A Black Notebook of Personal Joy: Hamilton, Trivers & Evolutionary Biology

My 1980 Notebook with Morrison Fountain Pen
My 1980 Notebook with Morrison Fountain Pen

In these dire times it feels a little more than self-indulgent to canter on about the minor joys in life; a desire to expound upon the little things when the world is on fire seems a private and guilty pleasure. But, while pondering standing down and standing by, I remembered a quote posted last year by an old friend in India:

Have Your Joy - Cleo Wade, Heart Talk

I’ve no idea who Cleo Wade is but this paragraph was/is a powerful reminder to stop and breathe – with a deep breath, at that, and gather your joy. And so I will expand upon my joy in re-living the excitement I felt when first reading of the research being done by William Donald Hamilton, FRS (1 August 1936 – 7 March 2000) and Robert Ludlow Trivers (b. February 19, 1943); especially Bob Trivers, one of the bad boys of science, and his work on the troubling existence of altruism in a world where survival appears to solely depends upon self-interest.

Robert Trivers - Courtesy, Rutgers University image
Robert Trivers – Courtesy, Rutgers University image

Some weeks ago I was looking for something I had written in one of my old journals and, in doing a fast sweep through one, I saw notes I had written on the work in evolutionary biology by Hamilton and Trivers. To have someone like Steven Pinker write, as he has of Trivers, that he is “one of the great thinkers in the history of Western thought” is not too shabby.

Page From My Early Notebooks on Hamilton & Trivers Altruism Studies
Page From My Early Notebooks on Hamilton & Trivers’ Altruism Studies

There is a profound beauty and deep pleasure in a life lived exploring the interests of the mind – or, rather, in the mysteries of the universe – of all things great and small. We imagine those who lead such lives rarely descend from the realm of theory and quick-firing neurons to spend time amongst the dross that daily surrounds those of us beetling away in the more mundane trenches of life. Or so it seems.

But there are exceptions. (I remember a great photograph of Stephen Hawking looking up from his motorized chair at the bottles of wine in a Pasadena supermarket. He could not reach the fruit of the vine on any but the lower third row of shelves. I’ve often wondered if the person who asked if he needed assistance ever knew who was being helped.)

The evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has led a life that is anything but ordinary, both in the ivory tower and out. In a handful of ‘simple’ theoretical papers in the 1970s, seeking to lay a foundation of questions into the links between genetics and behavior, he spawned research into whole galaxies of new suppositions and questions. I remember these ideas were pervasive in university, and not just in biology departments. Two very influential books, in part spurred on by the kind of research he was doing, were published in the mid-1970s dealing with just the questions Trivers had grappled with: Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology. Both stirred controversy that spilled out into general publications and the consciousness of lay people. At the time I would often think it must have been a little like this in Darwin & Wallace’s mid-19th century day with their theories on evolution.

Trivers studied evolutionary theory at Harvard from 1968 to 1972 with Ernst Mayr, a man of many talents. But it is Mayr’s genius with work on speciation that broadened Darwin and Wallace’s dissection of Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being that most fascinates those of us who studied anthropology. Trivers had first gotten the biology bug from his paying work (writing science books for children) with the ornithologist William Drury who was, Trivers says, “the man who taught me how to think.” Critical consciousness: it is the most important intellectual skill a human can possess as far as I am concerned.

After a mental breakdown (bi-polar disorder) in his Harvard junior year Trivers considered a major in psychology (not a real science but, rather,’ a joke’) or law (“I thought I would do poverty law work” but was turned down by both Yale and the Univ of Virginia). In any case, his childhood interests in astronomy (a look into both the infinitesimally small and the ginormous) and mathematics have stood him well in his work with animal behavior. And, yes, ‘animal’, here, includes homo sapiens sapiens.

Curiosity is THE great driver of human intellectual, cultural and physical advance and Trivers has it and has had, so far, a life of the utmost divergence and a knack for criticizing what we generally think of as both the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ political sphere. His resume includes being a white guy member of The Black Panthers and friend of Huey P. Newton (together they published a scholarly paper analyzing the role of self-deception by the flight crew of Air Florida Flight 90 that crashed into the 14th Street bridge over the Potomac River in Washington, DC in 1982); a proposer of questions and principals in evolutionary biology papers that, pretty much alone, spawned totally new sub-disciplines in behavioral psychology, sociobiology, evolutionary this & that and more; a subject of a gun-point encounter near his home in Jamaica; academic suspension at Rutgers and academics attacks on a few of my clients and friends.

If you are now intrigued you might start with reading his 2015 autobiography that I am reading now: Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist.

Finally, An Admission of What Most of US Already Knew: Demagogic Rule by the Minimal Maximum Leader for the Uneducated, Seething Masses!‘

Shaky U.S. Capitol Building
Shaky U.S. Capitol Building. © Wilbur Norman

10:43 am, 6 January, 2021

This isn’t their Republican Party anymore,’ Donald Trump Jr. says of GOP lawmakers who don’t back his father. – Wednesday morning, January 6, 2021“

The people [Republicans] who did nothing to stop the steal — this gathering [the agitators outside the White House this morning] should send a message to them,” Baby Trump said at a rally outside the White House. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

The Washington Post reports that ‘Trump Jr. also pledged to work against the reelection of any Republican who doesn’t try to overturn the results, echoing his father’s threats against officials who have rebuffed his efforts’… “These guys better fight for Trump, because if they’re not, guess what?” he said. “I’m going to be in your backyard in a couple of months! … If you’re going to be the zero and not the hero, we’re coming for you, and we’re going to have a good time doing it.”

You must give credit to the evidently persuasive agit-prop of the Trumpers. Anytime you can take wages (vs. dividends), food security, education and health care from those most in need – and still have them worship the ground you walk on, you are a master illusionist.

Monkeying around with democracy, we have well & truly gunned our country into high gear toward becoming what we used to call a ‘banana republic’.

UPDATE to my morning post:

6 January 2021, 2:35pm

Of all the ‘sacred’ symbols of these United States of America – the flag, the white House, the Statue of Liberty, etc. none are more important – or potent, than the U.S. Capitol Building, the edifice where The Peoples’ Business is daily transacted. I think if we do a little research, we might have to go back to 1814 to find a time when the Capitol fell into the hands of an enemy of our democracy.

Interestingly, during these hours of a seditious, Trumpian mob’s breach and control of the building, the Senate has changed political party hands with the state of Georgia declaring Mr. Jon Ossoff (D) as the winner of the senate race there between him and David Perdue (R).

Both Democratic Party winners make this an historic contest: Ossoff is the first Jewish senator from Georgia and the other seat’s winner, Raphael Warnock (D) is the first Black American to win a Georgia senate seat. Two important moments of our history, a high and a low, braided into the same day. Let’s hope our democracy is not as fragile as the security of the building where its aims are carried out.

