What were these watermelons good for?

November 25th, 2019

Native to Africa, watermelons have been grown throughout the continent since ancient times — despite the fact that watermelons were not sweet until much, much later:

In southwest Libya, 5,000-year-old seeds were excavated, and watermelon remnants from 1500 B.C. have been discovered in the foundational deposits beneath walls of a Sudanese temple. Archeologists have also found seeds and paintings of various species of watermelon in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back from as long as 4,000 years ago. These species include wild watermelons, as well as the oblong predecessors of the “dessert” watermelon.

But if not a flavorful fruit, what were these watermelons good for? According to the work of Harry S. Paris, a horticulturalist at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, ancient Egyptians likely harvested the round fruit for its water. Wild, or “spontaneous” plants, Paris writes, can be sources of clean water during the long, dry season, and can provide food for livestock and animals.

[...]

Living travelers, too, needed reliable water sources to sustain them. According to Paris, it’s likely that travelers took watermelons with them as a kind of nature-made canteen. Along with trade, he writes, the watermelon’s role as a portable fresh water supply helped the fruit find its way into new regions.

Once the Greeks got a hold of the pepo (as they called it) around 400 B.C., they, too, put it to use. While some varieties were eaten (and others had to be boiled, fried, or simply avoided), the watermelon made a splash in the medical world. Pliny the Elder found pepones to be incredibly refreshing, and, according to one translation, “also laxative.” The first-century physician Dioscorides also noted that the pepon was cooling, wet, and diuretic.

[...]

But by the first few centuries A.D., posits Paris, the watermelon had likely sweetened up. Writings in Hebrew from the end of the second century, as well as sixth-century Latin texts, group the watermelon with other sweet fruits, including pomegranates, figs, and grapes.

Marvin was never named in the original shorts

November 23rd, 2019

I didn’t realize that Marvin the Martian was never named in the original shorts:

He was referred to as the Commander of Flying Saucer X-2 in The Hasty Hare in 1952. However, in 1979, once the character attracted merchandising interest, the name “Marvin” was selected for The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie.

Isn’t that lovely?

I also failed to realize that his Roman armor was meant to evoke Mars, the god.

This makes me very angry, very angry indeed.

It didn’t go through

November 22nd, 2019

I was not expecting Tesla’s new “cybertruck” to look like this:

“As processing power grows,” Paul Graham quipped, “future versions of the cybertruck will have more curved lines.”

Crowther wanted to connect better with his daughters

November 21st, 2019

Fenton Wood recently mentioned that his latest novel includes a labyrinth chapter “incorporating classical myths, video game lore,” etc. I asked if it featured “a maze of twisty little passages, all alike” — one of the memorable bits from Colossal Cave Adventure:

Will Crowther was a programmer at Bolt, Beranek & Newman (BBN), and helped to develop the ARPANET (a forerunner of the Internet). Crowther and his wife Pat were experienced cavers, having previously helped to create vector map surveys of the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in the early 1970s for the Cave Research Foundation. In addition, Crowther enjoyed playing the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons with a regular group which included Eric S. Roberts and Dave Lebling, one of the future founders of Infocom.

Following his divorce from Pat in 1975, Crowther wanted to connect better with his daughters and decided a computerized simulation of his cave explorations with elements of his role-playing games would help. He created a means by which the game could be controlled through natural language input so that it would be “a thing that gave you the illusion anyway that you’d typed in English commands and it did what you said”. Crowther later commented that this approach allowed the game to appeal to both non-programmers and programmers alike, as in the latter case, it gave programmers a challenge of how to make “an obstinate system” perform in a manner they wanted it to.

Developed over 1975 and 1976, Crowther’s original game consisted of about 700 lines of FORTRAN code, with about another 700 lines of data, written for BBN’s PDP-10 timesharing computer. The data included text for 78 map locations (66 actual rooms and 12 navigation messages), 193 vocabulary words, travel tables, and miscellaneous messages.

Eating marmot is thought to be good for health

November 18th, 2019

China has been hit with the plague:

On Tuesday, Beijing authorities announced a municipal hospital had taken in a married couple from Inner Mongolia, a sparsely populated autonomous region in northwest China, seeking treatment for pneumonic plague. One patient is stable while the other is in critical condition but not deteriorating, according to Beijing’s health commission.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention assured the public on Weibo, a Chinese social media site that is the equivalent of Twitter, that chances of a plague outbreak are “extremely low.” The city’s health commission has quarantined the infected patients, provided preventative care for those exposed to the couple and sterilized the relevant medical facilities, the center said.

