Tuesday Reads: A Mixed Bag (No Politics)

Good Morning!!

I’ve decided to avoid presidential politics this morning, but I have a variety of interesting news links that I hope you’ll enjoy.

I’m going to begin with some crime stories. Do you remember Amy Bishop? She was the University of Alabama Huntsville biology professor who was turned down for tenture and later murdered three of her colleagues and wounded three others at a department faculty meeting in early 2010. I wrote a couple of posts about her at the time, see here and here. Today Bishop was sentenced to life in prison.

A former Alabama biology professor who pleaded guilty to killing three colleagues and wounding three others in a 2010 shooting rampage was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday after a jury convicted her in a shortened trial.

Amy Bishop avoided a death sentence by admitting earlier this month to gunning down her colleagues during a biology department staff meeting at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Alabama law requires a jury to decide the punishment and confirm a guilty plea for a capital murder charge.

Bishop’s defense attorneys did not contest the facts of the case during the abbreviated proceedings on Monday.

“She has admitted she did these terrible things,” defense attorney Robert Tuten said in his opening statement.

A few days ago, there was some interesting news in the Trayvon Martin case.

Forensic tests made public Wednesday show that George Zimmerman’s was the only DNA that could be identified on the grip of the gun used to fatally shoot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The results rule out Martin’s DNA from being on the gun’s grip. Zimmerman’s DNA also was identified on the gun’s holster, but no determination could be made as to whether Martin’s DNA was on the gun’s holster, according to the report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

I wonder if that will affect Zimmerman’s decision to go through with the stand-your-ground hearing that his attorney Mark O’Mara has scheduled for next year?

O’Mara is also trying to get access to Trayvon Martin’s school records even though they couldn’t be introduced at trial because they are not relevant to the crime, according to prosecutor Bernie de La Ronda.

In a new pleading, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda asks Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson to seal whatever those records show and in the future to keep O’Mara’s subpoenas a secret.

O’Mara is entitled to go on a fishing expedition to find out about Trayvon’s past, according to court paperwork de la Rionda filed Wednesday, but “he is not allowed to chum the waters and then, by innuendo or otherwise, to publish irrelevant items … to the media in an attempt to influence public perception or otherwise curry favor with potential jurors.”

De la Rionda also Wednesday filed a new evidence list – his eighth. It shows that a book and television appearance by Zimmerman’s self-proclaimed best friend, former Seminole County deputy Mark Osterman, are now officially part of the case prosecutors are building against Zimmerman.

Osterman’s self-published book, written with his wife, is titled “Defending Our Friend: The Most Hated Man in America.” From Examiner.com:

A new book claims that before being shot in the chest and dying, Trayvon Martin grabbed the gun of George Zimmerman, as the two struggled during a violent encounter, according to a report Thursday. This, despite the findings released this week that none of the teen’s DNA was found on the weapon….

The Miami Herald reports that Osterman was the first person Zimmerman’s wife called after the shooting. A former U.S. air marshal, he was with his friend during Zimmerman’s first three police interrogations.

According to the Herald, Osterman’s account of what took place the night of Martin’s death is “a sharp deviation from the versions Zimmerman gave…”

In his book, Osterman quotes Zimmerman as saying, “I desperately got both of my hands around the guy’s one wrist and took his hand off my mouth long enough for me to shout again for help.”

The quote continues, “For a brief moment I had control of the wrist, but I knew when he felt the sidearm at my waist with his leg. He took his hand that was covering my nose and went for the gun, saying, ‘You’re gonna die now, mother*****.’ Somehow I broke his grip on the gun where the guy grabbed it between the rear sight and the hammer. I got the gun in my hand, raised it toward the guy’s chest and pulled the trigger.”

James Holmes

I also have an update on the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. Accused shooter James Holmes recently appeared in court with short brown hair and a few days’ growth of beard.

Seeking to avoid any delays in the Colorado movie theater shooting case, prosecutors gave up their fight to see a notebook the suspect sent to a university psychiatrist and instead argued for a palm print to compare with one found on the inside of a theater exit door.

