Archive | July 2013

Trayvon Rally in Bmore

There was a rally on Sunday, which attracted one to a few hundred people, depending on who you believe. Another was scheduled for Monday at 5 PM, so I walked over after work. I had attended a thousand person solidarity march right after Trayvon was killed, and was inwardly hoping for a similar turnout to protest an obviously disappointing verdict.

I began the familiar walk along Inner Harbor, past strollers, tourists and joggers. Behind Rita’s Iced-Custard-Happiness were a few dozen small black and white kids cavorting in a fountain of upward spraying jets – joyfully escaping the Baltimore heat alert. Even at the height of Occupy Baltimore, the rest of Inner Harbor seemed completely normal, so I wasn’t expecting to see any sign of a protest until I got to McKeldin Square.

Crossing the northbound lanes of Light Street at 4:30 or so, I first noticed a black police van, a Tactical Assistance Response Unit, about the size of a large hook and ladder truck. I saw the yellow shoulders of a bike police officer prowling the upper levels of the McKeldin Fountain. There were maybe a dozen demonstrators near the southbound lane of Light and a fellow at a table was handing out signs. Several people were waving signs at traffic at the Pratt & Light Street intersection. Some signs had a picture with We Are All Trayvon Martin, others called for Community Control of Police, Say No to Racial Profiling, and some called for jobs.

A WJZ news van was parked to the north and a much larger Mercedes Bluetec news truck was in front of that. ABC was in a Ford Transit Connect and Fox was nestled in a Subaru SUV. They all had small dishes on top.

A tall white man in business attire was talking to protestors while a cameraman filmed. A fellow got out of the Mercedes and I think it was Tim Tooten from WBAL. It was hot, so I looked for a shady place to wait. In contrast to the Occupy days, the fountain was clean and flowing with water. I played tourist and walked behind the main spillway. By this time, another police truck had arrived. A patrol car disgorged four more officers, then about a dozen were dropped off by a police van. At that point there were almost thirty police officers and perhaps twenty-five demonstrators.

A foursome of police were looking towards the fountain, one in a white shirt. White shirt waved towards the upper levels, seeming to say, “Secure the high ground, boys!” Two pairs headed up the steps, carrying plastic bottles of water. Two officers stood next to me, and asked how I was doing. I said I was good, and moved back down to the plaza. The fountain had an officer at every opening, and there were police across all the intersections. I heard a noise, looked up and saw two black police helicopters hovering above.

A news truck marked with Noticias and the Univision logo pulled in and a heavily made up Hispanic woman got out, followed by a cameraman. A small person with a megaphone was leading, “No Justice, No Peace!” and, “Trayvon didn’t need to die!,” and other slogans. The crowd had grown past fifty people, and were still soliciting honks from passing cars. A man with a Fidel Castro t-shirt that read El Comandante was handing out flyers. A middle-aged black woman complained to a young man that the media didn’t know how to count. A white woman unfurled a red Occupy Baltimore flag. A large officer was walking the perimeter, handing out more cold bottles of water to all the officers on watch. A very thin young white woman wearing a black tee and running shorts was on the fringes near me. She was drinking an iced coffee or something, and seemed to be debating whether to stay and watch or leave. She eventually wandered away.

By about 5:30 a black man in dreadlocks (Lee Patterson on the WBAL video below) was leading a complicated rallying cry, but the focus had shifted and demonstrators were now facing away from Light and Pratt Streets. The crowd seemed to be around 100 strong, but people were coming and going, and except for a core of chanters, I felt very little sense of energy. By about 5:40 I stopped expecting it to become a major rally, and walked back to my car. Inner Harbor was as unaffected and normal as when I walked in.

Update 20130716: WBALTV’s video. Looks like the group swelled to about 200 and marched to the War Memorial.

Italiacom Open Final on TennisTV

Yesterday I watched Sara Errani vs Roberta Vinci – a dream all Italian final at the Italiacom Open WTA in Palermo. I had watched Vinci beat a very swarthy Spaniard, Estrella Cabeza Candela, Spain, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 the day before. Errani had defeated Czech Republic’s Klara Zakopalova  6-4, 6-4, but I didn’t watch that one.

