# blueollie

## That’s Right: Creationists Really Believe this!

From The Nation (about a year ago) (by Katha Pollitt)

Why does it matter that almost half the country rejects the overwhelming evidence of evolution, with or without the hand of God? After all, Americans are famously ignorant of many things—like where Iran is or when World War II took place—and we are still here. One reason is that rejecting evolution expresses more than an inability to think critically; it relies on a fundamentally paranoid worldview. Think what the world would have to be like for evolution to be false. Almost every scientist on earth would have to be engaged in a fraud so complex and extensive it involved every field from archaeology, paleontology, geology and genetics to biology, chemistry and physics. And yet this massive concatenation of lies and delusion is so full of obvious holes that a pastor with a Bible-college degree or a homeschooling parent with no degree at all can see right through it. A flute discovered in southern Germany is 43,000 years old? Not bloody likely. It’s probably some old bone left over from an ancient barbecue. To celebrate its fifth anniversary, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, has installed a holographic exhibit of Lucy, the famous proto-human fossil, showing how she was really just a few-thousand-year-old ape after all.

May 18, 2013

## Fake Scandals, Parasites, Fracking and Calculus

Mathematics This is an interesting (and lengthy) post about Gottfried Leibniz: he was one of the cofounders of calculus and one who was credited with inventing the $\frac{df}{dx}$ notation, as well as the “product rule” in calculus.

IQ and race Mano Singham has a gift for writing about tough subjects; his ideas about “race and IQ” are worth reading. We pretty much agree.

Education
Should we use blood types, as a class project, to demonstrate genetics? That SOUNDS nice, but there are some pitfalls (hints: possibly adopted and unaware…or….the offspring of an extra marital affair?)

Academic Freedom: are there limits to this, especially when teaching at a public university in the United States? I say: “yes, there are limits”; we cannot use our students as a captive audience to promote religious beliefs. Note: I am NOT talking about “best teaching practices” but rather “what is legal.” Teaching incompetently is legal but ill advised.

The Obama Scandals: Paul Krugman says it well:

I picked a good week to be away — and I am still away, mostly, although playing a bit of hooky on the notebook right now. For it has been the week of OBAMA SCANDALS, nonstop.

Except it seems that there weren’t actually any scandals, just the usual confusion and low-level mistakes that happen all the time, in any administration.

Fracking I know that many who vote the same way that I do are anti-fracking. It is my opinion that fracking CAN be done competently. But when it isn’t, the consequences are disastrous. So when one considers a practice, one has to also consider safeguards and the likelihood that it will be “done right.”

Evolution, medicine, Malaria and Mosquitos
This is fascination. We’ve known for some time that a parasite can influence the behavior of its host. Now, there is solid evidence that the malaria parasite can make a mosquito more likely to “bite” a human, thereby helping the parasite spread. Read about the experiment at Jerry Coyne’s website.

May 17, 2013

## taper topics (science)

Science leads the way: cloning is used to create embryonic stem cells!

Ants: when should ants just wait out bad weather and when should they forage? Evolution works out an answer.

Brinicles: yes, super cold “icicles of brine” can reach below the surface of water and become a finger of death for the things that it touches:

I can see how an ancient person might see this as a “finger of god”.

May 16, 2013

## Can you see it? Animal Camouflage

Via Jerry Coyne’s site: Why Evolution is True, where there are more cool photos.

May 15, 2013

## Science Tuesday (14 May)

Dark energy
Here is a nice synopsis on it. Even better: this is a nice reminder that, if you are not a physicist, your “common sense” suggestions of what dark energy might be (or what might replace dark energy as a factor) have been thought of and dismissed.

Woo and evolution Jerry Coyne takes the Chronicle of Higher Education to task for giving woo notions (with regards to evolution) credibility. My guess: even some academics can’t seem to stomach the notion that “you don’t know what you are talking about” IS a valid reason to dismiss an argument in science. Where it is true that, in some cases, it is valid to entertain different points of view (example) that does NOT mean that all points of view have validity.

