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Posts Tagged ‘Carl Sagan

“What I desire of a poem is a clear understanding of motive”*…

I’m not a Hollywood scriptwriter, but if I were, I know what screenplay I’d write. Imagine a violent murder at the epicenter of early Santa Clara Valley—soon to be renamed Silicon Valley in the popular imagination—and an innocent man sent to Death Row at San Quentin. But a famous literary critic emerges as the super sleuth who gets him freed, amid dark evocations of scandal involving corrupt politicians and murky underworld figures. 

You don’t need to imagine it, because it really happened. It’s like the movie Chinatown—in fact, it took place during the same era as that scrumptiously vintage film—but with intriguing literary twists and turns. And, like Chinatown, it possesses all the same overtones of a brutal California origin myth. It would make a riveting film. But in this case the story is true.

On Memorial Day in 1933, a woman’s [Allene Lamson’s] naked body was found, apparently bludgeoned to death, in her Stanford campus home. Within an hour of their arrival on the crime scene, the police had already decided that the husband [David Lamson]—always the prime suspect in a case of this sort—must be the murderer. 

The police never took any other explanation seriously. A student named John Venderlip had seen a suspicious character near the Lamson home the morning of the crime, as well as the night before. But no effort went into investigating this lead. The possibility of accidental death was ruled out, too, although it would later play a decisive role in the case.

This web of speculation and insinuation proved sufficient to get a conviction after a three-week trial that was front page news day after day. The jury only deliberated for eight hours before delivering a guilty verdict. The judge handed out the death penalty—a court-mandated hanging within 90 days. And David Lamson was sent off to San Quentin to await his imminent execution on Death Row. 

And that would seem to be the end of the story. But it wasn’t. And the main reason for this surprising turn into the biggest crime story of its day was a mild-mannered poet and literary critic named Yvor Winters…

In the 1930s, Yvor Winters legitimized literary studies at Stanford—but Hollywood should make a movie about his skills as an amateur detective. A remarkable story from the remarkable Ted Gioia (@tedgioia): “When a Famous Literary Critic Unraveled Silicon Valley’s Most Sensational Murder Case.”

And for further (entertaining, but wholly fictional) accounts of a literary critic’s sleuthing, see Edmund Crispin‘s Gervase Fen novels…

* Yvor Winters

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As we consider the clues, we might remind our selves that if the history of the universe was condensed into a year, the Milky Way would form on this date (May 15), life on earth would appear on September 21, and the dinosaurs would go extinct on December 30. Modern humans would evolve on December 31 at 11:52 PM and Columbus would discover America at 11:59:58 PM. (For more detail: the Cosmic Calendar)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 15, 2021 at 1:01 am

“To declare that Earth must be the only planet with life in the universe would be inexcusably bigheaded of us”*…

 

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If any intelligent life in our galaxy intercepts the Voyager spacecraft, if they evolved the sense of vision, and if they can decode the instructions provided, these 116 images are all they will know about our species and our planet, which by then could be long gone…

When Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 launched into space in 1977, their mission was to explore the outer solar system, and over the following decade, they did so admirably.

With an 8-track tape memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket, the two spacecraft sent back an immense amount of imagery and information about the four gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

But NASA knew that after the planetary tour was complete, the Voyagers would remain on a trajectory toward interstellar space, having gained enough velocity from Jupiter’s gravity to eventually escape the grasp of the sun. Since they will orbit the Milky Way for the foreseeable future, the Voyagers should carry a message from their maker, NASA scientists decided.

The Voyager team tapped famous astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan to compose that message. Sagan’s committee chose a copper phonograph LP as their medium, and over the course of six weeks they produced the “Golden Record”: a collection of sounds and images that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth…

More (including an interactive decoding of the symbols on the disc) at “The 116 photos NASA picked to explain our world to aliens.”

And for an update on NASA”s attempts at interstellar communication, check here.

* Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Death By Black Hole

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As we contemplate co-habitation of the universe, we might send out-of-this-world birthday greetings to Alan B. Shepard; he was born on this date in 1923.  A naval aviator and test pilot, he was selected in the first class of American astronauts, the “Mercury Seven”; in 1961, he piloted the first American manned mission, “Freedom 7,” becoming the first American (and second man, after Yuri Gagarin) into space.  Ten years later, he was part of the Apollo 14 crew, piloting the lunar module for Nasa’s third successful moon landing.

Shepard during the “Freedom 7” flight

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November 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception”*…

 

If you’re prone to flights of depressive thoughts in the shower (who isn’t?), you’ve perhaps briefly entertained the notion that, since humans are responsible for every environmental catastrophe, maybe the planet would be better off if we all just died. While you might rid yourself of such a bleak thought by making the water scalding and moving on to thinking about something cruel you did in middle school, there is a group of extremist hippies called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT, pronounced “vehement”) that actively promotes the idea. Their philosophy is simple: Humans should stop breeding, and allow ourselves to go extinct. As their motto puts it, “Live long and die out.”…

Learn more about VHEMT at “Live Long and Die Out.”

Then, for a very different approach to extinction, consider The Long Now Foundation‘s Revive and Restore Project (of which, to tip your correspondent’s leanings, he is a supporter).

* Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

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As we sit with a Sense of an Ending, we might send lofty birthday greetings to the author of today’s title quote, Carl Edward Sagan; he was born on this date in 1934. An astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist (his contributions were central to the discovery of the high surface temperatures of Venus), he is best remembered as a popularizer of science– via books like The Dragons of Eden, Broca’s Brain and Pale Blue Dot, and the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (which he narrated and co-wrote), the most widely-watched series in the history of American public television (seen by at least 500 million people across 60 different countries).

He is also remembered for his contributions to the scientific research of extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation.

(Readers can enjoy a loving riff on Cosmos here.)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

Auto-Tuning the Cosmos…

Readers who recall earlier brushes with the “voice-enhancing” software Auto-Tune (e.g.,”All That Glitters…“) will be delighted to know that John Boswell (Colorpulse Music) has turned the technology to a more universal purpose.

A musical tribute to two great men of science. Carl Sagan and his cosmologist companion Stephen Hawking present: “A Glorious Dawn – Cosmos remixed.” Almost all samples and footage taken from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Stephen Hawking’s Universe series.

As we listen to the music of the spheres, we might thank our lucky stars for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote, arguably the first– and arguably the finest– Western novel. He was born on this date in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid.

Cervantes

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 29, 2009 at 12:01 am

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