Protester’s account of Citibank arrests

So, Gawker has just published a first-hand account of yesterday’s events at the Citibank branch in New York, where 24 people were arrested, including one woman whose arrest was caught on video, making the police look not so good.

Elana Carroll, one of the protesters arrested at Citibank, provided a first-hand account of events.

One thing that struck me was the description of the police. It sounds as if the particular group of police involved in the arrest were sort of a bunch of dicks.

However, she also added this:

Certainly the arrest was a big moment. But all of the interactions with the police and seeing what it was like to be processed etc. was really eye-opening as well. Aside from the cops who arrested us, many of the cops we interacted with told us that they “commended” us and were proud that this movement is happening.

This is something that I think most protesters and observers are aware of, but should be repeated, often. The police are not the enemy, and it would be a mistake to let the protests be taken over by an us versus them mentality. The economic and regulatory reforms that protesters are after are going to help everyone in the long term, and almost everyone in the short term. I think most of the police know that, and the couple of times I’ve been down there, I’ve been impressed with how professional the police have been, and how congenial the environment seems to be.

There are, of course, a handful of cops who are authoritarian bullies — it’s probably why they became cops in the first place — but most of them have genuinely devoted their lives to public safety, and are just trying to do their jobs. Similarly, there are a handful of protesters who are there because they like being annoying assholes, but most of them are selflessly trying to change a broken and unjust financial/political system.

We have to shine a spotlight on the high-profile events, like bank arrests and face-macing, while not losing sight of the fact that this is a struggle for the economic and political security for everyone.

I owe Martin Nowak an apology

So, if you’re an Evolutionary Biologist, you’re already familiar with the dust-up prompted by a Nature paper published in 2010 by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson.  If not, I wrote about the paper, and the response from the community, here and here.

Briefly, the article attacked one class of approaches to modeling the evolution of traits affecting social interaction: models based on kin selection and inclusive fitness. The authors made strong claims about the effectiveness of such models, claiming that they were useless or even wrong for thinking about eusociality (e.g., in species of bees and ants). The paper prompted a number of written responses, in blogs and in letters to Nature, one co-authored by 137 prominent biologists, refuting many of the claims of the paper.

The paper comes with a weighty appendix, which contains a lot of calculations. Those calculations are not problematic. Rather, it is the main text (the only part most people will read) that triggered the vocal response. The main text made a bunch of unsupported (and wrong) claims, knocking down a straw-man caricature of kin-selection models. It was this straw-man caricature that people found so offensive, along with the failure to cite a huge body of literature (which would have undermined that straw man).

The disconnect between the careful, meticulous appendix and the swaggering, irresponsible main text led most readers to assume that we were looking at a frankenpaper, the imperfectly integrated product of multiple authors. In this sort of circumstance, the impulse is to partition blame among the authors.

My sense was that most people held Tarnita, a postdoc with Nowak at the time, blameless, a talented junior scientist in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The blame, in most people’s eyes, fell primarily on Nowak, for a complex set of reasons that I tried to untangle here.  In particular, Nowak has a reputation for not being generous in attribution of credit to other scientists.

Wilson was not blamed. He is, after all, a living legend among evolutionary biologists. If anything, the discussion about Wilson was along the lines of, “Why is Wilson keeping such bad company?” Some people even speculated that he was perhaps being taken advantage of, that he had been roped into putting his name on the paper.

It now appears that I, along with all the other rumor-mongering evolutionary biologists, owe Nowak an apology.

Over the past year, Wilson has been on the warpath, giving various interviews in which he reiterates the major arguments presented in the paper. The most recent just appeared here in the Atlantic. This article, I think, makes it clear that Wilson was the ideological driving force behind all of the misrepresentation in the original Nature article. It also seems to indicate that the disingenuous argument will be expanded to book length in Wilson’s forthcoming The Social Conquest of Earth.

The richest part of the Atlantic article comes in Wilson’s trashing of Stephen Jay Gould. Trashing Gould is, of course, a popular pastime among evolutionary biologists.

“I believe Gould was a charlatan,” [Wilson] told me. “I believe that he was … seeking reputation and credibility as a scientist and writer, and he did it consistently by distorting what other scientists were saying and devising arguments based upon that distortion.” 

This is a valid enough criticism of Gould. It is also a dead-on description of what was wrong with the Nowak et al. paper. I suspect that the irony is lost on Wilson.

