RIP clumsy stormtrooper Michael Leader

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Michael Leader, famous in certain circles as a clumsy Star Wars stormtrooper who knocked his head on a door, has died. He was also known for playing the longtime milkman character in UK soap Eastenders. Read the rest

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Nobel prize laureate and author, dead at 87

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Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, a prolific author, and an outspoken activist for peace and human rights. He died Saturday, at 87 years old.

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Umberto Eco, 1932-2016

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Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher, writer and semiotics professor, is dead at 84, reports the BBC.

Eco is most famous as the author of elaborate historical novels such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but my favorite is his book of shorts, Misreadings.

From it, here is his summary of the Bible, presented as an internal memo at a publishing house written by an editor rejecting the manuscript.

The Bible:

I must say that the first few hundred pages of this manuscript really hooked me. Action-packed, they have everything today's reader wants in a good story. Sex (lots of it, including adultery, sodomy, incest), also murder, war, massacres, and so on.

The Sodom and Gomorrah chapter, with the tranvestites putting the make on the angels, is worthy of Rabelais; the Noah stories are pure Jules Verne; the escape from Egypt cries out to be turned into a major motion picture . . . In other words, a real blockbuster, very well structured, with plenty of twists, full of invention, with just the right amount of piety, and never lapsing into tragedy.

But as I kept on reading, I realized that this is actually an anthology, involving several writers, with many--too many--stretches of poetry, and passages that are downright mawkish and boring, and jeremiads that make no sense.

The end result is a monster omnibus. It seems to have something for everybody, but ends up appealing to nobody. And acquiring the rights from all these different authors will mean big headaches, unless the editor takes care of that himself.

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Antonin Scalia, 1936-2016

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is dead at 79. The longest-serving judge on the court, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and became its most outspoken conservative, joining textualist and originalist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution with a scathing attitude that made his dissents and opinions enjoyable to laymen.

The New York Times describes him as having led a conservative renaissance on the Supreme Court—one likely to end sharpish having died during a liberal presidency.

He was, Judge Richard A. Posner wrote in The New Republic in 2011, “the most influential justice of the last quarter century.” Justice Scalia was a champion of originalism, the theory of constitutional interpretation that seeks to apply the understanding of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution. In Justice Scalia’s hands, originalism generally led to outcomes that pleased political conservatives, but not always. His approach was helpful to criminal defendants in cases involving sentencing and the cross-examination of witnesses. …

He was an exceptional stylist who labored over his opinions and took pleasure in finding precisely the right word or phrase. In dissent, he took no prisoners. The author of a majority opinion could be confident that a Scalia dissent would not overlook any shortcomings.

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FBI thought Pete Seeger was a commie

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Legendary folk singer, activist and countercultural icon Pete Seeger died in 2014 at the age of 94, but we're only now learning that the FBI thought he was a communist as a young man because of the artist's "subversive" connections.

In a security investigation triggered by a wartime letter he wrote denouncing a proposal to deport all Japanese-Americans, the Army intercepted Seeger's mail to his fiancee, scoured his school records, talked to his father, interviewed an ex-landlord and questioned his pal Woody Guthrie, according to FBI files obtained by The Associated Press.

Investigators concluded that Seeger's association with known communists and his Japanese-American fiancee pointed to a risk of divided loyalty.

Seeger's "Communistic sympathies, his unsatisfactory relations with landlords and his numerous Communist and otherwise undesirable friends, make him unfit for a position of trust or responsibility," according to a military intelligence report.

Famously, Seeger was later blacklisted during the Red Scare as a member of The Weavers, his band…

Seeger and Lee Hays were identified as Communist Party members by FBI informant Harvey Matusow (who later recanted) and ended up being called up to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955. Hays took the Fifth Amendment. Seeger refused to answer, however, claiming First Amendment grounds, the first to do so after the conviction of the Hollywood Ten in 1950. Seeger was found guilty of contempt and placed under restrictions by the court pending appeal, but in 1961 his conviction was overturned on technical grounds. Because Seeger was among those listed in the entertainment industry blacklist publication, Red Channels, all of the Weavers were placed under FBI surveillance and not allowed to perform on television or radio during the McCarthy era.

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Alan Rickman, 1946-2016

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Famous for his intriguing villains and staccato voice, English actor Alan Rickman is dead at 69.

The star was suffering from cancer, his family said. He became one of Britain's best-loved acting stars thanks to roles including Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films and Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

He also won a Bafta Award for playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

A family statement said: "The actor and director Alan Rickman has died from cancer at the age of 69. He was surrounded by family and friends."

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Director Wes Craven dies at 76

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Famous for horror productions such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and his 1972 debut The Last House on the Left, Craven died Sunday of brain cancer in Los Angeles.

Though dream-demon Freddy Krueger is his most famous creation, Craven's cinematic talents ranged from comedy to crime thrillers, with 2005's Red Eye among his biggest hits. He was also a birdwatcher, serving on the board of California Audubon.

He is survived by his wife, Iya Labunka, and two children, Jessica and Jonathan Craven.

The BBC collected some early tributes posted online by colleagues and collaborators.

Reflecting on his career, he once said in an interview: "I tried to make movies where I can honestly say I haven't seen that before and to follow my deepest intuitions and in some cases literally my dreams."