James Holmes appeared in court Thursday with short brown hair instead of a wild shock of orangish-red hair and seemed more animated than he has been in the past. He smiled and glanced around the courtroom, looking at his lawyers and reporters covering the hearing. He appeared to be moving his mouth but not actually talking.

Prosecutors believe they still have good arguments for getting access to the notebook and will continue to fight for it. Oddly, some victims’ families refuse to believe that Holmes is mentally ill.

Family members receiving updates about Holmes from the courtroom said it’s all an act by the former University of Colorado, Denver, neuroscience graduate student to appear mentally ill.

“He’s just putting on a show,” said Greg Medek of Aurora, whose daughter Micayla, 23, died in the shooting. “I don’t think he’s crazy. He’s just evil.”

The last crime story is about the New York man who jumped into a tiger cage.

Before his now-infamous tangle with a Bronx Zoo tiger, David Villalobos adorned his Facebook page with New Age odes to Mother Earth and affirmations like, “Be love and fearless.”

Police said Saturday that Villalobos had told detectives that it was without fear that he leaped from an elevated train into the animal’s den. His reason, they said, was that “he wanted to be one with the tiger.”

Villalobos also recounted how, after he landed on all fours, the 400-pound beast attacked him and dragged around by his foot, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne. Despite serious injuries, he claimed he was able to get his wish and pet the tiger — a male Siberian named Bashuta — before his rescue, the spokesman added.

Based on those admissions and a complaint from the zoo, police charged the hospitalized Villalobos with misdemeanor trespassing on Saturday. It was unclear if the 25-year-old real estate agent had an attorney, and attempts to reach relatives were unsuccessful.

There’s much more weird info at the link.

Here’s a bloodcurdling historical story for you from The Daily Beast. It’s a review of a new book, “Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying: The Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWs” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

How much did World War II German soldiers know about the Holocaust? Publicly, many of them denied knowledge. But a long-lost cache of secret recordings that the British intelligence service made of German prisoners of war show that, in private, they chatted openly and casually about mass-murdering Jews, demonstrating what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”

The book consists of transcripts of conversations secretly recorded by British intelligence. I’m not going to include an except, because the material is pretty gruesome. You can read it all at the link. But this certainly will be a valuable addition to the history of Nazi Germany and WWII.

The Foxconn plant in China where apple products are manufactured has been shut down because of riots that took place over the weekend.

SHANGHAI — Foxconn Technology, a major supplier to some of the world’s electronics giants, including Apple, said it had closed one of its large Chinese plants Monday after the police were called in to break up a fight among factory employees.

A spokesman said some people had been hurt and detained by the police after the disturbance escalated into a riot involving more than 1,000 workers late Sunday.

The company said the incident was confined to an employee dormitory and “no production facilities or equipment have been affected.” It said the cause of the disturbance was still under investigation.

One Foxconn employee reached by telephone Monday afternoon, however, said the incident began when workers started brawling with security guards.

Unconfirmed photographs and video circulated on social networking sites, purporting to be from the factory, showed smashed windows, riot police officers and large groups of workers milling around. The Foxconn plant, in the Chinese city of Taiyuan, employs about 79,000 workers.

The Chinese state-run news media said 5,000 police officers had been called in to quell the riot.

This one is for Connie: Stranded 655-pound turtle reluctantly released.

A 655-pound leatherback sea turtle that had been stranded in thick mud in Truro on Wednesday night was released off the coast of Harwich Port Saturday morning, New England Aquarium officials said.

A Massachusetts Audubon Society staff member spotted the 7-foot-long black male turtle in Pamet Harbor Wednesday night as high tide approached, said Connie Merigo, the aquarium’s rescue director.

Aquarium staff and volunteers, along with staff members of the Audubon Society and International Fund for Animal Welfare, brought the turtle to the aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy near dawn Thursday.

The sea turtle was about 100 pounds underweight and had low blood sugar and an old injury on his front right fin, Merigo said.

