flashback

Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, and for the day confined to fast in fires

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via { Paul Soulellis }

‘When I don’t have red, I use blue.’ –Picasso

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Ivan Pavlov is best known as a founding figure of behaviorism who trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. […] Pavlov didn’t use a bell, and for his real scientific purposes, couldn’t. English-speakers think he did because of a mistranslation of the Russian word for zvonok (buzzer). […]

Although one would expect that this investigator of reflexive reactions would think otherwise, he believed in free will. […]

He didn’t win his Nobel Prize (1904) for research on conditional reflexes, but rather for his studies of digestive physiology.

{ Oxford University Press | Continue reading | More: New Yorker }

‘The possible ranks higher than the actual.’ –Heidegger

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Women first entered Russian universities as early as in 1859. Four university centres, including in St. Petersburg and Kiev, expressed their support for women’s education, allowing them to attend classes as external ‘free students’, i.e. not officially enrolled. While these changes did not lead to equal rights for men and women in the area of education—a right which women activists would continue struggle for throughout subsequent decades—they constituted a first step in the formation of the multi-layered system of women’s education which was in place prior to the 1917 revolution. […]

Russian women became one of the first to achieve full voting rights, and the Soviet Constitution of 1918 fully and finally confirmed women’s rights to study at all levels of the educational system. The Labour Code of 1918 guaranteed women a 16-week maternity leave and a premium for breast- feeding, but most important of all it guaranteed equal wages for equal work. […]

These and other events which occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century led Irina Yukina to posit the thesis that the pre-revolutionary activities of women were fully successful. […]

The rebirth of feminism in the conditions of Soviet reality began in 1979. […] This article presents a short history of the origin and creation of the Almanac “Women and Russia,” which began as a samizdat underground publication devoted to the problem of women and childrearing in the USSR. […] The women writers featured in the first edition of the Almanac […] exposed the consequences for women living and functioning in a patriarchal social order, and ironically one where all the questions concerning ‘women’s rights’ were deemed to have been resolved in a progressive fashion much earlier.

{ de Gruyter | Continue reading }

photo { Paul Kwiatkowski }

‘Good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere.’ —Tacitus

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Who will guard the guards?

In posing the famous question, the Roman poet Juvenal was suggesting that wives cannot be trusted, and keeping them under guard is not a solution—because the guards cannot be trusted either.

Half a millennium or so earlier, Plato in The Republic expressed a more optimistic view regarding the guardians or rulers of the city-state, namely that one should be able to trust them to behave properly; that it was absurd to suppose that they should require oversight.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

Come and play with us, Danny. Forever, and ever, and ever.

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To understand how a state acquires legal capacity, we need to study a state that lacked it. France, at the end of the sixteenth century did not possess a centralized legal or tax system. This reflected the way French monarchs had gradually added territories to their growing kingdom since the middle ages. Moreover, as more and more territories were added, the king was forced to concede old, and sometimes new, privileges to the regions so as to ensure their loyalty. In the words of one economic historian, the complexities of the resulting fiscal and legal system almost ‘defy description.’

Legal and fiscal fragmentation reflected the underlying political equilibrium of the French monarchy. This was based on a time-tested and simple quid pro quo: The ruler used his military power to protect local privileges, and in exchange, local elites gave the king their political and fiscal support. France was a ‘natural state’ and control over local courts was a source of rents for the provincial nobility. The disbursement of these revenue streams helped to ensure domestic peace.

The legal authority of the Crown was weak in many parts of the country as well. In some regions the provincial nobility still reigned as semi-independent rulers. Even in those areas where the authority of the monarchy was strong, local families dominated the regional parlements and elections.3 As a result, there was ‘a lack of a coherent and common set of laws,’ and ‘the absence of unified laws even within each governmental region.’ […]

Historians have noted that judges of local or ‘inferior’ jurisdictions usually demonstrated much more zeal in prosecuting witches than did the central authorities, and when left to their own de- vices they generally executed more witches than when they were closely supervised by their judicial superiors.’ […]

The crime of witchcraft had two components: ‘maleficia’, or harm through supernatural means, and ‘diabolism’, or crimes relating to the devil. Maleficia could range from harming cattle or causing a blight on grain to actually committing homicide. For example, in 1611 Jacques Jean Thiébaud in Montbéliard was accused of killing the livestock of neighbors and making them sick. […] Diabolism was defined as having dealings with the Devil or his agents. Attendance at a ‘Devil’s Sabbath’, flying through the air, the use of magic powders or unguents, were identified as common behavior among witches.