Mathematics
It is a current conjecture that there are an infinite number of “paired primes”; that is, numbers $x, y$ where $x - y = 2$ and $x, y$ are prime integers. Until recently, no one has come up with any bound for pairs of primes…at all. Evidently, that has changed (note: Annals of Mathematics is the finest mathematics journal in the world):

It’s a result only a mathematician could love. Researchers hoping to get ‘2’ as the answer for a long-sought proof involving pairs of prime numbers are celebrating the fact that a mathematician has wrestled the value down from infinity to 70 million.

“That’s only [a factor of] 35 million away” from the target, quips Dan Goldston, an analytic number theorist at San Jose State University in California who was not involved in the work. “Every step down is a step towards the ultimate answer.”

That goal is the proof to a conjecture concerning prime numbers. Those are the whole numbers that are divisible only by one and themselves. Primes abound among smaller numbers, but they become less and less frequent as one goes towards larger numbers. In fact, the gap between each prime and the next becomes larger and larger — on average. But exceptions exist: the ‘twin primes’, which are pairs of prime numbers that differ in value by 2. Examples of known twin primes are 3 and 5, or 17 and 19, or 2,003,663,613 × 2195,000 − 1 and 2,003,663,613 × 2195,000 + 1.

The twin prime conjecture says that there is an infinite number of such twin pairs. Some attribute the conjecture to the Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, which would make it one of the oldest open problems in mathematics.

The problem has eluded all attempts to find a solution so far. A major milestone was reached in 2005 when Goldston and two colleagues showed that there is an infinite number of prime pairs that differ by no more than 16. But there was a catch. “They were assuming a conjecture that no one knows how to prove,” says Dorian Goldfeld, a number theorist at Columbia University in New York.

The new result, from Yitang Zhang of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, finds that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that are less than 70 million units apart without relying on unproven conjectures. Although 70 million seems like a very large number, the existence of any finite bound, no matter how large, means that that the gaps between consecutive numbers don’t keep growing forever. The jump from 2 to 70 million is nothing compared with the jump from 70 million to infinity. “If this is right, I’m absolutely astounded,” says Goldfeld.

In a nutshell: Zhang has proved that there exists infinitely many prime numbers $x, y, x > y$ where $(x-y) < 70,000,000$. Seriously, until now, we had no upper bound at all.

May 14, 2013

Teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t stock XL or XXL sizes in women’s clothing because they don’t want overweight women wearing their brand.
They want the “cool kids,” and they don’t consider plus-sized women as being a part of that group.

[...]

It’s not surprising that Abercrombie excludes plus-sized women considering the attitude of CEO Mike Jeffries, said Robin Lewis, co-author of The New Rules of Retail and CEO of newsletter The Robin Report.
“He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people,” Lewis told Business Insider. “He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the ‘cool kids.’”
The only reason Abercrombie offers XL and XXL men’s sizes is probably to appeal to beefy football players and wrestlers, Lewis said.
We asked the company why it doesn’t offer larger sizes for women. A spokeswoman told us that Abercrombie wasn’t available to provide a comment.
In a 2006 interview with Salon, Jeffries himself said that his business was built around sex appeal.
“It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries also told Salon that he wasn’t bothered by excluding some customers.
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

My response to this: So What? It is a business; no one has a “right” to buy their clothing (or whatever they make).
Of course, if some customers don’t like their attitude, they have the right to NOT buy their clothing.

Ok, I lied just a bit: I am interested to know if their model will work.
I had a friend who was in mail order. He would put an ad for something, say a pen that had a digital watch in the body. He’d pay, perhaps a dollar a piece for them wholesale and then sell them, for say, 100 dollars…..while being perfectly honest about what it was (accurate photo and description). He told me that he sold more by charging MORE for the same item; so evidently there is something to “snob appeal”.

Many recognize that, including Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga:

Bikram’s business goals also became more ambitious. Rather than simply own studios and train teachers, he now aims to turn his disciples into franchisees and give hot-yoga enthusiasts nationwide the exact same experience, from the poses down to the instructor’s monologue. As with Starbucks, he figures, familiarity will prove attractive to Americans—and lucrative, too, with potential for licensing deals galore. “Bikram yoga is so big—this is a bathroom slipper you buy [for] $2 in Kmart,” he says, waving a plastic flip-flop in my face. “But you put ‘Bikram’ on it, it’ll sell for$35 in a second.”

