Friday, November 20, 2009

Is DC Mature?

I was taken by surprise by an article about the new proposed Home Rule Act. Not because of the thing that should be shocking - the lack of a right to self-governance in the nation's capital - but because of the reasoning behind it, a historical perspective that I was ignorant of.

In more than two hours of testimony, Fenty and Gray told a congressional subcommittee that the city and its leaders are now mature enough to lose some of the congressional scrutiny established under the Home Rule act. [emphasis mine]

First, let's remember what we're talking about here: all DC laws, budgets, etc., must be approved by Congress before they can become law. The new act would not loosen restrictions much, it would still allow Congress to overturn laws passed by the district, it just wouldn't require congressional approval to pass them in the first place. And all of that is, I believe, obviously ridiculous. But what I noticed here was more about the attitude, present in the word choice, that led to these laws seeming necessary/reasonable in the first place. It's about the city and its leaders being "mature" enough to handle democracy, "mature" enough to handle truly having a right to vote. In a majority black city, it seems clear why some congressmen still think the city deserves separate treatment. Perhaps as the population changes, and the city becomes more white, it will suddenly be seen as "mature" enough.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FWCG '09 and the CRA-W/CDC Workshop

I'd never been to the Fall Workshop on Computational Geometry (FWCG) before - what a mistake! The workshop, held this year at Tufts University, was excellent. Papers presented at the workshop can be submitted elsewhere, it's less a publication venue than a true chance to share information (in short 15 minute bursts). This year it was held in conjunction with the CRA-W/CDC Workshop on Computational Geometry, which featured 45 minute talks by the experts.

The 15 minute talks at FWCG were a whirlwind of interesting topics. I'll post about my talk some other day and instead discuss the CRA-W workshop here. For me, the theme of the CRA-W workshop seemed to be "those questions you've always wondered about." Godfried Toussaint's talk even began with that hook, though I imagine it only rang true for a few of us. He discussed the geometry of rhythm as part of an effort to identify the lineage of rhythms. Imagine that the repetitive underlying rhythm (in Cuba this is the clave, in Ghana it's known as the bell) is represented as points around a circle, then the rhythm can be analyzed in the form of the shape created by connecting these points. The talk right after that, by Anna Lubiw, discussed questions of shortest paths under various restrictions. For example, while only walking uphill, or, as I frequently wonder while canoeing, the shortest path based on the wind and currents.

All in all, an excellent way to spend a weekend. Definitely worth going to even if it's not local for you. And a reminder of what our conferences could all be like in an ideal world.