Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations to Congress

It's been five years since Ta-Nehisi Coates's groundbreaking The Case for Reparations ran in The Atlantic; yesterday, Coates appeared before Congress to celebrate Juneteenth with a barn-burning statement that starts as a response to Mitch McConnell's dismissal of racial injustice in America, but quickly becomes more than that -- a Coatesian masterclass in understanding race, America, history and the present moment. Read the rest

What it was like to actually use the TRS-80 Model 100 as a journalist on the go

1983's TRS-80 Model 100 is often hailed as the first portable computer, or at least the first laptop, and retains a cultish following, especially among the journalists who depended on it. Read the rest

Listen to what is likely the only voice recording of Frida Kahlo

The National Sound Library of Mexico has found an audio recording of what is most likely painter Frida Kahlo reading her essay "Portrait of Diego" in the early 1950s. It was recorded for the pilot episode of radio show El Bachiller. From The Guardian:

The episode featured a profile of Kahlo’s artist husband Diego Rivera. In it, she reads from her essay Portrait of Diego, which was taken from the catalogue of a 1949 exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts, celebrating 50 years of Rivera’s work...

In the press release, Mexico’s secretary of culture, Alejandra Frausto, said if it is indeed Kahlo’s voice – a claim which authorities continue to investigate – it could be the only audio recording of the artist that exists...

“Frida’s voice has always been a great enigma, a never-ending search,” (library national director Pável) Granados told a press conference. “Until now, there had never been a recording of Frida Kahlo.”

Read the rest

Legendary "lost" medieval chess piece found in drawer, expected to go for £1 million at auction

A family in Edinburgh had this curious medieval chess piece, mostly tucked in a drawer, for more than 50 years since the grandfather, an antiques dealer, bought it for £5. Recently, his granddaughter had it appraised at Sotheby's where it was identified as one of the five missing pieces from the historically significant Lewis Chessmen from the late 12th/early 13th century and dug up on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. The single piece is expected to fetch £1 million at auction. The rest of the set is held by the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland. From the BBC News:

They are seen as an "important symbol of European civilisation" and have also seeped into popular culture, inspiring everything from children's show Noggin The Nog to part of the plot in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone...

The newly-discovered piece is a warder, a man with helmet, shield and sword and the equivalent of a rook on a modern chess board, which "has immense character and power..."

The discovery of the hoard (of pieces) remains shrouded in mystery, with stories of it being dug up by a cow grazing on sandy banks.

It is thought it was buried shortly after the objects were made, possibly by a merchant to avoid taxes after being shipwrecked, and so remained underground for 500 years.

Read the rest

How Mexican labor unions tried to rescue Freud from the Nazis

Anar writes, "Writer and scholar Rubén Gallo sheds light on a fascinating, obscure bit of history: After the press reported Freud’s troubles in Nazi Austria — his daughter was briefly detained by the Gestapo and he was under pressure by friends to flee — several activists and Mexican labor unions (including the Union of Workers in the Graphic Arts, the Union of Education Workers, the Union of Metal Miners, and the Union of Mexican Electricians) urged then-Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas to bring Freud to Mexico." Read the rest

Remembering Velma Demerson: Grand soul, feminist, human rights advocate and writer

[Velma Demerson was jailed in 1939 and by the Ontario government for the "crime" of having a Chinese boyfriend; sixty years later, she began an ultimately successful legal challenge seeking reparations; I'm pleased to present this remembrance for Demerson by Harry Kopyto, the campaigning human rights lawyer, who served as one of her advisors -Cory]

On Monday May 13, 2019, Athena Mary Lakes, better known as Velma Demerson, died from old age in a Vancouver hospital at the age of 98. She is best known for her successful legal battle culminating in 2002 against the Ontario Government for incarcerating her in Toronto in 1939 for almost a year. The reason for her incarceration? She was found morally “incorrigible” under the Female Refuges Act for living with a Chinese man, Harry Yip, whom she married after her release. Their son, who was born while she was in jail, was taken away from her until after her release. Read the rest

The oral history of USB

The Universal Serial Bus first showed up in 1996, replacing SCSI and other interfaces—and the haphazard wizardry it took to get anything working with them. That's not to say, however, that it was easy—or that things just worked from then on. Joel Johnson (previously) interviews Ajay Bhatt, formerly of Intel, who dreamed of "one port to rule them all."