Hey, if you can persuade customers…:-)

However, at this time, Mr. Choudhury might have different issues on his mind.

Issue Two: Biochemist Larry Moran seems befuddled that those who lack scientific credentials (and expertise) seem comfortable telling experts that the experts have it wrong.

This is all very frustrating. Why do IDiots who have no serious training in biochemistry and molecular biology think they know more than the experts?

And why do they refuse to learn when we attempt to educate them?

Professor Moran: this is the American way! Advocates, be they advocates for creationism, “alternative medicine”, or knee-jerk anti-GMO advocates don’t get advice from “experts”; they give it to them! The only time they listen to experts (or someone with a “doctorate” of some sort) is when they confirm what they already (think that they) know.

What they do is come up with a heuristic that makes sense to them; then they “know” it. That their heuristic flies in the face of established physical laws is of no consequence to them; that it coincides with their intuition is all that matters. And they are smart; just ask them if you don’t believe me.

If you try to point out that their ideas are completely at odds with long established science or knowledge, you’ll be accused of: “close minded”, “being an agent of Satan, a tool of “Big Pharma” or “Monsanto”, a racist, sexist or otherwise evil person, etc. That they have no discoveries or intellectual accomplishments won’t matter at all. “Common Sense” is on their side!

It is the Dunning-Kruger effect run wild.

May 10, 2013

## Creationism in some class rooms: how much does it really matter?

workout notes
Weights only in the morning; some miles (2-4? walking) in the afternoon with the group (not done yet).

Weights: (almost empty gym; it is final exam week)
supplementary: rotator cuff, Achilles, Hip Hikes, Side Plank, some yoga
Main: pull ups: 5 sets of 10
bench: 10 x 135, 4 x 185, 7 x 170 (ran out of motivation)
incline: 10 x 140, 6 x 150
abs: 3 sets of 10 each; crunch, twists, sit back, v. crunch (curling the torso makes a huge difference!)
dumbbell bench: 2 sets of 10 x 65 dumbbells
dumbbell military: 3 sets of 12 x 50
dumbbell row: 3 sets of 10 x 65 (I always sweat heavily during this one)
Hammer row: 2 sets of 10 x 210
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 160
curls: 3 sets of 10 x 65 (EZ curl bar; 2 10 pound plates on each side)
Oh yes, I’ve started doing light squats:
5 x 45, 5 x 65, 5 x 75 (no, I am not joking; those are my actual weights, but I am training myself to go deep).

Reason: I want to start squats this summer; my legs are too weak for me to run faster.

Posts
How much harm does creationism cause? Sure, it is bogus but it appears to me that those who don’t believe creationism believe all sorts of other woo-woo; I am beginning to think that most people just aren’t going to understand science anyway.

I read something to that effect in Kenneth Miller’s book Only a Theory. Another research professor said that it might not be worth it to expend too much energy in fighting creationism in the deep south as that is not where we get most of our scientists.

What started me thinking about this: one was this post by Jerry Coyne; he had given some lectures in North Carolina and some had reacted negatively. (Yes, there is a strong research triangle there; I definitely would defend science teaching in that area.)

Then there is this video from a Dayton, Tennessee biology class room: (yes, THAT Dayton, Tennessee; the place of the Scope “Monkey” Trial):

Sure I wouldn’t want MY kid in that classroom with that “biology teacher” (who in the heck graduated him? Bryan College? Liberty? Bob Jones?) but these aren’t my kids.

Seeing stuff like this makes me think that we really made a mistake fighting the Civil War; had we just let the Southern States go we would be a much stronger country, and they’d be happier. We could have our liberal democracy and they could have their theocracy that they crave.

NOTE: yes, I know that there are two big issues. There is the legal issue: the “no establishment” clause forbids the government promoting religion in the class room; this is why creationism is illegal.

