I think they're barely making it, probably living with family members.

They probably don't own much other than their reputation, threats to violence, and their outward expressions on the wall.  Their showing of vitality is reliant on vandalizing the public spaces.

The moment they let up their claim of our walls, stop signs, etc., public utilities, it's as if they have let others "win" while their gang has "lost."

I think that as long as their youth (and whomever their elders are) frame what they see as "their" walls, stop signs, public utilities as spaces to claim to show their gang's vitality, it will be an ongoing fight.

I just wish they'd take listen to a former gangbanger from Watts and re-direct their energies and vitalities to other life-building pursuits.

We Lowered Our Water Bill

Last month, we paid around $35 for our water bill.

This month, we cut down the water bill to around $28. 

This.

For a house about 600 square feet, 2200 square foot lot with a washer, a backyard, and a bed of roses.

Pretty small, not many people.  Mainly 2 adult occupants, and occasionally an extra adult.  One baby, who requires that we wash our hands, our dishes, and his dishes a ton.

Things that might have cut down our bill:

1)  I don't wash the dishes as much anymore
2)  Implementation of the 5-Minute shower.  I try to bathe like an astronaut, who uses only 20 oz. of water to shower.  Essentially, I now shower the way I wash my hands:  turning on only when needed, off when soaping, and then back on for the rinse.
3)  Imposition of a new watering restriction by our local water company:  we can only water on 2 days.

How Random Are All Homicides?

One of the more searched for items on my blog is:  How Dangerous Is Compton? 

I don't think homicides are all that random.

Shankar Vedantam from NPR tweeted some research about how homicides tend to be concentrated within certain networks.

You know, we might be missing the wood for the trees, Steve. So take Chicago, for example, in the example you just gave about the ZIP codes. If you visit the website of a newspaper, like The Chicago Tribune, it will tell you that you have a high risk of becoming a victim of violent crime if you live in a neighborhood such as Washington Park or Fuller Park. But not everyone in these neighborhoods is actually equally at risk for becoming a victim of violent crime. I spoke with Andrew Papachristos. He's a sociologist at Yale, and along with Christopher Wildeman, he found the real risk doesn't lie at the level of neighborhoods, but at the level of a network with in the neighborhood.
Gun violence is much more like a blood-borne pathogen. It tends to be very specific behaviors - risky behaviors - that put you in these networks. And in some ways, it becomes much more like the spread of diseases through needle sharing or unprotected sex, rather than catching a bullet from somebody sneezing.

The LA Times Homicide Blog's mission is not so much to make those connections but is there to put out the names, dates, times, and places.

Reading it is all at once sad, engulfing, enraging. Sad because of what has happened.  Engulfing because of the stories behind what happened.  Enraging because we often don't know why what happened happened, and were left to thinking about the big, basic questions of why.

They report victims, location, age, race, a blurb about the incident, perhaps some background information about a victim.  Occasionally, they'll come up with blog entries about trends in a city.

Recently, they noted the "rising" homicide rate in Santa Clarita from 2 in 2011 to 6 this year.

The headline reads "Quiet Santa Clarita adjusts to recent jump in violence" as if that increase over a 62 square mile area with over 213,000 residents was one place full of carefully manicured soccer fields, acreage for people who choose to live that life, wide streets, was basically devolving into one big biker's bar.

To their credit, the writer did note that most of the cases were based on familial/intimate domestic disputes. 

However, a handful of the commenters, still wrote in search of deeper societal and/or demographic causes as if the homicides were "random" and wanted to identify those root causes to theoretically root out homicide.

I think those commenters represent what seems to be a common way of thinking about how crime happens:  it happens more in certain locations, with certain peoples of a certain age, sex, race, and it is either random or because people are in a gang.  Sometimes people conflate those factors of age, sex, race, or a location with being a cause for being murdered (i.e., you're black and in Compton, of course you're going to get shot!).

I think that if people learned more about the importance of networks in our crime discourse, those factors might matter less.  In the absence of information, people would attempt to look at a person's network rather than their age, sex, race, location before voicing a judgement.

The Map Apps on the iPhone as Applied to LA Traffic from a Traffic Surveyor

My various jobs require lots of driving to various ends of the greater LA/OC/Ventura/Riverside/San Bernardino/Santa Barbara.  We even sometimes make our way towards Bakersfield, Kings County.

I officially stepped into the Smartphone world just last year, and have relied ever since on mapping programs.

Before using smartphones, I would generally mapquest directions and print out a page of all the directions 2003-style.  It worked just fine for my job. 

But at some point, I started using my phone to map places out and eventually completely ceased all printing of any maps.

In my one year of iPhoning as a traffic surveyor, I now rely on 4 mapping apps: 

1)  The default iPhone Map:  What I use if my phone is having connection issues.  It seems to find a route faster than Google Maps at times.

It's also what I use for when I want to find something nearby, like a park or a library.

2)  Google Maps:  Probably my most frequently-used because I find that it's usually spot on with estimated time of arrival.  They seem to know how to manage my expectations for when I can get to a certain place. 

It's mostly good until they take you onto toll roads, which can be a probably in deep Orange County (73,241,133)

3)  Mapquest:  What I use when the first two keep taking me to goddamn toll roads in deep Orange County.  Avoiding toll roads is the one redeeming feature of Mapquest, but that's pretty much it.

