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‘History cannot be interpreted without the aid of imagination and intuition’

Why Don't We Learn from History? book cover

History cannot be interpreted without the aid of imagination and intuition. The sheer quantity of evidence is so overwhelming that selection is inevitable. Where there is selection there is art.

B. H. Liddell Hart, Why Don’t We Learn from History?

History remains incomplete, minus some themes.

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Ancient Roman fleeing Mount Vesuvius crushed by flying rock

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Imagine fleeing the ash that swept Pompeii during the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., only to crushed by a flying stone.

According to the Telegram, the archeologists also found that the 30-year old merchant was carrying 22 silver and bronze coins in a leather pouch. They also found a house key buried underneath the skeleton.

Naturally, the extraordinary discovery has become a target for jokes, including one individiual setting up a GoFundMe account.

The British Museum adds Mo Salah’s boots to its collection

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Image via the British Museum

In preparation for the Champions League final this Saturday, the British Museum has decided to include the football boots of Mo Salah in the Egyptian collection.

The Egyptian star scored the most goals in a Premier League season with 32. The museum’s curator said the boots were “a modern Egyptian icon, performing in the UK, with a truly global impact.” However, others like Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass finds the opportunism inappropriate, saying “If the British Museum wanted to honor Salah, it should have built a museum for him or put the shoe in a special room.”

You be the judge.

Below are some of Salah’s top goals from the 2017 – 2018 season.

In fingerprints we trust

Your fingerprints are uniquely yours. No two people have the same friction ridges, not even twins. Writes The Paris Review:

“Scientists describe the basic patterns of fingerprints in terms of arches, whorls, and loops. (Seventy percent of a fingerprint is made up of loops.) Closer features include dots, lakes, islands, spurs, crossings, and bifurcations. It is true that every print is unique to every finger, even for identical twins, who share the same genetic code.”

Before the fingerprint became a forensic science, its original purpose was economic. Thumbs acted as a stamp of approval.

“Thumb marks were used as personal seals to close business in Babylonia, and, in 1303, a Persian vizier recounted the use of fingerprints as signatures during the Qin and Han Dynasties, noting, “Experience has shown that no two individuals have fingers precisely alike.” The Chinese had realized that before anyone: a Qin dynasty document from the third-century B.C.E, titled “The Volume of Crime Scene Investigation—Burglary,” pointed up fingerprints as a means of evincing whodunnit.”

Even more interesting is how fingerprints form, made permanent by Week 19 of pregnancy. “Fingerprints are formed by friction from touching the walls of our mother’s womb. Sometimes they are called “chanced impressions.””

Technically, your fingerprints or eyeballs could your access key to anything. You don’t need the phone to act as your digital keys or wallet. Logging into a smartphone with a thumb, the mobile device merely serves as an interlocutor for checking out at places like Starbucks or the bank.

“Wallets and keys might get lost for good if we can pay for cappuccinos and power up cars with our eyeballs or fingers. In the early aughts, when we were increasingly imagining a future where people moved through the world—for better or worse—without anonymity, those people were chipped. But who needs computer chips when you’ve got fingerprints? “The future of biometrics has never been better,” said Becker. “Biometrics have gone mainstream—now people have expectations and habits. People are checking into every Delta Sky Club in the country with biometrics.””

The grooves within your fingerprints can also predict your future.

“The patterns on our fingers do seem to correspond to the lobes of our brains. Some researchers are hailing fingerprints as blueprints. “Fingerprints are the mirrors to our inborn talents and potentials, knacks and likings,” write the authors of one recent paper, who believe people may be able to use their fingerprints to unlock their best selves.”

Fascinating.

Views of Tokyo (1913-1915)

Views of Tokyo (1913-1915)

Last week, I blogged about a trip through Golden Gate City: San Francisco (1939). This week’s archival video goes back in time to views of Tokyo, 1913-1915.

Some observations:

  • Notice the clash of those wearing modern (Western) clothing versus the traditional feudal garb
  • A lot these kids (and their kids) probably went on to fight in both World Wars
  • The girl with the bouncing ball (see gif) has impressive football and basketball skills

Another fascinating look at black and white footage augmented with a sound for added ambiance. Be sure to check out the archival footage of New York (1911) as well.

The treadmill was originally a torture device

Treadmills were originally torture devices, meant to break the mind, body, and spirit of English prisoners.

Two hundred years ago, the treadmill was invented in England as a prison rehabilitation device. It was meant to cause the incarcerated to suffer and learn from their sweat.

Treadmills were originally installed as an outlet for exercise and milling corn and water as rewards. But they quickly escalated into a mechanism for punishment to prevent poor people from committing crimes to take advantage of the necessities in jail.

The treadmill was originally a torture device
via Jstor/Getty

Britain banned treadmills in 1989, seeing their punishment no longer useful.

An 1885 British Medical Journalarticle called “Death on the Treadmill,” chastized Durham Prison for the treadmill-induced death of a prisoner with heart disease. Its overall high death rate—one fatality a week—prompted the conclusion that “[t]he ‘mill’ is not useful, and has proved itself occasionally injurious.”

Having banned treadmills in 1828 to adopt a “collective industry” where prisoners became factory workers, America revamped the treadmill as an exercise machine.

It resurfaced in 1913 with a U.S. patent for a “training-machine.” In the 1960s, the American mechanical engineer William Staub created a home fitness machine called the PaceMaster 600. He began manufacturing home treadmills in New Jersey. (He used it often himself, right up until the months before his death at the age of 96.)