Police are also guarding the quarantined emergency room of Chaoyang hospital, where the infected patients were first received and diagnosed, according to Caixin, an independent Chinese news outlet.

[...]

China has a checkered record in managing public health crises. In 2002, the central government initially refused to acknowledge a nationwide outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, an illness with flu- and pneumonia-like symptoms.

[...]

Mongolia, which borders the autonomous region where the infected Chinese couple lives, reported two fatal cases of bubonic plague just this year, after the patients ate raw marmot, a species of wild rodent that often carry the offending bacterium. In Mongolia, eating marmot is thought to be good for health.

At least it’s not African rabies.

Violence is rare and commonly occurs due to confusion and helplessness

November 17th, 2019

Anne Nassauer — Assistant Professor of Sociology at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin — notes that video surveillance footage shows how rare violence really is:

Today, videos from closed-circuit television, body cameras, police dash cameras, or mobile phones are increasingly used in the social sciences. For lack of other data, researchers previously relied on people’s often vague, partial, and biased recollections to understand how violence happened. Now, video footage shows researchers second-to-second how an event unfolded, who did what, was standing where, communicating with whom, and displaying which emotions, before violence broke out or a criminal event occurred. And while we would assume such footage highlights the cruel, brutal, savage nature of humanity, looking at violence up-close actually shows the opposite. Examining footage of violent situations – from the very cameras set up because we believe that violence lurks around every corner – suggests violence is rare and commonly occurs due to confusion and helplessness, rather than anger and hate.

Armed robberies are an example in point. We would assume robbers to resort to violence if clerks fail to hand over what is in the register; after all, that is the fundamental proposition of the situation. Instead, video surveillance shows that robbers become afraid of the unexpected situation they are in and run away. It shows that criminals, like most people, rely on situational routines that offer familiarity and reassurance. In my research of surveillance footage of robberies clerks laughed at a robber’s assault rifle, and robbers, rather than shooting or hitting the victim, were startled and gave up. When a robber showed slight gloominess, a clerk cheered him up and the robber became even sadder, discussed his financial problems with the clerk and left. If clerks treat robbers like a child, surveillance footage shows how robbers may react according to this role and become hesitant and plead to be taken seriously. This means even in an armed robbery, where perpetrators are prepared and committed to the crime and clerks usually fear for their lives, robbers as well as clerks tend to make sense out of the situation together, avoid violence and get into shared rhythms and routines.

We can see similar patterns when looking at video recordings of protest violence and violent uprisings. In some protest marches, certain groups attend with the clear goal to use violence; they mask up and come prepared with stones to throw at police. In other protests, police decided on a zero-tolerance strategy and plan to use force at the slightest misstep by activists. Despite such preparations for and willingness to use violent means, violence rarely actually breaks out, and people usually engage in peaceful interactions. If violence does erupt, we see that it does so not because people are violent or cruel, but because routine interactions break down, which leads to confusion, distress, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, and ultimately violent altercations.

Similarly, research on street fights, or mass shootings shows that most people that have the will to fight and kill are actually bad at “doing” violence –as are the great majority of humans. Only very few people in very specific situations manage to be violent effectively, and it is those outliers that make it to the news. Contrary to common belief, rates of violence and crime have never been as low in most Western countries, as they are today.

Such findings have implications; fear of people’s cruel nature and violence lurking around every corner perpetuate everyday actions, drive voting behavior, and impact policymaking through worst-case-scenario thinking. Fearing fellow humans as inherently violent and cruel not only lacks empirical grounding, but research also shows it leads people to make bad decisions. Surveillance videos and recent research on violence challenge this notion that we need to fear each other. They counter the idea that we need elaborate protection from each other and constant state surveillance, which not only tends to cost public funds but also often curtails civil and human rights (e.g., privacy, free speech, free movement, right of asylum). The optimistic outlook offered by scientific analyses of videos might mean we can spend our time more wisely; instead of fearing each other and investing time and resources to protect ourselves from exaggerated dangers, we could enjoy society and our remaining civil rights and freedoms a little more.

Randall Collins (The Sociological Eye), whom she cites, makes similar points in Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory.