Both women wore the same dark blue skirts and blue horizontal-striped singlets over powder blue sportsbras. Even their shoes were the same. Being doubles partners and both sponsored by Nike, it probably never occurred to them that television viewers might have trouble telling them apart. I noticed that Errani wore a bun at the back while Vinci wore a ponytail, but the real giveaway was Vinci’s slice backhand vs Errani’s two-hander.

Errani broke to open, but Vinci pulled even at 2-all. The key to the match was probably the big fight for the seventh game. Vinci couldn’t seem to get a bh dropshot over the net, but saved 5 break points and held for 4-3. Vinci was almost always able to tee off on Errani’s second serve, but in long rallies, was pushed ever deeper by Errani’s steadier strokes. Nevertheless, Vinci won her 6th break point in the eight game, and served out the set at 6-3. The commenters told us that it was the first set she had won against Errani in oh-so-many years.

Errani seemed more error-prone than usual, but focused more, got an early break and won the second set 6-3. Vinci led the third set 4-0, but Errani broke back to get on serve at 3-4. Then Vinci broke and held to 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, ending a run of five defeats to the younger woman, and pleasing fans from her local region.

I watched the match on TennisTV, mostly because it was the only current tournament that wasn’t blocked out in my area. That has been a disappointment. I knew I would not get the majors, but there have been a lot of smaller tournaments that aren’t covered by TTV. I still like the format, but it would be great if I could merge TTV’s delivery and commentary with The Tennis Channel and ESPN’s reach.

Late in the second set the TTV signal dropped a few times, and in the middle of the third set I had to start over and advance to where I had been. Such hiccups are not critical to me, but I could see them flummoxing less experienced users.

The Aquatic Ape & I

While browsing ScienceBlogs, I saw Greg Laden’s post that Elaine Morgan, a proponent of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (AAH), had passed away. I also found a BBC obit, Leading writer and feminist Elaine Morgan dies aged 92, in which the word ‘unassuming’ occurs frequently.

My mother was an avid reader, and belonged to several book clubs. I latched on to her copy of Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape in my early teens. Later she picked up Morgan’s The Descent of Woman, and I read that, too. In some ways Morgan’s book was a feminist response to Morris. Drawing on earlier works cited by Morris in his book, Morgan proposed a scenario where our primate ancestors lost most of their hair in the course of using nearby seas or lakes as a source of food and as a refuge from land predators. She also proposed that female primates began using seashells as tools. She poked a lot of fun at Morris, too. I later read Robert Ardrey, Lionel Tiger (a great name) and a few more of Morris’ books, and thought I was well read on anthropology.

Along with the usual SATs, I took the English AP test before college. An unexpected assignment was to create a dialogue between two authors, so I chose Morris and Morgan. I’m sure the College Board reviewers were expecting something like Joyce chatting with Tolstoy and I’d probably be appalled to read what I wrote today, but science and science fiction were what I was reading then, so that’s what they got.

In college, one of my Architecture profs dismissed Morgan and the like as, “popular anthropology,” and AAH does seem to be a sort of cold fusion-like dead end – with only a few true believers. Someone named Jim Moore has tried to hold AAH underwater by maintaining a website called The Aquatic Ape Theory: Sink or Swim? either a scientific critique or a takedown of the theory, depending on your sympathies.

Tonto & Higgs

Smithsonian offers a balanced review of The Lone Ranger by a descendant of the Pawnee:

Johnny Depp’s Tonto Isn’t Offensive, Just Weird, Says the Director of the American Indian Museum

Mr. Depp’s Tonto is understood by all—especially the Comanches in the movie—to be a very strange man. We learn from the plot that his eccentricity is actually a mostly good-natured madness arising from a childhood trauma. So Tonto’s weird dead-bird headdress, which has generated much discussion among Indian cultural critics, is not presented as traditional Indian dress. Rather, it is a manifestation of Tonto’s madness.

There is also a dark side to his madness. He believes his destiny is to hunt and kill men like bad-guy Butch Cavendish. Tonto believes the villain is a supernaturally evil creature that can only be destroyed by a silver bullet. Unfortunately, in what seems to be a failed attempt at authenticity, he refers to Cavendish as a “wendigo.” That is a mythological creature in a number of northern woodlands cultures, but not a part of Comanche culture.

I read elsewhere that the movie flopped financially, so maybe it will show up on Netflix.