The other issue is the issue of “good science teaching”: creationism/intelligent design is regarded as a long-ago-debunked crackpot idea, on a par with homeopathy and astrology. If you don’t believe me, surf to the websites of the best science museums in the nation, or to any biology department in any non-sectarian university. Start with the big research universities in your state; see for yourself what is being researched and taught.

May 8, 2013

## Genes, cancer, cells and peppers

Workout notes
I had heavy legs this morning; this worried me a bit. It turns out that my legs were heavy from doing three sets of 5 squats with…45 pounds. OMG, my legs are weak.

So I ran outside in perfect weather; 1:01:10 for 6.4 hilly miles; 9:45 out, 8:49 back: 35:40, 12:33, 4:07, 8:49. (9:33 mpm pace) and then did some light leg exercises afterward. I’ll probably start this program and do these after my runs. My legs are too weak.

Note: last night, I did 2 miles of walking with the group and another 2 (harder) with Vickie.

Peppers
Yes, the hotness is being bred out of the jalapeno pepper; it isn’t just your imagination. This is what happens when you aim for the mean.

Genes and cancer:
Via the New York Times:

Scientists have discovered that the most dangerous cancer of the uterine lining closely resembles the worst ovarian and breast cancers, providing the most telling evidence yet that cancer will increasingly be seen as a disease defined primarily by its genetic fingerprint rather than just by the organ where it originated. [...]

Over the past year, as part of this project, researchers have reported striking genetic changes in breast, colon and lung cancers that link them to other cancers. One kind of breast cancer was closely related to ovarian cancer. Colon cancers often had a genetic change found in breast cancer. And about half of squamous cell lung cancers might be attacked by drugs being developed for other cancers.

The endometrial cancer and leukemia efforts alone involved more than 100 researchers who studied close to 400 endometrial tumors and 200 leukemias. Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecological cancer in American women and strikes nearly 50,000 of them a year, killing about 8,000. Acute myeloid leukemia, the most prevalent acute adult leukemia, is diagnosed in about 14,000 Americans a year and kills about 10,000.

“This is exploring the landscape of cancer genomics,” said Dr. David P. Steensma, a leukemia researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who was not involved with the studies. “Many developments in medicine are about treatments or tests that are only useful for a certain period of time until something better comes by. But this is something that will be useful 200 years from now. This is a landmark that will stand the test of time.”

Dr. Douglas Levine of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the principal investigator on the endometrial cancer study, said the group scoured the country for samples of this cancer.

The cancer has long been evaluated by pathologists who examine thin slices of endometrial tumors under a microscope and put them in one of two broad categories. But the method is not ideal. In general, one category predicts a good prognosis and tumors that could be treated with surgery and radiation, while the other holds a poorer prognosis and requires chemotherapy after surgery. But pathologists often disagree about how to classify the tumors and can find it difficult to distinguish between the two types, Dr. Levine said.

The new genetic analysis of hundreds of tumors found patterns of genetic aberrations that more precisely classify the tumors, dividing them into four distinct groups. About 10 percent of tumors that had seemed easily treated with the old type of exam now appear to be more deadly according to the genetic analysis and would require chemotherapy.

Another finding was that many endometrial cancers had a mutation in a gene that had been seen before only in colon cancers. The mutation disables a system for repairing DNA damage, resulting in 100 times more mutations than typically occur in cancer cells.

“That was a complete surprise,” Dr. Levine said.

It turned out to be good news. Endometrial cancers with the mutation had better outcomes, perhaps because the accumulating DNA damage is devastating to cancer cells.

Another surprise was that the worst endometrial tumors were so similar to the most lethal ovarian and breast cancers, raising the tantalizing possibility that the three deadly cancers might respond to the same drugs.

The bottom line: cancers shouldn’t really be classified by what organ they attack but rather by their genomes; it is this classification which should determine which treatment to use.

