Dante Alighieri was early in recognising that our age has a problem. He was the first writer to use the word moderno, in Italian, and the difficulty he spotted with the modern mind is its limited capacity to relate to the whole of reality, particularly the spiritual aspects. This might sound surprising, given that his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, is often described as one of the most brilliant creations of the medieval imagination. It is taken to be a genius expression of a discarded worldview, not the modern one, from an era in which everything was taken to be connected to the supreme reality called God. But Dante was born in a time of troubling transition. He realised that this cosmic vision was being challenged, and he didn’t seek to reject it or restore it, but to remake it.

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Jul 25

Crime investigation is a daunting process. It involves numerous hours of tedious and meticulous gathering and analyzing of physical and trace (forensic) evidence, searching for and interviewing witnesses, as well as figuring out the motive, and, in some cases, the mod us operandi. After and only after the evidence is conclusively verified would the offender be tracked down and arrested. Circa 1990, before the World Wide Web (www) was made a public domain and became an integral part of our everyday life, crime was viewed as a tripartite affair. An affair confined between the victim and family, the perpetrator and accomplices and the investigator (police). Some may say, the mainstream media—radio, television and print—is also a party, the fourth party but their role was more reporting what was fed to them by the police. In a way, it could be said that a crime investigation was the concern of the police and the police alone.

Initially the internet was a Godsend to crime investigators. A powerful tool for them to search, communicate and share information between agencies, states, even countries—information at their fingertips. However, with the internet came the smartphone and free applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and many more. The old adage that crime was the concern of the police and the police alone was no more true. Crime reporting was now open to the general public.

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In the Vatican’s Profane Museum, there’s one artifact that looks out of place among the ornate sarcophagi and marble statues: a mosaic floor that seems to be covered in the picked-over refuse of a meal.

When you first look down at the mosaic, it looks like the kitchen trash tipped over: Nutshells, olive pits, fruit rinds, and grape stems are strewn about. But if you look closer, the food scraps dissolve into chunks of stone and chips of glass. It’s a trompe l’oeil in mosaic, and an extraordinarily fine one. The shells gleam, the chestnut husks bristle with spines, and the grapes are fuzzed over with a soft, velvety bloom.

Mosaics like this one formed the floors of triclinia, dining rooms in ancient Rome where party guests lounged on couches, picking at delicacies. This one was unearthed among the remains of a villa on Aventine Hill, and even now it emanates some of the atmosphere of one of those long, dim, boozy Roman banquets. The scraps of food cast long, erratic shadows in different directions, as if lit by the dancing flicker of oil lamps, and even the little mouse, nibbling on a nut in the corner, carries a white glimmer of reflected lamplight in its eye.

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In China, suburban garages do not factor in the lore of computing history the way they do in the United States. But prisons do – at least, one particular prison in which a brilliant Chinese engineer was sentenced to solitary confinement for thought crimes against Mao Zedong during China’s Cultural Revolution. His name was Zhi Bingyi and, during long and anxiety-ridden days, months and years of solitude, he made a breakthrough that helped launch China’s personal computing revolution: he helped make it possible to type Chinese with a run-of-the-mill Western-style QWERTY keyboard.

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Twenty-four hundred years ago, Heraklion was ancient Egypt’s largest port on the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the ancient city lies submerged beneath Abu Qir Bay, a few kilometers off the coast of Alexandria. Archaeologists recently discovered the wreck of a warship from the city’s final years buried in the seabed for 2,100 years beneath five meters of clay and crumbled pieces of an ancient temple to the Egyptian god Amun.

“The Internet: An Unprecedented and Unparalleled Platform for Innovation and Change.” That was the title of a chapter published by the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2012. It echoes a commonly expressed sentiment. Back in 2012, most proclamations about the internet praised its unprecedented power. Just five years later, most proclamations about the internet criticized its unprecedented power. Commentators, analysts and policy makers worried that the internet, and social media platforms in particular, presented wholly new threats to democracy, global governance and the integrity of information.

