December 4, 2013
What happened to Cronaca?
Too much to do, too little time.
Once I started sharing links on Facebook as well as posting them here, something had to give. Automatically synchronizing the two sites seemed to be an option, but never worked out in practice -- in large part, once again, due to lack of time to figure it all out.
I am still hoping to be able to revive Cronaca one of these days. Facebook seems to love to mess around with their interface, but without ever giving full consideration to the different ways people use their pages. It could easily be tweaked to make it a fine blogging platform; as is, however, it is a constant frustration not to be able to compose proper posts, not to mention the virtual impossibility of locating posts past.
February 12, 2012
An Australian historian has uncovered hidden documents which reveal that African American troops used machine guns to attack their white officers in a siege on a US base in north Queensland in 1942.From the BBC.
Information about the Townsville mutiny has never been released to the public.
But the story began to come to light when James Cook University's Ray Holyoak first began researching why US congressman Lyndon B Johnson visited Townsville for three days back in 1942.
What he discovered was evidence detailing one of the biggest uprisings within the US military.
"For 70 years there's been a rumour in Townsville that there was a mutiny among African-American servicemen. In the last year and a half I've found the primary documentation evidence that that did occur in 1942," Mr Holyoak told AM.
December 27, 2011
No good deed unpunished
Five thousand Irish soldiers who swapped uniforms to fight for the British against Hitler went on to suffer years of persecution.Read the rest at the BBC.
One of them, 92-year-old Phil Farrington, took part in the D-Day landings and helped liberate the German death camp at Bergen-Belsen - but he wears his medals in secret.
Even to this day, he has nightmares that he will be arrested by the authorities and imprisoned for his wartime service. . .
Mr Farrington's fears are not groundless.
He was one of about 5,000 Irish soldiers who deserted their own neutral army to join the war against fascism and who were brutally punished on their return home as a result.
They were formally dismissed from the Irish army, stripped of all pay and pension rights, and prevented from finding work by being banned for seven years from any employment paid for by state or government funds.
December 15, 2011
Not-so-charitable book boxes?
You’ve probably seen them on a street corner or in a parking lot somewhere. Popping up like big blue mushrooms over the past two years are giant metal bins labelled “Books For Charity.” Unfortunately, the truth about what happens to books dropped in those bins is somewhat more complex than the label.Read the rest here. Once again, the lesson is to scrutinize before you give.
Bronte manuscript sale
A French museum has won a bidding war for an unpublished Charlotte Bronte manuscript, dashing hopes that it could return to the author's former home.From the BBC.
The Musee des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris bought the second issue of Young Men's Magazine at auction for £690,850.
It outbid the Bronte Parsonage Museum, based in the family's former house in Haworth, West Yorkshire.
The work, written when Bronte was 14, is regarded as important for the light it sheds on her literary development.
The miniature manuscript, dated 1830, smashed its pre-sale estimate of £200,000 - £300,000 and set a new auction record for a manuscript by any of the Bronte sisters.
November 29, 2011
Crusader inscription in Arabic found
Israeli archaeologists have discovered the first ever Arabic Crusader inscription, they announced on Monday.From Discovery News. Frederick II Hohenstaufen was a fascinating figure -- his Wikipedia entry is here.
The epigraphic evidence emerged from a 800-year-old inscribed marble slab which originally sat in Jaffa's city wall.
Bearing the name of the "Holy Roman Emperor" Frederick II, and the date "1229 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus the Messiah," the inscription was found broken on the top, right, left and bottom.
Deep-sea fishing Down Under, 42,000 years ago
An archaeologist from The Australian National University has uncovered the world’s oldest evidence of deep sea fishing for big fish, showing that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had mastered one of our nation’s favourite pastimes.Full press release here.
Professor Sue O’Connor of the College of Asia and the Pacific at ANU, also found the world’s earliest recorded fish hook in her excavations at a site in East Timor. The results of this work are published in the latest issue of Science.
The finds from the Jerimalai cave site demonstrate that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had high-level maritime skills, and by implication the technology needed to make the ocean crossings to reach Australia.
November 10, 2011
Deciphering nixies at the Post Office
In the '90s, computers needed remedial reading, stumped as they were by nine addresses in 10. The Postal Service hired 32,000 clerks at 55 RECs to make sense of them. Computers have since learned to see words in scrawls and squiggles the way voice-recognition software hears them in hemming and hawing. The Postal Service says their reading score today is 95%.From the Wall Street Journal.
