the Batman: What is He without His Tools?

The Batman is the greatest superhero because he is only flesh and blood. He can not bend steel, fly, or run faster than a speeding bullet. But he is driven by the senseless murder of his parents to stand up against crime. By donning his mask, the Batman become more than a man. He becomes a beacon of hope, a symbol of the resistance.

It doesn’t hurt that his alter ego Bruce Wayne is a billionaire genius with unlimited technological resources. So in honor to his humanity, I present a list of the best Bat-Tech, which allows the Batman to do what he does best: strike fear into the hearts of criminals.

4) The Batsuit and Utility Belt:

It all starts with the Batsuit. It transforms Bruce Wayne into a symbol that frightens him. And as he says in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, “It’s time for the criminals of Gotham to share his dread.”

Nolan’s Kevlar Batsuit has real world technology (and a little fantasy) woven into it.

Exhaustive lists of the gadgets stuffed into the Batman’s utility belt exist, but here are some of my favorites: The iconic Batarang, grappling gun, nerve-gas ampules, thermite mini-grenades, and the Bat-Credit card.

3) Batcave:

What good is a hero without a lair, a haven, somewhere to heal and decide your next heroic action? Enter the Batcave.

The Batcave is jammed with crime fighting instruments. Including one of the world’s most powerful the machines, the Bat-computer or “Dupin”.

2) Bat-vehicles:

The Batcave also functions as a garage for a fleet of bat-inspired vehicles. There’s, of course, the Batmobile.  My favorite Batman conception is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, where imagines the Batmobile as a nearly indestructible tank.

There’s also the Batcopter, Batcycle, Batboat, and the Batwing.

1) Scientific skepticism and dedication:

What good is all this technology if you don’t understand how to use it?

The Batman combines a constant skepticism with his vast intellect to be the world’s greatest detective and crime fighter.

Like many scientist Batman is absolutely dedicated to his profession (some critics might say obsessed or crazy ). But it is his dedication, technology , and dramatics that allow him to transcend his “flesh and blood” to be “incorruptible… be everlasting… something elemental, something terrifying”

All images, videos, and Bat-realted ideas are property of DC Comics

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The Police and their “Image Armor”

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my conversations with peers, especially those involved with the Occupy movement: Many of them have an overtly negative perception of law enforcement officers. I’ve heard officers labeled as heartless, cynical pigs and fascists.

I grew up in a law enforcement family; both of my parents have worked for over ten years in the courthouse 5 minutes away from my house. I’ve known law enforcement officers who have come in all different shapes, sizes, and temperaments. I never saw an overarching negative persona.

But maybe I’m naïve, maybe I’m biased. So I plunged into the  police psychology literature. Does a police personality even exists and if so, what is it? It’s a question that stretches as far back as the late 60s and early 70s.

But much of the research remained inconclusive, unable or unwilling to say if a police personality exists.

Some are willing to say yes, a police personality does exist, theorize what it is, and try to explain its origins. Dr. Aviva Twersky-Glasner did just that in a paper published in 2005.

Law enforcement institutions use stringent psychological assessments to screen potential recruits.  These assessments provide valuable indicators of future success in law enforcement (recruits who had numerous public complaints or who were terminated were considered unsuccessful). Twersky-Glasner used the rich literature to first tease out what the police personality is not:

the personality of the successful police officer does not contain traits of: impulsivity, hostility, undue aggression, lack of autonomy, immaturity, anti-social tendencies, potentials for alcohol and/or drug abuse, emotional liability, social introversion, paranoia and psychoses.

She then used the literature to form a theoretical construct of what the police personality actually is. Twersky-Glasner found that officers possessed these attributes: “pragmatism, action oriented, valuing common sense rather than theory and success more than ideas.”

She also presented cynicism or “contemptuous distrust of human nature and motives,” as a probable characteristic of the police personality.

Twersky-Glasner believes these traits were cultivated by the police culture. Police face a specific set of occupational stressors, both physical and emotional, that they often can’t share with the public or their emotional support networks because of confidentiality issues. This disconnect can lead to feelings of isolation from the rest of society. The officers then look to each other and the law enforcement intuition for coping mechanisms.

Twersky-Glasner postulates that they will craft a “working personality” or “image armor” of “authority and efficiency” in order to cope with the dangers, stressors, and isolation inherent to their work. It is often the hostility that officers face from the public that shapes this “cultural shield.”

“How people treat you is going to affect you. How people view you is going to affect you,” said Twersky-Glasner, “You [police] see people at their worst. You see disturbing things.”

Twersky-Glasner also reported that personal and professional interactions with law enforcement officials have been “very positive” with a majority agreeing with her theories.

the Web: the Perfect Space for the Polyamorous… and the Curious.

“We get in a lot of trouble when we suppress needs and desires… our shadows sometimes come out to bite us.” ~ Cascade Spring Cook

When the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction opened in 1947, it opened the closet doors restricting public and academic discussions on our sexual desires and behaviors.