‘Cold Moon’ or ‘Long Night Moon’

First Full Moon of the Third Decade of the 21st Century, 29 December 2020

'Cold Moon' or 'Long Night Moon': First Full Moon of the Third Decade of the 21st Century - 29 Dec 2020
‘Cold Moon’ or ‘Long Night Moon’: First Full Moon of the Third Decade of the 21st Century – 29 Dec 2020

(Some, in error, might call it the last full moon of the second decade.)

Regardless… however you want to call it… it’s Beautiful!

Somewhere in my slides I have a pic of this full moon north of the Arctic Circle. Since, in December, it is directly opposite the sun, it ‘bookends’ the polar June sun, bearing a resemblance of sorts to the famous mid-summer midnight sun.

Hearing (Part One)

Article 2 in a series on The Senses

Video: A pure celebration of joy compliments of funk band Scary Pockets, led by Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte. This version of “I Say A Little Prayer” features a fantastic fey performance by Kenton Chen.

I cannot imagine a life without music and the ability to hear it.

Listening to Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick, 1966) always creates more than a little frisson in my love for life. It is difficult for me to think of a song more perfectly crafted – and then delivered, by one of the stellar voices in the history of humankind (despite the song being a bigger hit for Warwick.)

“While combing my hair, now,And wondering what dress to wear, now”

What’s more it was written for the war of my generation: lyricist Hal David wrote it about a “woman’s concern for her man who’s serving in the Vietnam War”, portraying how someone you love can be an intense part of the fabric of your everyday routine with thoughts bought forth by even the smallest things we do. One of the great hooks of the song is that “you are always made to feel as if you’re either about to be loved or about to be left.” (“Burt Bacharach Song by Song” by Serene Dominic)

“I run for the bus, dear,While riding I think of us, dear.”

In February 1987, ‘New Musical Express’, a UK music weekly, published its critics’ top 150 singles of all time, with Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” ranked at No. 1, but the song slipped and did not appear in their in-house critics’ top 100 singles poll in November 2002. Still, for many of us it remains

“Forever, and ever, / (You’ll stay in my heart and I will love you)”

The song became Franklin’s (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018) ninth and last consecutive Top 10 Atlantic label hit on the Hot 100 chart. Her version – may I say, THE version of this tune, makes a listener truly believe she is solo dancing around the house singing to her beloved, though we outsiders can be privy to her intense emotions of care, love and longing.

“My darling, believe me / For me there is no one but you / Please love me too”

‘I Say a Little Prayer’ moves from reverie to rousing joy and possesses elements of soul, gospel call & response, rock, jazz, balladry, you name it – but it’s sections of driving beat lends itself to multiple interpretations, even electronica and, dare I write it – The Ray Coniff Singers, whose version also sets a frisson in motion in me but of fear – lordy, lordy don’t subject me to listening to their whole rendition (perhaps rendition of another kind would bring the same feelings.) There is even a not-bad version with an accordion by Mary Black.

Burt Bachrach has said, “It’s [Aretha’s] a better record than the record we made… It’s just more natural,…We were talking about our changes and time changes on the chorus of ‘forever and forever, you stay in my heart, and I will’ — you know, that’s going 4-4, 3-4, 4-4, 3-4. Then regard the way it was treated by Aretha, because Aretha just makes it seamless, the transition going from one change to another change. You never notice it.”

“Mmhmm. We did, yeah. And we did a great record, but she topped it,” Hal David added during a joint Bachrach-David interview in 2010 with Terry Gross on her Philadelphia Fresh Air Public Radio program. (For my money I think Terry is the best interviewer of all time, by the by, and am sorry I never said as much when I used to run into her in the City of Brotherly Love).

But it is the clear-as-a-bell soul quality of Aretha’s voice that sends me and I’ve been fortunate to see the song performed by Aretha as well as the jazz horn player Rahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977).

“My darling, believe me / For me there is no one but you / Please love me too / Answer my prayer / Answer my prayer now babe / Say you love me too / Answer it right now babe / Answer my prayer”

Video: A pure celebration of joy compliments of funk band Scary Pockets, led by Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte. This version of “I Say A Little Prayer” features a fantastic fey performance by Kenton Chen.

Star of Bethlehem?

Saturn (above) & Jupiter (below) a Few Days From Conjunction. The star Altair is to upper right and the star Formalhaut is out to the left. Four moons of Jupiter are visible at the 11:00 o'clock position.
Saturn (above) & Jupiter (below) a Few Days From Conjunction. The star Altair is to upper right and the star Formalhaut is out to the left. Four moons of Jupiter are visible at the 11:00 o’clock position. ©2020 Wilbur Norman

DO NOT FORGET to go out tonight, Winter Solstice evening Monday the 21st, and see the much-talked-about conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. They have not been in this alignment (that is visible to us Earthlings) for 800 years! This treat will be visible in the Southwest for a couple hours after sunset. It might take a little time identify these two with the naked eye as they will be very close together and may look like ONE star instead of two close together planets! Binoculars will be a big help.

In my photos from the previous two nights Jupiter is on the bottom of its pairing but will switch positions with Saturn after tonight.

Jupiter’s four largest moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, in order of distance from Jupiter. They are faintly visible in my top photo stretching out from the 11:00 o’clock position (Io and Europa are almost on top of each other.) At latest count Jupiter has 67 moons but the big four were discovered by Galileo in 1610 and are called, fittingly, the Galilean moons.

Saturn (above) & Jupiter (below) the Night Before Conjunction. Saturn's elongation is from its rings.
Saturn (above) & Jupiter (below) the Night Before Conjunction. Saturn’s elongation is from its rings. ©2020 Wilbur Norman


Solarwinds123

The world has recently learned of the sophisticated supply-chain attack on FireEye by inserting malicious code in a software update for a tool called SolarWinds Orion. The operation may have started as early as mid-2020. The Orion system is used by the U.S. Treasury Department, Commerce Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the Navy and many others. And, even as I type this post, Tuesday evening December 15, the security firm GreyNoise Intelligence reports, “SolarWinds still has not removed the compromised Orion software updates from its distribution server.”

DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) purchased $45,000-worth of licenses for Solarwinds tools in 2019 while the U.S. Cyber Command spent over $12,000.

Solarwinds, in a legal filing yesterday, Monday, December 14, says malicious code was pushed to nearly 18,000 customers (that does not mean I am one customer and you are another. It means Microsoft Office 365, for example, is ONE customer.)

We can look to Microsoft to soon get an idea who, and how many, SolarWinds customers were really affected as Microsoft (according to a quick look at the Internet’s “Whois”) has taken control of the Domain (registered and managed by Go Daddy in Arizona) used to control the infected systems.

