24May/16

Vigilantes Take Over San Francisco – May 1856

From the Daily Alta California of May 23, 1856:

Our streets have assumed a more quiet aspect this morning than we have witnessed for several days past. The proceedings of yesterday have very naturally produced such a result.

Lynching-of-casey-and-cora-M

Execution of James P. Casey and Charles Cora, By The Vigilance Committee, of San Francisco, on Thursday, May 22d, 1856, from the Windows of their Rooms, in Sacramento Street, between Front and Davis Streets. Made by Huestis; sold by M. Ullman, New York. From the Bancroft Library: BANC PIC 1963.002:02–B

The Alta didn’t need to spell out the details. Everyone in the little city of San Francisco (which filled an area roughly from today’s South Beach to Mission to North Beach) knew what “proceedings” had occurred on Thursday, May 22.

While 3000+ armed San Franciscans hanged two human symbols of violence, corruption, and vice, the rest of the city marched toward Lone Mountain Cemetery to bury James King of William, crusading editor of the Evening Bulletin.

CaseyShootsKingSupervisor Casey’s crime was shooting King in the street on May 14 for refusing to retract an insult he printed in the Bulletin. Although King did not appear to be mortally wounded, a surfeit of medical attention soon finished him off. When the Vigilantes took over the County Jail on Broadway and removed Casey to their own “Fort Vigilance” for a kangaroo trial, they also removed gambler Charles Cora, who was awaiting retrial for fatally shooting a U.S. Marshal, arguably in self-defense.

Here is the Bulletin’s account of San Francisco’s transformation in May 1856:

There never was a more perfect or complete revolution in the government, or the affairs of a community, than in this city the past week.Among our citizens confidence is restored, and the virtue, intelligence, and ability of our people to govern themselves. Those who lived in fear of some outrage upon their lives or property feel a security greater than they have experienced in a long time.

We had witnessed the bold attempt at assassination in our streets; we had seen the infuriated mass rush wildly after the prisoner, with exclamations of “Hang him!” filling the air.

VC1856-photoWe had witnessed the organization of the Vigilance Committee in our very midst, with a list of 3,000 names; we had witnessed their formidable array in the streets of our city; and we had witnessed their successful campaign of rescuing the prisoners, Casey and Cora, from the jail on Sunday; all attended with the most intense and enthusiastic excitement.

But never until the death of Mr. King was announced yesterday [May 20], at half past one o’clock, have we seen such a powerful and universal demonstration of real, true, heartfelt sorrow and mourning as was exhibited by our people.

JKofW-LiveAndDead-digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu-calheritage-ucb-honeyman-figures-HN000768aA

James King of William, before and after. Honeyman Collection, U.C. Berkeley.

On Thursday morning, many of our business and private dwelling houses, that had not previously robed in black, put on the garb of mourning, and the flags of the city, with but one exceptionEngine Company Number Ten—hung at half mast. At an early hour, the meetings and organizations of our different societies took place; and by twelve o’clock, all were ready to join in the procession.

The body of the deceased had been conveyed to his late residence at the corner of Pacific and Mason Streets. A few minutes before noon, the hearse was borne to the Unitarian Church on Stockton Street. The church was well filled long before the hour appointed. Mrs. King and children and Mr. Thomas S. King [the deceased’s younger brother] were seated in front of the pulpit, and the immediate friends of the deceased in the adjoining pews.

The cortege moved in the following order:

The Masonic Order in full regalia with the Royal Arch Chapter. A carriage containing the Reverend Misters Cutler, Lacy, and Taylor. A carriage containing the physicians to the late deceased. The hearse, drawn by four gray horses richly caparisoned, attended on each side by the pallbearers. Carriage containing Mrs. King and children and Mr Thomas S. King. Carriages containing mourning friends of the deceased.

Attaches of the Evening Bulletin on foot. California Pioneers with badges and mourning emblems. Members of the press in the city and towns in the interior. Sacramento Guard in full uniform. The San Francisco Fire Department in citizens’ dress, headed by the chief engineer. Every company was largely represented except Number Ten.

