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“Behold the hands”*…

 

Is gesture a universal language? When lost for words, we point, wave, motion and otherwise use our hands to attempt to indicate meaning. However, much of this form of communication is intuitive and is not generally seen to be, by itself, an effective substitution for speech.

John Bulwer (1606 – 1656), an English doctor and philosopher, attempted to record the vocabulary contained in hand gestures and bodily motions and, in 1644, published Chirologia, or the Naturall Language of the Hand alongside a companion text Chironomia, or the Art of Manual Rhetoric, an illustrated collection of hand and finger gestures that were intended for an orator to memorise and perform whilst speaking.

For Bulwer, gesture was the only from of speech that was inherently natural to mankind, and he saw it as a language with expressions as definable as written words…

More of the backstory (and more examples) at “Chirologia, or The Natural Language of the Hand (1644).”

* “Behold the hands, how they promise, conjure, appeal, menace, pray, supplicate, refuse, beckon, interrogate, admire, confess, cringe, instruct, command, mock and what not besides, with a variation and multiplication of variation which makes the tongue envious.”   – Montaigne

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As we gesticulate, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish discovered the first pulsar— or pulsating radio star– a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation.

The precise periods of pulsars make them very useful tools. Observations of a pulsar in a binary neutron star system were used to  confirm (indirectly) the existence of gravitational radiation. The first extrasolar planets were discovered around a pulsar, PSR B1257+12.  And certain types of pulsars rival atomic clocks in their accuracy in keeping time.

Schematic rendering of a pulsar

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Written by LW

November 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

“We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane”*…

 

For three days, thousands of uninsured Americans converge on the Wise County [Virginia] Fairgrounds for the largest pop-up clinic in the country. Most are poor, many are in pain, but all have faith in a level of care that neither the government nor private industry can provide…

A story both heart-warming and horrifying: “Tent Revival.”

* Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

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As we tend to the needy, we might send instructive birthday greetings to William Sanford “Bill” Nye; he was born on this date in 1955.  A mechanical engineer turned actor, science educator, and television presenter, he is best known as the host of the PBS children’s science show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1998), and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media.

Nye was greatly influenced by Carl Sagan, with whom he studied astronomy at Cornell University. He began his career with Boeing, in Seattle, designing hydraulic systems, from the early to mid 1980s. From 1986-91, he created and developed the Science Guy persona for local radio and TV, while eking out a spartan existence as a stand-up comedian.  But in 1992. he made a pilot program for the local PBS station, attracted underwriters, and launched what became a five-year national PBS series, Bill Nye the Science Guy.  Since then he has appeared in other TV science programs and as a guest expert on TV shows, continuing his quest to make science accessible to the public.  He currently serves as CEO of The Planetary Society.

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Written by LW

November 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.”*…

 

“The Kitchen,” 1874, from Prang’s Aids for Object Teaching–Trades and Occupations, a collection of twelve chromolithographic plates issued by L. Prang & Company, Boston

The prolific and flamboyant journalist George Augustus Sala, one of several young British writers who found fame as acolytes of Charles Dickens, rose to become a regular contributor to Dickens’s weekly magazine, Household Words, and, eventually, one of The Daily Telegraph’s most well-known correspondents…  Sala visited the United States twice, first during the Civil War in 1863 and again in 1879. His initial visit was chronicled in the two-volume work, My Diary in America in the Midst of War, and the second trip, a lecture tour, inspired the better-known America Revisited…  In a chapter describing a train trip to Baltimore, he inserted {a] brief digression mocking what was (according to Sala) the uniquely American passion for pie, beginning: “Almost everything that I behold in this wonderful country bears traces of improvement and reform—everything except Pie…”

Dig in at “The Tyranny of Pie.”

* Yogi Berra

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As we agree with David Mamet that “stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie,” we might send beautifully-baked birthday greetings to Cornelius Hoagland; he was born on this date in 1828.  He co-founded (with his brother Joseph Christoffel Hoagland) the Royal Baking Powder Company. With four other companies including the Fleischmann’s Yeast Company, Royal merged to form Standard Brands, the number-two brand of packaged foods in America after General Foods.

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With best wishes to U.S. readers for the Thanksgiving holiday, (R)D is taking the long weekend off.  See you again next week.

Written by LW

November 23, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition”*…

 

The idea that American life is increasingly transient and uprooted is a myth: people are moving less, but worrying more.

In 1971, the great Carole King sang: ‘So far away/ Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?’ Thirty years later, the editors of The New York Times explained that families in the United States are changing because of ‘the ever-growing mobility of Americans’. And in 2010, a psychologist argued that ‘an increased rate of residential mobility played a role in the historical shift’ toward individualism. It’s a common US lament that human bonds are fraying because people are moving around more and more. Americans fear the fracturing of communities that constant moving seems to bring.

Yet when King sang, Americans had been moving around less and less for generations. That decline was even more obvious when the Times editorial appeared in 2001, and it has continued to decline through the 2010s. The increasingly mobile US is a myth that refuses to move on…

More on this widespread misapprehension– and what it means– in “The great settling down.”

* James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

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As we tend the roots we’ve put down, we might recall that it was on this date in 1963 that we lost two greats of imaginative literature:

C.S. Lewis, the novelist The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and others), poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist (Mere Christianity).