“Vinoth Kumar, a cybersecurity “bug hunter” who has earned cash bounties and recognition from multiple companies for reporting security flaws in their products and services, posted on Twitter that he notified SolarWinds in November 2019 that the company’s software download website was protected by a simple password that was published in the clear on SolarWinds’ code repository at Github.” – Krebson Security.

A Tweet by Vinoth Kumar to Solarwinds in November 2020 warning Solarwinds of security flaws. In this case, their password which had been published among their files at Github.
A Tweet by Vinoth Kumar to Solarwinds in November 2020 warning Solarwinds of security flaws. In this case, their password which had been published among their files at Github.

I must say that I am shocked… SCHOCKED that the (purportedly) Russian hackers were able to get through the sophisticated systems in place at Solarwinds, a company so advanced I have heard they did not even see the need for an internal chief of cybersecurity. I mean who at the Russian FSB, even tho they have some of the best cyber-hackers on the planet, would ever have thought to build code-busting software to break the heavy-duty security at Solarwinds?

Oh… wait a minute! The password was published amongst the public repository of Solarwinds files at Github. It was a masterful password most of us would have had to write on the back of our hands to remember: solarwinds123

I. could. not. make. this. s—. up.

Have You Written for Disney and Stopped Receiving Royalties?

A Contract Torn Asunder
A Contract Torn Asunder

A Letter from Mary Robinette Kowal, President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America:

Have you written anything for Disney or its subsidiaries and stopped receiving royalties? SFWA has become aware of several members in this position.

Last year, Alan Dean Foster came to SFWA’s Grievance Committee because he had written novels and was not being paid the royalties that were specified in his contract. With his permission, we have made this dispute public because the core of it affects more than just Mr. Foster.

It has the potential to affect every writer. Disney made the argument that they had purchased the rights but not the obligations of his contract. In other words, they believe they have the right to publish work, but are not obligated to pay the writer no matter what the contract says.

If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.

We are currently in talks with Disney about Mr. Foster’s royalties and are looking forward to a speedy resolution. They have told us that they want to talk to any writers who have a belief that they are owed money.

Disney seems to believe that he is a unique example. We know that he is not. We have heard from enough authors to see a pattern.

If you are a writer experiencing non-payment of royalties, or missing royalty statements, with Disney or its subsidiaries, please report your circumstances to us via this form. We guarantee your anonymity.

If you are not directly affected but wish to help, please use the hashtag #DisneyMustPay to discuss the value of writers and the problems with their position on contracts. You may also donate to SFWA’s legal fund, which helps authors with legal fees in situations like this.

We are committed to continuing conversations with Disney until these contractual issues are satisfactorily resolved.

Mary Robinette Kowal, President, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

[Wilbur – The National Writer’s Union]

(Anti-)Social Media Platforms & The Erosion of Democracy and Social Justice

Anti-Social Media Platforms & The Erosion of Democracy and Social Justice

(Or, why surveillance capitalism is bad for you and the world)

Part 1 of 3

“Social media, once an enabler, is now the destroyer, building division—‘us against them’ thinking— into the design of their platforms…. It’s time to end the whack-a-mole approach of the technology platforms to fix what they have broken,” – Rappler CEO Maria Ressa

“The past years have offered a wake-up call for those who needed it….Without explicit and enforceable safeguards, the technologies promised to advance democracy will prove to be the ones that undermine it. It is now vital that democracy is made more resilient,” – Marietje Schaake. former EU parliamentarian

Most people, historically, have been alarmed by intrusions of government and its spying into the lives of ordinary citizens. But, while our attentions have been fixated on this, we ‘dropped the ball’ on the far more invasive mining and use of personal data by the large companies we, all of us, have connections to, however deep and pervasive or fleeting and sporadic.

In 2014, based upon the rising amount of captured data large companies, led by  “social media” companies, were beginning to harvest and utilize, Shoshana Zubroff coined the term “surveillance capitalism” to describe this mountain of personal data accumulating in staggering quantity each year. It is a business model predicated on harvesting the online user experience and then manipulating human behavior for monetization, that is, a basic move from processing internal to mining external data, a handy and lucrative convergence of enterprise and consumer IT. Now, many of these mega-companies generate more revenue and exercise more power that all but a handful of the world’s nations.

In 2016 the World Economic Forum (the group that meets in Davos every year) reported that of the world’s top 100 global economic entities, (measuring revenue, not GDP) 69 were corporations – meaning only 31 were countries. Here, in order, were the top 10 entries:

  • USA
  • P.R. China
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • France
  • United Kingdom
  • Italy
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Walmart

This list might strike the sobering thought that economic powerhouses like South Korea, Russia, Switzerland and others were, in fact, further down the list. The trend continues so that by 2018 157 of the top 200 world economic entities by revenue were corporations, not countries.

Here were the top 10 companies in 2016 with their world economic ranking by revenue in parenthesis:

  • Walmart (10)
  • State Grid (14) [a Chinese company]
  • China National Petroleum (15)
  • Sinopec Group (16)
  • Royal Dutch Shell (18)
  • Exxon Mobil (221)
  • Volkswagon (22)
  • Toyota Motor (23)
  • Apple (25)
  • BP (27)

Now, for a 2020 country update, using International Monetary Fund data: USA and China are still top dogs, Japan and Germany switched positions, India made an appearance at spot #5, UK and France swapped lanes, followed by the same three, Italy, Brazil Canada, as in 2016. Rounding out the next ten countries – but not revenue generation when companies are tossed into the mix, are Russia, South Korea, Spain, Australia, Mexico, Indonesia, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Switzerland.

Showing it is difficult to break into the top 20 countries is the fact that 17 of these top 20 were also on the list in 1980, that is, 40 years ago.

For a 2020 update on companies (from Fortune 500 data) we have:

  • Walmart
  • Sinopec Group
  • State Grid
  • China National Petroleum
  • Royal Dutch Shell
  • Saudi Aramco
  • Volkswagon
  • BP
  • Amazon.com
  • Toyota Motor

So why are these figures important? Ah… I am pleased you asked.

For one, it means that many sovereign nations cannot rein in companies engaging in bad behaviour within their borders – even if and when they have the desire. Chevron in the Peruvian Amazon comes to mind. Oil exploration is a dirty business and when little recoverable amounts are found there is still a mess to clean up – or not. In a place like the Amazon who is going to see the contamination other than indigenous locals?

But the issues I am getting to here are more about the so-called ‘social media’ giants, companies we used to think of as having a clean footprint.