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2010). The evolution of eusociality Nature, 466 (7310), 1057-1062 DOI: 10.1038/nature09205

You can’t close your bank account in Santa Cruz either

So, the news earlier was about how some Occupy Wall Street protesters went into a Citibank branch to close their accounts, were locked in by the bank, and then arrested. Video shows protesters milling about, causing no trouble, and a woman exiting the bank, identifying herself as a customer as she is manhandled by the NYPD. See the video here at LiT, or at Gawker, or Wonkette (and surely lots of other places).

Well, a much less violent and disturbing drama unfolded at a Bank of America branch in Santa Cruz, where the manager refused to let people close their accounts. According to Addicting Info, goes like this:

Rather than allow their customers to close their accounts, they told them that “you can not be a protester and a customer at the same time.” The bank manager threatened to lock the doors and call the police to have their own customers arrested for the simple act of requesting the closure of their own accounts. 

Here’s the five-minute video made by the two women who tried to close their accounts:

Welcome to America. You can have your First Amendment, or you can have your own property, but not both!

NYPD will arrest you if you try to close your bank account

So, this is pretty depressing. This is apparently a woman attempting to close her Citibank account when she is seized by a surprisingly large number of New York’s Finest.

Via Wonkette, who note:

Be patient through the first 90 seconds — haha, attention span of a gnat! — because a remarkable little drama unfolds with protesters inside the Citibank branch communicating with protesters outside, all very reserved, collecting names and birthdates of the people about to be arrested inside. And then, brutish cops seize a woman in a business suit who is saying, “I’m a customer, I’m a customer,” and showing her Citibank checkbook. Apparently she is here to close her account, and for that she is manhandled by a bunch of thug cops who should be careful where they go from now on. Anyway, closing your account is now a go-to-jail offense.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 16, 2011

So, a few items for the Linkasaurolophus this week.

Remember, it’s like Linkaroni, but 100% gluten free.

Let’s start with the good news. If you haven’t seen it, this is a beautiful articulation of what the whole Occupy Wall Street, 99% thing is all about. It was written as an open letter to “the 53% guy,” a critic of the protests, on Daily Kos. If you’ve got relatives who think that the protests are just a bunch of lazy whiners who want someone to blame for their lot in life, send them this. Here’s an excerpt:

So, if you think being a liberal means that I don’t value hard work or a strong work ethic, you’re wrong.  I think everyone appreciates the industry and dedication a person like you displays.  I’m sure you’re a great employee, and if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, I’m sure these qualities will serve you there too.  I’ll wish you the best of luck, even though a guy like you will probably need luck less than most.

I understand your pride in what you’ve accomplished, but I want to ask you something.

Do you really want the bar set this high?  Do you really want to live in a society where just getting by requires a person to hold down two jobs and work 60 to 70 hours a week?  Is that your idea of the American Dream?

Hat tip to Jon Woodward on that one.

Next up, New York is currently all out of the Plan B (“morning after”) contraceptive. This was covered by the Health Editor at an online magazine called XO Jane. You can read the column here, but I really don’t recommend it, as it is excruciatingly self absorbed, written in a style you might expect from someone so famous, or so rich, that they are accustomed to having to put no effort into their conversations, because everyone laughs at all of their jokes no matter what.

But, more importantly, it contains statements about birth control that are just factually wrong. It has been tackled by scicurous, who details some of the problems, and end with this piece of advice:

Far be it from me to tell XO Jane how to handle their hiring, but I do think it’s generally wise to have a heath editor who’s taken a health course. And who can read. But perhaps I’m too picky.

Finally, there’s an update on the faster-than-light neutron thing. A paper has appeared on the Physics ArXiv that claims that the Italian physicists who wrote the original paper failed to account for certain relativistic effects, and that when those effects are taken into account, the correction of 64 nanoseconds is just enough to bring the neutrino speeds back under the speed limit.

The paper, by Ronald van Elburg, can be found here.

The result has been covered by the Physics ArXiv blog, and at Bad Astronomy. Both writers caution that, while the results seem convincing, we need to wait for the response from the Italian team, and generally let the process play out before concluding that the result has definitively been debunked.

If van Elburg is right, though, it is worth noting that, rather than being a refutation of Einstein’s theory, the neutrino experiment looks more like a dramatic confirmation of it.

Recall that last week, the Wall Street Journal published a moronic editorial as part of their ongoing commitment to propagating lies about climate science. The pinnacle fo moronicity in the moronic editorial was the following moronic claim:

The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Do you think that, in light of van Elburg’s calculation, the Journal will now publish a retraction, saying that, well, maybe we should be recognizing the broad consensus among climate scientists?

Yeah, me neither.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 9, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, if it were 700 miles South-South-East from here, it would be Lurkusaurolophus.

First, according to the China Digital Times, Beijing is now filling up with Obama Fried Chicken:

which would probably seem racist if it were not so completely bizarre.

