The Papermoon Diner

When Dan and Katie were last in town, they invited Scarlett and I out to the Papermoon Diner. If you’ve seen John Waters movies and wondered if that Baltimore still exists, it certainly has one enclave at the Papermoon Diner. If you’ve been to a TGI Friday’s or a Chili’s you’ve seen restaurants with crap on the walls.

Tchotchkes from Office Space
Tchotchkes from Office Space

Well, the Papermoon Diner takes that and filters it through a Baltimore sensibility:

What about the food? It’s also all slightly different takes on what you’re used to and I wouldn’t quite call it diner food. I guess diner food crossed with Americana TGIF-type food, but I think it’s all locally sourced. It doesn’t matter because the staff is pretty friendly to substitutions. While I was there I heard the person behind me substitute so much in and out of what she ordered, that she essentially created her own dish.

I thought the food was OK – it was hard to know ahead of time if I’d like it because of the slightly esoteric nature of the ingredients. But the social aspect of the visit was a lot of fun and Scarlett was overwhelmed by all the stuff everywhere.

Something Needs to Change

For the past two years we’ve had increasing evidence that something needs to change in the police/neighborhood dynamic. But Fergusson, New York City, and Baltimore are only the tip of the iceburg in every sense of the metaphor. If, like me, you follow the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Boing Boing, and other organizations committed to justice, you know that for every Freddie Gray there are dozens whose injustices don’t make it to national prominence. Of course, this isn’t even a new trend. African Americans have been complaining about harassment and being framed for a long time.

and

But until now it just wasn’t cheap enough for these interactions to be caught on film with as much as it is being done now. Before it was dumb luck that someone might have a video camera in public, now everyone does. And with cloud services it becomes a fruitless exercise to attempt to delete evidence of wrongdoing. So what’s to blame for this and how do we go about solving it?

I think that it is highly unlikely that so many cops are racist or power hungry thugs. Sure, statistics tells us that there will be some amount of them as cops because they are everywhere. (Racists and power hungry people in every job) While I think that everyone’s a little bit racist, what I mean is that I don’t think tons of police officers are racist in a way that they’re out to get all [insert race or ethnicity] people out there. What I think is more likely (and more troubling) is a daily experience that ends up dehumanizing the neighborhood that the police patrol. I think studies showing that it’s not as though ethnic cops are more lenient on ethnic suspects helps to affirm that conclusion.

Every day the police’s most common interactions are with criminals. So day in and day out they only see the worst of the worst in any particular neighborhood. And those they deal with are going to have every excuse and every bit of dishonesty in an attempt to get away with whatever they’ve done. For example, when talking about the man who died in a NYC offier’s choke hold, they said that suspects often complain about being unable to breathe in order to get away or attempt to gain the upper hand. This calibrates the police officer to inherently distrust everyone and distrust the situation. This is revealed by the stories of cops shooting harmless family dogs during traffic stops or even shooting harmless people who reach for their wallets. This American Life even spoke with someone who confirmed that when cops swap from night to day or one neighborhood to another, they suddenly realize how much they were dehumanizing the suspects.

This dehumanizing behavoir leads to situations like the one with Freddie Gray. As of 30 April, the Baltimore Police Department is claiming that the reason Freddie Gray was not buckled up in the police van was because they were afraid he’d bite or spit on them. However, many others have come forward and said that the cops routinely throw people back there and drive wildly, including a woman who is suing for injuries sustained during such a drive. Frustrations should not be taken out on suspects.

So how do we correct the issue? I see a few ideas that, together, could radically reduce the chances of this happening in the future. We need to revise how we treat protests, rotate police officers to reduce dehumanization, and invoke the power of the Little Brothers. Let’s take these one at a time. For about two decades now, many have been sounding the alarm on the criminalization of protests. This was very well fictionalized in Cory Doctorow’s Homeland. The simplest way of thinking about this is that when the police assume that all protests will turn violent, they end up creating conditions that make protests violent. There is evidence that this was the case in Baltimore where the police blocked kids from going to school, leading to exactly the situation they were supposed to be preventing – large numbers of disaffected kids who weren’t home. Additionally, when the peaceful protestors are jailed and held without cause it leads people to question the point of the peaceful protest. (See the first MLK Jr quote I posted).

Second, we need to rotate the beats of police officers to allow them to see not only the criminals, but also the well-behaved citizens. When someone says they can’t breathe, what unfair advantage do they gain by being admitted to the hospital? It does not un-arrest them. Let them go, and if they’re lying, let them foot the bill. If they’re not lying, you get a PR win instead of rioting that leaves citizens and police officers injured and businesses losing gobs of money.Let’s try and be creative – instead of shooting someone in the back as they flee, think of some other ways to regain control of the situation. If someone’s video taping and the unedited tape is released there should not be any reason for the actions of the police officers to be called into question.