In the early years of the internet revolution early adopters of the technology bought into services billed as connecting/informing us at the speed of the electron, prepping us for our lives in the 21st century. These services were, in the main, offered for free as companies, including newsrooms, tried to figure out how to monetize their products. The few ads we would see were bothersome but easy to ignore, especially as they lacked personal focus and sophisticated tracking technology. It reminds me of the early hype of the energy companies with their mascot Ready Kilowatt and the 1954 statement of Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, with his alluring, sloganeering promise to the National Association of Science Writers: “electrical energy too cheap to meter!” – a good example of what we now know as “overpromising & underdelivering.”

Reddy Kilowatt, © Reddy Kilowatt, Inc.
Reddy Kilowatt, © Reddy Kilowatt, Inc.

In less than twenty years internet coding wizards have made stratospheric leaps and small startups have combined, morphed and advanced into extremely sophisticated entities. At the same time we have come to recognize there is a dark underbelly bolstering the magical kingdom of all-connection, all-the-time. A 24/7 existence, like so much of life’s general intrusions, is a two-edged sword.

I think of surveillance capitalism as a natural outgrowth of a technology and life forewarned in 1956 by the brilliant, if troubled, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. In his novella (made famous by the Spielberg movie) “The Minority Report” three mutants foresee a person’s propensity for committing a ‘future crime’. Their prescience determines the future and freedom, or lack thereof, of ordinary citizen’s based upon criminal actions before they happen. In the same way, surveillance capitalism attempts to predict our future voting, movie-going, book-reading, food shopping, sexual preference… well… all behavior and, subsequently, influence that behavior in a semi-predictable manner, that is, move us toward a specific purchase.

If not a purchase exactly, then other economic considerations come into play. A good example is the selling of ‘spit’ data from the genealogical work performed by the company 23 & Me, a noted seller of DNA info to ‘third parties’. They caused a minor tremor in 2018 when they announced the sharing of consumers’ anonymized genetic data with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Sharing is, of course, a euphemism for ‘selling’; in this case GSK shared $300-million. While it is hopeful that people with inheritable genetic diseases may well benefit from this deal in the form of future medicines, data security is never distant from my mind, especially as data security is, it appears, never in all ways, secure all the time. Do you really want your health insurance company (who has always been a gatherer of data that could be used in health/mortality actuarial practice) rescinding your coverage because you have a 35% chance of getting motor neuron disease or some other ailment?

Two years ago I was sitting with a friend talking about his new Maserati. An hour later an ad for Maserati popped up on my mobile phone browser during a search for something totally unrelated to cars. That is when I discovered that Google has a division with a huge number of employees developing, listening in and then tweaking their speech and voice components for their algorithms. Turn off your microphones! Siri and Alexa are you listening? (Being highly open to suggestion, I inquired as to whether Google was assisting with monthly car payments but received no answer.)

So, how is all this related to Democracy and Social Justice?

Commercial connections have forever had tentacles entwined with, and embedded into, governmental components. While governments are often slow on the uptake of the new (and, to grant and uphold citizen rights) their bureaucratic nature and love of big data do eventually move the organs of governance to utilize the lessons of commerce. This learning often first makes an appearance to ‘improve’ focus on the big picture of where ‘trouble’ among the rank and file may begin, never mind the trouble may only be citizens engaging in their constitutionally guaranteed rights of assembly and protest.

But, before we go into more detail here let’s sidestep and read a little about the

Big Picture & Big Data

That big picture is assisted by ‘big data‘, a term coined in a 1997 scientific paper by NASA. ‘Big data’ is, by definition, unwieldy. It is defined by Wikipedia (even before the Oxford English Dictionary added it to their list) as “an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand data management tools or traditional data processing applications.”

There is a pervasive belief that it is true the more data one accumulates the more answers one has available; that is, quantity is in itself a necessary and sufficient parameter for accurate research. But AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information, one of the leading lights in data and its management, writes that, “We want students and consumers of our research to understand that volume isn’t sufficient to getting good answers… [the] School challenges students in the online Master of Information and Data Science program to approach data with intentionality, beginning with the way they talk about data. They learn to dig deeper by asking basic questions: Where does the data come from? How was it collected and was the process ethical? What kinds of questions can this data set answer, and which can it not?… We run the risk of forgetting why we collect data in the first place: to make our world better through granular details,… The way we talk about data matters, because it shapes the way we think about data. And the ways we apply, fund, and support data today will shape the future of our society.”

The school says this process is part of ‘data science’. A more useful shorthand than big data, the words imply a rigorous approach to analytics and data mining. This view espouses that, “a data set is not so much a painting to be admired but a window to be utilized; scientists use data to see the world and our society’s problems more clearly.”

Another definition of big data, from the McKinsey Global Institute, is “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.” This has been tackled in the past two decades by trimming big data down to size. Data scientists have created new tools for collecting, storing, and analyzing these vast amounts of information. “In some sense, the ‘big’ part has become less compelling,” according to Berkeley’s Saxenian.

A Quick Lesson in Data Volumes: The volume of data in a single file or file system can be described by a unit called a byte. However, data volumes can become very large when dealing with, say, Earth satellite data. Below is a table to explain data volume units (credit Roy Williams, Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology).

  • Kilo- means 1,000; a Kilobyte is one thousand bytes.
  • Mega- means 1,000,000; a Megabyte is a million bytes.
  • Giga- means 1,000,000,000; a Gigabyte is a billion bytes.
  • Tera- means 1,000,000,000,000; a Terabyte is a trillion bytes.
  • Peta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000; a Petabyte is 1,000 Terabytes.
  • Exa- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000; an Exabyte is 1,000 Petabytes.
  • Zetta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000; a Zettabyte is 1,000 Exabytes.
  • Yotta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000; a Yottabyte is 1,000 Zettabytes

We will return to this later in a discussion of social media algorithms.

Governments have always been nervous about protest of any kind. The validity of such jitters was brought home with the ability of mass movements’ non-violent action in bringing down governments of Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union itself, felling them like phantom dominoes in Southeast Asia. Similar events shook the Islamic countries with the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings.

Governments like using a scattershot approach to try and corral the proverbial needle in a haystack. Certainly we all want the authorities to catch terrorists seeking to do our country harm. But, is a record of all the telephone calls in the country, in real time, going to assist that endeavor? The ubiquitous use of cellular communications lends itself to lax control even for bad actors. So, as listening to U.S. citizen’s phone calls without a judge’s warrant is illegal, perhaps simply getting a list of all the outgoing and incoming numbers being called by people in the U.S., and the duration of the calls, might be helpful? It is that word ‘might’ that bothers me. I’ve no problem with law enforcement requesting and receiving records after an arrest, or the request for a wiretap with probable cause, but the uncontrolled amassing of the 3Vs (volume, variety, velocity – see graph, below) is troubling. A few years ago I was happy to read that when the administration wanted to monitor the mobile phone records of everyone in the United States all the big companies, except for my carrier, T-Mobile, rolled over without requiring probable cause warrants or even administrative subpoenas.