However, 60 years later there are still topics that are shunned academically. Ideas and choices that can lead to social ostracization or being fired. Many of these topics revolve around alternate, non-monogamous lifestyles such as polyamory.

Relationships are... complicated

But online poly communities provide havens where the curious can immerse themselves, and researchers can discuss topics freely without fear of repercussions.

One such community is polyresearchers, a yahoo group dedicated to “people involved or interested in the academic research of polyamory.”

Cascade Spring Cook (formerly known as Elaine Cook) was one its founding members.  Her interest in poly research began in 2005 when she wrote her master’s thesis, Commitment in Polyamorous Relationships. She and her husband have been together for 35 years, and both have (and know about) other lovers.

She was disturbed by the lack of psychological research focusing on polyamory and that universities often forced investigators to seek outside funding if they wanted to initiate such research.

She believes this shying away from poly research is partially caused by pressure from religious thinking and institutions.  The same pressure that curbed stem cell research for many years.

So when a colleague asked her to help create an online space for poly research, she signed on. Sites and listing can make polyamory “more visible” and help the public find out “yes, this is possible. It is possible to live in different ways,” said Cook.

“Generally, talking about sexual research can open doors,” said Cook.

One of the main themes in poly research was defining the terms of polyamorous relationships. Terms such as “Primary,” which can be used to describe Cook’s relationship with her husband, and “Secondary,” which can describe their peripheral relationships.

Though Cook points out that poly research is always retroactive. There are always people living alternative lifestyles “not for academic reasons…their interest goes much deeper than that.”

She also stressed that polyamory was not for everyone or every relationship. But if people were exposed to alternative lifestyles, whether they choose them or more traditional relationships, they would be happier and more confident in their choice.  Jealousy and cheating would be diminished by open and honest communication between partners about their actual desires and behaviors.

Standing on the “Frontiers of Science”

“The nature of the physical world is queerer than we imagined, and possibly queerer than we can imagine.” ~ Christopher Lydon, moderator of the “Frontiers of Science” panel, quoting JBS Haldane More

More than a thousand anxious patrons filled the narrow pews of the Trinity Church in Copley. All eyes focused on the slightly raised dais were the altar usually rests. But not on that day. Instead sat a simple table and podium beneath the towering gold-flaked wooden panels and vibrant stain glass.

A bearded man with cotton-white hair introduced himself as Christopher Lydon, host of Open Source, welcomed us to the Boston Book Festival 2011,  and introduced the panel itself: Stephen Greenblatt, acclaimed founder of the “new historicism” school of literary criticism; Lisa Randall, a leading voice in cosmology and particle physics; and Siddhartha Mukherjee; this year’s Pulitzer winner in the general non-fiction category.

Each panel member approaches the podium and speaks about their freshly published book.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Greenblatt’s perfectly enunciated and measured voice soon filled the church, describing the protagonist of his book, Poggio Bracciolini. Bracciolini, who lived in Italy during the Renaissance, was a famous book hunter. During one trip to a German monastery, he uncovered a book that would radically alter his times perception of the world around them.

Bracciolini had rediscovered “On the Nature of the Universe,” a 1000+ line poem by Titus Lucretius Carus, a roman poet and philosopher. In it, Lucretius described the universe as “an erotic dance of atoms,” said Greenblatt. Lucretius perceives a universe made of atoms and nothing else, “That is all there is, and that is enough.” Lucretius’ poem, balances a material view of the universe with a pleasure driven aesthetic.

Greenblatt described his book as a history of these ideas and how long it took for them to “circulate and reintegrate into the world after their rediscovery.”

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World

Next, Randall stepped to the podium. She begins by taking us on “probably the quickest tour of the universe you’ll ever get.” We start at the extreme big, the size of the known universe , zip downward in scale past humans-who lie right in the middle of the spectrum- to the smallest observable events, those being investigated at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Her passion for science permeates her voice as she described the LHC. “Our intuitions are limited by our scale. We need technology to get beyond that,” said Randall.

And her book demonstrates how science and technology have allowed us to push to frontiers that were unimaginable even a few decades ago.

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee stepped to the podium last in a tailored three piece suit and hair artfully tumbled.

He began with some grim statistics: One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their life time. One in four will die from it. “This is not someone else’s problem. This is our problem,” said Mukherjee.

He described his Pulitzer-winning book as a biography of cancer, tracing the history of the way people have thought of it: from a cellular conception to a genetic one. Cancer is “our genetic inheritance,” said Mukherjee.

Mukherjee ended by saying, “We’re using our culture to understand cancer, but I suspect that in a few years we’ll have to use cancer to understand our culture.”

New Media and a New Mode of Activism

More than fifty multicolored tents blanketed Dewey Square like a patch-work quilt. Some had placards with scrawled names to designate them. The “logistics” tent distributed water, blankets, and sleeping bags. The “media” tent buzzed with video and audio uploads. The food tent ladled out steaming chicken soup with rice and apple sauce on the side. The Occupy Boston camp hummed busily under the shadow of the Federal Reserve of Boston.

