(Roughly) Daily

“Then murder’s out of tune”*…

 

Thomas Hargrove reviewing notes sent to him by police departments

In 2015, Scripps spun off the last of its newspapers, and Hargrove and the other print reporters lost their jobs. “The only guy who left with a skip was me,” he says. Hargrove, who was 59 at the time and had worked at the company for 37 years, qualified for a large severance and a nice pension, leaving him well-covered. Now he had enough time to go all in on his data project. He founded the Murder Accountability Project, or MAP, a tiny nonprofit seeking to make FBI murder data more widely and easily available…

His innovation was to teach a computer to spot trends in unsolved murders, using publicly available information that no one, including anyone in law enforcement, had used before. This makes him, in a manner of speaking, the Billy Beane of murder…

One might think that there’s a trove of data being crunched by law enforcement agencies across the country to find any clue that might be used to identify the perpetrators of what could be multiple homicides.  Thomas Hargrove found out there wasn’t.  So he starting building one: “Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm.” (Via the always-illuminating Next Draft.)

* Shakespeare, Othello

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As we track ’em down, we might recall that it was on this day in 2002 that former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic went on trial at The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.  Milosevic served as his own attorney for much of the prolonged trial, which ended without a verdict when the so-called “Butcher of the Balkans” was found dead at age 64 from an apparent heart attack in his prison cell on March 11, 2006.

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Written by LW

February 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Plato intended to write a long fable about legendary Atlantis; like Solon, he never did write it. Yet there existed beyond the Atlantic an unvisited land, after all”*…

 

The lost continent of Mauritia likely spanned a great swathe of the Indian Ocean before it was torn apart by indomitable geologic forces and plunged into the sea. Now, a good chunk of it may have been found.

In 2015, researchers visited the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar, to study volcanic rocks. While there, they unearthed something unexpected. Embedded in the rocks were ancient crystals, dated up to three billion years old—300 times older than the island’s young volcanic surface. Rocks this old come from Earth’s continents, but there aren’t any continents around Mauritius. It’s surrounded by boundless sea in all directions. There was just one place left for the researchers to look—down. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggest that the curious crystals came from a long-forgotten place buried well beneath the island…

Plumb the depths of Earth’s history at “Scientists may actually have found a lost continent.”  See also here (from whence, the illustration above)

* Russell Kirk

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As we take tectonics into account, we might spare a thought for René Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician who thought and therefore was; he died on this date in 1650.

Many contemporaries (perhaps most notably, Pascal) rejected his famous conclusion, the dualist separation of mind and body; more (Voltaire, et al.), since.  But Descartes’ emphasis on method and analysis, his disciplined integration of philosophy and physical science, his insistence on the importance of consciousness in epistemology, and perhaps most fundamentally, his the questioning of tradition and authority had a transformative– and lasting– effect on Western thought, and has earned him the “title” of Father of Modern Philosophy.

“In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn than to contemplate.”
– Rene Descartes

Frans Hals’ portrait of Descartes, c. 1649

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Written by LW

February 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone”*…

 

Few people ever saw the images of china girls, although for decades they were ubiquitous in movie theaters. At the beginning of a reel of film, there would be a few frames of a woman’s head. She might be dressed up; she might be scowling at the camera. She might blink or move her head.

But if audiences saw her, it was only because there had been a mistake. These frames weren’t for public consumption. The china girl was there to assist the lab technicians processing the film. Even though the same person’s face might show up in reel after reel of film, her image would remain unknown to everyone except the technicians and projectionists.

For many years photo labs would produce unique china girl images; around a couple hundred women, perhaps more, had their images hidden at the beginning of films. As movies have transitioned from analog to digital, though, the china girls are disappearing.

China girls went by many names—leader ladies, girl head, lady wedge—but they were almost always images of women, and those women were almost always white. They were meant to show the person developing a film that everything had gone right technically; if it hadn’t, the china girl’s skin tone would look unnatural.

More lore at “The Forgotten ‘China Girls’ Hidden at the Beginning of Old Films.”

* Rainer Maria Rilke

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As we hunt for Easter eggs, we might send frightening birthday greetings to Lon Chaney, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1906.  Christened Creighton Tull Chaney, he took his famous father‘s name when he became an actor.  While he is probably best remembered for playing Larry Talbot in the 1941 film The Wolf Man and its various crossovers, and Count Alucard (son of Dracula) in several horror films produced by Universal Studios, he was cast in a wide variety of roles (including Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men) in career that spanned four decades.