I also struggled, even as a technologist. I struggled with upgrading my PC when the multimedia cards first started coming out. I looked at the architecture, and I thought, you know what? There are better ways of working with computers, and this is just too difficult.

I like the idea of solving the world's interoperativity problems with "power breakfasts at Denny's". Read the rest

The Reality Bubble: how humanity's collective blindspots render us incapable of seeing danger until it's too late (and what to do about it)

Ziya Tong is a veteran science reporter who spent years hosting Discovery's flagship science program, Daily Planet: it's the sort of job that gives you a very broad, interdisciplinary view of the sciences, and it shows in her debut book, The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World, a tour of ten ways in which our senses, our society, and our political system leads us to systematically misunderstand the world, to our deadly detriment. Read the rest

Ancient IBM mainframe rescued from abandoned building

Adam Bradley and Chris Blackburn noticed an unusual, mislabeled eBay listing for a rare beauty: an IBM System/360 in Nuremberg for peanuts. So they set out to do what any self-respecting IBM System/360 fan would do: buy it and fix it up. Thousands of Euros later, they've ... well, they've gotten it out of the building.

... a once in a lifetime find. We decided we had to have it. Adam put in a bid of around 500 Euros and we waited. The advert finished the following day around midday. Luckily, Chris and Adam work together and as such the next morning in the office was rather tense! There was quite a flurry of bidding activity right at the end of the auction and with seconds to go and an exclamation of “Screw it!” Adam entered a bid of 4500 Euros. The hammer fell on 3710 Euros! We were now the proud owners of one IBM 360… or so we thought!

Read the rest

Grumpy Cat dies

Tardar Sauce, a cat known to many as Grumpy Cat due to her distinctive facial expression and 2012 viral video success, died Tuesday due to complications of an infection. The BBC:

Her image quickly spread as a meme. According to owner Tabitha Bundesen, her facial expression was caused by feline dwarfism and an underbite. Grumpy Cat travelled the world making television appearances and in 2014 even starred in her own Christmas film.

Read the rest

Lent: Jo Walton's new novel is Dante's Groundhog Day

I love Hugo and Nebula-Award winner Jo Walton's science fiction and fantasy novels (previously) and that's why it was such a treat to inaugurate my new gig as an LA Times book reviewer with a review of her latest novel, Lent, a fictionalized retelling of the live of Savonarola, who reformed the Florentine church in the 1490s, opposing a corrupt Pope, who martyred him (except in Walton's book, and unbeknownst to Savonarola himself, Savonarola is a demon who is sent back to Hell when he is martyred, then returned to 1492 Florence to start over again). Read the rest

Claim: Shakespeare's work was by a woman

William Shakespeare authorship conspiracies are ten a penny, but this one's worth the price of entry: Was Shakespeare a Woman?

Who was this woman writing “immortal work” in the same year that Shakespeare’s name first appeared in print, on the poem “Venus and Adonis,” a scandalous parody of masculine seduction tales (in which the woman forces herself on the man)? Harvey’s tribute is extraordinary, yet orthodox Shakespeareans and anti-Stratfordians alike have almost entirely ignored it.

Until recently, that is, when a few bold outliers began to advance the case that Shakespeare might well have been a woman. One candidate is Mary Sidney, the countess of Pembroke (and beloved sister of the celebrated poet Philip Sidney)—one of the most educated women of her time, a translator and poet, and the doyenne of the Wilton Circle, a literary salon dedicated to galvanizing an English cultural renaissance. Clues beckon, not least that Sidney and her husband were the patrons of one of the first theater companies to perform Shakespeare’s plays. Was Shakespeare’s name useful camouflage, allowing her to publish what she otherwise couldn’t?