When I visited the Dewey square encampment to film the Occupy Boston movement, the first thing to strike me was the lack of conspicuous leaders or managers. No one was standing on soap boxes instructing people where to go or what to do. Everyone just went to where they thought they could do the most.

But how could a movement of this magnitude operate without a centralized leadership?

Dewey Square

Courtesy of Sam Marshall

The Internet.

The Occupy movement is new media based activism.  The digitalized world of laptops and mobile devices allows members to transcend time, geography, and identity to unite on purely ideological grounds.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr swell each day with a glut of pictures, videos, calls for actions, and lively debates all centered on the Occupy movement. With a few clicks, members can instantly communicate across the country, or the curious can immerse themselves in the movement.

Dr.  Lance Bennett, Professor of Communications at the University Washington, has a chapter entitled “New Media Power: The Internet and Global Activism” in his book Contesting Media Power (Found here http://depts.washington.edu/ccce/assets/documents/pdf/newmediapower.pdf). He writes:

When networks are not decisively controlled by particular organizational centers, they embody the Internet’s potential as a relatively open public sphere in which the ideas and plans of protest can be exchanged with relative ease, speed, and global scope –all without having to depend on mass media channels for information or (at least, to some extent) for recognition. Moreover, the coordination of activities over networks with many nodes and numerous connecting points, or hubs, enables network organization to be maintained even if particular nodes and hubs die, change their mission, or move out of the network.

However, the strengths of such movements also come with weaknesses. Can the open, chaotic nature of new media be harnessed to express a constructive and cogent ideology? Many Occupy deriders wonder if the movement has any clear goals or objectives.

But those who would dismiss the potential power of web facilitated activism need only to research the Arab Spring revolts and the role new/social media played to reassess their positions. Here’s one study, conducted at the Univeristy of Washington, that found “a spike in online revolutionary conversations often preceded major events on the ground” : http://dl.dropbox.com/u/12947477/reports/pITPI_datamemo_2011.pdf

the Ethical Responsibility of Scientists

We can bioengineer our food. We can take stem cells from your bone marrow and inject them into your arthritic joints. We can harness atomic energy to power our cities and decimate our enemies. But can we channel the immense influence of science and technology toward the global good?

And where does this responsibility fall? With policy makers? With scientists?

Dr. Charles D. Ferguson

“Their [scientist’s] heads are in the laboratory bench or looking at a computer and it’s great, it’s intoxicating,” said Dr. Charles D. Ferguson, President of the Federation of American Scientists, “What I’m asking though is every now and then they lift up their heads and ask, ‘What are the implications of the work I’m doing? Is there something I can do to work for the greater societal good?’”

The federation is a nonprofit, nongovernmental think tank that provides “credible, rigorous analysis and advising to the government, news media, and public” about science policy issues such as nuclear energy development and arms proliferation. Ferguson, traveled to Boston University on Tuesday to deliver a lecture entitled “the Ethical Responsibility of Scientists” to

more than 50 current and future scientists.

In an interview with me afterwards, Ferguson urged scientists to allow their consciences to determine when to walk away from certain research projects.

“It’s a personal choice. I would not want to do work on weapons systems, but I have advised the government on security issues.”

“I had an opportunity to work on a classified project and yeah it was technically sweet…’Wow, I’m one of the few people in the world who understand this,’” said Ferguson,” And you know, yeah this could have weapons applications. After a while that began to weigh on me. And that eventually contributed to my wanting to work in public policy and to do what I can to encourage scientist and technical people not to do that kind of work.”

Dr. Howard Gardner (© 2008 R. Sepulveda-EL TIEMPO)

An essay by the cognitive scientist Dr. Howard Gardner inspired the content and title of Ferguson’s speech and can be found here: http://www.howardgardner.com/Papers/documents/Eth%20Resp%20of%20Sci_Feb-02_HG%20pdf.pdf

Gardner suggests two ways scientists can become more ethical, “1) by focusing on the possible applications or misapplications of their specific research, and 2) by focusing on the relationship between the practice of science and the larger society in which it is situated.”

Ferguson goes a step further and asks scientists to “educate the news media” and “the next generation of policy makers.” He teaches Nuclear Technologies and Security at Georgetown, which he said is mostly taken by political science students.  “I start very basic. ‘What’s an atom? What’s a nucleus?’ And a lot of them don’t know this stuff or they have forgotten it. It’s scary.”

But how much can we realistically expect of scientists? They have families and friends who depend on them. They have curiosities to satiate. And ultimately, like all of us, they have bills to pay.

Dr. Gardner ends his essay with these words:

“Whether sage or scientist, lawyer or layperson, all of us must negotiate our way amongst these strong and sometimes competing responsibilities…in the end we must do the balancing ourselves. Personal responsibility cannot be delegated to someone else. Those who have the special privilege of conducting science have a special obligation to be reflective about these competing responsibilities. And in a day when scientists have a strong handle on the nature of matter, sources of energy, the structure of life, and the means for creating and changing life, these responsibilities are awesome. Much greater mindfulness about this situation has become a necessity if we are to pass on to our progeny a world that is worth inhabiting.”