Category Archives: Americana

Portraits and Signs at the March for Science

Portraits-00531The March for Science was not what I expected and yet, somehow it was not surprising. I don’t think I have ever been to a March for something before. I have been to campaign rallies, I’ve been to protests, but never a march for something. In some ways, this didn’t seem to be a March for Science as a March against Anti-science – ahhh, Trump. Although everybody at the March seemed to be having a good time, there was also a lot of anger under the surface. Portraits-00515

Still, there were also lots of pro-science people and a surprising number of young women.

Portraits-00513-2 Portraits-00525Portraits-00520 Portraits-00545

The following are Michele’s images…

March for Science, LA; By Michele Stern
Seen at the March for Science, LA; By Michele Stern
Trump Supporters at the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
Trump Supporters at the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
I was wishing I had a lab coat myself. I thought that was the perfect thing to wear to the March for Science, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
“If I were 21 I’d vote for Kennedy,” by Michele Stern
The back of his shirt says "I don't care what you believe," by Michele Stern
The back of his shirt says “I don’t care what you believe,” by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
Love that Hello Kitty riding a unicorn hat, by Michele Stern
Not everyone at the March for Science in LA, was marching for science. This woman was promoting something to do with the Mexican President and our immigration policies. Given the language barrier, I was not quite sure what or who it was; by Michele Stern
Not everyone at the March for Science in LA, was marching for science. This woman was promoting something to do with the Mexican President and our immigration policies. Given the language barrier, I was not quite sure what or who it was; by Michele Stern


I ran into the guy above fairly early in the day and it made me realize what is at stake here. Trump may be the poster child for ignoring Global Warming but the list of politicians – who either don’t believe in Global Warming or, if they say they do, are not really doing anything about the problem – is a long one, Sad.

A March for Science


The March for Science was kind of our rational for going to LA, that, and seeing Michele’s Irish cousins. The March was fun and interesting and I always feel very moral when I’m doing something more than complaining about the world we are in.

However, to a non-scientist the march seemed pretty disorganized we – Michele, really, I was just along for the ride – couldn’t find the actual time of the March. She did find the program, however, which was that everybody would meet at Pershing Square for some warm-up speeches, march about seven blocks to City Hall, listen to more speeches, and wander back to Pershing Square for music and even more speeches. When we got to Pershing Square, it was almost empty and we were told the party had decamped for City Hall, so we started walking over to City Hall only to find ourselves swimming upstream against all the marchers who were returning to Pershing Square.

Science March C-00488

Just before we got to City Hall, we ran into a little group of protesters? counter-protestors? who were segregated from the marchers and surrounded by police.

Science March D-00496

When we got to City Hall, the speakers were still speaking and the marchers were milling about but the layout was such that we couldn’t see the speakers or hear them very well. After about a half hour, we joined the part of the crowd that was wandering back to Pershing Square which took us right by the Bradbury Building.

Science March E-00503 Science March F-00507 Science March G-00511

As an aside, if you know the Bradbury Building, the chances are it is from Blade Runner, if you lived in LA in the early 60s and were interested in architecture, the chances are you know it from the very acrimonious fight between the  entrenched powers of friendly Developers and City Planners that were bringing their version of the future to LA and the emerging preservationist movement that wanted to save at least the highlights from the past. The Bradbury Building was old – built-in 1893 – and, more importantly, very inefficient and the site would have made a great site for a new highrise building, something along the lines of Lever House, perhaps, but the building is also an architectural and engineering tour de force. The Bradbury Building was high-tech for its time and, somehow, resisted being torn down. That’s not to say it prospered; for years, the building lingered, slowly deteriorating, not protected as a Historical Monument but, somehow, escaping the wrecking ball. Finally, almost one hundred years after it was built, the Bradbury Building was bought by a sympathetic owner,  Sydney Irmas, and under the direction of Brenda Levin, was restored to its former glory.

Bradbury Building A-00532Bradbury Building-

End aside. Meanwhile, back at the March, Michele and I switched from trying to find the center of action to taking portraits of marchers with their signs.


A couple of random thoughts on expectations and the Space Shuttle Endeavour

L A tripS1-00437For me, at least, the Space Shuttle Endeavour didn’t meet expectations. That is not to say that I am disappointed, I’m not. I’m very glad to have seen it. The hype over the Space Shuttle has been so great that it would be very hard to have the reality match it and I knew that going in. It sort of reminds me of seeing Lever House for the first time. Lever House was designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of Skidmore, Owings, and Merril – if you are interested – and it is a milestone in architecture. Lever House is a pioneering glass box, a pure glass form in the International Style, sitting on top of an iconic pedestal, in New York, the center of the new,  post-World War II world order. It was so new, so iconic, in fact, that it was copied, verbatim,  in both Paris and Berlin. I had been reading about Lever House for twenty years before I first saw it, but by then there were glass boxes everywhere; even  San Francisco had one, the Crown Zellerbach Building, again by SOM. Lever House was great but it was also pretty short at 23 stories, it wasn’t the earth-moving experience I expected. The Space Shuttle is also great, but it essentially looks like a fat, not very streamlined, airplane – sort of a truck-plane – not a spaceship.