Finally, I think we need to invoke the power of the Little Brothers. This is a term that was coined as a reaction to the omnipresent recording technology around us. Forget Big Brother (ie The Government) watching you, you’re constantly being watched by Little Brothers. For example, Micheal Phelps was not caught smoking pot by the government snooping on him – it was someone else at the party with a cell phone camera. With all the recent crises we’ve heard for a call for the police to wear body cameras, but we’ve already started to see officers get into trouble for turning it off when it’s convenient. Instead what if the cops and the cop vans (like in Baltimore) and everything they did was on without any ability to be turned off and available for all to see? Sure, we have to figure out undercover cops and witness protection type stuff. There is also the privacy issue, but I can’t think of any other incorruptible process. If the police departments hold the video they can “lose” it whenever it’s convenient. If a third party holds it, it can end up leaking anyway or they can just be paid off to “lose” or alter it. By having it all available to the public nearly live, there all incentive for all parties to act correctly. In fact, studies have shown that both cops AND suspects behave better when they think that the videos will be available for others to see.

These aren’t easy solutions, but the first two are easily doable – they’re policy changes, not tech changes. The video solution is certainly a harder one for both tech AND policy reasons, but I think it’d lead to much less of a he said/she said issue. Right now they’re claiming that Freddie Gray was purposely hurting himself in the van. Was he? Impossible to know without video.

Peter and the Wolf at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

BSO Ready for Pulcinella and Peter and the Wolf
The BSO Warms up for the Concert

Danielle and I recently went to see “Peter and the Wolf” at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  Danielle and I both grew up watching the Disney animated adaption of “Peter and the Wolf” and we loved the idea of being able to listen to the music as performed by the BSO.  I don’t care how amazing the speakers are in your home theater system, nothing sounds as amazing as the orchestra.

Because we usually end up having to eat dinner too early or too late when we go to the symphony, we decided to go to the early performance.  I was afraid that the combination of the subject matter and time of day would mean that Danielle and I would be the only adults there without children.  It turns out that something like 90% of the people there with us were old people – like in their 50s and 60s.  In fact, when we exited, we saw lots of buses for local retirement homes who had brought the seniors over to watch the orchestra.

Ballet Dancers in Pulcinella
Ballet Dancers in Pulcinella

Since Danielle booked the tickets, I didn’t know we were actually there for a double header. The first piece was from Pulcinella.  It was a cute ballet and had some neat music.  Then came “Peter and the Wolf”.  The music was great and so was the narrator, although she did put a bit of a kiddie spin on her narration.  Danielle and I were nearly dancing along in our seats with joy as we saw our childhood cartoon in its original form for the first time.  Overall, it was definitely worth the money and time.

Otakon 2009

"Honk if you're going to Otakon"
People came to Otakon from all around the USA

For the first time since moving here, I found out about Otakon ahead of time. Unfortunately, the economics didn’t work out we didn’t buy tickets. But I did go to hang out outside Otakon on Saturday to get some photos. Lessons learned:

  • Remember what you learned in Hawaii and don’t be afraid to approach people. This is especially the case with Otakon. The cosplayers have spent a long time working on their costumes, sometimes up to a whole year. They want to show off their costumes. So go up to them and ask to photograph them.
  • With a 1.6x crop factor camera like the Canon 400D, 28mm is not wide enough. It’s very, very crowded at Otakon. They had something like 19 000 preregistered attendees. I missed out on getting some awesome shots of costumes such as this one where the girl on the left had an amazing bottom part to her costume, but I couldn’t fit her and her friend in without backing up a lot more
  • Buy tickets to Otakon! I missed out on a bunch of costumes because they were walking into the conference too quickly for me to intercept them at the door. So attend so you can see all the costumes

And now here is my photo essay on Otakon 2009.

A Bunch of Pokemon Trainers
Lots of Pokemon trainers including multiple Ash Ketchums and Mistys. It can be hard to have an original costume at Otakon.
Some of the Team Fortress Team
People didn't only cosplay from anime, they also cosplayed video games. In this case, it was Team Fortress 2.
A Slick Costume, Wish I knew the Anime
This was another video game cosplay - this time from Street Fighter IV.
Otakon Lolita
Goth Lolita is a very popular style in Harajuku, Japan and is often cosplayed at anime conventions. There were quite a few women cosplaying lolitas.
Looks like Captain Hammer is in Trouble Again
A very unique cosplay came in the form of this group cosplaying Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog.
Quite an Elaborate Costume on the Left
These women are cosplaying an anime called Soul Eater. Many costumes ranged from the skimpy to the elaborate and full-body-covering.
Gundam
A unique costume not only in its complexity, but also its subject. By choosing an anime that came out a while ago, one can get a better chance of being the only one cosplaying that character.
Iron Man
This Iron Man cosplay was very, very intricate and he was constantly stopped to pose for photos.
OBJECTION!
Phoenix Wright is a video game where the player is a lawyer. His signature catchphrase is on the sign.
Still Alive
Yet another video game cosplay with this pair from Portal.
"Saotome, Why did you come to Otakon as a Panda?"
I wanted to finish up with a cosplay from my favorite anime, Ranma 1/2. It was a special treat to see this since Ranma is a pretty old anime so there is less of a chance of people cosplaying it. The characters are the heads of the Tendo and Saotome households.