The San Francisco Minstrels, members of the theatrical profession, and the musical bands of the city with muffled instruments. The boys from St. Mary’s Library Association. The draymen of the city on horseback, to the number of 350 men. The steveodores, with banners, numbering 142 men. The Turnverein Society in full costume. A deputation of 10 colored persons with badges representing the San Francisco Athenaeum, a library association composed of colored persons. These were followed by a large number of carriages and private vehicles. It is estimated that the procession extended a mile and a half in length.

JailTakeoverPoster

The tragic martyrdom of a hero was just the story San Franciscans needed to excuse themselves for taking the law into their own hands and lynching two scapegoats. It also got them off the hook for not utilizing the legal system already in place. If any Vigilantes felt guilty for leaving the job of cleaning up their city to James King of William while he lived, they could pat themselves on the back for doing a zealous job of avenging his death.

But in reality there was more to the story than that. When we come back, a 160th-anniversary look at some startling twists behind the purification of San Francisco.

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20Apr/16

Crowdsourcing Science Research, from Astronomy to Zoology

by CJ Verburg

CitizenSci-CR-CV-LA

Kevin Schawinski prepares to moderate tonight’s panel discussion, while Carole Roberts, CJ Verburg, Linda Ackerman, and a ponytailed fan of Swissnex’s physics feasts wait to watch and listen. Photo (c) ETH Zurich-Barak Shrama-016 by Rahel Byland.

Last week, two friends & I met at the intersection of Switzerland and San Francisco for a mind-boggling look into the future.

Swissnex is Switzerland’s HQ for high-tech liaisons with the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, and it’s just up Montgomery Street from the Transamerica Pyramid. On Friday night, April 8, we’re here to learn about investigative projects in which scientists based at ETH Zurich (“Where Einstein launched his career”) are directing research teams of hundreds, thousands, or millions of ordinary citizens around the world.

That unassuming man in geeky glasses and rolled-up shirtsleeves is Kevin Schawinski, Professor of Galaxy & Black Hole Astrophysics at ETH Zurich. A winner of the Royal Astronomical Society’s thesis prize at Oxford and a NASA Einstein Fellowship at Yale, he also cofounded the Galaxy Zoo. As his colleague Lucy Fortson will explain shortly, galaxies fall into two basic groups: blue spiral, which are relatively young and still forming stars, and red elliptical, AKA “red and dead.”

In this age of Big Data, projects such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey can provide scientists with more information than any one person, university, or even nation can process. After classifying 50,000 galaxies himself, Schawinski turned over the other 950,000 in the pipeline to sharp-eyed online observers. “Within 24 hours of launch we were stunned to be receiving almost 70,000 classifications an hour.” That’s the Galaxy Zoo. If it sounds like fun, you can click here and start classifying galaxies yourself right now.

CitSci-panelists

The panel, left to right: Professors Adrien Treuille, Lucy Fortson, Ulrich Genick, and Dirk Helbing. Photo (c) ETH Zurich-Barak Shrama-036 by Rahel Byland.

First speaker on the panel is Professor of Computational Social Sciences Dirk Helbing, whose specialties include crowds and traffic. He gives us a whirlwind tour of Big Data issues and responses, starting with the paradox that as information proliferates, the percentage we can process drops: What we CAN know may actually decrease what we DO know. We do know that governments and corporations are voraciously collecting data on individuals. In China, “citizen scores” on a multitude of measures are already becoming the basis for what each citizen is allowed to do. Helbing coordinates the FuturICT Initiative, which uses smart data to understand techno-socio-economic systems. His project Nervousnet is “a decentralized Internet of Things platform for privacy-preserving social sensing services.” Provided as a public good, it’s a two-way open-source mobile app. Nervousnet is holding its first Hackathon this weekend — check it out.

Dr. Ulrich Genick moved from biochemistry in Berlin to structural biology and biophysics at Scripps, the Salk Institute, and Brandeis, to leading a large-scale study on the interplay of human genetics, metabolism, and taste perception at the NRC in Lausanne. Now he’s at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, where last year he cofounded the MIDATA health data cooperative. Its intent is to restore control of personal data (health data in particular) to the sources of that data. Instead of signing over your privacy rights to any service that demands them as a condition of access, you’d be able to retain secure ownership of your own data and license its use.smell-coffee-300x240 Genick explains why his current research focuses on taste and smell: the genetic specificity and wide individual variation of those senses (single nucleotide polymorphism) makes them ideal for investigating the relationship between genotype (your specific genetic sequence) and phenotype (how you experience, say, a cup of coffee). The more participants who supply their DNA analysis and their sensory perceptions, the more accurate a portrait can be created of which nucleotides play what role in the genetics of taste and smell.