And Aldous Huxley, the writer, novelist, philosopher best remembered for Brave New World.

Neither passing was much remarked at the time, as they happened on the same day as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

 

“Truth at 24 frames per second”*…

 

Freedocumentaries.org streams full-length documentary films free of charge, with no registration needed. For several films, we even offer the ability to watch trailers or to download the actual film.

The films are gathered by our researchers as we scour the web for well-produced videos and present them to our viewers. We adhere to all copyright laws and honor the wishes of the producers.

We created Freedocumentaries.org because we wanted to find an easy way to bring thought-provoking, educational, and entertaining documentaries to anyone with a high-speed internet connection. We believe that the mainstream media increasingly practices self-censorship, and that it ignores many opinions and historical events. With the media distorting or ignoring information, it’s often very hard to get an accurate picture of a problem, even while watching the news. Sites like Freedocumentaries.org are a much-needed counterbalance to corporate media: an industry dominated by special interests. Even though every dollar we make via advertising or donations is critical, we do not let any advertisers have any influence over which films we play. We would rather lose that money than lose our independence. And the fact that we won’t shy away from controversial films is one of the things that makes us unique.

While some of the films on our site have widespread distribution, others are created by independent filmmakers who depend on sites like ours to get their information to the public. The amount of work that these producers have put into making a 90-minute film is astounding. Different films create different reactions among different people.

There will be aspects of the films in which you may disagree or agree. After watching you may cry, become inspired, or you may get angry; in any case the films will get you thinking. We are proud that in the last two years, we have helped share these films with countless people that would not have seen the movies otherwise. We believe that we have made the world just a little better by doing so.

We are proud to help these independent filmmakers. We encourage you to visit their website and donate so that they can continue creating great films. If you haven’t done so yet, please watch a film. And if you enjoy the experience, tell your friends!

Over 450 choices, across an extraordinary range of topics, at Freedocumentaries.org.

* “The cinema is truth 24 frames-per-second” – Jon-Luc Godard

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As we lean in to learn, we might send philosophical birthday greetings to Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire; he was born in Paris on this date in 1694.  The Father of the Age of Reason, he produced works in almost every literary form: plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works– more than 2,000 books and pamphlets (and more than 20,000 letters).  A social reformer, Voltaire used satire to criticize the intolerance, religious dogma, and oligopolistic privilege of his day, perhaps nowhere more sardonically than in Candide.

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Written by LW

November 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The world… gives back to every man the reflection of his own face”*…

 

In Chichibu, Japan, two hours northwest of Tokyo, there’s an odd museum; perhaps the only one of its kind. It’s called the Chinsekikan (which means hall of curious rocks) and it houses over 1700 rocks that resemble human faces.

The museum houses all kinds of jinmenseki, or rock with a human face, including celebrity lookalikes like Elvis Presley [below]. And according to a 2013 post on Kotaku, there are also movie and video game character rocks like E.T., Donkey Kong and Nemo…

Learn the back story and take the tour at “The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like Faces.

* William Makepeace Thackeray

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As we practice being stone-faced, we might spare a thought for Christian Goldbach; he died on this date in 1764.  A mathematician, lawyer, and historian who studied infinite sums, the theory of curves and the theory of equations, he is best remembered for his correspondence with Leibniz, Euler, and Bernoulli, especially his 1742 letter to Euler containing what is now known as “Goldbach’s conjecture.”

In that letter he outlined his famous proposition:

Every even natural number greater than 2 is equal to the sum of two prime numbers.

It has been checked by computer for vast numbers– up to at least 4 x 1014– but remains unproved.

(Goldbach made another conjecture that every odd number is the sum of three primes; it has been checked by computer for vast numbers, but also remains unproved.)

Goldbach’s letter to Euler (source, and larger view)

Written by LW

November 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the 20th Century”*…

 

This fall marks the 128th anniversary of a series of murders in London’s Whitechapel district — at least five, for sure — that have long transformed from an investigation to a vague romantic aura that haunts the more macabre corners of pop culture. The case is more frostbitten than cold: due to a combination of muddled evidence and the deteriorating effects of time, the case will never be solved. Yet despite the lack of leads — in fact, because of them — the content business of Jack the Ripper is still booming.

An Amazon search spits back nearly 4,500 items, IMDb returns 119 TV episodes or movies, but even those numbers don’t account for the subtly titled video games, websites, stage plays, operas, paintings, radio dramas, songs, costumes, or various Etsy crafts that seek to capture that “Jack the Ripper aesthetic.” You know it: that sinister silhouette with top hat and cane, sounds of raindrops and horse hooves echoing on candlelit cobblestones, frantic police whistles in the dark followed by cries that they found another. Jack the Ripper is a perpetual content machine from beyond the grave…

More at “The Jack the Ripper Content Economy.”

* “Jack the Ripper” (in the film From Hell)

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As we avoid dark alleys, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that the Senate passed what became The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, at nearly $30 Billion the largest crime bill in U.S. history.  While the bill created the federal assault weapons ban, it also criminalized a number of new offenses and brought “three strikes” sentencing (already in place in some states) to federal trials.  The increased case load caused the legal system to rely much more heavily on plea bargains; the increase in incarceration led to prison overcrowding.

President Bill Clinton signing the bill

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