The Thule Society lives on

November 16th, 2019

A “trans-Neptunian object” located in the Kuiper belt was recently named Ultima Thule and then rapidly renamed Arrokoth:

It is a contact binary 36 km (22 mi) long, composed of two planetesimals 22 km (14 mi) and 15 km (9 mi) across, nicknamed “Ultima” and “Thule”, respectively, that are joined along their major axes. Ultima, which is flatter than Thule, appears to be an aggregate of 8 or so smaller units, each approximately 5 km (3 mi) across, that fused together before Ultima and Thule came into contact. Because there have been few to no disruptive impacts on Arrokoth since it formed, the details of its formation have been preserved. With the New Horizons space probe’s flyby at 05:33 on 1 January 2019 (UTC time), Arrokoth became the farthest and most primitive object in the Solar System visited by a spacecraft.

[...]

Before the flyby on 1 January 2019, NASA invited suggestions from the public on a nickname to be used. The campaign involved 115,000 participants from around the world, who suggested some 34,000 names. Of those, 37 reached the ballot for voting and were evaluated for popularity – this included eight names suggested by the New Horizons team and 29 suggested by the public. Ultima Thule, which was selected on 13 March 2018, was proposed by about 40 different members of the public and obtained the seventh highest number of votes among the nominees. It is named after the Latin phrase ultima Thule (literally “farthest Thule”), an expression referencing the most distant place beyond the borders of the known world. Once it was determined the body was a bilobate contact binary object, the New Horizons team nicknamed the larger lobe “Ultima” and the smaller “Thule”.

The nickname was criticized due to its use by Nazi occultists as the supposed mythical origin of the Aryan race, although it is commonly used in ancient Greek and Latin literature as well as the historical Inuit culture of the Thule people. The Thule Society was a key sponsor of what became the Nazi Party, and some modern-day neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right continue to use the term. A few members of the New Horizons team were aware of that association when they selected the nickname, and have since defended their choice. Responding to a question at a press conference, Alan Stern said, “Just because some bad guys once liked that term, we’re not going to let them hijack it.”

Oh, but we are.

If they don’t turn up to school, it doesn’t make the slightest difference

November 15th, 2019

You often hear people lament that children should be allowed to roam free. Ed West’s radical proposal is that child labour should be reintroduced:

But it only sounds radical because we associate child labour with past times of extreme poverty and poor working conditions. For my generation it’s Rik from The Young Ones castigating an elderly woman about the “good old days” when you had “four-year-old kiddies digging coal”. And those days were indeed awful. Dan Jackson’s brilliant recent book The Northumbrians recalled the heart-breaking tragedy of the 1862 Hartley Mining Disaster where the bodies of young boys were found with their tiny arms around their brothers.

Not even an ironic reactionary like me would lament the decline of infant mortality and workplace fatalities brought about by health and safety legislation. We obviously wouldn’t allow children to do dangerous work in factories today, and many of the most horrific roles once done by kids are obsolete anyway.

[...]

But for children a bit older, the working environment allows them to interact with adults, adopt adult social norms and learn skills when their brain is rapidly absorbing information. They could also earn money at a time in life they really want it.

I suspect that a lot of teenage crime in London exists because boys reach an age when they want disposable income but there’s no way for them to legally earn it. They’re also mentally and physically under-stimulated by schoolwork they know brings them little tangible benefit. (This is arguably more acute among boys because they’re generally more goal-driven, respond when stakes are high, and easily give up when they’re not). Instead, during those crucial developmental years, they often learn negative behaviour through frustration and drift, so that by the time they’re finally allowed to enter the labour force, they’re already unsuited to it.

At the moment, almost half a million people aged 16-24 are unemployed, but many might not be, if they’d been allowed to start work a bit earlier — with a lower minimum wage. Experience would make them more attractive to employers; it would also get them in the habit of work, so they’d be more likely to adjust to working quickly and stick to it.

Prolonged education also cuts adolescents off from wider society. One of the worst aspects of British society — and where it contrasts poorly with Catholic cultures like Italy or Ireland (still, just about) — is that we have a great deal of generational separation. Young people benefit from working and socialising among those older than them, not only because they’re a calming influence but because they can subtly instruct them on how to behave.