Actors posted tributes on social media including actress Courtney Cox, who starred in Craven's 1996 Scream and appeared in the franchise's three subsequent films.

She said: "Today the world lost a great man, my friend and mentor, Wes Craven. My heart goes out to his family. x" Rose McGowan, who also featured in the original Scream, said:

"Thank you for being the kindest man, the gentlest man, and one of the smartest men I've known. Please say there's a plot twist."

News of Craven's death was posted to his twitter account late Sunday night.

Justin Wm. Moyer wrote a long obituary, for The Washington Post, which traces the origins of Craven's art. Read the rest

Man dies after eating tablet computer

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Police responded Sunday to reports of a man throwing items out of a window in St. Petersburg, Russia. Upon their arrival, he began eating pieces of glass and other smashed-up components to "avoid detention," according to a statement released Monday.

The Moscow Times reports that an investigation is underway: "The policeman, who was injured while trying to stop the man from eating his tablet, called an ambulance to the scene but the man lost consciousness and died before it arrived, the statement added." Read the rest

Short documentary puts World War II fatalities into context

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More people died in World War II than in any other conflict in history, yet it can be hard to conceptualize that massive loss of life. Read the rest

John Nash, famed mathematician, dies in road accident

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"John Forbes Nash Jr., the brilliant Princeton University mathematician whose life story was the subject of the film "A Beautiful Mind," was killed with his wife Alicia on Saturday in a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. Previously. Read the rest

Could the Game of Thrones poisoning happen in real life?

Cyanide, deadly nightshade and pesticides have disturbingly similar symptoms to the toxin that took a powerful character's life, writes Rachel Nuwer. Warning: this post is laced with potent spoilers.

Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel laureate novelist, 1927-2014

Novelist Gabriel García Márquez, whose One Hundred Years of Solitude "established him as a giant of 20th-century literature," died today at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.

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RIP Stephen Crohn: The man AIDS couldn't kill

Stephen Crohn lost a boyfriend and many friends to AIDS before realizing that there must be something different about him that kept him from contracting HIV. He eventually became one of the key patients that helped scientists discover the delta32 mutation — a very rare genetic anomaly that makes a person immune (as far as we know) to HIV. Crohn died on August 23rd. His family has said the death was a suicide. Read the rest

Chemistry mystery solved: The death of Chris McCandless

Chris McCandless was the hiker and simple living advocate who died from starvation in Denali National Park in 1992. His story was later made into a book and movie called Into the Wild. But there's always been something a little weird about McCandless' death. How did a guy dedicated to back-to-the-land knowledge and safe foraging end up starving to death? At The New Yorker, writer Jon Krakauer explains how the mystery of McCandless' death was finally solved. The evidence points to a secret of food chemistry with ties to Nazi death camps. Read the rest

New bride pushes husband off cliff

A good candidate for the dumbest murderer you'll read about this year! She reported him missing, only to "find" the body herself in a million-acre national park: "It was a place he wanted to see before he died." [BBC] Read the rest

Custodian of the famous Pitch Drop Experiment died without ever seeing the pitch drop

Back in early August, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Mainstone, the man who has taken care of the Pitch Drop Experiment at Australia's University of Queensland since 1961. The experiment has been running since 1927, when Professor Thomas Parnell set out to show his students that coal-tar pitch can behave as both a solid and a liquid. Despite being hard enough to break with a hammer, the pitch also drips ... sliding very, very slowly down the neck of a funnel into a beaker.

In Mainstone's years as custodian, the drops have dripped five times. He never got a chance to watch any of them, either in person, or on video. The first falling drop he ever saw came this earlier this summer, when a different pitch drop experiment in Ireland managed to catch the event on camera.

Mainstone's pitch is predicted to drop later this fall, but he won't be around to see it. Last week, I received an email from his daughter Julia, confirming that Mainstone had died of a stroke on August 23rd. He was 78. You didn't have to talk to Mainstone for very long to get a sense of the passion he had for the pitch drop project. I'm glad I got a chance to speak with him before he died and, in a couple of weeks, we'll be running a feature story here at BoingBoing based, in part, on those interviews.

In the meantime, the Pitch Drop Experiment has a new custodian, Andrew White, a physics professor and former student of Mainstone. Read the rest

Death and the Mainframe: How data analysis can help document human rights atrocities

Between 1980 and 2000, a complicated war raged in Peru, pitting the country’s government against at least two political guerilla organizations, and forcing average people to band together into armed self-defense committees. The aftermath was a mess of death and confusion, where nobody knew exactly how many people had been murdered, how many had simply vanished, or who was to blame.

“The numbers had floated around between 20,000 and 30,000 people killed and disappeared,” says Daniel Manrique-Vallier. “But nobody knew what the composition was. Non-governmental organizations were estimating that 90% of the deaths were the responsibility of state agents.”

Manrique-Vallier, a post-doc in the Duke University department of statistical science, was part of a team that researched the deaths for Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Their results were completely different from those early estimates. Published in 2003, the final report presented evidence for nearly 70,000 deaths, 30% of which could be attributed to the Peruvian government.

How do you find 40,000 extra dead bodies? How do you even start to determine which groups killed which people at a time when everybody with a gun seemed to be shooting civilians? The answers lie in statistics, data analysis, and an ongoing effort to use math to cut through the fog of war. Read the rest

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