“When he first got here he was fairly lethargic, especially out of the water,” head veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis said.

Innis said the turtle was treated aggressively with “injectable sugar solution, vitamin and mineral supplements, steroids, and antibiotics to stave off infection.” It wouldn’t have been possible to keep him any longer, because leatherbacks are so stressed by being in captivity that they usually don’t survive long.

That’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed the break from politics. I know I did. Now what are you reading and blogging about today?

Wednesday Reads: Thoughts on DC

Me and my son, daughter and husband at the Capitol…

Hello, after spending ten days in our nation’s capital, it is nice to finally get back home. One thing is certain, living in Manhattan has spoiled me when it comes to public transport…the DC Metro line is awful, very few stops and when there is a station nearby, the cars and the stations all look the same. No character, no charm…and as for the passengers, everyone with their eyes down on the e-pad of choice, Apple of course.

Another observation, there were absolutely no places to drink water…or even buy a bottle of water. We were there during severe heat advisories and no water to be found. The drinking fountains were not working save for one that was on the outskirts of The Mall near the Commerce Department. The place is not people friendly, especially on a hot day.

I’ve got one more thing to gripe about before I get to the good stuff. When you go into the museums, everyone with a bag must have it inspected. Most of those with bags were women…and we had to open the bags and let the guards fiddle with our stuff for security reasons. Meanwhile, men like my husband and son with huge stuffed cargo short pockets were allowed to walk right in…no inspection required. At the Natural History museum there was a metal detector we all had to walk through, but it did not even go off when someone with keys stepped across. I asked one of the guards why don’t they look inside the big bulging pockets on the guy’s pants and he said… “I only do what I am told.”

Perhaps I am a bit too sensitive, but dude after dude walked into those museums with pockets stuffed to the gills…while practically all the women had to stop, wait in a long line and let a guard look through their bags…no matter how small the bag was. It just seemed strange to me that the security system in place ignored these cargo pockets…I mean these pockets are huge! I kept thinking about the scene in Seinfeld with Kramer running down the street, his cargo pant pockets full of change.  Imagine what these guys can stuff into those things.

(Okay, enough of the bitching…let’s get on with the show.)

We had a wonderful time. I have to tell you, DC is an exhausting experience, you feel overwhelmed with all the exhibits and things to see…so I will just mention a few things that stood out. First, the Shuttle Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Hanger was something to see. It is huge, just imagine just what it must look like riding piggy-back on a big ass jet. We could see the burn marks from the heat shield tiles and places where the bigger white sections of the shuttle’s skin had been replaced.

Shuttle Discovery, with replacement tiles visible…what a sight to see.

Another impressive piece of history in this part of the Air and Space Museum was this nuclear warhead rocket called the Redstone Missile.

Redstone Missile at the Udvar-Hazy Center

The first U.S. large-scale, liquid-fuel missile to become operational, the Redstone was one of the most historically important developments in U.S. rocket technology.
Image Number: 2004-51785
Credit: Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

This is the Redstone, one of the most historically important developments in U.S. rocket technology. It was the U.S.’s first large-scale operational liquid-propellant missile and was modified as the Jupiter-C that placed the U.S.’s first artificial satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit in 1958. In 1961 the Mercury-Redstone rocket launched the first American into space, Alan B. Shepard.

As a missile, the Redstone had a range of 200-250 miles and carried either a conventional or nuclear warhead. The Redstone made its first successful flight in 1953 and became operational in 1958. It was replaced by the all-solid-fuel Pershing missile in 1964. This missile was donated to the Smithsonian in 1978 by the U.S. Army.

On day two we saw the Natural History Museum, and the exhibit that I thought was the most interesting was this one, called Written In Bone. It is a look at forensic archaeology.

Written in Bone examines history through 17th-century bone biographies, including those of colonists teetering on the edge of survival at Jamestown, Virginia, and those living in the wealthy and well-established settlement of St. Mary’s City, Maryland.

The forensic investigation of human skeletons provides intriguing information on people and events of America’s past. No other inanimate objects make us feel the same passionate curiosity as the remains of once-living, breathing individuals like us. And nothing else can answer our questions in quite the same ways.