The 3Vs of Big Data. Berkeley School of Information.
The 3Vs of Big Data. Berkeley School of Information.

END of Part 1.

Part 2 tomorrow!

Beware the Demon Pomposity

Bob Woodward from a "Journalism Under Fire' Zoom meeting, the evening of 3 Dec 2020
Bob Woodward from a “Journalism Under Fire’ Zoom meeting, the evening of 3 Dec 2020

Less than an hour ago I ended one of the most informative and entertaining Zoom sessions I have ever had: Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward speaking as part of the ending ceremony of our 2020 ‘Journalism Under Fire’ conference in Santa Fe.

The president would not talk to Woodward for his book titled “Fear” released in 2018. After publication White House staff told the president the information in the book was basically true and accurate, so he agreed to talk to Woodward for the latest book “Rage”.

Woodward observed that one way of getting an interview is just to show up. Many today use email or telephones or texts to conduct interviews but do not go that extra mile to show up in person. Covid-19 put a stop to most in-person interviews so he and Trump talked by phone, usually at night which suited Woodward because of an adage he holds dear: “Lies in the Day, Truth at Night.”

During the nine months they talked on the phone President Trump did not let anyone at the White House know he was talking with Woodward and, upon publication, lashed out at the book but has since said he read the book and is pleased that he got many of his points out there in its pages.

A topic of current interest was touched upon in our Zoom meeting: presidential pardons. In 1998 Woodward interview Gerald Ford and asked him why he never pressed Nixon for an admission of guilt. Ford pulled out his wallet. He went thru the wallet and found a small, folded old newspaper clipping and showed it to Woodward. It had an article about a US Supreme Court decision from 1915 reading, in part, “Acceptance, as well as delivery, of a pardon is essential to its validity”, that is, an acceptance of a pardon is admission of guilt. [Note: The case was Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79. Quaere – whether the President of the United States may exercise the pardoning power before conviction. “The facts, which involve the effect of a pardon of the President of the United States tendered to one who has not been convicted of a crime nor admitted the commission thereof, and also the necessity of acceptance of a pardon in order to make it effective, are stated in the opinion.”]

Woodward ended our Zoom with a story he has told before. After Nixon resigned Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham sent a note she had written on a yellow legal pad to Woodward & Bernstein. On it she had written a statement mentioning that their work had been important in bringing down a president and ending with a warning that all of us may take to heart: “Beware the demon pomposity”.

You are either on the bus or off the bus. Rosa Parks 65 years ago today.

Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama
Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Courtesy UPI, 1956

Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the city’s segregation on the bus system illegal. Behind her is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter covering the event.

It’s the 1st of December 1955, late afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama. A seamstress, going home after a long day of labor, takes a seat toward the front of the bus’s ‘Colored Section’. The bus begins to fill with passengers as it moves along its route. Eventually, the driver, James F. Blake, tells the seamstress to move further to the rear so a white man can take her seat. His demand is just one of the many, ‘ordinary’ actions Black Americans have had to endure throughout most of American history.

But on this day the seamstress, 42-year-old Rosa Parks (who was also the Secretary of the local NAACP), decides she is fed up, or, as she put is, “was tired of giving in.”

You know the type of day I’m writing about: it’s just one of those days when you simply don’t give a f—. Whatever happens, as a result of your obstinacy, happens. ‘Bring it on!’

On this day, 1 December 1955, 65 years ago, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat. The police are called. Rosa is arrested. Mrs. Rosa Parks is convicted of disorderly conduct four days later and pays a fine.

We know the rest of the story but, as a refresher:

A 26-year-old Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), spearheaded a Black American, 381-day boycott of Montgomery’s bus system. Workers made do with makeshift transport scraped together using peoples’ cars as taxis to get to and from their workplaces. Rev. King had only recently moved to Montgomery and it was this that led him to being picked to lead the MIA: he was too new and unknown to have any enemies in the city.

Finally, in the autumn of 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a district court’s ruling that segregation on Alabama’s public transport deprived Blacks of equal protection under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and was, therefore, illegal. But, that was only for Alabama. It was not until 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, a son of the South, signed the Civil Rights Act that ALL public transportation in The United States was desegregated.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) lived a full life and took a step requiring the utmost in bravery (somewhat difficult for us to recognize now with the superior legal protections many – tho not all, of us enjoy.)

She was honored by the U.S. Congress: her coffin was placed on view in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC. While Mrs. Parks was the 30th person to lie in state there, she was the first woman! Her coffin was placed on the same catafalque (the decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state) that was built for Abraham Lincoln.

Five Bighorn Sheep Above the Rio Grande

Five Bighorn Sheep on the Cliffs of the Rio Grande
Five Bighorn Sheep on the Cliffs of the Rio Grande

The photo above was taken with a Leica-R 280mm f4 telephoto manual lens, with a 1.4x Extender and an R-to-M adapter, all mounted on a Leica M10-R.

It was such a beautiful day I took off from a Zoom meeting and drove the 50 miles to look for bighorn sheep head butting during the rut. No battles found, just a quiet small group.

One youngster is very hard to see unless you know he is laying down with only his head showing. In the photo above I have circled him. He has rudimentary horns, unlike the youngster at upper left.

Sighting Bighorn Sheep with the Naked Eye
Sighting Bighorn Sheep with the Naked Eye

This second photo, above, is what the area looks like with a lens that mimics the field-of-view of human eyes (that is, a 40mm lens) versus the 280mm telephoto setup used for photo #1. Believe it or not, three of the sheep (within the circle) are visible to the naked eye because of their white butts. Admittedly, I have 20-10 corrected eyesight but most people with normal vision ought to be able to do as well.

For those out looking for sheep on your own I think the most helpful advice I can offer is to look for the white butts of the sheep. I just use my eyesight as I always forget to take binoculars with which to glass the slopes.