What's left over is the handwriting from hell. It pours into just two remaining RECs—here and in Wichita, Kan. Their 1,900 clerks cope with machine-unreadable mail from the whole country. Last year, that included 714,085,866 chicken-scratch first-class letters.
In late afternoon, when volume peaks at the Salt Lake center, a blinking panel showed 67,000 letters awaiting attention—from San Juan, Paducah, Los Angeles, Kokomo. A clerk wearing a headset had hit a patch of pen-pal letters from pupils in Memphis. She was decrypting them at a rate of 800 per hour, down from the desired 1,100.
"We ought to teach kids how to address letters," said Bruce Rhoades, a manager looking over her shoulder. His boss, Karen Heath, stood watching beside him and sighed, "A lost art."
November 9, 2011
THE second volume of T.S. Eliot’s letters was recently published by Yale University Press, with new materials and previously unpublished missives. This is as good a time as any to reflect on Eliot’s most fascinating correspondent. Ezra Pound? Well, no. James Joyce? Hmm. No. Paul Valery. Non! I am referring to Groucho Marx. And no, this isn’t a joke. The letters between T.S. Eliot and Julius Henry Marx are among the strangest and most delightful epistles ever created. . .Read the rest in The Economist.
At this point, I should insert some boilerplate reflection, something along the lines of “Two more unlikely correspondents could not be conceived of”, etc. And on the surface, the two men certainly are a surpassingly odd couple. As Anthony Julius puts it in his book, “T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form”, Eliot was “able to place his anti-Semitism at the service of his art. Anti-Semitism supplied part of the material out of which he created poetry.” And not just his poetry. In polemics like “After Strange Gods” and “The Idea of a Christian Society”, Eliot elaborated his belief that Jews had no place in modern life.
Enter Groucho, whose wit was as uniquely Jewish as it was universally comic. Where Eliot was the famous defender of tradition, order and civilised taste, the crux of Groucho’s humour was flouting tradition, fomenting chaos and outraging taste. “I have had a perfectly wonderful evening,” he once said to a host, “but this wasn’t it.” And: “I remember the first time I had sex—I kept the receipt.” And: “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” As for Groucho’s attitude toward Eliot’s exaltation of art and knowledge, he had this to say: “Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.” What Eliot considered “the waste land” of modern life—the deracination, impudence and profane materialism—was mother’s milk to Groucho.
November 8, 2011
In previous work, Dr Ludwig, and his colleagues, recovered only the DNA of black and brown coat colours from the prehistoric horse bones.From the BBC.
But the dappled coats of the 25,000 year horses depicted at the Pech Merle cave complex in France convinced the team to take a second look.
By revisiting the fossil DNA of 31 horse specimens collected from across Europe, from Siberia to the Iberian Peninsula, the researchers found that six of the animals carried a mutation that causes modern horses to have white and black spots.
Of the remaining 25 specimens, 18 were brown coloured and six were black.
Dr Ludwig explained that all three of the horse colours - black, brown and spotted - depicted in the cave paintings have now been found to exist as real coat-colours in the ancient horse populations.
November 7, 2011
Curators in glass houses . . .
France has laid claim to a 17th Century painting currently being displayed by a London gallery at an art fair in Paris.From the BBC.
The Carrying of the Cross by the French master Nicolas Tournier was bought last year for 400,000 euros ($550,000) by the Weiss Gallery of London. . .
During the French Revolution, the painting was confiscated by the state and put on display in a museum, but in 1818 it disappeared.
Nothing was heard of the work for nearly 200 years, but two years ago in resurfaced in Italy during the sale of an estate of a wealthy Florence art collector. . .
"This was the property of the French state that was deposited at the Augustins Museum in Toulouse and was stolen in 1818. It is a non-transferable work," the [French Culture Ministry] said in a statement.
Where this could get messy is if others decide to hold the French state to the same standard. If 1818 isn't too long ago, then neither is 1796-1812, when Napoleon and his cronies methodically stripped Italy and Spain of their finest artworks, many of which were never returned after Napoleon's fall. Many of these are far more prominent than the disputed Tournier, with ample documentation of how and when they were seized from their rightful owners. The Church would surely be the biggest claimant, since the French confiscated altarpieces wholesale during their forcible closure of religious institutions in conquered territories.