Babalu Grill in Baltimore, MD is a horrible dance club

Their food may or may not be worth the price, I’ve never been there for dinner. However, I do know that their club is crap. I would have to say that tonight was definitely the worst experience I’ve ever had in terms of going out for a night of fun. First of all, I got to the Powerplant Live area and no one knew how to get into Babalu Grill. The people blocking the area told us to go down the block, the people at the end of the block told us to go back to the original people. When we finally get in, the bouncer said it was $5 per person, but the person taking the cash said it was $10 per person. It was so loud outside from a concert going on that it was impossible to reconcile. Perhaps I was just tired from a long day’s work, but had the concert not been going on a mere 20 feet away, I would have disputed this.

We got there at 2215 (1015 pm) and their website said it becomes a club at 2200. They didn’t even play any music until 2315. Then it was one reggae song after another. My wife went to ask the DJ what was up with all the reggae, where was the merengue, salsa and bachata? (We waited until 2330 because I’ve been a DJ before and didn’t want to be rude) He told her that there was no spanish music tonight. I’m sorry, but is it such a bad assumption that a CUBAN restaurant that moonlights as a night club should play CUBAN music – ie merengue, salsa, and bachata????

So we left right away. I F-ING HATE dancing to reggae. I don’t mind listening to it and if we’re at a dance club and one or two songs go by, I’ll dance to it. But I didn’t pay $20 to dance reggae all night long, I wanted to dance to Spanish music. We haven’t been out dancing in over a year and really wanted to.

If Babalu had put a sign up that said it was going to be a reggae night, I would have never paid the $20 cover. But they didn’t say anything. I ask again, was I wrong to assume that a CUBAN restaurant would play CUBAN music???

I’m never going there again and, frankly, I’m pretty fed up with Baltimore and Inner Harbor. I’m going to give this one more shot some time in the future with a Salsa club in DC, but if they don’t play at least 50% salsa, I’m going nuts on the management.

Everything has a price

You may know, because they are relatively famous examples, that in British citizens wishing to enter inner London streets during peak times have to pay a toll. This was enacted based on the economic premise of marginal benefit. In case it’s been a while since you took Econ101, marginal benefit is the amount of money someone is willing to pay for a service. If they pay less then that, they feel they are getting a good deal. If they pay that price, the believe it is fair. They refuse to pay a price above that price. In other words, if your marginal benefit from a bag of chips is $0.50, you will cease to want a bag of chips if they cost $0.60. If you still want it at sixty cents, then that was your real marginal benefit. Therefore, the British government figured that they just had to raise the price high enough that a majority of people wouldn’t use the roads and then congestion would vanish. It has mostly worked out right.

In the United States the Route 91 Expressway in California is based on a similar concept. Instead of driving on the free roads, full of so much congestion, come drive on the toll roads, guaranteed to have less congestion because most people don’t want to pay to use a road. (Even Sim City 4: Rush Hour used this concept) It worked on first, until everyone started taking the road and then it wasn’t work paying anymore. The correct economic solution? Raise the price! So they did and it went from $2 to use to the road to $12.99 to use the road. And it worked – as the prices went up, people stopped using it until the right amount of people were using it again. It has been operating for about 10 years and now other states are getting ready to try this.

Hitting home for me is the fact that Maryland is looking to add a similar toll highway on the Capitol Beltway. Anyone who’s ever been there knows that it is infamous for have WAY too much congestion. A toll road would relieve some congestion while providing additional tax dollars for the state. Additionally, this road is going to really be high tech – at least that’s what they have planned for it. Sensors in the road will communicate with the toll boths to dynamically adjust toll prices to reflect the actual congestion on the road. The more congested it was, the more it would cost. This would allow a more complex pricing structure than just peak and off peak. As a techno-geek, I’m excited about the prospect.

When I do move to Maryland, I probably wouldn’t be using either one too often because I’d be workign in-state, not commuting to DC. However, as I think the current shortest route to NYC goes through the Beltway, I’d certainly welcome the ability to go a little faster.