Why are some drugs so effective at treating cancer cells? It might depend on how the drug causes proteins to be polarized in the cell: (via University of Manchester):

Professor Daniel Davis and his team used high quality video imaging to investigate why the drug rituximab is so effective at killing cancerous B cells. It is widely used in the treatment of B cell malignancies, such as lymphoma and leukaemia – as well as in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
Using high-powered laser-based microscopes, researchers made videos of the process by which rituximab binds to a diseased cell and then attracts white blood cells known as natural killer (NK) cells to attack. They discovered that rituximab tended to stick to one side of the cancer cell, forming a cap and drawing a number of proteins over to that side. It effectively created a front and back to the cell – with a cluster of protein molecules massed on one side.
But what surprised the scientists most was how this changed the effectiveness of natural killer cells in destroying these diseased cells. When the NK cell latched onto the rituximab cap on the B cell, it had an 80% success rate at killing the cell. In contrast, when the B cell lacked this cluster of proteins on one side, it was killed only 40% of the time.
Professor Davis says: “These results were really unexpected. It was only possible for us to unravel the mystery of why this drug was so effective, through the use of video microscopy. By watching what happened within the cells we could clearly identify just why rituximab is such an effective drug – because it tended to reorganise the cancerous cell and make it especially prone to being killed.”
He continues: “What our findings demonstrate is that this ability to polarise a cell by moving proteins within it should be taken into consideration when new antibodies are being tested as potential treatments for cancer cells. It appears that they can be up to twice as effective if they bind to a cell and reorganise it.”

Hurray for Science!

May 2, 2013

## Republican Relativism and Something Good about Peoria

We do have first rank science being done here:

PEORIA —
It began in South Korea with a baby girl born without a windpipe. Unable to eat, drink or swallow on her own, she breathed through a tube inserted into her esophagus. She was a prisoner of the neo-natal intensive care unit, her father said.

The next chapter moved to Peoria, where about three weeks ago doctors performed the experimental surgery that could change her life and upend traditional organ transplantation.

Her name is Hannah, she’s almost 3 and she tasted her first lollipop Friday.

With an artificial windpipe made of plastic fibers bathed in Hannah’s own living cells, surgeons at Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center successfully performed the first bio-engineered transplant on a child in the United States and the first bio-engineered trachea transplant on a child in the world. It also was the first stem cell therapy at the Catholic hospital.

“I cannot express what it means to me as a scientist, a man, a father,” said Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, the expert in regenerative medicine and tracheal transplantation from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, who led the intricate 11-hour surgery on April 9.

Officials at Children’s Hospital and St. Francis announced the ground-breaking surgery Tuesday in a St. Francis conference room packed with media, either live or online, from throughout the world, plus the surgical team, researchers and businesses involved in building the expensive devices needed to regenerate human tissue into organs.

It doesn’t get more big-time than this folks!

Now in another “man-bites-dog” story, Paul Krugman points out something:

Brad DeLong directs me to a screed by Clive Crook, who sort of admits that I’ve been right about a lot of things but accuses me of being, well, shrill. Where have I heard that before?

But the Crook piece is actually useful, in an unintended way.

Brad points out, correctly, that Crook demands that I engage respectfully with reasonable people on the other side, but somehow fails to offer even one example of such a person. Not long ago Crook was offering Paul Ryan as an exemplar of serious, honest conservatism, while I was shrilly declaring Ryan a con man. But I suspect that even Crook now admits, at least to himself, that Ryan is indeed a con man.

But in a way the most revealing point here is Crook’s demand that I engage with

thoughtful, public-spirited Americans whose views on the proper scale and scope of government are different from his, yet worthy of respect.
Wait — is that what it’s about? If you read my original post, and Noah Smith’s KrugTron the Invincible post that inspired it, you’ll see that it’s all about macroeconomics — about questions like whether budget deficits in a depressed economy drive up interest rates and crowd out private investment, about whether printing money in a depressed economy is inflationary, about whether rising government debt has severe negative impacts on growth.

What do these questions have in common? They’re factual questions, with factual answers — and they have absolutely no necessary relationship to the “proper scale and scope of government”. You could, in principle, believe that we need a drastically downsized government, and at the same time believe that cutting government spending right now will increase unemployment. You could believe that discretionary policy of any kind is a mistake, and at the same time admit that the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet isn’t at all inflationary under current circumstances.