Stretching our evolution-restricted brains, Smithsonian has another article on the conception of and effort to find more objective knowledge of the cosmos. In this case, the Higgs Boson:

Nearly a half-century ago, Peter Higgs and a handful of other physicists were trying to understand the origin of a basic physical feature: mass. You can think of mass as an object’s heft or, a little more precisely, as the resistance it offers to having its motion changed. Push on a freight train (or a feather) to increase its speed, and the resistance you feel reflects its mass. At a microscopic level, the freight train’s mass comes from its constituent molecules and atoms, which are themselves built from fundamental particles, electrons and quarks. But where do the masses of these and other fundamental particles come from?

When physicists in the 1960s modeled the behavior of these particles using equations rooted in quantum physics, they encountered a puzzle. If they imagined that the particles were all massless, then each term in the equations clicked into a perfectly symmetric pattern, like the tips of a perfect snowflake. And this symmetry was not just mathematically elegant. It explained patterns evident in the experimental data. But—and here’s the puzzle—physicists knew that the particles did have mass, and when they modified the equations to account for this fact, the mathematical harmony was spoiled. The equations became complex and unwieldy and, worse still, inconsistent.

Guessing the Name, Guessing the Verdict

Aristocrats don’t go in for trendy names, so I doubt that Kate and William will name the newest British royal Trayvon, or Nelson. Edward is possible, but Snowden is unlikely, even though there have been Lords and Viscounts named Snowden and a Snowdon married to Princess Margaret. Andrew would be quite a nod to the Wimbledon champ, but they might want to wait and see if Christopher wins the Tour de France. Boris is right out. If they have a daughter, don’t expect GaGa or Lena or Angelina. Laura or Heather would also be a nod to tennis, but Robson and Watson have done little more than stir hopes for the future. Virginia would be nice, as if anyone remembers Our Ginny. Libby or Rebecca would be cool, but I doubt the parents follow swimming that closely.

A verdict is due in the Zimmerman trial. At dag, my former co-blogger Michael Maiello urges us not to predict riots. I have to admit that I was wondering how largely black Baltimore would react to a not guilty verdict. Ignoring the advice of a coworker, I’ve been biking through mostly black neighborhoods since the early Spring without even a hint of problems. The mostly black crowd at Lexington Market, where McNulty and his kids tailed Stringer Bell, are blasé as I politely pedal behind jaywalkers during rush hour. But that could change. Bmore is not just an abbreviation, it also means B More Careful.

I haven’t been following the case at all. I hear stuff on the radio, and try to browse past the misinformation promulgated by well-fed trolls on dag. The introduction of a manslaughter option might be a face-saving compromise, but I suspect that Zimmerman being brought to trial was the only victory Trayvon’s family will see.

Several years ago, when I was compiling the end-of-the-year doomer predictions for an article, I was surprised that Sharon Astyk expected that a rift would occur between the young and the old. I couldn’t see any evidence then, but I filed it away in my long list of stuff to wonder about. I look back at the Arab Spring, and Indignados, and Occupy and now Egypt and Gezi Square and I wonder if there is a Young vs Old angle there.

In Waiting for the GOP to Die, Michael Wolraich, another former co-blogger, warns us that progressives can’t expect the conservative movement to wither away and, “wait a decade or two for the new golden age of Democratic hegemony …”. One does not simply sit back while Mordor implodes.

I expect that the new anti-progressive movement will be young, white Ron Paul libertarians – socially liberal for white people and for black, brown and yellow people that act like white people, socially archaic for minorities that don’t assimilate. They will smoke some weed, but support private prisons for blacks that use drugs. They will want to download free music, but will be against raising the minimum wage. They will defend anyone that defends their tribe.

Update: I ran across an incredibly affecting crime scene photo of Trayvon Martin’s body on Gawker. I thought briefly about posting the photo or a link here, but decided No. Although the photo is very moving, it didn’t make sense that I should post that image after paying scant attention to the case. Josh Marshall went through the same exercise, and only posted a link.

Peak Ingenuity

Dot Earth blog interviews Adam R Brandt in More Signs of ‘Peak Us’ in New Study of ‘Peak Oil Demand’:

Oil depletion studies commonly focus on the supply of conventional petroleum without as much attention to the other side of the equation, which is petroleum demand. In this study, we examine the trends affecting demand for conventional oil in the future to see under what conditions “peak demand” for oil might arise. We find that historical trends in oil use lead to a peak in demand for oil by well before mid-century. If concerted effort is made to shift to oil alternatives and promote efficiency, a demand decline may arise even sooner.