64 Journalists Missing in 2020

And circa 248 in prison for doing their jobs

Journalists Missing Around the World in 2020. Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists
Journalists Missing Around the World in 2020. Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Missing
Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists

Name Organization Date Location
Acquitté Kisembo Agence France-Presse June 26, 2003 Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ahmed Al-Dulami Al-Sharqiya TV June 1, 2014 Iraq
Alfredo Jiménez Mota El Imparcial April 2, 2005 Mexico
Ali Astamirov Agence France-Presse July 4, 2003 Russia
Andrei Bazvluk Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Austin Tice Freelance August 13, 2012 Syria
Aziz Bouabdallah Al-Alam al-Siyassi April 12, 1997 Algeria
Azory Gwanda Mwanachi, The Citizen November 21, 2017 Tanzania
Bashar Fahmi Al-Hurra August 20, 2012 Syria
Belmonde Magloire Missinhoun Le Point Congo October 3, 1998 Democratic Republic of the Congo
Djamel Eddine Fahassi Alger Chaîne III May 6, 1995 Algeria
Djuro Slavuj Radio Pristina August 21, 1998 Serbia & Montenegro
Elyuddin Telaumbanua Berita Sore August 17, 2005 Indonesia
Emmanuel Munyemanzi Rwandan National Television May 2, 1998 Rwanda
Farhad Hamo Rudaw TV March 9, 2015 Syria
Feliks Titov Nevskoye Vremya February 1, 1995 Russia
Fred Nérac ITV News March 22, 2003 Iraq
Gamaliel López Candanosa TV Azteca Noreste May 10, 2007 Mexico
Gerardo Paredes Pérez TV Azteca Noreste May 10, 2007 Mexico
Guy-André Kieffer Freelance April 16, 2004 Ivory Coast
Ham Jin Woo Daily NK May 29, 2017 China
Isam al-Shumari Sudost Media August 15, 2004 Iraq
Ishzak Ould Mokhtar Sky New Arabia October 15, 2013 Syria
Jamal Sobhy Al-Mosuliya TV July 1, 2014 Iraq
Jean Bigirimana Iwacu July 22, 2016 Burundi
Jean-Pascal Couraud Les Nouvelles December 15, 1997 French Polynesia
John Cantlie Freelance November 22, 2012 Syria
José Antonio García Apac Ecos de la Cuenca en Tepalcatepec November 20, 2006 Mexico
Kamaran Najm Metrography June 12, 2014 Iraq
Kazem Akhavan IRNA July 4, 1982 Lebanon
Maisloon al-Jawady Al-Mosuliya TV June 29, 2014 Iraq
Maksim Shabalin Nevskoye Vremya February 1, 1995 Russia
Manasse Mugabo UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda Radio August 19, 1995 Rwanda
Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández El Mañanero September 17, 2011 Mexico
Marco Antonio López Ortiz Novedades Acapulco June 7, 2011 Mexico
María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe El Diario de Zamora Cambio de Michoacán November 11, 2009 Mexico
Miguel Angel Domínguez Zamora El Mañana March 1, 2010 Mexico
Miguel Morales Estrada Diario de Poza Rica, Tribuna Papanteca July 19, 2012 Mexico
Mohamed al-Saeed Syrian State TV July 19, 2012 Syria
Mohamed Hassaine Alger Républicain March 1, 1994 Algeria
Mohammed Galal Okasha Al Barqa TV August 1, 2014 Libya
Muayad Saloum Orient TV November 1, 2013 Syria
Muhannad al-Okaidi Al-Mosuliya TV August 1, 2014 Iraq
Nadhir Guetari First TV September 8, 2014 Libya
Omar Younis al-Ghaafiqi Sama Mosul October 12, 2014 Iraq
Oralgaisha Omarshanova (Zhabagtaikyzy) Zakon i Pravosudiye March 30, 2007 Kazakhstan
Pedro Argüello El Mañana, La Tarde March 1, 2010 Mexico
Prageeth Eknelygoda Lanka eNews January 24, 2010 Sri Lanka
Qais Talal Sama Mosul August or October 2014 Iraq
Rafael Ortiz Martínez Zócalo, XHCCG July 8, 2006 Mexico
Ramón Ángeles Zalpa Cambio de Michoacán April 6, 2010 Mexico
Reda Helal Al-Ahram August 11, 2003 Egypt
Salvador Adame Pardo 6TV May 18, 2017 Mexico
Samir Kassab Sky News Arabia October 15, 2013 Syria
Sergei Ivanov Nevskoye Vremya June 1, 1995 Russia
Sergio Landa Rosado Diario Cardel January 23, 2013 Mexico
Sofiene Chourabi First TV September 8, 2014 Libya
Vasyl Klymentyev Novyi Stil August 11, 2010 Ukraine
Vitaly Shevchenko Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Vladjimir Legagneur Freelance March 14, 2018 Haiti
Waheed Mohammed Naji Haider (Waheed al-Sufi) al-Arabiya April 6, 2015 Yemen
Walid al-Qasim Aleppo News Network October 12, 2014 Syria
Yelena Petrova Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Younis al-Mabrok al-Moghazy Al Barqa TV August 1, 2014 Libya

Words Have Meaning

knowledge prudence insight sensitivity appreciation wisdom compassion mindfulness consciousness patience regard integrity understanding science respect intelligence wit sense expertise patriotism recognition sagacity thanks experience esteem acumen reason ability stability examine conviction praise discernment foresight cognizance judgement poise thought sophistication learning critique sanity caution deference faculty observation comprehension logic gratefulness perspicacity attention soul brilliance thoughtfulness care judiciousness discretion astuteness brains clarity tact forgiveness sensibility review information sympathy erudition profundity equitable vigilance feel circumspection empathy subtlety acknowledgement obligation gratitude behavior credit reciprocity support veneration perception realization laud sentiment approval admiration contemplation blessing warm evaluation community deliberation muse plan conception notice representation envisage design imagination study commune impression ideas assess inform elucidate taste heed concord rapport warmth belief refinement intuition spirit capacity concern merit analyze conviction research devotion extol value remembrance courage

leadership  honor truth

Today’s Birthday: Benjamin Banneker – An 11th Generation Ancestor

A manuscript page from Benjamin Banneker's almanac (courtesy American Antiquarian Society)
A manuscript page from Benjamin Banneker’s almanac (courtesy American Antiquarian Society)

On this day in 1731 Benjamin Banneker (died 19 October 1806), free African-American man of science, author, surveyor and grandson of Bannaka, an African prince, was born in Baltimore County, Maryland. He produced commercially successful almanacs in the 1790s, and his knowledge of astronomy helped him be a part of Andrew Ellicott’s team that Thomas Jefferson ordered to survey land for the young nation’s capital city, Washington, DC.

Banneker, an older contemporary of my 6th generation grandfather, Bazil Norman (who fought in six military campaigns of the American Revolution) never married or had children. But, I am an 11th generation descendant of his sister Jemima. (In 11 generations of Banneker descendants the long-lived Normans only had 6; we marry late and, usually, live long!)

And Jemima begat Meslach who begat Mary who begat Sophia who begat Mary Elizabeth who begat George who begat James ‘Blind Jim’ who begat Mary ‘Polly’ who begat William Franklin who begat my father who begat ME!