Next, you know that show Lie to Me, where Tim Roth is really creepy and sort of a dick, but is successful and beloved because he can tell when someone is lying by reading their “microexpressions”? The show is somewhat based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman, who developed the Facial Action Coding System for reading people’s emotions.

The problem, apparently, is that the scientific literature comes down squarely on the side of “That doesn’t work.”

Well, as a part of civilization’s ongoing slide into self-referentiality, researchers at Michigan State performed a study to see whether watching an episode of Lie to Me enhanced people’s ability to tell whether or not people are lying.

Hilariously, the study found that watching Lie to Me actually makes people worse at distinguishing between people who are telling the truth and people who are lying.

You can read more about it over at Mindhacks.

Never one to miss a chance for self promotion, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to resurrect one of the early Darwin Eats Cake strips:

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding:

In related news, people who spend all their time sitting on the sofa watching The Biggest Loser do not get any thinner.

Finally, about a week ago, the New York Times published an editorial by self-identified neuromarketing expert Martin Lindstrom, in which he explained how brain-imaging studies prove that we are not addicted to our iPhones, we are in love with our iPhones.

The only problem is that it was a huge pile of crap. It was a misleading (perhaps disingenuous) description of research that was done badly (perhaps disingenuously) in the first place.

The multitudinous flaws in the editorial have been pointed out by a bunch of folks: Here are at least some of them. If you wrote about this, but I missed you, send me an e-mail, or add a link in the comments.

Tal Yarkoni provided, I think, the most detailed point-by-point takedown of the editorial. If you want the nitty gritty of what’s wrong read this.

David Dobbs covered it in a post entitled “fMRI Shows My Bullshit Detector Going Ape Shit Over iPhone Lust.”

Neurocritic’s post is titled “Neuromarketing means never having to say you’re peer reviewed (but here’s your NYT op-ed space).”

Russ Poldrack addresses the editorial in a post called “NYT Op-Ed + fMRI = complete crap.”

Nathan Collins relates the logical error in the editorial to George Bush (Sr.)’s infamous 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad.

Forty prominent neuroscientists wrote a letter to the Times in response to the editorial, which was promptly whittled down. However, you can read the original letter (and see the caliber of the writers) here.

Tal Yarkoni wrapped up the aftermath here, including the weasely non-response response Lindstrom posted in several blog comment threads.

It seems like a sad and embarrassing day for the Times.

On the other hand, when you remember the role that the newspaper of record played in lying to the country in the lead up to the Iraq war, maybe it’s actually a good day for the Times. I mean, misinterpreting fMRI studies hasn’t killed tens to hundreds of thousands of civilians.


Transistor Rodeo in Cafe Review

So, it’s been a little while since I’ve done poetry-related self promotion, and I know you’ve been missing it.

A few months ago, the Cafe Review published a Festschrift dedicated to Agha Shahid Ali. This was exciting for a few reasons:

1) Agha Shahid Ali is awesome, and every literary magazine should devote a Festschrift to him.

2) I learned what a Festschrift is. Apparently it’s German for “party paper.”

3) Since Transistor Rodeo won the Agha Shahid Ali prize, they were kind enough to review it in the issue. They also included a few new poems of mine, which are sort of modified ghazals. I tried writing some actual ghazals, but found that I could not pull it off. So I started tweaking the form. And tweaking it. And tweaking it. Eventually, I settled on a form that now goes by the name “Thus in the Limit.”

Here’s the generous and thoughtful review, by Michael Macklin:

If you are looking for poems that surprise, let me mention this unassuming mother lode. Try these lines from “Love Song”: 

      Words leapt from your mouth then
      like a gymnast on the moon.  You were so
      lively and full of pockets. 

Don’t worry, I am not giving away secrets: There are a number of poems entitled “Love Song” in this slender volume. But I would use this opening stanza as a description of what Jon Wilkins, the poet, does. Using the same title for each of a series of poems, he sends words zipping and zinging through our senses like a knife-throwing magician, then ducks behind the nearest title for a new and completely differently balanced set of knives: 

      Always assume it is your lover
      who stands
you said at the end
      of every tunnel and is waving 

      a scarf or an axe. . . . 

Leap to the next “Love Song,” and so on. But Wilkins is not just fast of flashy; he prays, catalogues, theorizes. He does these things by himself in the loneliness of space, or else naked and drunk after the prom with William Carlos Williams in his own Mean-Joe-Green-meets-the-boy-with-a-Coke version of “Kenneth Koch’s Unfinished Sestina.” 