At no other time in our history have we had the technological
capability or opportunity now available to help us tell this tale.
Explore the history and science behind the investigation as we learn
for the first time the intimate stories of America’s early colonists.

This exhibit discusses a cemetery section of the Chesapeake Bay settlement that was recently discovered. I’ve put a few links below for you to check out when you have the time.

Four centuries ago, a band of English adventurers built a fort on the James River near the Chesapeake Bay. In the decades after 1607, shipload after shipload of colonists sought new lives in North America. They began moving inland, settling along the coastal rivers of Virginia and Maryland.

These early immigrants left us dramatic evidence of their lives — in the traces of the structures they built, the foods they ate, and the objects they used. The most vivid evidence waits in their unmarked graves and skeletons.

Today, scientists are recovering these buried clues and investigating these most personal physical records. We are meeting the Chesapeake’s earliest European and African settlers in entirely new ways. Their stories are written in their bones.

There were two skeletons in the exhibit that really made me wonder and think about what life was like, first this one boy, a homicide victim that was found in the cellar buried under a bunch of trash and garbage. Written in Bone – The Body in the Basement

Leavy Neck skeleton

Leavy Neck skeleton.
Image courtesy of Chip Clark

Circumstantial Evidence

A 1661 Virginia law forbade private burial of servants. It ordered public burials, so that any foul play or mistreatment would be noticed. Maryland considered a similar law in 1663 but did not pass it. Clearly the colonists recognized that while the lives of indentured servants were always difficult, for some their situation was dangerous.

This burial, with its nontraditional placement of the body, contrasts markedly with other 17th-century burials. It was not in a cemetery but in the cellar of an occupied house. The unevenly dug pit was too short and narrow for the body, which was bent at the hips and knees. A large piece of a milk pan left on the chest clearly did not belong to the deceased but was used to dig the shallow grave and force the corpse into the pit. Such lack of concern for the deceased implies his lack of connection to the household. But, did the skeletal evidence also support the hunch that this was an unnamed servant?

The other skeletal remains which I found fascinating was this one, of a woman who died during childbirth…Written in Bone – Difficult Births

Field photo, close-up of the pelvic bones with a late-term fetus

Female, age 26 to 32, with an unborn, late-term fetus in utero. Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

Buried with Her Unborn Child

Bone does not usually show conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth — but the skeleton of this young immigrant held the remains of a late-term fetus. The mother’s pelvic bones show no abnormalities that would have prevented a normal birth. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that her death was related to pregnancy or complications during childbirth.

So please give those links a look-see… At the National Gallery, the George Bellows exhibit was my favorite.

When George Bellows died at the age of forty-two in 1925, he was hailed as one of the greatest artists America had yet produced. In 2012, the National Gallery of Art will present the first comprehensive exhibition of Bellows’ career in more than three decades. George Bellows will include some 130 paintings, drawings, and lithographs. Bellows is arguably the most important figure in the generation of artists who negotiated the transition from the Victorian to the modern era in American culture. This exhibition will provide the most complete account of his achievements to date and will introduce Bellows to new generations. The accompanying catalogue will document and define Bellows’ unique place in the history of American art and in the annals of modernism.

You can see some of the artwork here: George Bellows

He did some very cool lithographs of a traveling preacher named Billy Sunday during the early 1900’s in New York City…Terra Foundation for American Art: Collections. You can view a larger image of this artwork by clicking on this link here: Billy Sunday

I want to bring one part of the following passage to your attention, emphasis mine.