A commenter makes the standard reply that technology will save us:

There is no need to perform complicated analysis of peak supplies or peak demand. Julian Simon’s work has proved that human ingenuity outpaces scarcity. He continues to be proven right time after time. (See for example, fracking producing huge amounts of new natural gas.) Yet there appears to be some inborn attraction to Malthusian thinking in humans.

What fracking will eventually cost us is worth considering, and what Malthus actually claimed is also worth researching. In an entirely separate post which I had read the day before, A Peculiar Absence of Bellybones, John Michael Greer speculated about evolutionary paths not taken to challenge the human ingenuity argument.

Whether we’re talking about 2012 or near-term human extinction or the latest claim that some piece of other of energy-related vaporware will solve the world’s increasingly intractable energy and resource shortages, my critics say, “It could happen!” and I reply, “But it won’t.”

But while Greer’s reinterpretation of the theories of Oswald Spengler have been fascinating, his invoking of evolution and chance seemed uneven, so I commented:

“The human brain did not evolve for the purpose of understanding the universe and everything in it …”

I find this claim at odds with your parallel argument that we may just as well have had a belly spine or six arms-and-legs. By that argument, it may just have happened that instead of some adequately-brained critter evolving into man’s niche, a brainier-than-necessary model got there first. We may very well have a brain that is much more powerful than necessary for pure survival – though there is scant evidence for that at the moment.

On the other hand, if we have evolved only as much brain as we need for, “finding food, finding mates, managing relations with fellow hominids, and driving off the occasional leopard,” and no more, then why wouldn’t having a back spine and four arms-and-legs also be attributable to strict evolution?

Greer did reply:

Donal, we have a fairly good idea of the selective pressures that drove the evolution of human intelligence, since that happened quite recently. Those selective pressures were the ones I named, pretty much. That doesn’t mean that those things are the only things a human brain is capable of doing — obviously! — but the notion that the human brain is somehow adapted for perfect objective knowledge of the cosmos is hard to justify on any basis but pure faith.

Of course taking down the straw man of perfectly understanding the cosmos neatly dodges the question of why evolution should be considered happenstance when we want to prove one thing, but focused and restrictive when we want to prove another. I think Greer has a point, but there must be better arguments.

Gentrified Forest

Every now and then, I check out BookSlut. Two interview posts about The Gentrification of the Mind caught my eye. The first, which I read second, is more about politics and culture:

I have been obsessed with Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination since I read it, in love as I am with cities and their weirdnesses, and seeing over the years how so many of my favorites have been flattened out, ruined by money. She describes this process very well, the way cities have been taken over by people who want only things that they can procure with money, who want a $12 whiskey sour and a locally sourced asparagus soup with truffle foam, people who only want to engage with people who agree with them about politics and about the new New York Times Magazine feature. The amazing potential of cities to create new worlds, new forms, new ways of existing, is being traded in for a $5 cappuccino in a coffeeshop where everyone types out their memoirs while enjoying a nice pastry.

Cynical? No, angry, which is different. …

The second is about writing, and learning to write:

In Gentrification of the Mind, Sarah Schulman attacks the MFA industry as homogeonizing American literature, flattening out any complexities, any eccentricities into bland sameness. Across the nation, writers are developing their skills while reading the same books, attending the same structured workshops, entering the same system as all of their peers. And you can see it in the literature. If you care about literature at its extremes, if you care about experimentation and individuality, if what you value is strange and weird and inappropriate, then you will probably have responded to the literature that develops in MFA programs with disgust and disappointment. They are touching coming of age stories, complex memoir narratives about overcoming tragedy and setback with dignity, all written in the same flat prose. Personal essays that run online are entirely interchangable with each other, as if there is one monster writer who cranks out hundreds of thousands of words a day about how that most recent episode of Mad Men really gets at the heart of their relationship with their father/how their most recent break-up taught them valuable life lessons about giving and sharing and who they really are/how what they thought was an obstacle really turned out to be the key to overcoming past trauma.

More troubling, though, is the way the publishing industry has embraced this sameness. …

Schulman’s anecdotes remind me of Mamet’s advice that actors learn better by acting than by going to college, and makes me wonder (all over again) if architects should go back to an apprenticeship system.