In 1937, a judge quietly asked Meyer Lansky to form a squad of Nazi-punching gangsters to raid Bund meetings

Meyer Lansky was an infamous and ruthless gangster -- albeit one so personally charming that his life is chronicled in a book called But He Was Good to His Mother -- and no friend of New York State Judge Nathan Perlman; nevertheless, as the Nazi-supporting German-American Bund staged more and more toxic rallies in New York City, Perlman quietly asked Meyer to form a squad of Jewish gangsters to disrupt their meetings. Read the rest

Milosevic, Berlusconi, Trump

I saw this coming, for the past ten years or more. I saw small Trumps, rising and tramping around, first timidly, then bravely, and finally boldly.

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Femme Magnifique! A Kickstarter for an anthology about amazing women!

The fabulous Shelly Bond, former DC Vertigo editor and head honcho, just launched a kickstarter for an anthology called Femme Magnifique that she’s doing in conjunction with Kristy and Brian Miller at HiFi Color. Read the rest

Catastrophes are reliable levelers of inequality; inequality creates catastrophes

Stanford history and classics professor Walter Scheidel writes in the Atlantic that the only reliable ways for unequal societies to become more equal is to suffer catastrophes that upend the order of things; Scheidel concludes that our modern, unequal state may not be able to avail itself of a convenient catastrophe for this purpose because "Technology has made mass warfare obsolete; violent, redistributive revolution has lost its appeal; most states are more resilient than they used to be; and advances in genetics will help humanity ward off novel germs." Read the rest

Matt Ruff talks about his masterful antiracist novel Lovecraft Country, out in paperback today

When I reviewed Matt Ruff's incredible Lovecraft Country last February on its hardcover release dates, I wrote, "Ruff inverts the Lovecraft horror, which turned so often on "miscegenation" and the duty of advanced humans to trample those around them in their drive to recapture this lost wisdom (and humanity's lost grace). His Lovecraftian horror is the horror of the people whom the Lovecraftian heroes viewed as subhuman, expendable, a stain on the human race. By blending real history (such as the Tulsa riots) and Lovecraftian tropes, Ruff's characters shine as active protagonists in their own story who have lives, have dignity, and have indomitable spirit that they use to fight back against the power structure that Lovecraft lionized." Read the rest

Techdirt's "I Invented Email" gear

Techdirt, a fearless source of excellent technology news and commentary, is being sued for $15M by Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented email -- he is represented by Charles Harder, a key figure in the Gawker-killing legal campaign that Peter Thiel financed, and who is also representing Melania Trump in her $150m lawsuit against The Daily Mail. Read the rest

See radicalism's roots in this digitized vintage political poster collection

Trumpism is nothing new, as University of Michigan's digitized sets of historical political posters show. Many are in the public domain, including my fave announcing the 1918 "Grand Picnic and Re-Union of All the Radicals of the City of Chicago." Read the rest

A history of American collapse in science fiction, from 1889's Last American to today

Paul Di Filippo has written a masterful, lively history of the many ways in which science fiction has explored the collapse of the American project, from JA Mitchell's 1889 The Last American to contemporary novels like Too Like the Lightning, Liberation, DMZ and Counting Heads. Read the rest

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair in Color

Most of history exists for us only in black and white. As a kid, we had a black and white TV because it was all we could afford. I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz every year in the 1960s and had no idea it was a color film.

At least that exists in color because it was a big budget motion picture; most moving images of pop culture before a certain period don’t—or, at the very least, the color film is hard to find.

I’m doing research for a new book which involves the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. At ages 6 and 7 I spent many splendid hours at the 1964/65 World’s Fair in Queens, where I lived. Of course not only is my memory of it in color, but there’s lots of color film of it available. But the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair is something I only saw in black and white until recently. There are many intriguing photos such as this one.

via Chicago Collections

So it was quite shocking to discover this Technicolor short film (the first full-length motion picture made in 3-strip Technicolor, Becky Sharp, was still two years away). The buildings are painted in a wild assortment of colors. 

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Scientists, and their moral duty to resist trumpism

A trio of "scientists against a fascist government" set out a program for resisting trumpism with science, delving into the moral duty of scientists to resist the perversion of their work to attain cruel and evil ends. Read the rest

A 19th century Lithuanian book smuggler defies the autocrat's book-ban

This is Vincas Juska, a knygnešys -- "book smuggler" -- one of the brave people who defied Tsar Alexander II's "Temporary Rules for State Junior Schools of the Northwestern Krai" by smuggling books written with Latin characters into Lithuania, defying the ban put into place after the Polish-Lithuanian insurrection of 1863. Read the rest

You know who else invested in infrastructure? Autobahn spending was key to Hitler's consolidation of power

In Highway to Hitler, Nico Voigtländer (UCLA) and Hans‐Joachim Voth (University of Zurich)'s 2014 paper analyzing the impact of the massive infrastructure investment in creating the Autobahn, the authors conclude that the major spending project was key to Hitler's consolidation of power. Read the rest

Meet Saccorhytus, bloblike human ancestor that shat through its mouth

Behold the 540 million-year-old fossil remains of the earliest-known human ancestor! Saccorhytus was "likely an egg-shaped creature that ate and expelled from the same gaping orifice," just like Senior Counselor to the President Stephen Bannon.

"This may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves," said co-author Simon Conway Morris, a professor at Britain's University of Cambridge. Saccorhytus belongs to a broad category of organisms called deuterostomes, and is the most ancient specimen unearthed so far...

The sack-like animal's most distinctive feature is a large -- relative to the rest of its body -- mouth ringed by concentric circles of raised bumps. It probably ate by engulfing food particles and microscopic creatures. Intriguingly, the researchers did not find anything corresponding to an anus.

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Stunning 23-foot wall chart of human history from 1881

Sebastian C. Adams's Synchronological Chart from the late 19th century presents 5,885 years of history (4004 BCE - 1881 AD) on a magnificent 27 inch x 23 foot illustrated and annotated timeline. What a stunner. You can zoom and pan through the whole thing at the David Rumsey Map Collection or order a scaled-down print.

According to the book Cartographies of Time: History of the Timeline, the Synchronological Chart "was ninetheenth-century America's surpassing achievement in complexity and synthetic power."

(via Clifford Pickover)

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"Claque": how Trump revived the ancient practice of paid applauders

Trump launched his campaign in front of an "audience" of actors paid $50/each to wear campaign shirts and cheer wildly, and he's brought his paid cheering section with him into the presidency, bringing along staffers to applaud at key moments during his press conferences and other appearances. Read the rest

The Abominable Mr Seabrook: a sympathetic biography of an unsympathetic, forgotten literary legend

William Seabrook was once one of America's foremost literary stars; now he is all but forgotten. Seabrook travelled the world, writing a series of (decreasingly sympathetic) accounts of indigenous people and their culture, outselling the literary giants he kept company with, and who pretended not to mind the women he paid to let him tie them up and keep around his home. In The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, graphic novelist Joe Ollman presents an unflinching look at Seabrook, his literary accomplishments and failures, his terrible self-destructiveness, and the awful spiral that took him from the heights of American letters to an ignominious suicide after his discharge from a psychiatric facility.

1000-year old windmills still in use

Nashtifan, Iran, is home to some of the oldest windmills in the world. Ali Muhammad Etebari, the last custodian of the mills, laments that he cannot find an apprentice. Read the rest

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