Widening our view from nucleotides to galaxies is Professor Lucy Fortson, a founding member of the Zooniverse project and current board chair for the Citizen Science Alliance. In her vision of the emerging future of scientific research, human beings operate as a single multicellular investigator, eerily parallel to the multistellar galaxies they’re classifying. galaxy-bluespiralFortson’s own sleuthing took her from high-energy physics at the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva to cosmic ray and gamma ray astrophysics with the Chicago Air Shower Array at the University of Chicago; currently she’s at the University of Minnesota. She recalls her and Kevin Schawinski’s happy surprise at the Galaxy Zoo’s success, which encouraged its proponents to add a few more projects, then many more. Now it’s morphed into the Zooniverse, a worldwide online platform which invites volunteers everywhere to collaborate on research projects from astronomy to zoology.

Dr. Adrien Treuille, V.P. of Simulation at Zoox, came to this driverless-car startup from Google X; before that, he taught computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon. He zooms us back down to micro level as the creator of the online games Foldit and Eterna. folditIn challenging players to compete at folding proteins and designing RNA, these games (like the Zooniverse and other projects discussed here tonight) also establish a collaboration among far-flung strangers. On a personal level, they awaken creativity and skills that participants never knew they had. On a scientific level, they focus a myriad of sharp eyes and minds on problems that are too vast and/or complicated for any ordinary pod of humans (or computers) to solve.

Along with the parallels among citizen-science projects, Lucy Fortson notes a contrast. For her research, she seeks as many participants as possible — the more people, the better the data. For his, Adrien Treuille seeks the most skillful participants. His games encourage self-selection: if you don’t win more points than the other players figuring out how to fold a protein from its amino-acid sequence, you’ll soon quit. Ulrich Genick takes a more traditional approach in his sensory research by recruiting a specific number of volunteers to study in a specific place. Similarly, for Dirk Helbing, a crowd of participants are his subject as well as his collaborators.

Emerging from this heady gathering, I find myself mulling over two common themes. One is the shift in scientific research from direct observation of physical subjects to designing experiments with and for computers. Do astronomy or botany students still choose the field from an attraction to planets or plants, or is the aptest motivation nowadays a desire to count and track? The other thread is the remarkable way the Internet age is bringing out the collective tendencies of human beings. We’re gravitating toward our ant-colony or school-of-fish side: diverse minds finding not just a common purpose but a common direction and rhythm. This is not new, but it’s a 180-degree-turn from my generation’s passionate commitment to individual self-discovery and self-expression.

I’ve been wondering for decades how the Net — freeing human connections from geography and even time — would change the concept of community. Maybe one answer is Citizen Science.

school-of-fish

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23Mar/16

War, WMD, Wall Street, Washington, & the New Reality

cover-Blasim“Plenty of people got Iraq wrong, but plenty of people – experts and ordinary citizens – got it right. The problem was that it made no difference.”

So states St. Louis-based writer Sarah Kendzior in “Iraq and the Reinvention of Reality” in today’s Al Jazeera.

I’ve been teaching a course on non-Western literature this winter at San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute Library, and our April class focuses on Iraq. So lately I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and nonfiction by Iraqis. It’s not an exploration to undertake lightly. Writers in all war-torn countries radiate a deadly consciousness that what they say matters. Some stake their lives on speaking out; some resort to allegory or magical realism or another veiled approach to spread their message before the censors or military police can snuff it. Whatever the tactics, one discerns an unquenchable flicker of hope.

cover-McCarthyYet in contemporary Iraqi literature the dominant tone is bleakness. These are writers – human beings – to whom normal life, as we in the West define it (a morning chat over coffee, checking e-mail, grocery shopping, a sunset stroll) is foreign. If they’ve ever encountered normality, it was long ago or far away.