I would use this more, and am rooting for it to beat Google, but it has been confused a few times by loops --- yesterday, it made me get off a freeway, go in the opposite direction, and then get back onto the same freeway in the same direction that I had been going.  Major points off for that.

Also, the estimated time of arrival is very deceiving;  it does not appear to use any real-time traffic data as the estimated time of arrival kept adding minutes.

4)  Google Earth:  What I use when I need to pinpoint an exact spot on a map.  I like to thank my lucky stars for that triangle that points northeast --- the directional arrow has helped me do my job showing various locations much better.

So in summary:  mostly Google rules, but it does have plenty of things it can work on.

Bring a Gelsons to Compton to Replace Fresh N' Easy

Pronto.

I'd never really been to Gelson's only because I've never really lived in proximity to one when it became a Gelson's.

That all changed a few days ago, not me suddenly up and living near a Gelson's, but suddenly spending a whole day very near a Gelson's.  I spent a whole day, where I essentially had to rely on Gelson's for my lunch and dinner, the Gelson's on Franklin Ave. in Hollywood.

3 points for why a Gelson's would be an absolute great candidate to replace the Fresh N' Easy in Compton.

Score 1.

Cheap cold drinks.

50 cents for a bottle of water.  55 cents for a can of coke.  My co-worker told me this in the morning which I just kind of forgot till my break came and I needed a drink.  I searched the market for cold drinks;  I was skeptical and after 5 minutes or so could not find these vaunted 55 cent drinks.

Then near the seafood and meats section, I see cans and bottles ready for immediate lunch-time consumption.

What the, was this a re-boot of the 1980s or something?!  Very cheap drinks, essentially at the Costco fountain drink level.

Score 2.

A good mix of good ol', reliable brand names but with blended with "organic" brands you might see at a Trader Joes/Whole Foods.

2 for $5 on Hawaiian Barbecue chips.  Though this is arguably not a score for my weight and health.

But if you wanted, you could also binge on kale chips or the quinoa at the salad bar, your choice.

Score 3.

Good on-the-go healthy options for food.  I took home some quality antioxidant salad for a hungry wife.

From what I remember at Fresh N'Easy, there isn't much there except food in packages.

I do not know the numbers, but my sense is that there is a building demand for food-to-go and healthy options, even in Compton.  If there's any indicator of this, it's the fact that we now have three Starbucks stores in the area.  Starbucks has traditionally been seen as an indicator of incoming middle-classdom.  The area where that Gelson's would be located would be near a Starbucks, incidentally, a Starbucks that like any other Starbucks is full of people on their laptops during the daytime. 

I think a Gelson's would attract people looking for cheap drinks and some trusted also brand names, but also have the potential to hook people on healthier foods.  I think it would be an even better alternative than the Trader Joe's that I've wanted.


California Drought: I Am Honestly Confused about My Water Bill

The drought has become extremely severe, so I've heard from the local news and from social media.

According to a Jet Propulsion Laboratory guy, we have only one year of reserve supply left and will be digging hard at underground water.

I understand the drought at a superficial level.

We've heard about the drought for years.  When there isn't an accident or amber alert, the flashing electronic signs on California highways mention the fact that we are in a "serious drought" and that we must "help save water."

I get that we have a finite amount of resources.

I get that we need lots of rain for several years to get back to "normal."

However, I don't think I completely understand the entire picture of our water supply.

The number one thing I am confused about (and hope not to alert my water company is):  my water bill is still around $30-$40 for a single-family home with three people.

That's awesome for my income and allows me to keep on going as I am.

I get that I am not a heavy commercial water user (like say, a golf course owner) and so my prices might not that be high anyway.

But if we really are in a very dire situation why are the water prices I pay not skyrocketing as well?  Or is that just lurking around the corner?  I know that water restrictions are along the way.  

I do want to keep paying what I am paying, but I also am curious as to how this is happening.  Supply is apparently low, demand is probably high, but prices remain low?  What am I missing here?

I mean, I hope the low prices continue, but can anyone actually explain?

Now, Where to Bike for My Edamame?

Welp, I talked trash about the Fresh N' Easy here in Compton when I first got here, wishing instead for a Trader Joe's.
  Probably the same odds as the Chicago Bulls getting the first pick in the 2008 NBA Draft which was 1.7%, which is to say, probably not a good chance.

Now it looks like the Fresh N' Easy chain is closing up a bunch of shops across the Southland.  Kinda sad, as is any failure, but hopefully something better awaits.

The most notable things for me about the particular Central and Rosecrans Fresh N' Easy were that: 1)  it was completely all self-check-out and 2)  recently found that it was the only place to get edamame.

I don't know where unless I go outside of city limits to Gardena (for the Albertson's on Artesia, which I'm not completely sure has edamame) and/or Torrance (Trader Joe's).

Other than that, I did not find the selection that remarkable or radically different than what I could find across the street at Food4Less.  I did not find that food was "fresh", as it appeared that a lot of the food came in packages.  The fruit and vegetable section was not especially large --- it was just one other aisle on the south side of the store in addition to its numerous aisles.

Judging from the physical junk mail I get, the alternatives to getting Fresh Food are the aforementioned Food4Less, Ralph's, Superior, Payless Foods.  I have no idea where people actually do groceries, though that would be an interesting survey.

The main takeaway for me is now that I know for sure that I have to DRIVE to get my edamame.