Alas, on the day of Banneker’s funeral his cabin burned to the ground destroying almost all his papers and belongings. One journal and some rescued furniture were kept until recently by the Ellicott family, descendants of those original DC surveyors and also founders of Ellicott City, Maryland. A few items are at The Maryland Historical Society tho a Virginia collector bought most of the extant material at a 1996 auction.

I make a valiant attempt to honor my great grandmother Mary Polly’s dictum written on the sheet of paper holding her portrait: “If you don’t remember us grandchild. Who Will?” Polly was Jemima Banneker’s 8th generation grand daughter.

Mary Polly Norris-Norman (1 May 1844 - 12 March 1941)
Mary Polly Norris-Norman

Photo Credits: a page from Benjamin Banneker’s journal (courtesy American Antiquarian Society) and Mary Polly Norris-Norman (1 May 1844 – 12 March 1941) (courtesy Norman Family Archive).

RIP: Baron Wolman, Photographer Extraordinary

“Mixing business with pleasure since 1965.” – Baron Wolman, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Photo © 1969 Baron Wolman. Jerry Garcia revealing to the public, for the first time, his missing finger.
Photo © 1969 Baron Wolman. Jerry Garcia revealing to the public, for the first time, his missing finger.

Small in stature and large in heart, Baron Wolman (25 June 1937 – 2 November 2020) died yesterday, 3 November 2000, at the age of 83.

Tho born years apart we both hailed from “The Great Midwest” and were born near each other. Lest you wonder if you ever saw his pictures let me write – ‘Yes! You most certainly have – even tho you may not have known it!’ He was at Woodstock with cameras in hand and was the first photographer at Rolling Stone Magazine (1967-1970) where Jan Wenner has said Baron set the look for the magazine. Photographing The Grateful Dead band was Baron’s job for the first issue of the magazine. Not too shabby!

Baron sold his first photo, the construction of the Berlin Wall, to The Columbus Dispatch Newspaper for $50, a pic from a gig not many probably knew he had: counterintelligence in Berlin for Uncle Sam as a volunteer in the U.S. Army!

His last post to Facebook in October was typically self-effacing:

“Just as the sun sets over the Pacific, so, too, is it about to set over my life. A few of you know that a year ago I was give[n] the formal diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a disease for which there is no cure. Sad to say I’m now in the final sprint to the end. I go forward with a huge amount of gratitude for the many blessings bestowed upon me (family, friends, travels and more), with no regrets and appreciation for how my photographs – my life’s work – have been received. Leave comments if you wish, but please don’t ask any questions or expect any further words from me – I am very, very weak. Because of Covid, like thousands of others, I will pass quietly and with very few people around me. It’s been a great life, with Love being my salvation always… #fotobaron#thefotobaron#vote#voteblue2020

Baron was a class act to the end and I trust he will be surrounded by the same sentiments he wrote to me in one of his books: “Peace, Love & Music!”

Six North American River Otters

River Otters on the Rio Grande
River Otters on the Rio Grande

Between 2008 and 2010 Taos Pueblo released 33 North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis) on the banks of the Rio Pueblo de Taos near its confluence with the Rio Grande. Otters were driven to extinction here thru trapping, pollution and habitat destruction. The last ones were seen in 1953.

Road Looking North Along the River in the Rio Grande Gorge
Road Looking North Along the River in the Rio Grande Gorge

We went out today to find out if the bighorn sheep rut had begun in the canyon of the Rio Grande. Big rams facing off, rearing up and charging at full speed to butt heads for the privilege of mating with females is an all-time big thrill. Another photographer heard one head butt echoing down the canyon but saw no sheep. It’s still a bit early in the season.

'Mackerel' Clouds West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge
‘Mackerel’ Clouds Above the West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge (Bighorn Sheep Habitat)

But!… we accidentally found a bevy of otters and followed them up-river as best we could. A group of otters is also called a “romp” and adequately describes the behavior of this most mischievous member of the weasel family!

Cliffs & Clouds - East Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge
Cliffs & Clouds – East Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge

The photo is not great but I was happy to even get it. I use a manual-everything Leica-M camera, in this case mated to a Leica-R 280mm f4 lens with an R-to-M adapter and an Apo 1.4x extender. This was shot wide-open so the depth-of-field was only a few feet deep.

Santa Fe Plaza Obelisk Pulled Down by Protesters

Santa Fe Plaza Civil War Obelisk-Monument Before Its Destruction
Santa Fe Plaza Civil War Obelisk-Monument Before Its Destruction ©2020 Wilbur Norman

After a 3-day occupation of the Santa Fe Plaza in observance of Indigenous Peoples Day (we no longer celebrate October 12 as Columbus Day here in New Mexico) the monument holding center stage on the Plaza has been brought down by a largely-white mob of protestors as police backed off and vacated the Plaza.

The obelisk was originally put up in 1867 to honor Civil War Union soldiers who stopped the advance of the Confederacy in the West but had a plaque added later, on one side, that read, ‘To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.’ The word ‘savages’ was chiseled off in 1974.

The mayor earlier this year had announced there would be a decision on the future of the monument but he and the city have dragged their feet on any decision-making, in part, no doubt, over causing offense to the large population of people of Spanish descent here who revere their conquistador roots and feel theirs is THE heritage that matters in this state.

It would be great if the city decided now to have an international competition to replace the obelisk with something that embraces all New Mexicans in this the oldest capital city in the United States.

I actually liked the obelisk and thought the addition of the plaque (done a few generations ago) was itself a defacing of the monument’s original Civil War reason for being. But, there is and was, no denying that many of the northern heroes of that war went on to become principal actors in the genocide enacted upon the Indians.

Chief among this group were generals Sherman and Sheridan, both born in 1831 and who both grew up not too far from where I was born; as local heroes they were valorized with prominent statues. Both were also capable of incredible brutality to the ‘enemy’. (Sheridan was one of the first men to use what we call ‘scorched-earth’ tactics when he razed the Shenandoah Valley and Sherman is well-noted for his March Through Georgia).

It is easy for the mob to forget (if it ever knew), that history is not changed by smashing the signposts of history. Rather, it is amplified and extended by its wider unveiling from the shadows – something that was not undertaken on a large scale until universities began graduating those who would research and write our stories from a far different perspective from that which we learned in our 5th grade reader in the early 1960s. That formal and institutionalized history was one of the consequences of promoting a national identity linked to an ignorance and purposeful ‘white-washing’ of our treatment of Indigenous people and all other people of color in the United States.

Many argue this was all in the past and it is time to move on. It is, of course, easy to move on when one is part of the dominant social structure; as far as such people are concerned, there has never been any noticeable problem.

