— Lucy Parsons, in The Principles of Anarchism
The National Fascist Party’s Roman headquarters within the Palazzo Braschi, which now houses the Museo di Roma. The face is a likeness of Mussolini, the fervent text an urge to support the fascists at the polls.
Four years ago yesterday, I was arrested with over forty other people for occupying a major building at UC Berkeley the day after tuition was increased by 32% (though our main demands were actually about others issues like low-income student housing demolition rather than tuition).
It wasn’t an especially violent arrest; the police broke through the doors and filed in with assault rifles, but compared to the way they treated protesters outside the building, we escaped relatively unscathed (with the notable exception of a few occupiers who were ambushed and beaten early in the morning before the barricades were complete). For a lot of people, even some of those who were bludgeoned by the police in the rain, it was a refreshing and empowering act of rebellion, a coming-out part for the new radical opposition to the UC regency. But I felt broken afterwards. And while I’ve experienced more direct (and painful) police tactics since the Wheeler Hall occupation, none of it has had the same debilitating effect. I am more timid, defensive, and paranoid than I was four years ago, more anxious about drawing attention to myself, less confident when speaking to or interacting with (or ignoring) authority figures — not because aging has somehow made me more conservative, or because I think it is wrong to riot, to sabotage, or to attack, but because I am more afraid of the police than ever.
Tuesday saw the first heavy rains of the season, and I was immediately brought back to the first signs of rain on November 20, 2009, harbingers of failure. The temperature would fall, the rain would fall, and nobody would show up, nobody but the police, who would surround the building and kick our asses. And when people did show up, holding umbrellas and signs and slingshots to launch food to us through the windows, we watched as the police broke their hands and smashed their faces. You can laugh at me if you want, for being a emotionally fragile, bookish college student instead of an impervious radical who isn’t phased by some dumb student protest, but when the rain started coming down hard on Tuesday, the first thing that came to my mind was a police officer hissing through the barricaded doors: “You’re next, motherfuckers. Get ready for the beatdown.”
"If the audience at the trial was to be the world and the play the huge panorama of Jewish sufferings, the reality was falling short of expectations and purposes… [the audience] was not supposed to consist of Israelis, of those who were too young to know the story or, as in the case of Oriental Jews, had never been told it. The trial was supposed to show them what it meant to live among non-Jews, to convince them that only in Israel could a Jew be safe and live an honorable life. (For correspondents, the lesson was spelled out in a little booklet on Israeli’s legal system, which was handed out to the press…). But in this audience there were hardly any young people… It was filled with "survivors," with middle-aged and elderly people, immigrants from Europe, like myself, who knew by heart all there was to know, and how were in no mood to learn any lessons and certainly did not need this trial to draw their own conclusions. As witness followed witness and horror was piled upon horror, they sat there and listened in public to stories they would hardly have been able to endure in private, when they would have had to face the storyteller. And the more "the calamity of the Jewish people in this generation" unfolded and the more grandiose Mr. Hausner’s rhetoric became, the paler and more ghostlike became the figure in the glass booth, and no finger-wagging: ‘And there sits the monster responsible for all this,’ could shout him back to life."
- Hannah Arendt, in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963)
The Gentrification of San Francisco’s Old Red Light District
"Until 1875, the [Central Business District (CBD)] had been moving almost due south from its original focus at Portsmouth Square. But, according to Martyn Bowden, 1875 was ‘a turning point in the history of San Francisco and its central district’. That year saw the CBD ‘curbed in its drive towards the south and diverted in its line of development to the west and southwest’. As the district came closer and closer to Market Street, three barriers stood in its way and prevented further growth. One was the O’Farrell Survey which had created a dual block system in San Francisco with one street pattern north of Market and another south of the thorough- fare. Because of the unusual pattern, none of the streets north of Market actually crossed it, and one could not cross Market without making some sort of directional turn. Moreover, Market Street itself was so wide that it became known as the ‘local Rubicon’ and could not be crossed by pedestrians, especially after street car tracks had been laid down the middle. Finally, in 1875, the Palace Hotel, located across Market from the foot of the CBD ‘became the last massive link in an unbroken chain of hotels that formed an impregnable barrier to the southward expansion of both the retail and financial districts. So massive and deep was the Palace Hotel that no large retail establishment could possibly have prospered to the south of it.’
"Therefore, the central business district turned west and southwest, directly into the southern end of the zone of prostitution, and it was the fashionable retail district which made the first move. Before 1875, this area had been located in lower Montgomery Street, but the advance of the financial district from the north and the barriers to the south forced the apparel-shopping district onto lower Kearny Street between 1875 and 1879. Movement to the west was slow for the next several years, but several major stores moved onto Grant Avenue in the early 1880s. For a while, there was little further movement, and, until the early 1890s, lower Kearny remained the core of the women’s shopping district. Therefore the zone of prostitution was affected only slightly. In the 1890s, however, the area between Grant Avenue and Union Square became the center of apparel- shopping activities. In fact, the whole CBD moved rapidly westward, and, by 1906, the central district encompassed several blocks which had been major parts of the zone of prostitution. By 1915, Maiden Lane, which had been one of the most notorious streets in the entire city, ‘had clearly become the core of the women’s apparel-shopping district. Out of 188 women’s apparel-shopping establishments in the central district, 47 (25 %) had taken up locations in it, and another 16% had located in the two blocks to the east and south.’"