So where’s this stuff about the scale of government coming from? Well, in practice it turns out that many conservatives are unwilling to concede that Keynesian macro has any validity to it, or that you can sometimes run the printing presses without unleashing runaway inflation, because they fear that any such admission would open the doors to much wider government intervention. But that’s exactly my point! They’re letting their views about how the world works be dictated by their vision of the kind of society they want; they’re politicizing their economic analysis. And that’s why they keep getting everything wrong.

They do the same in science; after all creationists and intelligent design advocates say that standard science “is only a theory; only one point of view”.

Conservatives might bash liberals for “moral relativism” but they are happy to use “relativism” themselves when the facts don’t fit their world view.

Oh yes, liberals do that to, but liberals don’t accuse conservatives of being “relativists”. But in fact, we should, because they are!

May 1, 2013

## Woos, Violence, Science, Chained CPI and other topics…

Workout notes
Weights only: rotator cuff/ hip hikes, Achilles/
pull ups: 5 sets of 10
abs: 3 sets of: sit backs, twists, crunches, vertical crunches
incline bench: 10 x 135, 5 x 155, 6 x 150, 8 x 145
dumbbell military: 3 sets of 12 x 50 (seated; 50 each arm)
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 160
curls: 3 sets of 10 x 57.5 (pulley)
dumbbell bench: 3 sets of 10 x 65
dumbbell row: 3 sets of 10 x 65 each arm.
back PT, side plank, etc.

Note: I always do these with very little rest between sets; I might do curls, incline, dumbbell military, and repeat.

Politics
Robert Reich explains the “chained CPI” concept with respect to social security:

The Obama administration counter to this is that increasing health care costs will be mitigated by some Obamacare provisions.

Science
This is an hour long video via the BBC. But it discusses Richard Dawkins and his ideas; I found it to be informative and entertaining.

Social Science
On the surface, this Psychology Today article by Goal Auzeen Saedi appears to be another “conservative suck” nonsense article. But it makes some interesting non-partisan points:

Further, studies have indicated an automatic association between aggression, America, and the news. A study conducted by researchers at Cornell and The Hebrew University (Ferguson & Hassin, 2007) indicated, “American news watchers who were subtly or nonconsciously primed with American cues exhibited greater accessibility of aggression and war constructs in memory, judged an ambiguously aggressive person in a more aggressive and negative manner, and acted in a relatively more aggressive manner toward an experimenter following a mild provocation, compared with news watchers who were not primed” (p. 1642). American “cues” refers to factors such as images of the American flag or words such as “patriot.” Interestingly, this study showed this effect to be independent of political affiliation, but suggested a disturbing notion that America is implicitly associated with aggression for news watchers.
Taken together, what do these studies suggest? Excessive exposure to news coverage could be toxic as is avoidance of open-minded attitudes and ideals. Perhaps turn off the television and pick up a book? Ideally one that exposes you to differing worldviews.

In my opinion, liberals and Democrats are just as prone to be set off by a simplistic, shallow news presentation as are conservatives and Republicans. The take away here: read something more in depth so you have some context to what is going on.

Social
I found this amusing:

This also touched some emotions.

Commentary and navel staring I am 53 years old. I don’t like it that my body’s physical abilities have degraded; e. g. 5K has gone from 19 to 25 minutes; bench press went from 5 x 225 to 5 x 185. But I really don’t miss the old “dating game” and all of the lying that one had to do. Were I single now and I had the above discussion, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that astrology was nonsense, no matter how “hot” the female was. Sure, such an attitude will alienate you; after all, everyone thinks of themselves as being “smart” and “informed”; I can’t count how many times I’ve read social media comments in which people (especially women) referred to themselves as being “smart” even though many of these people have had very little in the way of difficult intellectual accomplishment.

Well, at my age, I no longer care about alienating people socially.

Speaking of social alienation, a fat woman decided to do a sort-of social experiment:

I was traveling with students in Barcelona in the summer of 2011, walking through La Rambla, when I noticed two guys making fun of me. I could see them in the reflection of a mirrored building, making gestures with their hands to suggest how much bigger I was than the thin girl standing next to me, her small waist accentuated by her crop top and cut-off shorts. They painted her figure in the air like an hourglass. Then they painted my shape like the convex curves of a ball. The guys were saying something, too, but there was only one word I could make out: Gorda. Fat woman.