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Written by LW

February 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Communism is like one big phone company”*…

 

The Beatles were big enough that even the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had to deal with it, somehow. In 1976 Soviet-controlled TV—the only available televised media in the entire country—played a peculiar Russian version of Paul McCartney’s deathless song “Let It Be” as an oddly baroque and defiantly un-glitzy bit of variety TV. Odd to say about television in the worker’s paradise, but the trappings of the proceedings seem to me somewhat … bourgeois?…

The totalitarian tale in toto: “Bizarre video of the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ from Soviet TV of the 1970s.”

* Lenny Bruce

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As we wonder if imitation is, in fact, the sincerest form of flattery, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that the Beatles, fresh back from Hamburg, played their first date at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The band swiftly became a regular fixture at the Cavern, attracting a loyal audience to over 290 performances until their final appearance on August 3, 1963. For this first show, lasting from 1-2pm, they earned a £5 fee to share among them.

The Beatles (with Pete Best on drums) at the Cavern Club

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Written by LW

February 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Ignorance is the softest pillow on which a man can rest his head”*…

 

Chinese porcelain pillow, Song Dynasty (960–1279)

So far as we know, the earliest pillows date back over 9,000 years to Mesopotamia, or modern day Iraq. Formed from stone, the top was carved in a half-moon shape to support the neck. The idea obviously wasn’t comfort, at least not immediate comfort. The basic function of the pillow was to keep the head off the ground and prevent insects from crawling into mouths, noses, and ears. Ancient Egyptians and Chinese also used similar pillows, though each culture had its own reasons for them…

Learn how the pillow evolved in function–and happily, in form– at “Pillows Throughout The Ages.”

* Michel de Montaigne

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As we lay down our heads, we might send grateful birthday greetings to the extraordinary Jules Verne, imaginative writer non pareil (c.f., e.g., here);  he was born in Nantes on this date in 1828.

Best known for his novels A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869–1870), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) and The Mysterious Island (1875), Verne is the second most translated (individual) author of all time, behind Agatha Christie.  He is considered, with H.G. Wells, the founder of science fiction.

Verne was startlingly prescient: Paris in the 20th Century, for example, describes air conditioning, automobiles, the Internet, television, even electricity, and other modern conveniences very similar to their real world counterparts, developed years– in many cases, decades– later.   From the Earth to the Moon, apart from using a space gun instead of a rocket, is uncannily similar to the real Apollo Program: three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula– from “Tampa Town” (only 130 miles from NASA’s Cape Canaveral)– and recovered through a splash landing.  And in other works, he predicted helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not invented/discovered until long after he wrote about them.

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Written by LW

February 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Astonishment is the root of philosophy”*…

 

When we speak of a “presidential philosophy,” we do not ordinarily have in mind the intellectual debt a president may have had to Renaissance natural philosophy. But Herbert Hoover’s intellectual development seems to require that we widen our ordinary scope. Hooverism may in fact be the last echo of a sort of statesmanly engagement with philosophy that probes somewhat deeper into the order of things, and into humanity’s place in that order, than does the recent genre of campaign-minded, policy-focused, ghostwritten memoirs…

Herbert Hoover, the last “philosopher President”?  Justin E. H. Smith makes the case in “Between the Mine and the Stream.”

* Paul Tillich

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As we contemplate contemplation, we might send the best of all possible birthday greetings to lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, Sir Thomas More; he was born on this date in 1478.  While he is probably most widely remembered as the author of author of Utopia, More was beheaded by Henry for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England (More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation)…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  (He is remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”)

Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of More

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Written by LW

February 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“When physicists say ‘we don’t understand what’s going on here,’ they really, really mean it”*…

 

Theoretical physicists and cosmologists deal with the biggest questions, like “Why are we here?” “When did the universe begin?” and “How?” Another questions that bugs them, and likely has bugged you, is “What happened before the Big Bang?”

To be perfectly clear, we can’t definitively answer this question—but we can speculate wildly, with the help of theoretical physicist Sean Carroll from the California Institute of Technology. Carroll gave a talk last month at the bi-annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas, where he walked through several pre-Bang possibilities that would result in a universe like ours…

Consider the options at: “What Was Our Universe Like Before the Big Bang?

* Theoretical physicist Peter Woit, Columbia University

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As we scrutinize the singularity, we might spare a thought for E. E. Barnard; he died on this date in 1923. Recognized as a gifted observational astronomer, he is probably best known for his discovery of the high proper motion of Barnard’s Star in 1916, which is named in his honor.  But, drawing on his experience as a photographer’s assistant in his adolescence (and building on the work of John William Draper), Barnard also contributed mightily to the development of celestial photography.

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Written by LW

February 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

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