There is a lot to question in the underlying assumption that the internet is unprecedented and unparalleled. That assumption makes it seem as if history is no longer a useful tool of analysis to guide future policies. But history is ubiquitous in our discussions around the internet and disinformation. While some discuss history by claiming that our current circumstances are unprecedented, assumptions about the history of disinformation are everywhere in policy making.

Policy makers in some countries deploy history quite often to guide their regulatory approaches. German policy makers refer frequently to the Nazi and Stasi pasts to justify their actions. Finnish policy makers invested early in media literacy because of long experiences with Russian and Soviet disinformation. Finally, it’s a historical judgment to claim that something is unprecedented; often that turns out not to be true!

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A 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite found lying in the imprint of a horseshoe is likely a remnant of cosmic debris left over from the birth of the solar system and could answer questions about how life began on Earth.

‘Traditional Russian spiritual-moral and cultural-historical values are under active attack from the USA and its allies, as well as from transnational corporations and foreign NGOs,’ according to the Kremlin’s new National Security Strategy, published this month. It defines ‘Russian values’ as ‘life, dignity, rights, freedoms’ as well as ‘high ethical ideals, a strong family, prioritising the spiritual over the material, humanism, kindness, justice, collectivism and patriotism’.

Ideology is stressed more insistently than in previous years. But what exactly it all means can be hard to pin down. There’s a wink and a nod to 19th-century Slavophiles, with their idea that Russia is defined through sobornost, collective spirituality and communality, rather than individual freedom. There’s even a mention of the need to resist foreign ‘absolutisation of personal freedoms’. But there are also paeans to ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ as somehow fundamental to Russian traditions. Still, whatever Russian values may be, the National Security Strategy is clear they have to be defended with a ‘state information policy’.

This is the place to start making sense of the document. The policy logic does not stem from a coherent set of ideological precepts that require censorship and control to protect them, but the other way round: you want to impose control and censorship, so you invent a sort of ideology in order to justify it. The language of ‘traditional’ values is more useful for this, as it’s easier to justify ‘defending’ something local from outside attacks than something universal.

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The following is a translation from the French of the essay Notre ennemi, le capital (2017) by the contemporary Marxist philosopher Jean-Claude Michéa. Class Unity is pleased to provide this translation as a service to the Anglophone left, which is too often cut off from intellectual developments in other languages. This book, along with a number of Michéa’s other works, can be found in the original French at Éditions Flammarion.

Can you tell who a criminal is just by looking at them? No you can’t, but that didn’t stop the idea from gaining traction in the late 19th century. Early criminologists in the U.S. and Europe seriously debated whether criminals have certain identifying facial features separating them from non-criminals. And even though there is no scientific data to support this false premise of a “born criminal,” it played a role in shaping the field we now know as criminology.

This idea first struck Cesare Lombroso, the so-called “father of criminology,” in the early 1870s. While examining the dead body of Giuseppe Villella, a man who’d gone to prison for theft and arson, the Italian professor made what he considered a great discovery: Villella had an indentation on the back of his skull that Lombroso thought resembled those found on ape skulls.

“At the sight of that skull, I seemed to see all of a sudden…the problem of the nature of the criminal—an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals,” he wrote in his 1876 book Criminal Man (which he expanded in four subsequent editions).

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Imagine a world in which nature is intertwined with the industrial: giant lotus flowers replace concrete skyscrapers; an urban forest forms a city constantly in shift through a tree’s life cycle. This is the imaginarium of Belgian architect Luc Schuiten. To discover his work is to fall under the spell of a colourful cosmos, where architectural blueprints are swapped for visionary storyboards that invite the viewer to dive into his utopian dreamscape.

On a 34-day expedition around the Phoenix Islands Archipelago, marine scientists from the Schmidt Ocean Institute captured exceptionally rare footage of the elusive glass octopus. With a speckled, iridescent membrane, the aquatic animal is almost entirely transparent—only its optic nerve, eyes, and digestive tract are visible to humans—and sightings like these are so infrequent that scientists previously resorted to studying the species only after pulling it from the stomachs of its predators.