October 30, 2011
Indian martial art, on verge of extinction
The basis of shastar vidya, the "science of weapons" is a five-step movement: advance on the opponent, hit his flank, deflect incoming blows, take a commanding position and strike.From the BBC.
It was developed by Sikhs in the 17th Century as the young religion came under attack from hostile Muslim and Hindu neighbours, and has been known to a dwindling band since the British forced Sikhs to give up arms in the 19th Century.
Nidar Singh, a 44-year-old former food packer from Wolverhampton, is now thought to be the only remaining master. He has many students, but shastar vidya takes years to learn and a commitment in time and energy that doesn't suit modern lifestyles.
"I've travelled all over India and I have spoken to many elders, this is basically a last-ditch attempt to flush someone out because if I die with it, it is all gone."
October 20, 2011
Hangar One under threat
Hangar One's massive rib-cage-like doors were designed to split open to accommodate aircraft of giant proportions like the U.S.S. Macon airship. But for the first time since the hangar's construction in 1933, a simple breeze can now pass through its skeleton and tickle the vast heart inside.Article here. Read more and sign the petition here.
In the past four months, construction crews have peeled off 90 percent of the hangar's south face, panel by panel, leaving the 198-foot-high Naval Historic Monument naked as a jaybird to thousands of motorists driving past on U.S. Highway 101. . .
The Navy is overseeing the "de-skinning" of the hangar, a process that began in spring and will remove and dispose of the structure's corrugated metal walls, which are tainted by lead paint, asbestos and PCBs. By the time the project is completed next spring, the hangar -- almost the length of four football fields and the width of one -- will literally be a skeleton of its former self. . .
After the Navy removes the hangar's siding, NASA is responsible for its re-skinning, but federal funds for the project are still in limbo, and a bitter battle between hangar preservationists and those in favor of complete demolition is far from settled.
October 16, 2011
Red tape strangles "lost city" excavation
A project to excavate a small portion of a 1923 silent-movie set buried in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes — already derailed Sept. 30 by a Santa Barbara County permit snafu — will not happen this year even with an expedited permit process.Full story here.
That’s the assessment offered Friday by filmmaker Peter Brosnan and the project’s lead archeologist, John Parker.
And Brosnan, who has spent nearly 30 years securing funding for the project, said it may not happen at all.
“We had a very well-planned project, which was utterly derailed at the last minute,” said Brosnan. “We’re going to have to do a very thorough assessment of all the bits and pieces, and see how the permit process goes. It’s way too early, and our heads are still spinning, to make a prediction.”
The excavation, which would involve about 50 cubic yards of sand, was approved in January by county planners, and was supposed to have started last week.
October 11, 2011
Once again, news outlets uncritically repeat a ridiculously far-fetched yarn, this time speculation about a giant Jurassic cephalopod. But kudos to National Geographic, which treats the story with the skepticism it deserves. Note too the commentary at Pharyngula.
September 25, 2011
Stolen antiques recovery
Millions of pounds worth of stolen antiques, which have significant cultural and historic value, have been recovered in a raid by police.From the BBC.
They are believed to be items stolen from Newby Hall and Sion Hill in North Yorkshire and Firle Place in Sussex.
The antiques include a rare Chippendale table, which was made specially for Newby Hall in 1775 and is said to be of global importance.
Two men, aged 68 and 44, have been arrested.
September 23, 2011
Richard Turner obit
A. Richard Turner, an expert on the Florentine Renaissance whose landmark 1993 study, “Inventing Leonardo,” traced the protean outlines of Leonardo da Vinci through his interpreters and their preoccupations over the last 500 years, died on Sept. 9 in Cape May Court House, N.J. He was 79. . .I am sorry to say I never did take a course from him. From the NY Times.
“Inventing Leonardo” offered a novel reading of one of the most studied and poorly understood artists in history, in a book that Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle’s art critic, called “not a biography but a mythography.”
September 17, 2011
Enigma to auction
A version of the three rotor Enigma machine -- used by the German military to encrypt messages, the code of which was subsequently cracked by a team at the legendary Bletchley Park complex -- will be auctioned at Christie's on September 29.From CNN, with slideshow.
Although the number of the ciphering machines still in existence is thought to remain in the thousands, "it is rare for one to come up for sale," says Christie's specialist, James Hyslop. "Many are believed to have been produced but it's not a particularly high survival," he adds.