As this article points out, treadmills are the top-selling training equipment in the US but still come with all the baggage (injuries and boredom) that prisoners endured in England.

Western record hunters race to the past

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1960s London record store
Photographer Alex Bartsch retraces reggae record sleeves in London
Your records should be uniquely, YOU

Reader in Music and Media at the University of Gloucestershire and author of PJ Harvey and Music Video Performance Abigail Gardner, writes an interesting take in Quartz on the recent trend of collecting and reissuing African music.

Are Western crate diggers the new colonists?

John Peel liked the freshness of The Bhundu Boys, they were contemporary. He didn’t live long enough to experience this recent race to the past in music, this tracking down of the undocumented curiosity, this search for music that sounds old but is new, this new colonialism. If he were alive now, he’d be playing Ata Kak’s new songs and moving things forward.

A 20-year-old Nas released Illmatic on this day in 1994

Today marks the 24th anniversary of Illmatic, considered one of the greatest rap albums of all-time. It saw 20-year-old Queens-bred Nas pair up with New York producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and Large Professor. Below is the promo video introducing the release.


The Streets Disciple

“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” – Nas, “NY State of Mind”

Nas went on to become one of the greatest lyricists. In 2013, Harvard University established the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship to provide scholars with creative opportunities in the arts. In 2017, Nas sat down with Harvard poetry professor Elisa New to discuss his track “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” from the Illmatic album.

Nasty Nas made his recorded debut on Main Source’s Live at the Barbeque album as an 18-year-old. He wrote the verse when he was 16. Check out the live clip below:

A trip through New York City, 1911

In 1911, Swedish film company Svenska Biografteatern recorded its trip to New York.

Fortunately, the footage survived and most recently was speed-corrected and reproduced with added street sounds of car horns, horses, and police whistles to give us a sense of the environment back then.

Some observations:

  • Notice all the people wearing hats
  • The streets look a bit empty compared to today’s zoo
  • Cable powered trolleys
  • The kids go nuts when the camera is on them. Nothing’s changed!

What’s your favorite scene?

 

Van Gogh’s fascination with Japan

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Japanese art flooded Western Europe when in 1854, America forced Japan to open its borders to trade.

Some of the prints of Japanese woodcuts made it all the way to Vincent Van Gogh in Paris. He grew obsessed with ukyio-e, or “pictures of the world,” joyful elements he copied into his own art.

‘Seeing with Japanese eye’

Van Gogh amassed a collection of Japanese wood prints in his Paris studio. It was there he started emulating the bright and exotic images of Japanese art, an influence he called Japonaiserie.

“My studio’s quite tolerable, mainly because I’ve pinned a set of Japanese prints on the walls that I find very diverting. You know, those little female figures in gardens or on the shore, horsemen, flowers, gnarled thorn branches.

According to the exhibition of Van Gogh & Japan at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, the artist adopted the ‘bold, flat areas of color, bold contour lines, and prominent diagonals.’ He even cropped subjects at the edges of pictures and used the Japanese unique play on foreground/background spatial effects.

Van Gogh’s Japanese obsession permeated his work. “All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art,” he told his brother Theo.

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Courtesan (after Eisen) by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

Find out more about the Van Gogh’s love affair with Japan at the Exhibition Van Gogh & Japan.

‘Water is itself the obstacle to water’

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gif by Living Stills

Leonardo da Vinci obsessed with water more than any of his multidisciplinary interests: architecture, science, painting, and sculpture.

For Leonardo da Vinci, the current represented that perfect chaos that separated air from water. In his Book on Waters, he wrote:

Nothing shares a surface with something and something shares a surface with nothingness. And the surface of something is not part of that thing, whence it follows that the surface of nothingness is part of nothingness, whence it follows that a single surface is the limit between two things that are in contact. Since the surface of water is not part of the water, and hence is not part of the air or of other bodies placed between them, what is it then that divides the air from the water?

Below is one of Leonardo’s sketches on the movement of water from 1508. It demonstrates the paradox of water in, around, and again itself.

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Leonardo, da Vinci, 1508-09 (Paris MS. F)

Writes art historian Irving Lavin, Professor Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institue of Advanced Study:

…water in percussion: that is, water is itself the obstacle to water, and in this case the contrast is between the resulting currents on the surface, under the surface, and surging upward carrying bubbles of entrapped air. The relationship between air and water, both in combination and as analogous media, was also a subject that greatly preoccupied Leonardo and played a critical role in the development of his thought that concerns me here.

The structure of a stream lies within its anti-structure. There’s the unpredictable and disruptive movement of its flow. Yet freshwater slithers over rocks, persisting unperturbed all the way into the mouth of the river.

The chaos of running water seems to be why it works.

Read Leonardo’s Watery Chaos

The evolution of the price tag

Can you imagine having to haggle over everything you bought in a store?

But as businesses got bigger in the 1870s, shopkeepers needed a way to streamline pricing for both sales clerks and customers alike. Two department stores helped pioneer the price tag: Macy’s in New York and Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia.

They adopted the Quaker’s concept of one price on all items, no questions asked. Price tags thus removed the hassle for both stores and the customers.

The price is right, usually

Dynamic pricing still exists though. Whether it’s an Uber surge or last-minute airline tickets to Tahiti, we churn across the internet looking for the best price.