Working young helps insulate children from one of the biggest pitfalls of modern life: extended or even permanent adolescence, which happens when people learn responsibility too late. It also helps a person form a place in a society. Not having enough money is pretty much the worst thing in the world — and reducing poverty should be the central “social justice” aim of governments — but not having a role or purpose is almost as bad.

Teenage boys like to feel needed. This really hit me a few years back when during an unexpected snowfall — there hadn’t been snow in London for well over a decade — all the cars in our area were stuck, and the drivers, many of them mothers with children, stranded. It was obvious that the boys on their way home from the nearby secondary school loved all this — for once, wider society actually needed them.

Having a job, going to an office and earning money — and with it the opportunity to work, and earn, even more — gives teenagers a role. If they don’t turn up for work, the company suffers; if they don’t turn up to school, it doesn’t make the slightest difference except for the purpose of government statistics.

It was something we could all talk about together

November 13th, 2019

Television defined the American median:

It was something we could all talk about together.

There was a comforting sense of homogeneity to the TV of this era. It didn’t ask too much of you, and it was always there when you needed it, a friendly and familiar presence. It wasn’t designed to be great; it was designed to be consistently fine.

The apotheosis of this style of television was the long-running, insanely popular 1990s sitcom Friends, a show that literalized the idea of what television was in its title. Friends was a show about a bunch of attractive and mildly glamorous but essentially ordinary white people hanging out and talking about their lives. It was a show you could watch and engage with but also one that you could just have on as background noise, with the characters’ idealized, fictional, not-too-difficult lives serving as the backdrop to your own. That was television’s reason for being: to keep ordinary people company in their own homes.

Unlike broadcast networks, Netflix knew exactly what subscribers were watching, and when, and how often:

The company had three major revelations.

The first was that television-style content, which on both cable and broadcast had always been delivered on a specific schedule, in a linear sequence over the space of weeks, could be divorced from time. Netflix not only allowed viewers to watch its shows whenever they wanted, it posted entire seasons online at once and then encouraged viewers to “binge-watch,” or consume the whole thing all in one go. Appointment TV, in which you regularly dated a show you liked, was no more; Netflix was TV as a series of intense one-night stands.

The second revelation was that TV could be portable. Netflix was an app, not a channel, which meant you could watch it on your computer, on your phone, in your car, and possibly even on your refrigerator. Netflix shows came to you, wherever you were. The service was platform agnostic.

Finally, Netflix realized that demand for new scripted content was practically infinite and began producing accordingly. In 2013, the year Netflix committed itself fully to originals, the total number of scripted series produced annually across all of Hollywood jumped by 17 percent.

In the 1980s and 1990s, fewer than 50 original scripted television series were produced each year. In 2008, there were more than 200. By 2018, the number was just shy of 500, and streaming networks were the biggest producers. Netflix, which will reportedly spend $15 billion on content this year, wasn’t competing with ABC and NBC and CBS. It wasn’t even really competing with HBO. It was competing with the entire rest of one’s life, with 24 hours of things to do that aren’t watching Netflix. CEO Reed Hastings said in 2017, “We actually compete with sleep.” Then he added, perhaps not entirely kidding, “And we’re winning!”

Liberalism according to The Economist

November 12th, 2019


In Liberalism at Large Alexander Zevin explores the world according to the Economist:

He shows how its editors and contributors pioneered the revolving doors that link media, politics, business, and finance—alumni have gone on to such jobs as deputy governor of the Bank of England, Prime Minister of Britain, and President of Italy—and how such people have defined, at crucial moments in history, liberalism’s ever-changing relationship with capitalism, imperialism, democracy, and war.

A capsule version of this thesis can be found in the career of James Wilson, The Economist’s founder and first editor. Wilson, who was born in Scotland and became the owner of a struggling hatmaking business, intended his journal to develop and disseminate the doctrine of laissez-faire—“nothing but pure principles,” as he put it. He was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the Corn Laws, agricultural tariffs that were unpopular with merchants. The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, three years after the magazine first appeared, and Wilson began to proselytize more energetically for free trade and the increasingly prominent discipline of economics. He became a Member of Parliament and held several positions in the British government. He also founded a pan-Asian bank, now known as Standard Chartered, which expanded fast on the back of the opium trade with China. In 1859, Wilson became Chancellor of the Indian Exchequer. He died in India the following year, trying to reconfigure the country’s financial system.

