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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 }

Col. Sherrell has issued an order that bathing suits at the Wash[ington] bathing beach must not be over six inches above the knee

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{ Two women arrested for defying a Chicago edict banning abbreviated bathing suits on beaches, 1922 | Another arrest | Policeman measuring the distance between knee and suit }

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{ New York Times, 1919 | PDF }

Now back to Gene Krupa’s syncopated style

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It was about a study by Dean Snow reporting that, contrary to decades of archaeological dogma, many of the first artists were women. […]

Another group of researchers is claiming the study’s methods were unsound. […] Snow’s study focused on the famous 12,000- to 40,000-year-old handprints found on cave walls in France and Spain. Because these hands generally appear near pictures of bison and other big game, scholars had long believed that the art was made by male hunters. Snow tested that notion by comparing the relative lengths of fingers in the handprints […] because among modern people, women tend to have ring and index fingers of about the same length, whereas men’s ring fingers tend to be longer than their index fingers. […] Snow developed an algorithm that could predict the sex of a given handprint. […]

The new study, published Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science, found that Snow’s algorithm predicted female hands fairly well, but was useless for males, making it overall a bad predictor of sex.

{ Phenomena | Continue reading }

Give us that brisket off the hook. Plup.

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The most disturbing thing that ever happened at the Ueno Zoo was the systematic slaughter of the garden’s most famous and valuable animals in the summer of 1943. At the height of the Second World War, as the Japanese empire teetered on the brink of collapse, the zoo was transformed from a wonderland of imperial amusement and exotic curiosity into a carefully ritualized abattoir, a public altar for the sanctification of creatures sacrificed in the service of total war and of ultimate surrender to emperor and nation. The cult of military martyrdom is often recognized as a central component of Japanese fascist culture, but events at the zoo add a chilling new dimension to that analysis. They show that the pursuit of total mobilization extended into areas previously unexamined, suggesting how the culture of total war became a culture of total sacrifice after 1943. […] The killings were carried out in secret until nearly one-third of the garden’s cages stood empty, their former inhabitants’ carcasses hauled out of the zoo’s service entrance in covered wheelbarrows during the dark hours before dawn.

{ University of California Press | PDF }

This unprecedented ceremony known as the “Memorial Service for Martyred Animals” was held on the zoo’s grounds where nearly a third of the cages stood empty. Lions from Abyssinia, tigers representative of Japan’s troops, bears from Manchuria, Malaya and Korea, an American bison, and many others had been clubbed, speared, poisoned and hacked to death in secret. Although the zoo’s director had found a way to save some of the condemned creatures by moving them to zoos outside Tokyo, Mayor Ōdaichi Shigeo insisted on their slaughter. Ōdaichi himself, along with Imperial Prince Takatsukasa Nobusuke and the chief abbot of Asakusa’s Sensōji Temple, presided over the carefully choreographed and highly publicized “Memorial Service”, thanking the animals for sacrificing themselves for Japan’s war effort.

{ The Times Literary Supplement | Continue reading }

art { Ito Shinsui, After the bath, 1917 }

Just remember, when you control the mail, you control… information

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Amoebas are puny, stupid blobs, so scientists were surprised to learn that they contain 200 times more DNA than Einstein did. Because amoebas are made of just one cell, researchers assumed they would be simpler than humans genetically. Plus, amoebas date back farther in time than humans, and simplicity is considered an attribute of primitive beings. It just didn’t make sense. […]

Before the advent of rapid, accurate, and inexpensive DNA sequencing technology in the early 2000s, biologists guessed that genes would provide more evidence for increasing complexity in evolution. Simple, early organisms would have fewer genes than complex ones, they predicted. […] Instead, their assumptions of increasing complexity began to fall apart. […]

Then molecular analyses did something else. They rearranged the order of branches on evolutionary trees. Biologists pushed aside trees based on how similar organisms looked to one another, and made new ones based on similarities in DNA and protein sequences. The results suggested that complex body parts evolved multiple times and had also been lost. One study found that winged stick insects evolved from wingless stick insects who had winged ancestors. […]

Perhaps the fact that people are stunned whenever organisms become simpler says more about how the human mind organizes the world than about evolutionary processes. People are more comfortable envisioning increasing complexity through time instead of reversals or stasis.

{ Nautilus | Continue reading }

design { Sam Winston }