In the section called “Prayers,” Wilkins uses the titles to place us in a specific time, physical space, and attitude, i.e. “7:34 am, styrofoam cup, metal table / Prayer”: 

      Still too early
      for beautiful
      people. Just
      the dust
      mask / leaf
      blower who
      may / may not
      regret former
      truancies and that scar.

His prayers are bright, twisted pieces of cellophane that wrap the everyday in what feels like the mathematics of modern meditations. He uses slashes to turn his short lines into fractions, as though he were working out the balance necessary to prove his theories on God / world. He ends this prayer, “Lord, make me hot as coffee, / and I’ll melt this world like sugar.” Wouldn’t we all like to believe that of ourselves? 

If I had been taught prayer or mathematics by Wilkins, I might have stuck with them. Not because I always agree with him, but because he would keep me fascinated by what was coming next. His ability to keep us off balance and interested is uncanny. As he says in “Please don’t hate me because I’m perfect”: 

      God, I wish I had a nickname like Rabbit.
      I wish I’d spent more time swimming as a kid. 

He leaves us wishing as well.

And here are the three poems that were included in the issue:

Thus in the Limit

Just like you, she came here for the fountains
of youth and chocolate. She found them occupado.

Occupational hazards and other children follow
her through the streets, but the alleys disobey,

dissolving like salt behind her. You can find her now
tucked in behind the baking soda with her umbrella,

unbearable to her parents, who claw at the old country,
backs to a black hole of immodesty and television,

transvestites and flavored mayonnaise, of mountains,
moonless nights that almost resemble, almost reassemble

Thus in the Limit

Just like you she came here with a bag full
of chalk and yellow tape. Her fear of snakes

sneaks up on her now and again, coiling her
on herself like the long braids of the peculiar

pelacur girls she used to watch with a braid
of envy, fear, and desire. She is a tidal wave,

a tiny wafer, lingering on the tongue
of a Priest, full of unsprung anticipation,

an incipience and a retrospect and the twisted cable
connecting them, impossibly long and longing

Thus in the Limit

Just like you she came here overflowing
with a need to feel superior, an age-old

rage holds her heart – gentle but joyless,
resentful, like holding the hair of the girl

hurling in the dorm toilet. Still beautiful –
still never going to fuck you. One day she

may see you again, and generations later
erupt like a pimple on a weedy chlapec,

slapstick now, from far away, but the boy
is a killer, has no nation, no hesitation

%&#! $#!& Stack

So, here’s a little something to relieve the monotony of the the Steve Jobs idolization that still has the internets in its grip.

The video is totally NSFW (for language) by the way, which is just one more reason why you need to walk out of your crappy office job and go join the nearest Occupy Wall Street protest. Mother Jones has an interactive map here.

Oh, and you can buy the shirt here.

via Topless Robot.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 2, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it’s like Linkadrosaurid, but one taxonomic level down.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about Occupy Wall Street, a populist, Arab-spring-style protest in Manhattan. Or, you might not have heard about it if you get your news from television, which seems not to be giving much coverage to these protests. Or if you get your news from newspapers. Weird, it’s almost like the big corporations that control the major media outlets in this country don’t want you to know about massive protests against the corporate takeover of politics.

Boy are they going to cover the heck out of those tea-party rallys, though.

Fear is vigilance: This is a little flash game, which is not very interesting, actually, but has the following premise. You’re trying to give away personal safety alarms on a campus, but no one is very interested. So, each night, you go out after dark and punch people, to teach them the importance of personal safety. I don’t think the game’s creators intended for it to be a metaphor for the war on terror, but I’m not sure, since didn’t actually play it very long. Maybe if you level up enough, you get hired by Haliburton to go around stoking islamophobia so that you can sell expensive stuff to the military.

Speaking of corrupt people doing stuff that is patently wrong, while shrugging it off as some sort of capitalist manifest destiny, you should read the Bloomberg piece on those tea-party wonder twins, the Koch brothers. (“Shape of an amoral plutocracy!” “Form of a psychopathic lack of empathy!”) Here it is.

Finally (with a hat-tip to my wife on this one), you should read this profile of Marcia Lucas, ex-wife of serial-culture-defiler George Lucas. It is fascinating and depressing. You know how everyone goes around asking how George Lucas could have gone from being the genius who created American Graffiti and the original Star Wars trilogy to being the hack who did everything else he’s ever done? Well, the key difference seems to have been Marcia, who played a key role in editing the tone-deaf messes that George filmed into the stories that transformed movies and culture. She then left him for being the emotionally crippled narcissist who, ever since, has been systematically destroying that legacy. It’s also a parable about how women’s contributions get dismissed and denigrated. It’s a long read, but worth it.