George Bellows’s lithograph Billy Sundayis a compelling picture of the famous evangelical preacher on stage, energetically straddling the surfaces of the tables at which his supporters sit as he verbally assaults his docile audience. Bellows celebrates the forceful physical presence of a charismatic individual, embodied in his emphatic lunge as he thrusts his pointing finger toward a crowd of potential converts to underscore the power of his words. Strong tonal contrasts underscore the dominant presence of this figure against the dim expanse of the revival tent, its forest of upright supports illuminated by the diffused glow of scattered lights.For almost forty years, Billy Sunday toured the nation, preaching to huge, spellbound audiences. A former baseball player, he was renowned for the energetic style of his preaching and the lunging poses he struck as his fervor reached its highest pitch. In January 1915, Bellows and Communist activist and reporter John Reed attended a Sunday revival meeting in Philadelphia on assignment for New York’s Metropolitan Magazine. The experience inspired Bellows to make a painting of the scene in 1916 and six years later this lithograph, which is closely based on one of the drawings he made to illustrate Reed’s article. Repelled by Sunday’s spell-binding zealotry, Bellows commented in 1917 that Sunday was “the worst thing that ever happened to America…. He is death to imagination, to spirituality, to art” (Bellows quoted in Myers and Ayres, 1988, p.53). Bellows’s powerful image is one of 193 lithographs he made between 1916 and his sudden death nine years later. It was one of several lithographs made between 1916 and 1923 in which he explored the pervasive influence of religious dogma in American life.

What Bellows said about Billy Sunday is still relevant today…it gives me chills to read that quote.

This painting by John Singer Sargent was also eye-catching…Street in Venice

John Singer Sargent
Street in Venice, 1882
Gift of the Avalon Foundation

Street in Venice, created during the second of Sargent’s numerous visits to that city, was done on the spot. Mediterranean sunshine penetrates the narrow confines of the Calle Larga dei Proverbi, a back alley near the Grand Canal.

The emptiness of the silent street implies that Sargent depicted siesta, the time when many Italians rest for three hours at midday. One of two men conversing in the shadows is distracted by a girl strolling alone. Her skirt’s rustling hem and shawl’s flowing fringe are rendered with indistinct strokes that suggest her rapid pace will soon carry her beyond his lingering gaze.

The US Holocaust Museum was something that I wish we had more time to spend looking and reading over the Permanent Exhibit.

The Museum’s Permanent Exhibition The Holocaust spans three floors of the Museum building. It presents a narrative history using more than 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors, and four theaters that include historic film footage and eyewitness testimonies. The exhibition is divided into three parts: “Nazi Assault,” “Final Solution,” and “Last Chapter.” The narrative begins with images of death and destruction as witnessed by American soldiers during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in 1945. Most first-time visitors spend an average of two to three hours in this self-guided exhibition. Recommended for visitors 11 years of age and older.

The display of shoes from victims confiscated from Majdanek prisoners that still smell to this day…something I will never forget. And after reading the book In the Garden of Beasts, this exhibit hit home…big time.

Here are a few other links you may find interesting:

State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda reveals how the Nazi Party used modern techniques as well as new technologies and carefully crafted messages to sway millions with its vision for a new Germany.

“If ever a piece of writing could produce mass hatred, it is this one. . . . This book is about lies and slander.”
—Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most notorious and widely distributed antisemitic publication of modern times. Its lies about Jews, which have been repeatedly discredited, continue to circulate today, especially on the Internet. The individuals and groups who have used the Protocols are all linked by a common purpose: to spread hatred of Jews.

Gain an insider’s view of history, access Museum resources, and contemplate the connections to today’s world by visiting the new Wexner Center. Explore “The Nuremberg Trials: What is Justice?”; view the Committee on Conscience display “Who will survive today? Genocide Emergency: Darfur, Sudan”; and visit the Survivors Registry.

We also saw many of the city’s monuments and memorials. I’ve got a few pictures we took on the trip that I’d like to share…from the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, Tomb of the Unknowns, and Arlington National Cemetery…so take a look at these if you like, I’ve written some descriptions and thoughts under each.

You can catch them in this slide show below…

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Well, that is my post this morning. It is great to be back, and I’ve got to say I missed the blog, but it was nice to have a break. Thank you to Kat, BB, Wonk and Connie who covered for me during the trip.  So much to catch up on…I have no idea what has gone on this past week and a half, so please post links to things you are reading and blogging about today. See you in the comments!