Such big eyes. Read the rest

The awful true story of Diana Jean Heaney, and the "hitchhike slaying"

Burbank librarian Sarah McKinley Oakes (proprietor of the excellent Remains of LA blog, which reviews all of LA's surviving grand old restaurants and dives) uses her excellent librarian skills to take a deep dive into the tragic tale of Diana Jean Heaney, whose first mention in print was in a 1947 article on the notorious "Black Dahlia" murder, but only to mention that Heaney was definitely not a victim of the same murderer. Read the rest

Microsoft Solitaire enters video game hall of fame

Included free of charge with Windows since 1990, Microsoft Solitaire has finally achieved immortality in the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

Microsoft Solitaire meets all the criteria for the World Video Game Hall of Fame: influence, longevity, geographical reach, and icon-status. And yet it is often overlooked—perhaps because it’s a digital version of a centuries-old game, and because it so common as to seem commonplace.

Other 2019 inductees include Colossal Cave Adventure, Mortal Kombat and Super Mario Kart. Read the rest

How to turn a freshly-felled 200 year old pine tree into eight radial beams for your medieval church spire

Medieval wood riving is a slow, methodical business. But it's amazing what you can get done with axes and hammers.

The movie describes an attempt to split a thirteen meter long log of pine tree. The riving was done by radial cuts. The original was founded in the spire of the church of Hardemo southwest of Örebro city in the province of Närke. The church was built approximately between 1180 – 1220. These rafts are produced from the log by a method which never been documented before. One side of the rafts is raw sapwood which is rare in churches from the Middle age. All woodworking are done with tools that are modelled on archaeological findings. The felling and riving of the tree are performed with a few axes and tools.

Amazingly relaxing video. Read the rest

What it's like to grow up in a cult

The cults we hear about are the ones that explode or implode, not the ones chugging along quietly long after their Rolling Stone cover story moment. Guinevere Turner has fond memories of the Lyman Family, but also unsettling ones, too, incidents and patterns far over the line of abuse. To relate them makes her want to apologize. My Childhood in a Cult.

Today, as a fifty-year-old screenwriter, I’m drawn to the stories of cults and their behavior. My next film, “Charlie Says,” focusses on the women who killed for Charles Manson and the time they spent in a prison isolation unit. One thing I wanted to show was how keeping these women in that unit trapped them for years in the echo chamber of Manson’s manipulations. I’ve always been struck by the sensationalist and reductive way that sixties and seventies cults are portrayed in the media. In a nation fixated on individualism, cults and communes are easy objects of disdain—and perhaps envy. Their members are breaking the rules, discarding the sacred nuclear family. It’s libertarianism plus sex and drugs, and it’s wrong, but do tell me more.

The truth is far more complex, though no less insidious. As individuals, how well are we positioned to say which systems of belief are right or wrong?

Further reading: I've bookmarked "The Lyman Family’s Holy Siege of America", the 1971 Rolling Stone article that did not make them famous. Read the rest

How social media destroyed the web's art communities

Kelsey Ables explains how social media killed art communities. It's not just a statement of fact, but a history of the parts of the web that mainstream users might have only seen in the periphery as it happened, but whose loss is now keenly felt.

And while artists have made their mark on all of the major social-media networks, these new, bigger sites have changed the way we communicate and consume. Algorithms steer us back to similar content in echo chambers that inhibit both critical and creative thinking. Platforms incentivized to keep users scrolling discourage long-looking and render users as passive consumers, rather than active seekers of inspiration. They aren’t a space for productive feedback, either: Art takes on a different tone when it’s surrounded by dog GIFs, political memes, and your cousin’s baby photos.

The blanding out of art hosts like DeviantArt and ConceptArt are the big ticket items, and the decay of tumblr into a "joyless black hole" exemplifies the process. But I feel things on a smaller scale are more instructive. Left unsaid, but also important: when audiences migrated to Facebook and other social media platforms, what was left behind on once-vibrant small community sites often went toxic fast. Read the rest

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