During his short career as a journalist-cum-crusader, Wilson briskly clarified what he meant by “pure principles.” He opposed a ban on trading with slaveholding countries on the ground that it would punish slaves as well as British consumers. In the eighteen-forties, when Ireland was struck with famine, which was largely caused by free trade—the British insisted on exporting Irish food, despite catastrophic crop failure—Wilson called for a homeopathic remedy: more free trade. With Irish intransigence becoming a nuisance, he advised the British to respond with “powerful, resolute, but just repression.” Wilson was equally stern with those suffering from rising inequality at home. In his view, the government was wrong to oblige rail companies to provide better service for working-class passengers, who were hitherto forced to travel in exposed freight cars: “Where the most profit is made, the public is best served. Limit the profit, and you limit the exertion of ingenuity in a thousand ways.” A factory bill limiting women to a twelve-hour workday was deemed equally pernicious. As for public schooling, common people should be “left to provide education as they provide food for themselves.”

The most triumphant example of a trope is the Trope Codifier

November 11th, 2019

The first use of a trope is the Ur-Example. The first intentional use of a trope is the Trope Maker. The most triumphant example of a trope is the Trope Codifier:

It means “Example that has fingerprints of influence on all later examples of the trope”. The true marker of a Codifier is that it invents some unique spin on the trope that all later examples have some reaction to. Take, for example, Werewolves. There were earlier examples of werewolf stories, but it is with 1941′s The Wolf Man that we first see werewolves as an infection (previously, it was a curse or part of a Deal with the Devil), silver vulnerability (previously, it was vampires or ghosts who were usually associated with weakness to silver), made the werewolf a human cursed to turn into a wolf-man (previously, all kinds of variations were available, from wolf that turns into a man, to man who was permanently turned into a wolf), and tied the wolf to the night of the full moon (previously, they either focused on the three nights around the full moon, or had little to do with the phase of the moon). Almost all later examples of Werewolves bear some of these subtropes, which originated with The Wolf Man, or at least discuss them in order to explain why Our Werewolves Are Different. Thus, we can state with confidence that it is the Trope Codifier.

(I wish I’d stumbled across this just before Halloween.)

Rick Baker, Monster Maker

November 10th, 2019

The Internet has taught me that I’m a very casual fan. I didn’t know Rick Baker by name, but I enjoyed his interview with Joe Rogan, where he talks about making movie monsters, like the eponymous American Werewolf in London. He’s retired now, but he has a massive new two-volume book out, Rick Baker: Metamorphosis.

One amusing bit of trivia from the interview is that he supplied some masks that got used in Star Wars‘ iconic cantina scene — and the band was not there. The band was filmed in another country, much later, in post-production.

The Church made us WEIRD

November 9th, 2019

A new study, The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation, published in Science, makes the point that HBD Chick has been making for some time now:

A growing body of research suggests that populations around the globe vary substantially along several important psychological dimensions and that populations characterized as Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) are particularly unusual. People from these societies tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial (e.g., trusting of strangers) while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty. Although these patterns are now well documented, few efforts have sought to explain them. Here, we propose that the Western Church (i.e., the branch of Christianity that evolved into the Roman Catholic Church) transformed European kinship structures during the Middle Ages and that this transformation was a key factor behind a shift towards a WEIRDer psychology

Church vs. Cousin Marriage

The two Jonathan co-authors are new colleagues of Tyler Cowen‘s at GMU economics.

Start with a big blatant neglected fact

November 8th, 2019

How does Bryan Caplan pick book topics?

How do I pick book topics? On reflection, I usually start with what appears to be a big blatant neglected fact. Then I try to discover whether anything in the universe is big enough to explain this alleged fact away. If a laborious search uncovers nothing sufficient, I am left with the seed of a book: One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts.

Thus, my Myth of the Rational Voter starts with what appears to be a big blatant neglected fact: the typical voter seems highly irrational. He uses deeply flawed intellectual methods, and holds a wide range of absurd views. Twist and turn the issue as you please, and this big blatant neglected fact remains.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, similarly, begins with a rather different big blatant neglected alleged fact: Modern parenting is obsessed with “investing” in kids’ long-run outcomes, yet twin and adoption researchers consistently conclude that the long-run effect of nurture is grossly overrated. Yes, the latter fact is only “blatant” after you read the research, but once you read it, you can’t unread it.