Witchcraft was difficult to prosecute under conventional legal procedures and standards of proof. Maleficia may have sometimes actually occurred and, in rare cases, may even have left evidence. However, diabolism was, by its nature, beyond the pale of rational legal procedure. Since dealings with the devil existed only in the fantasies of accusers and (rarely) the accused, it was a thought crime. In order to get around the difficulty of prosecuting a suspected witch according to traditional standards of legal proof, local judges turned to the theories of the demonologists. […]

The unobservable nature of the crime combined with the use of torture created a self-replicating logic to witchcraft trials. Accusation led to torture, which led to further accusations. This logic is illustrated by the following example which took place in 1599 in the area of Bazuel which lies in the North of France. A widow named Reine Perceval was accused of sorcery and brought to the local abbey for interrogation. Initially, she denied the accusa- tions, despite the attempts of her interrogator to coerce her confession by pointing to another recently accused woman who, by admitting to the crimes, was released. […] Later, under torture, the widow Perceval did confess to being a witch and named several ‘accomplices.’ […]

It was costly in a purely financial sense to try an individual witch. Furthermore, fear of witchcraft could get out of control and result in lynchings and murders or in devastating mass trials in which large numbers of individuals who would not usually be suspected of witchcraft came under suspicion. […]

We establish that witchcraft trials were more likely to take place where the central state had weak legal institutions. Combining data on the geographic distribution of witchcraft trials with unique panel data on tax receipts across 21 French regions, we find that the rise of the tax state can account for much of the decline in witch trials during this period. Further historical evidence supports our hypothesis that higher taxes led to better legal institutions.

{ Johnson and Koyama | Continue reading }

Hugs Not Drugs

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The term “stress” had none of its contemporary connotations before the 1920s. It is a form of the Middle English destresse, derived via Old French from the Latin stringere, “to draw tight.” The word had long been in use in physics to refer to the internal distribution of a force exerted on a material body, resulting in strain. In the 1920s and 1930s, biological and psychological circles occasionally used the term to refer to a mental strain or to a harmful environmental agent that could cause illness.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

The modern idea of stress began on a rooftop in Canada, with a handful of rats freezing in the winter wind.

This was 1936 and by that point the owner of the rats, an endocrinologist named Hans Selye, had become expert at making rats suffer for science.

“Almost universally these rats showed a particular set of signs,” Jackson says. “There would be changes particularly in the adrenal gland. So Selye began to suggest that subjecting an animal to prolonged stress led to tissue changes and physiological changes with the release of certain hormones, that would then cause disease and ultimately the death of the animal.”

And so the idea of stress — and its potential costs to the body — was born.

But here’s the thing: The idea of stress wasn’t born to just any parent. It was born to Selye, a scientist absolutely determined to make the concept of stress an international sensation.

{ NPR | Continue reading }

art { Richard Phillips, Blauvelt, 2013 }

‘In the world of the dreamer there was solitude.’ –Anaïs Nin

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Polygyny rates are higher in western Africa than in eastern Africa. The African slave trades help explain this difference. More male slaves were exported in the transatlantic slave trades from western Africa, while more female slaves were exported in the Indian Ocean slave trades from eastern Africa. The slave trades led to prolonged periods of abnormal sex ratios, which affected the rates of polygyny across Africa.

{ Economic Development and Cultural Change | Continue reading }

Same blue serge dress she had two years ago, the nap bleaching

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{ During the 1950s, with vinyl scarce, Russians began recording rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and boogie woogie on used X-rays that they gathered from hospitals and doctors’ offices. | NPR | full story }

THIS IS WHO I AM NOW, OKAY?

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Why were old scientific instruments put together with an apparent wish to make them beautiful, and not just coldly functional?

First, there is obviously a selection effect at work here of the kind that all historians and curators are familiar with. What tends to get preserved is not a representative cross-section of what is around at any time, but rather, what is deemed to be worth preserving. […]

Second, there were of course no specialized scientific-instrument manufacturers in the early modern period. When investigators like Galileo and Boyle wanted something made that they could not make themselves, they would go to metalsmiths, carpenters, potters and the like, who inevitably would have brought their own craft aesthetic to the objects they made.

[Third,] they were catering to a particular clientele that their products reflected. Reeve was making microscopes and so forth for the wealthy dilettantes. […] Scientific instruments were used to delight and entertain their noble patrons. […] For such a display, it was important that a device be impressive to look at.

{ Philip Ball | Continue reading }

Cocaine and its consequences

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{ Scientific Illustrations | more }

Two former models who are now special agents are on the trail of mobsters in possession of a music book that has the coded location of a chest of gold bullion

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Giving violators more punishment than they deserve can undermine the benefits of cooperative action. […] At the same time, imposing markedly less punishment than what a violator deserves creates disaffection and acrimony that also can subvert cooperation. In other words, it is not punishment that is needed to maintain social cooperation, but justice. […]

In 1848, the discovery of gold brought 300,000 men to California from all over the world. Yet this sudden mass of humanity lived without a functioning legal system. And if there had been a legal enforcement system, it was unclear what law it would enforce. […] Without a functional government, there were no licensing procedures, fees, or taxes to regulate gold prospecting. No miner worked land that he owned. Any prospector could join any mining camp at any time. Camp populations were heterogeneous: “Puritans and drunkards, clergymen and convict, honest and dishonest, rich and poor.” There was no common language, culture, or legal experience. […] The men shared a common set of needs, however. Each miner needed to be able to leave whatever he owned unguarded each day while he worked his claim. A miner who found gold needed to protect his find until he could convert it into cash or goods.

{ Paul H. Robinson/SSRN | Continue reading }

Lol yup no nudes yet

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{ The Statue of Liberty under construction in Paris | more photos | Wikipedia }