Rory McCarthy’s disturbing book Nobody Told Us We Are Defeated: Stories from the New Iraq depicts a normality in which shopping or a stroll could very well end in random arrest, imprisonment, torture, even death, for no other reason than that the government’s most powerful and popular tool is intimidation.

Sarah Kendzior pushes that bleakness a quantum leap further.

“The Iraq war is notable not only for journalistic weakness, but for journalistic futility: the futility of fact itself. Fact could not match the fabrications of power. Eventually, our reality shifted to become what they conceived. ‘I could have set myself on fire in protest on the White House lawn and the war would have proceeded without me,’ wrote Bush speechwriter David Frum.

cover-Kachachi“That was the message of the Iraq war: There is no point in speaking truth to power when power is the only truth.”

I heard years ago that an aide to President George W. Bush had scoffed at a journalist during the Iraq war for being part of the “reality-based community.” Kendzior sets that remark in context. Here’s an extract from her article, e-mailed by a friend (thank you, Tom Englezos). I strongly urge you to read the whole piece.

 “In 2002, Ron Suskind, a reporter for the New York Timesmet with an unnamed aide to George W Bush who accused Suskind of being part of the ‘reality-based community’. The aide meant it as an insult: this was not the way the world worked anymore.

“‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,’ said the aide, later alleged to be Bush adviser Karl Rove. ‘And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’

cover-antoon“In one sense, this quote seems of a piece with its era – with the entry of truthiness into the dictionary, with the rise of whole industries, like reality TV, built on choreographed sincerity. But while we may associate the ‘creation of reality’ with a wildly hubristic administration, it remains the flavour of our time, a manipulation that moves from crisis to crisis. . . .

“We see remnants of this created reality in the financial crisis – the ongoing ‘great recession’ that, like preemptive war, has transformed what Americans will accept. It is normal for criminal financiers to receive record bonuses in an age marked by austerity, it is normal for professionals to work  years unpaid in the hope of someday landing a job, it is normal for one year of college to cost more than the average median income. This is normal, they say – but if Iraq should have taught us anything, it is how easily and brazenly ‘normal’ can be redefined.”

What Iraqi literature teaches us is that literary technique is no mere artistic device. The late Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, asked about his use of magical realism, answered that he simply described life as he observed it. Any writer living the nightmare described by one of Rory McCarthy’s sources – “Even in my dreams I saw them . . . Every single minute I felt they would take me away for execution” – has crossed the border that for most Westerners protects the reality-based community.

When the United States invaded Iraq, we changed it forever. Iraq, in turn, forever changed reality in the United States and the world.

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21Jan/16

The Edwardian Ball & the Eponymous Edward Gorey

from Boom-Books.com:

If Edward Gorey could see the diverse and unpredictable directions his legacy has taken, he’d be most amazed by the Edwardian Ball.

photo by Marco Sanchez

Every January, a month before Gorey’s birthday, fans and steampunk fashionistas in San Francisco and Los Angeles gather to celebrate this New England artist’s tongue-in-cheek depiction of the dark side of Agatha Christie’s Britain. Ironic? Edward Gorey visited California just once, on leave from his U.S. Army posting in Utah, to meet up in San Francisco with his Chicago friend Consuelo Joerns, a student at Mills College. He never set foot in Britain except for a single foray to the Hebrides. He did write a fan letter to Agatha Christie, and framed her reply. But once he moved into his sprawling antique home on Cape Cod, it was a challenge to lure him even to Providence or Boston.

Yet here we are again, poising not just to embrace Gorey’s England but to don our bowlers and bustiers and dive in. This from Facebook:

EdBall2016_poster_300wAfter Friday night’s global adventure, we return to The Grand Ballroom for the most decadent night of our season! This is the night that started it all, The Edwardian Ball, presented by co-hosts Rosin Coven and Vau de Vire Society.

Ballroom dancing leads way to stunning performances both on and offstage in a collage of fashion, theatre, music, circus performance, and dance. Each year, The Edwardian Ball presents a featured Edward Gorey tale in an original stage performance. This year’s event takes a unique turn, with Edwardian founders Rosin Coven teaming up with longtime collaborators Dark Garden Corsetry in a presentation of Gorey’s ridiculous tale, “The Stupid Joke.” Expect anything but stupidity as these masters of their craft collaborate in an unforgettable tale of a poorly planned joke gone incredibly wrong…

And in the spirit of celebrating all things Edward Gorey, Ball co-hosts The Vau de Vire Society present a series of vignettes throughout the evening paying homage to the most controversial works of the (in)famous illustrator…guaranteed to pop corsets and ruffle coat-tails!