Along with successfully capturing this footage, the research team also identified new marine organisms and recorded the sought-after whale shark swimming through the Pacific Ocean during the expedition. For similar underwater reveals, check out a blanket octopus unveiling her membrane.

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Cannabis was first domesticated around 12,000 years ago in China, researchers found, after analyzing the genomes of plants from across the world. 

The study, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, said the genomic history of cannabis domestication had been under-studied compared to other crop species, largely due to legal restrictions. 

The researchers compiled 110 whole genomes covering the full spectrum of wild-growing feral plants, landraces, historical cultivars, and modern hybrids of plants used for hemp and drug purposes. 

The study said it identified “the time and origin of domestication, post-domestication divergence patterns and present-day genetic diversity”.

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The year is 1950. A dead body floats along the New Orleans waterfront. The coroner who examines him realizes something terrifying: this nameless man died sick. The corpse is infected with the pneumonic plague. The city authorities now have 48 hours to find and inoculate every person who came in contact with the man before his death or New Orleans will become the epicenter of a terrible epidemic. At a crisis meeting of the city council, one councilor argues that the only way to save the city is to announce to the public what has happened and seek their cooperation. But the local public health officer—the hero of this story—begs the mayor not to go public with the news. The citizens of New Orleans must be kept in the dark. The press must be kept quiet. The title of the film reveals what he fears will occur if the public discovers the truth: Panic in the Streets.

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The notorious financier pedophile told exaggerated stories of his time in intelligence circles — but some of those stories may have been, at least partially, true.

The Cerne Abbas Giant is a 180-foot-tall figure of a naked man wielding a large club, carved with chalk into a hilltop in Dorset, England. The figure’s generously sized erect phallus has earned it the nickname “Rude Man” and no doubt contributes to its popularity as a tourist attraction. Archaeologists have long speculated over exactly when, and why, the geoglyph was first created. Now, thanks to a new analysis of sediment samples, researchers have narrowed down the likely date for the Rude Man’s creation to the late Saxon period—a surprising result, since no other similar chalk figures in the region are known to date from that time period. 

“This is not what was expected,” said geoarchaeologist Mike Allen, who has been working with the National Trust on the ongoing project to learn more about the Cerne Abbas Giant. “Many archaeologists and historians thought he was prehistoric or post-medieval, but not medieval. Everyone was wrong, and that makes these results even more exciting.” National Trust senior archaeologist Martin Papworth told the Guardian he was “flabbergasted” by the results, saying, “I was expecting 17th century.”

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Jul 16

A KIND-HEARTED SPINSTER, PASSED OVER in her youth by a potential suitor, spends her life faithfully tending the hearth and home of her dear family and friends. She is content to toil as a housekeeper, unrecognized but for the praise of beloved companions. All the while, she keeps a detailed household book of handwritten recipes, from carraway cake to currant wine, that her family loves. Virtue is rewarded when, at 63 years of age, the loyal spinster weds the widower brother of her dearest friend, who is subsequently knighted, making her Lady of a great house. Nearly 200 years later, an academic press publishes her book of household recipes, thereby inscribing the humble homemaker into the echelons of literary fame.

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KANEKO FUMIKO (1903–1926) wrote her memoir, translated here, while she was in prison, having been convicted of a plot, the authorities charged, to assassinate the emperor.

Her life, as her memoir shows, was one of misery, privation, and hardship from early childhood. Her parents were not legally married, and they did not register her birth in their family register. Ever since the Meiji Restoration, the government had required each household to have its family members registered at the local government office. A child born out of wedlock often was registered as the child of the mother’s parents. This was not done for Fumiko until 1912, when she was registered in her maternal grand-father’s family register as his daughter. A person not recorded in any register, vas in effect a nonperson. To attend school, gain employment, or have any legal standing, a person had to submit a household registration certificate. Thus, when Fumiko first enrolled in school she did not have any legal status, so she was not allowed to enroll as a bona fide student; she was permitted to attend only as an auditor.

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Random things that are interesting.

Created on Aug 31, 2020
By @gurlic