September 15, 2011
Late Cretaceous feathers in amber
Samples of amber in western Canada containing feathers from dinosaurs and birds have yielded the most complete story of feather evolution ever seen.From the BBC.
Eleven fragments show the progression from hair-like "filaments" to doubly-branched feathers of modern birds.
The analysis of the 80-million-year-old amber deposits is presented in Science.
The find, along with an accompanying article analysing feather pigment, adds to the idea that many dinosaurs sported feathers - some brightly coloured.
September 14, 2011
Maine black church excavation
A wooden water pipe, discovered this week at the Abyssinian Meeting House on Newbury Street, has excited archeologists and historians who are involved in the restoration of one of the nation's oldest black churches.From the Portland Press Herald.
They say the pipe, intact and still carrying water, was found just a few feet underground and may have been the conduit that provided water in the 1850s to the nearby Grand Trunk Railroad station, now long gone.
The pipe also may have served nearby homes in the decade before the Great Fire of 1866, which destroyed most of downtown Portland but left the meeting house untouched. The find lends credence to the assertion that the Abyssinian was a vital community center and its members played important roles in the development of Maine's largest city.
Ancient anchor find
Two lifeguards found an ancient 600-pound metal anchor off the coast of Bat Yam, adjacent to Tel Aviv, leading to the discovery of two othersRead more here.
The anchor dates back to the Byzantine period of approximately 1,500 years ago and measured at 2.1 meters (nearly seven feet) long. It was found buried in the sand only 100 feet from shore.
Visiting the ancient turquoise mines of Sinai
Sinai is often referred to in Arabic as “Ard Al-Fayrouz” (the land of turquoise) after its ancient Egyptian name "Ta Mefkat" or “Khetyou Mefkat”, which means turquoise terraces. . .Full article here.
Wadi Maghara, Wadi Kharig, Bir Nasb and Serabit al-Khadem were among the premium mining spots in antiquity, and visiting them today offers a different experience for history and archaeology aficionados than the temples and tombs of the Nile Valley and Delta, which reflect ancient Egyptians’ beliefs in the afterlife. The archaeological sites of Southern Sinai relay aspects of daily life in old mining communities.
September 1, 2011
They looked for surviving fragments of DNA in bones and teeth that archaeologists had excavated from the East Smithfield site in the 1980s. The DNA matched that of the modern-day microbe, confirming, as have several other studies, that Yersinia pestis was indeed the agent of the Black Death. Sharon DeWitte, a member of Dr. Poinar’s team, was one of several skeptics who had doubted the microbe’s role. “I’m very happy to find out I was wrong,” said Dr. DeWitte, a paleodemographer at the University of South Carolina. “In science, if you’re open to alternative possibilities, you can change your mind.”From the NY Times.
Dr. Poinar’s team also looked for the microbe’s DNA in another medieval London cemetery, that of St. Nicholas Shambles, which was closed before the Black Death struck. They found no sign of it there, indicating that Yersinia pestis was not already present in the English population before the Black Death, so it must have arrived from elsewhere.
If Yersinia pestis was indeed the cause of the Black Death, why were the microbe’s effects so different in medieval times? Its DNA sequence may hold the answer.
Gratuitous Lovecraft reference, but interesting short video from Hardcore Science at io9.
Ned Kelly, found
In Australia, the law finally has its man. The skeleton of Ned Kelly, Australia's most famous outlaw, was confirmed by forensic scientists Thursday as being among remains found at Pentridge Prison in the southern city of Melbourne—albeit missing most of the skull.From the Wall Street Journal.
Known for leading daring bank raids and blazing through police shootouts wearing homemade armor—including a helmet that resembled a tin can—Kelly ranks among the 19th century's most notorious outlaws, with a myth as strong as U.S. sharpshooters Jesse James and Billy the Kid. In a time of steep poverty he was something of a hero to the rural poor, who identified with him in his battles against authority. His execution in 1880 polarized Australian society.
Hanged by the neck until dead at Old Melbourne jail, he was buried among other executed prisoners within the grounds, and though his remains were thought to have been moved to Pentridge Prison with the rest in 1929, authorities didn't know for sure. The bones now confirmed as Kelly's were found buried in a wooden ax box in 2009, and identified through the application of CT scanning, X-rays, pathology, odontology, anthropology and DNA testing—Leigh Oliver, the great grandson of Ned's sister Ellen, provided a sample for comparison.