Long Reads for Hump Day
* Bryan Smith visits Gary's new mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, and lays out the difficult job ahead:
As with so many problems, those in Gary tend to boil down to money. The city is so strapped for cash that even the main branch of the public library had to be shuttered. There’s precious little fat to cut and bleak prospects for new revenue. “She has basically inherited a city that’s on the brink of bankruptcy,” says Joe Gomeztagle, an Indiana tax expert and one of the few skeptical voices to emerge in Freeman-Wilson’s first 100 days. “If they don’t go through it this year, I give it one more.”
People from much farther away than the Windy City have their eyes on Freeman-Wilson—for good reason. If she succeeds, Gary could become a blueprint for how to turn around blighted postindustrial cities like Camden, Flint, and East St. Louis. She is already drawing comparisons to political star Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark: Both are Ivy League grads who have assembled best-and-brightest teams to fix deeply troubled towns. “For the naysayers and those who think we can’t change,” Freeman-Wilson says, “I can’t wait to prove them wrong.”
* Rob Mitchum on the undersung legacy of the great mathematician Alan Turing (one of the 20th century's most fascinating minds) in the field of biology:
The core of the paper is a computational model — one of the first ever published, Reinitz said — that mathematically proved one could create complex patterns from a symmetrically organized cell. Early in development, the “pluripotent” cells of the embryo are each capable of developing into a wide range of cell types, from blood to skin to muscle to hair. Indeed, if an embryo is split in two early enough, it can form two entire organisms…as is the case with identical twins.
“For me personally, the paper is intellectually important because it is also the first state description of development,” Reinitz said. “Whether people use equations or not, this is the way all modern developmental biologists think about the problem. They think, if I change this gene, that’s going to change what the embryo grows into, and they’re interested in how mechanical forces shape embyrogenesis. Those ideas are all thinking in a state description way.”
* Bethany McLean questions the conventional wisdom on bank leverage and the financial crisis:
Halfway across the country, a semi-retired lawyer in Chicago named Bob Lockner began reading about the 2004 rule change, too. Lockner, who specialized in commercial bank capital markets activities, was suspicious because everyone kept citing the holding company leverage — but the rule applied only to the broker-dealer subsidiaries, and so didn’t include any international business, over-the-counter derivatives, or holdings of corporate or real estate loans, for instance. He also noticed that the rule hadn’t actually been implemented in 2004. The broker-dealer subsidiaries of Merrill and Goldman began using it in 2005, but the broker-dealer subs of Bear, Lehman and Morgan Stanley didn’t begin using the rule until their fiscal 2006 years. In other words, while leverage at the holding companies had started to climb in 2004 and 2005, the rule change clearly couldn’t be the reason.
* Adam Doster on Benton Harbor's House of David Museum and the barnstorming, bearded pro-am baseball team that it's dedicated to (and one of their great inventions):
What made the House of David legendary was the team’s showmanship. The commune always emphasized the novelty of its team’s curly locks, posting advertisements with banner headlines reading “WHISKERS! WHISKERS!” and taglines including “More Fun than a Circus.” (Before games, players would often undo the complex braids they tied to prevent their hair from interfering with their swings and pose for pictures in front of local barbershops.) Grandstanding was common—longtime HoD first baseman John Tucker made a habit of catching pop-ups behind his back. The club even invented “pepper,” a warm-up routine in which two or three teammates would field a sharp batted ball and pass it between them as fast as possible, using sleight-of-hand to confuse and delight onlookers, a trick the Harlem Globetrotters would later popularize on the hardwood. “Sometimes [the ball] would disappear,” wrote Jerry Kirshenbaum in a 1970 Sports Illustrated piece on the team, “only to be located, inevitably, deep inside somebody's beard.” (The House of David also fielded a bearded basketball team.)
* David Drake introduces us to Chief Keef, a 16-year-old Chicagoan who's both almost completely unknown and a hip-hop star (it'll make sense when you read it):
Immediately, Chicago's hip-hop world started buzzing. No one tuned in to Chicago's hip-hop scene seemed familiar with Chief Keef, which was odd. He had no blog mentions, no radio spins and no newspaper coverage, aside from his December arrest. Andrew Barber, creator of the Chicago hip-hop blog Fake Shore Drive, posted about the sudden influx of interest in the young rapper in the wake of the WorldStar video, and unearthed a year-old mixtape, Bang. On the cover, 16-year-old Keef was holding a handgun.
* Michael Miner watches The Interrupters with a gang cop:
And watching interrupter Ameena Matthews get in the face of some street toughs, the cop allows, "The way she talks to them, you got to talk to them that way. You got to talk to them at their level. She talked real good." But he goes on, "Maybe some of this was put on for the camera." Serious gang members don't want to be on camera, he says. "The guys out there selling drugs and doing dirt, they're more scared of cameras than guns."
Photograph: vincent (CC by 2.0)