Despite being born in the second half of the 20th century I actually traveled from Philadelphia to Florida to interview a man who had been born in Africa, captured by slavers as a child with other children (lured to a ship by corn fritters dipped in honey) and sold into slavery in the American South. To know that I met and spoke to a man who lived under the regimen of the United States’ ‘peculiar institution ‘ shows how recent, in historical terms, the wide disenfranchisement of a large swath of our countrymen really has been.

The destruction of our local Plaza monument shows that not every crowd chanting ‘progressive’ slogans and carrying placards with the ‘right’ words is necessarily going to do the ‘right’ thing. Nor does being on the wrong side of the law in civil disobedience necessarily mean one is on the right side of moral history.

I don’t have answers, only questions. Like all human interaction – it’s complicated.

Vote… AS… IF… YOUR… LIFE… DEPENDED ON IT!

On this National Voter Registration Day let’s register, if we are not already, and think about the people and things we all love.

NOTE: there is audio with this incredible, zillion photos, 1 minute video from my friends at AVAAZ.

https://secure.avaaz.org/imagine1minute?emailid=17626127477

A Champion for Justice

The Notorious R.B.G. (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020)

I have sent three Tweets in my life and one of them was to Justice Ginsburg. It was an inquiry asking if she was going to make the season at our great Opera here in Santa Fe. She visited in the summers and could be seen with her omnipresent Secret Service detail headed to her seat in the lower central section of the open air house.

The first time we met her, however, was a big surprise. It was September 27, 2000 and we were at a conference in Ottawa, Canada with a group from The World Bank Ethics Office. Being interested in circumpolar artifacts, Donna and I took some time to visit a shop that specialized in Inuit art. While browsing the great wares a guy with an ear bud attached to a spiraling line came in, stopped and gave a slow survey to the store. He reminded me of the Secret Service executive protection guys we would always see around Washington, DC and it made sense as we were in the capital of Canada. Just the day before I had taken a really atmospheric portrait of Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien, 20th Prime Minister of Canada.

Suddenly a second ear-bud guy came in. Then in walked a diminutive woman who was unmistakably Ruth Bader Ginsburg followed by yet another agent. My first impulse was to go to her and simply say how I admired her and the work she had always done. So, of course, I stepped toward her. Immediately the Secret Service guys took alert positions and the front one moved to block my advance. I quickly realized how stupid I was to make such a sudden move so made an apology and had my say from where I stood. She graciously acknowledged my fandom and we all went about looking at the art in the shop.

“She had this uncanny ability to be very much in the weeds, if you will, of the intellectual legal arguments and yet never lose sight of the human impact of her decisions,” was a description Former President Clinton used to describe Ginsburg.

No doubt part of her common-sense nature came from being a mother before she went to law school and having a difficult time getting a job with a top-flight firm even after graduating first (shared with another graduate) in her class. My wife has reminded me that when she was a young woman she needed a man’s signature to open a bank account and it was also impossible for most unmarried women to get a home mortgage. The Dean of Harvard Law reportedly invited the female law students (only 9 in a class of nearly 500) to dinner at his family home and asked the female law students, including Ginsburg, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?

We have Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with a host of other talented and determined women, to thank for leading the way to necessary and long-overdue changes in the way we men handle affairs that affect everyone. Alas, we are just not that good at sharing.

Glass pendant by Jodie McDougall using the ancient technique of fusing glass 'canes'.
Glass pendant by Jodie McDougall using the ancient technique of fusing glass ‘canes’.

The Notorious R.G.B.* will be sorely missed.


* a law student bestowed this moniker on Ginsburg that is take-off on the nickname of the late (also) Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

Can A Good Result Come From A Bad Platform? A Rant

Last autumn I posted a photograph on Facebook of two adult women from a Sing-Sing in Papua New Guinea. They were wearing grass skirts and necklaces. Within a couple hours it disappeared and I received a notice that the photograph “violated community standards”. Evidently, Facebook trolls their platform with algorithms looking for the breasts that half (or more) of homo sapiens sapiens possess and that many display as part of either ordinary living or reenactments and continuation of traditions dating back millennia.

Two Sing-Sing Dancers
Hmm…Hmm…Hmmm. Now That’s One I’d Go Out With! Two Women Dancers Admiring A Male Dancer

If I had, instead, posted some vitriolic, racist bullshit about exterminating people of color, starting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, all would have been hunky-dory. No problema, I would have been simply a righteous asshole expressing my First Amendment rights and espousing violence like many another red-blooded white man with below-average self-esteem; poor work skills; poorer general social skills; a skepticism of science and book-learnin’; a knack for receiving a world view from Fox ‘News’ and, if I am a teen, an inability to get laid (young girls have radar that, almost immediately with few mistakes, can spot weirdos.)

In other words, a white guy who, along with his white male ancestors has enjoyed the prosperity and unearned status that has been their lot for the last few hundred years. When such a status is jeopardized by anyone, including their ‘natural’ soul mates, white women, it is time to pull the plug on the veneer of ‘live and let live’ and fight to keep – and extend, the privilege that exists. So what I dropped out of school in the 8th grade and would love to have lived in Roman times. I could have gone to those gladiatorial contests to give the thumbs down on the barbarians from the provinces? Yeh, I would have loved to join the military to bear arms if I could have passed the rudimentary skills test. And doin’ it for the USA would have been a bonus ‘cause I love this country, especially back when it enforced racial separation. Hoo-rah!

But, carrying a semi-automatic gun… er… weapon, in public is the next best thing. Hell, better: I don’t have to follow orders from some jerk with a ‘high & tight’. (And, too, it really makes me feel like a man, you know. A whole lot. I know the chicks dig it!)

Who you callin’ deplorable!

To be more fair, there are fellow travelers who are not functionally stupid. As I have no known close acquaintances in this category I have not been able to ask whether such individuals actually believe all the clap-trap of white supremacists or whether they are just along for the ride because they stand to benefit from any extension of ole’ white boy power.

So… what this rant is really about is whether I will continue to use Facebook for posts or dump it and return to just writing on my Blog. As Facebook is 110% dollar driven I don’t think it will change much, despite Zucker-face buying time by mouthing the right code words at congressional hearings about the company having to do better.

What WILL amend Facebook’s corporate behavior is when they are sued and saddled with billions of dollars in legal claims similar to those that were faced by Big Tobacco. When a corporation knows it operates in an area that is a detriment to society it is culpable. I’m sure they will holler they are a news outlet letting their users enjoy the full extent of their First Amendments rights but we all know that, in truth, Facebook is a private business that is, in fact, in business to make money, not engage in the public good.

I have two more postings I am contemplating. One on evolutionary biology and one on Trumpism and capital. Then, I think I will bow out. It’s been a good, if uneasy, ride!

meandering & idle speculations on nothing & everything                                          

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