It is rare that a hyped place meets the raised expectations, for me, at least. I can only think of two super-hyped buildings artifacts that exceeded the hype; the David and the Taj Mahal. I was stunned by them both; they exceeded all of my absurdly high expectations. In general, however, my favorite places and things were surprises. The Grand Canyon, especially from the North Rim, is great, and watching it during a storm, at sunset, was even greater, but walking into the confluence of Hurricane Wash and Coyote Canyon, with no real idea of what it was going to be like, was transcendental, even in the middle of the day. I think we are fixated on the best, and often the best is not that much better than the second best even though hyped to be much better than anything, anywhere (and the second best  – best being a subjective concept – usually has better parking and smaller crowds).

Meanwhile, back at the Shuttle, my first impression, on seeing the Shuttle hanging in mid-air, just out of reach of the crowd, is how crude it seemed. It is more well-used truck than spaceship. A lot of that is because the ceramic tiles are fastened to all the areas that get very hot, the tiles take a beating on re-entry, and seem to be replaced randomly, but the non-tile areas also look sort of cobbled together. It seems like an amateur job and, in the sense that this is the first time the builders built anything like this, it is. This is Shuttle 1.0 and there wasn’t a Shuttle 2.0, or 3.0, or anything but the first five shuttles of which, two blew up.  Rocket 1-00451

Shuttle tiles-00441

But, as amateur as the Shuttle is on the outside, the Shuttles engines? motors? rockets? are beautiful, handmade, huge, pieces of machinery. They are not amateur and are something like Space Motor 11.5. The design is as old as the German V-2, fuel and oxidant are pumped into a combustion chamber, exploded  – I guess, officially, oxidized –  and, superheated, pushed out of a nozzle at the other end.Shuttle engine-00447-2 To quote NASA, As the Shuttle accelerates, the main engines burn a half-million gallons of liquid propellant. Figuring for the six-minute burn time, divided by the three main engines, that is almost 28,000 gallons per minute per engine. Because the propellant is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, those 28,000 gallons are super cold.Shuttle engine2-00448
Rocket engine1-00449

As an aside, Like most lots of young teenage boys, I became very interested in space travel when I was an early teenager, and that interest led me to an interest in rockets. In the early 50s, the only serious books on space travel and rockets were translated from the German – Willy Ley’s Conquest of Space, I particularly remember – and that set my gold standard for what spaceships should look like. The Shuttle doesn’t  look like that. Still, it is a very impressive feat of engineering lovely conceived and executed.


“Get Out” and the outsider

Aloe plicata. -00290

We saw Get Out, the horror movie by the comedian Jordan Peele. I am not a horror movie fan or, more accurately, I didn’t think I was until I heard the genera explained on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air the day before the movie. Apparently, there are two species of horror films, the slasher in which some relentless force, like Freddy Kruger, is chasing the protagonist and movies in which the protagonist is sucked into what looks normal but seems slightly off. I want to add that a horror film must also have creepy music.

The second kind of film, the sucked in one, turns out to be the kind of film I really like. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I have always chalked it up to  Roman Polanski, turns out that I just like horror movies (although Polanski did a great job). One of my favorite movies from last year was  10 Cloverfield Lane.

Get Out is stylish, witty, and great fun to watch. It also approaches race and racism in an eye-opening way and we saw it in a racially mixed, packed theater. As an aside, when I say racially mixed, I really mean a higher than usual proportion of African-Americans. Silicon Valley is about 32% Asian, 26% Hispanic, 35% white and only 2% black and I think most of the 2% are former pro-ball players who are now investors. End aside. Peele, the director, is black and so is the protagonist and point of view of the movie – which, I  suspect, changed our usual theater demographic breakdown – but most of the actors in the movie, and the guys we are rooting against, are white.

Looking back at my headline, the hero being black is an integral part of the movie in that he is an outsider. Like all outsiders, he has outsider-radar and is seeing things that are slightly off but his desire to please, to be a good black man, keeps overriding his instincts (but, of course, not ours). The instincts, that are not reciprocal,  that any outsider, including women I suspect, must have about the insiders…if they are going to survive.

If you want to catch a movie that you will walk out of feeling great, I whole heartily recommend Get Out. If you want to stay home, try 10 Cloverfield Lane.

As an after thought, the movie is also funny at times and there was one scare, after which the audience clapped, in effect saying Nice, you got me! 


Blowing up mailboxes

Mail boxes-00286

When I was a kid, a teenager, we blew up a guy’s mailbox several times. I don’t remember the reason, if there was a reason, but it couldn’t have been much of one. But were just beginning to realize our powerlessness as teenagers, on allowances, in a world of rules not of our making.

A couple of years ago now, we were turning right onto 4th Street in San Francisco and a homeless man cut across the street in front of us. He walked as slow as possible, just dawdling across the street while, eventually, four lanes of traffic were stopped, all of us watching him through angry eyes.

The New Yorker has an article about the White House Pressroom in the Trump era. Part of the article is about an infuriating a troll named Lucian Wintrich who is now an accredited reporter complete with a “make America Great Again” hat. According to the article, Wintrich blogs and posts posts like “BuzzFeed Admits Liberal ‘Fake News’ No Longer Works — Points To Gateway Pundits as  News Of Future” after BuzzFeed ran a story  accusing the GateWay Pundit, among other right-wing blogs, of using “alternate facts. Wintrich seems to be smart and he is surely smartass but he seems to be more interested in mocking the news rather than reporting it.

I think the three antidotes above have, as their common denominator, a theme of powerless men trying to exercise the only power they can muster.