"As the shopping district moved in, the prostitutes moved out. That they moved unwillingly is shown by the city’s need to pass new laws expressly banning prostitution from the area. Although there is no evidence, we might wonder whether selective enforcement of the new laws persuaded prostitutes to avoid those areas in which their activities were considered the most offensive. Did the police (tacitly) encourage the women to congregate in the north end of the zone and shun the south by the way in which they enforced the law? Subsequent events suggest very strongly that they did."
- Neil Larry Shumsky and Larry M. Springer. “San Francisco’s zone of prostitution, 1880–1934.” Journal of Historical Geography 7.1 (1981): 71-89.
— Zubair ur Rahman (via an interpreter), a 13-year-old Pakistani child who gave testimony on Tuesday about the U.S. drone strike that killed his grandmother and injured him and his siblings a year ago. You can watch the entire semi-official congressional testimony here. The transcript was finally completed a few hours ago; you can ask me for a copy, or contact the congressional aide who sent it to me at Lauren[dot]Doney[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov .
"After a night of sporadic rioting, the "community leaders" (self-selected as well as those selected by the police and mayor) were unable to handle the situation. The police gave them a time limit on Wednesday afternoon. If at the end of an hour and a half they were still unable to control the situation, there would be police action in force to do so. these community leaders, many of whom were part of the matriarchal structure, as well as ministerial and poverty workers who were not part of it, were completely unable to control the situation. There was nothing that they were empowered to offer the rioters in return for their stopping the riot which was even half as great as the reward for rioting itself. Vague promises could not compensate for abandoning the sense of power which the riot gave its participants.”
- Arthur E. Hippler, “The Game of Black and White at Hunter’s Point,” in Culture and Civility in San Francisco. Ed. Howard Becker. 1971. transaction Books, 1971.
[image via SF Bayview]
I should have posted this ages ago, but the completed results of the Northeast Rail Map project I participated in are available online. Built along similar lines to our California Rail Map [link], it integrates rail networks from North Carolina to Maine, including subway systems, commuter rails, Amtrak passenger lines, ferry transfers, and more. Because of the absurd amount of data to represent, it sometimes privileges readability over sheer geographic accuracy, which I personally think was the right choice for a map like this. I worked on Long Island, New Jersey, and the NYC insert. The above image is an extremely low-resolution image, but you can download the complete map online for free in your file format of choice:
Recently I’ve been reading about the history of evolutionary algorithms, a computation method that uses Darwinian patterns (reproduction, natural selection) and modern genetic modes of organization (mutation, ploidy, recombination) to build optimization and learning programs. It’s a fascinating field, not least of all because it abandons, as John Koza argues in “Genetic Programming” (1992), it abandons the seven basic guiding principles of virtually all fields of science, mathematics, and engineering: correctness, consistency, justifiability, certainty, orderliness, parsimony, and decisiveness. Unlike the ‘brittle’ programming built on these parameters, evolutionary algorithms share the characteristics found in “natural” algorithms: they are “uncertain and non-deterministic… involv[ing] asynchronous, uncoordinated, local, and independent activity that is not centrally controlled and orchestrated. It privileges fitness and diversity, not parsimony. It doesn’t even have a single, conclusive conclusion to any given problem. And as a result, it is able to thrive in virtual environments that are prone to sudden, unannounced disturbances.
Recently, genetic algorithms (a specific variety evolutionary algorithm) have been in the news following the ‘leak’ of a Chinese research paper on the use of genetic algorithms in the programming of UAVs designed to hunt foreign submarines, but their applications are numerous and varied, including everything from crime eyewitness sketch composition to satellite antennae design to traffic control. But what really caught my eye was the above chart, from a paper by Nils Aall Barricelli, a virtually unheard-of mathematician who was largely ignored during his lifetime but who was genuinely ahead of his time in biology, cybernetics, and computer science, and who was arguably the first person to use a genetic algorithm. In “Numerical Testing of Evolution Theories” (1962), he sought to test the emerging (and now widespread) theory of symbiogenesis, the idea that many complex lifeforms are the descendents of multiple, distantly-related lines of ancestry that at some point ‘fused’ into single organisms (i.e. Eukaryotes are the descendents of both Archaeal and Bacterial lines), using something akin to fractals. Each column is a single generation of creatures, which ‘reproduce’ according to a simple algorithm as the line beneath them. He identified emergent properties in the developing population, pointing out that the reproduction of some numbers was contingent on neighboring numbers. Some of these ‘symbioorganisms’ allowed each other to reproduce. Others, which he identified as parasites, relied on other numbers for reproducing without actually helping any others. But it was in Figure 15 that he claimed to have identified actual evolution: in the left side of the figure around generation 60, from (1,-1) to (1,-3), “introduced by an external element (-3) entering the organism.”
It’s interesting to see computer scientists seeking to emulate the supposed ‘messiness’ of biology, but even more hair-raising to see the seemingly absurd attempts of scientists like Barricelli seek to organize that messiness mathematically. But really, isn’t that what biology as a discipline is? The departure from natural history as a discipline was motivated largely by the desire to create a biological science like physics, a rigorous field that could evacuate observed phenomena of its particulars to arrive at its universal operational laws; to sift through the birds and the galls and the blood to finally see the “species”, the “populations”, the “niches,” abstracted categories that can be assessed mathematically. I’m not sure if it’s always a bad impulse, but it’s hard to ignore the sloppy scientific movements that have emerged from it: Francis Galton’s racial statistics, E. O. Wilson’s sociobiology… and maybe, the unconscious intellectual heirs of Barricelli.