If you prefer (as Edward Gorey did) to enjoy your frissons from the comfort of your own sofa,

  • check out his drawings and books for sale at Pomegranate and the Edward Gorey House;
  • read about his theatrical adventures, illustrated with little-known drawings, photos, film clips, and music, in CJ Verburg’s multimedia memoir Edward Gorey On Stage (print or e-book);
  • solve a murder with anagrammatic sleuth Edgar Rowdey in CJ Verburg’s 5-star Cape Cod mystery Croaked.EGDetectiveEnters
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05Dec/15

Forgotten Inventor of Nature: the Amazing Alexander von Humboldt

southern-hemi-mapIn a new mini-review in Public Books, author and scholar Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles alerts us to a scientific genius, overlooked in 21st-century America, who 200 years ago was exploring the world and 150 years ago was honored all around it. Alexander von Humboldt influenced Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Muir, among others. A new biography by Andrea Wulf recommends we un-forget him. Here’s a preview of Kevles’s review:

In 1869 the centennial of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth was celebrated around the world, including in New York City, where bands and speakers gathered in Central Park to honor his legacy. He was hailed as the most brilliant explorer since Alexander the Great, a scientist equal in stature to Charles Darwin, and a genius who alerted the world to how humanity was destroying the environment. In the century and a half since, Humboldt’s star has dimmed, especially in the English-speaking world. In our era of climate change, when international science and the institutions of global governance present the only hope for addressing the crisis, Humboldt’s scientific and prophetic legacy deserves revival and reevaluation.

Wulf-HumboldtAndrea Wulf’s masterful The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World represents the best of the handful of English language books that have appeared in the last decade focused on Humboldt and his science. Gerard Helferich’s Humboldt’s Cosmos and Aaron Sachs’s The Humboldt Current brought the explorer back into the light, but Wulf’s superb biography reaches beyond Humboldt’s remarkable life to encompass his adventures as the first ecological internationalist.

Read more at http://www.publicbooks.org/briefs/the-inventor-of-nature

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05Dec/15

Coming in January: Writing from Turkey, Nigeria, South Africa, & Iraq

How does globalization look from the other side of the globe? Find out from some of the most exciting literary voices you may never have heard before.

Starting in January, I’ll be leading a monthly armchair tour at San Francisco’s venerable Mechanics’ Institute Library. Join us to explore four nonWestern countries whose writers are weaving their own distinctive cultural heritages together with worldwide artistic techniques and political viewpoints.

What better way to brighten these long winter nights than with a tasting menu like this?

MIL-CVflyer

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16Aug/15

Coming in 2016: CRAZED TEACUPS, an Original Entertainment by Edward Gorey

CrazedT-progcoverIn the early 1990s, Edward Gorey joined Susan Glaspell, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams in the pantheon of Provincetown playwrights. For three summers, he designed and directed original full-length theater pieces he called “entertainments.”

CRAZED TEACUPS is the third and last entertainment Edward staged in Provincetown. It’s also one of his most accessible, dramatizing a number of his famous little books. Along with vignette pieces (The Utter Zoo, Neglected Murderesses, The Helpless Doorknob), CRAZED TEACUPS includes some of his most plot-rich stories: The Gilded Bat, The Insect God, The Hapless Child, The Green Beads. And then there’s the usual assortment of puppet scenes and nonsense advice which he wrote for this show . . . topped off with the loveliest set of drawings that ever dramatized crackle-glazed porcelain.

EGOS-2014-eCover-final-tiinyFor more about CRAZED TEACUPS, Edward Gorey, and the handmade puppets who performed in his 20-odd “entertainments” at Cape theaters from Bourne to Provincetown, see my nanobiography Edward Gorey on Stage: a Multimedia Memoir.

For more about the Edward Gorey House museum, my September ZAPPED reading there, and ZAPPED‘s adventures as a Kindle Scout nominee, see the diverse posts on my blog.

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