What’s the One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts in The Case Against Education? This: education is highly lucrative even though the curriculum is highly irrelevant in the real world. Yes, it takes a book to investigate the many efforts to explain this One Big Fact away (“learning how to learn,” anyone?). But without One Big Fact, there’d be no book.

Finally, the big motivated fact behind Open Borders is that simply letting a foreigner move to the First World vastly multiplies his labor earnings overnight. A Haitian really can make twenty times as much money in Miami the week after he leaves Port-au-Prince – and the reason is clearly that the Haitian is vastly more productive in the U.S. Which really makes you wonder: Why would anyone want to stop another human being from escaping poverty by enriching the world? Giving this starting point, anti-immigration arguments are largely attempts to explain this big blatant neglected fact away. Given what restrictionist arguments are up against, it’s hardly surprising that they don’t measure up.

On reflection, my current book project, Poverty: Who To Blame doesn’t seem to fit this formula. The book will rest on three or four big blatant neglected facts rather than one. Yet perhaps as I write, One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts will come into focus…

A vortex of smart-cam clips, Nextdoor rants, and cellphone surveillance

November 7th, 2019

I don’t think this Atlantic piece on “porch pirates” in San Francisco is meant as an ad for Ring video doorbells (and Nest cams, too), but it achieves that goal nonetheless:

It was only about nine months later, in May 2017, when one of Fairley’s neighbors plastered photos of her, “Wanted”-style, on Nextdoor, that Fairley realized things were about to get worse. Nextdoor is an online ticker tape of homeowner and tenant concerns, and the grievances can be particularly telling in a city of Dickensian extremes like San Francisco, whose influx of tech wealth is pitting suburban expectations against urban realities. The city’s property-crime rate is among the highest in the United States. Nextdoor posts about dogs slurping from a public drinking fountain and Whole Foods overcharging again (“Be on guard”) show up alongside reports of smash-and-grab car break-ins, slashed tires, and an entire crime subgenre of “porch pirates,” the Artful Dodgers of the Amazon age.

Fairley and her neighbor do not agree — will likely never agree — on what happened in the minutes prior to the photos of Fairley going up on Nextdoor. Fairley has sworn that the boxes she picked up were from down the street, where they had been laid out for the taking, and that her 6-year-old daughter was helping to haul them to their home in the public housing down the block.

Julie Margett, a nurse who lives on the street, in a purple cottage with a rainbow gay-pride flag and a black lives matter sign in the window, said she was leaving her garage and spotted Fairley coming down her neighbor’s stairs carrying boxes with various addresses on them. Surmising that they were stolen, she asked Fairley warily, in her British accent, “What are you doing?”

Fairley called her a racist (in fact, she still does) and told her she was in the middle of moving. “That was what was so disarming about her,” Margett told me. “Before you know it, she’s torn you to shreds and she’s off down the block.” Margett snapped photos of the mother-daughter haul act — in one, the young girl sticks her tongue out at the camera — and, after calling the police, uploaded them into a Nextdoor post: “Package thieves.”

So, Fairley told me two years later, sitting in an orange sweatsuit in a county-jail interview room, that was the real acceleration of the epic feud of Fairley v. Neighbors of Potrero Hill, a vortex of smart-cam clips, Nextdoor rants, and cellphone surveillance that would tug at the complexities of race and class relations in a liberal, gentrifying city. The clash would also expose a fraught debate about who is responsible, and who is to blame, for the city’s increasingly unlivable conditions. As Fairley says, “It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Parts of potrero hill feel like the sort of charmed place where Amazon deliveries could sit undisturbed on your stoop. The hill’s western ridge, overlooking the city, is filled with cozy bungalows and Victorian houses that once were affordable for San Francisco’s working and artistic classes but have appreciated during the tech rush; now most of them sell for well over $1 million. The public hospital where Fairley was born is now named after Mark Zuckerberg.

Meanwhile, the hill’s eastern and southern flanks are still lined with decrepit 1940s-era bunkers of public housing between patches of scruffy grass and concrete patios. The unhoused have set up camp around the neighborhood too, the city’s homeless population having spiked 30 percent in the past two years. This sometimes has led to hostile and politically divisive clashes, like when a luxury auction house at the foot of Potrero turned its sprinklers on the tents clustered outdoors in 2016. (The auction house claimed that the sprinklers were meant to clean the building and sidewalks, and were “not intended to disrespect the homeless.”)