I’ve been hearing comments like this for much all my life. Maybe someone else would have yelled at them, or shrunk inside. But I don’t get upset when this happens.

I pulled out my camera, and set up a shoot.

For about a year, I’d been taking pictures of strangers’ reactions to me in public for a series I called “Wait Watchers.” I was interested in capturing something I already knew firsthand: If the large women in historical art pieces were walking around today, they would be scorned and ridiculed.

So I found a crowded crosswalk farther down La Rambla, used my rangefinder camera to set the exposure and focus of where I would stand, and handed the camera to my assistant. I bought a cup of gelato and began eating it. I’ve learned I get more successful reactions if I am “doing” something.

In my peripheral vision, I saw a teen girl waiting for the signal to cross the street. As I stood there, eating my ice cream, I heard a repetitive “SLAP, SLAP, SLAP” of a hand on skin. I signaled to my assistant to shoot. It was only when I returned home to Memphis and got the film developed that I realized the sound was the girl hitting her belly as she watched me eat. She did this over and over. I have five frames of her with various facial expressions. I called the resulting image “Gelato.”

I’ll let you surf to the article to see the photos. In one photo, the police are clearly making fun of her. But in other cases, it really wasn’t that clear to me. If you take 100′s of photos, you’ll see many different facial expressions, some which may well be unrelated.

As far as the woman herself: yeah, she is reasonably fat and grossly out of shape. But if she lived here in Peoria, she would NOT stand out at all; she’d mostly blend right in, especially at a Golden Corral or a Chinese Buffet. In fact, some of the slower pace groups in our “beginning runners/walkers” programs are populated by people who look like her; hey you have to start somewhere!

So, I am a bit puzzled about her getting much ridicule; after all, I did get some but at my fattest, I was way fatter than she is now.

Social: our reaction to the Boston Bombing:
Yes, I know it is an Alternet article (linking to Salon and Alternet! wow…my standards have really dropped! )

But this author raises the question:

he Boston Marathon bombing and shootouts with the suspects frightened millions of Americans and turned into one of the biggest media events of the 21st century. But beyond lingering questions of whether the government went too far by shutting down an entire city and whether that might encourage future terrorism, a deeper and darker question remains: why is America’s obsession with evil so selective?

There are all kinds of violent events in America that go unheeded. The British-based Guardian newspaper reported that on the same day as the bombing, 11 people were killed by guns across the U.S. That sad list included a pregnant woman in Dallas allegedly shot by her boyfriend; a 13-year-old who took his own life after being bullied at school; and an off-duty New York City policewoman who killed her husband, her year-old baby, and then committed suicide with her police-issued handgun.

The lists of most violent American trends reveal the mundane shades of evil. There are the most violent cities. There are the murder capitals. There’s domestic violence primarily against women. There are the most dangerous jobs, where injury is common and death far more widespread than from bomb-wielding terrorists—such as at the Texas fertilizer plant that blew up last week and killed at least 14 people and where 270 tons of ammonium nitrate was illegally stored in violation of state and federal law.[...]

I see a few things at work here. First of all, humans tend to overreact to the high profile events and ignore the more mundane; e. g. you are far more likely to be hurt or killed in a car accident than you are by a terrorist bomb.

Secondly: society tends to see underserved sectors (ghettos, isolated rural areas) as places isolated from us. Much of the violence there are people who live in such areas doing some self-enforcing of local codes (reference: Steve Pinker’s book Better Angels). So if poor blacks and poor rural whites shoot each other…well…that isn’t our world so just keep it there, ok? On the other hand: the Boston Marathon is something the media consuming public can relate to; we all know a runner and have watched parades or sporting events. Killing and maiming is out of place here; we rely on police and law enforcement to keep order…and not vigilantism. This is OUR world and such acts are out of place here since we aren’t at war.

Note: This is NOT voicing approval of such attitudes but an attempt to “call it as I see it”.

April 24, 2013