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June 11, 2012

On the history of fingerprints as a crime-solving technique

Who Made Those Fingerprints? - NYTimes.com
In Argentina, a police inspector named Carlos Alvarez found a bloody thumbprint on a wood fragment near two murdered boys. Together with his colleague Juan Vucetich, who was working on a system called dactyloscopy — the art of reading the ridges of the finger — Alvarez matched the bloody mark to a thumbprint of the prime suspect, the mother of the dead children. Faced with this evidence, the woman broke down and confessed. It was a triumph for the new science. In 1902, a Briton stole some billiard balls. When “fingerprints were found on a newly painted window sill” in the billiard room, they were used to convict him, wrote Richard Case, fingerprint specialist for the National Policing Improvement Agency in South Wales. Case was also an ancestor of the inspector who would first bring fingerprints into British courts. By the 1920s, fingerprint collection had evolved into an art: “For light objects, use red bronze or Roman gold, which should be lightly applied with an atomizer,” advised J. A. Larson, an American whose early fingerprint-identification system never caught on. . . .

June 06, 2012

"Dionysus is the god of mistakes you made in college"

Another myth-dump from Benito Cereno. BURGEONING LADS OF SCIENCE | Mythursday Mythednesday: Shovin As Up Your Qs ...
Dionysus is a fertility god most associated with wine and its cultivation, but really he is a manifestation of the untamed urge inside all living things to grow and reproduce. He is the god of mistakes you made in college. His worship involved a lot of ladies with sticks and pine cones getting drunk and ripping animals apart with their bare hands. There is also a mystery cult associated with him, which makes his mythology hard to track and occasionally—and this is the technical term—super kooky. He is the son of Zeus and the mortal princess Semele. Hera, in full on murder mode (see previous entry), disguises herself as an old lady and convinces Semele that the dude sticking it in her is definitely not for real the real for real Zeus. Semele then asks Zeus a favor, which he swears by the river Styx—the gods’ unbreakable vow—that he will fulfill. She then asks him to reveal himself to her in his full glory to prove that he is in fact Zeus. Zeus says this is a terrible idea and why didn’t she just ask for a gift card to Chili’s or whatever, but she will not back down. So Zeus transforms himself into his full-on godhead mode, which is, by the way, 1.21 gigawatts of thundering raw power. Semele is subsequently burnt to a crisp, with the immortal fruit of her womb the only thing to survive. This holy zygote, however, has some more gestating to do, so obviously Zeus sews him up in his thigh. Anyway, what I’m saying is, Dionysus was born out of Zeus’s thigh, okay? . . .

May 30, 2012

This Day in Labor History: The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937

In which the Chicago PD acted as a private army for the steel companies and murdered ten workers on the streets of Chicago. This Day in Labor History: May 30, 1937 - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money
On this date in 1937, Chicago police opened fire on strikers in front of the Republic Steel mill, killing 10 workers. Part of the “Little Steel” strike, where smaller steel corporations refused to follow U.S. Steel into signing contracts with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (later United Steelworkers of America), the Memorial Day Massacre was one of the last great spasms of organized, lethal state violence against labor in American labor history. The Steel Workers Organizing Committee was a central part of the CIO’s industrial union strategy. Successfully targeting U.S. Steel, they convinced that company to sign a contract on May 2, 1937. This contract standardized pay, granted the 8-hour day, and instituted overtime pay. However, the smaller steel companies were if anything more vociferously anti-union that U.S. Steel and they refused to sit down with their workers. SWOC and the CIO therefore made them the next target. On May 26, 1937, 25,000 people walked off the job in plants in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. By the 28th, 80,000 were on strike, 46,000 of whom worked for Republic Steel, headed by anti-union die hard Tom Girdler. Girdler hired the Chicago police as a private army, paying for their guns and ammunition. The committee found that the companies had spent $40,000 on weapons for the police. Between 1933 and 1937, the Little Steel companies purchased more poison gas (nausea-inducing rather than fatal) than the U.S. military.