The Strange and Twisted Life of “Frankenstein”

Frankenstein isn’t just one of the classic literary novels of its time, one that helped invent science-fiction as we know it, but it’s also a fascinating story in itself — written by an 18-year-old girl, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who at the time was married to the famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. This piece by Jill Lepore looks at her background and upbringing and the role her life as a young mother might have played in her incredible creation.

“Frankenstein” is four stories in one: an allegory, a fable, an epistolary novel, and an autobiography, a chaos of literary fertility that left its very young author at pains to explain her “hideous progeny.” In the introduction she wrote for a revised edition in 1831, she took up the humiliating question “How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea” and made up a story in which she virtually erased herself as an author, insisting that the story had come to her in a dream

Source: The Strange and Twisted Life of “Frankenstein” | The New Yorker

The Desperado

This is a fascinating story about the most unlikely bank robber you could ever meet: David Averill, a 58-year-old, mostly blind former computer programmer with only one foot (the other one was amputated due to complications from diabetes) who robbed a nearby bank not so much for the money as for the free health care he expected he would be able to get in prison.

Averill waited as the man opened his drawer and handed over $2,900 in a loose stack of bills about two inches thick. No one else in the bank seemed to realize what was happening. Money in hand, Averill hobbled back toward the entrance, then stopped halfway across the room. “Hey,” he said, waving the wad of bills in the air to draw attention. “I just robbed you. Please call the police.”

Source: The Desperado — The Atavist Magazine

Patricia Lockwood · The Communal Mind

This piece by Patricia Lockwood in the London Review of Books, which she also gave as a lecture, is really quite extraordinary in the way it describes what it’s like to have your brain infected by the viral Internet.

The amount of eavesdropping was enormous. Other people’s diaries streamed around her. Should she be listening to the conversations of teenagers? Should she follow with such avidity the compliments rural sheriffs paid to porn stars, not realising that other people could see them? She lay every morning under an avalanche of details, blissed: pictures of breakfasts in Patagonia, a girl applying foundation with a hardboiled egg, a shiba inu in Japan leaping from paw to paw to greet its owner, white women’s pictures of their bruises – the world pressing closer and closer, the spider web of human connection so thick it was almost a shimmering and solid silk.

Source: Patricia Lockwood · The Communal Mind: The Internet and Me · LRB 21 February 2019

If you were terminally ill, would you tell your children?

This personal essay in The Atlantic raises a difficult ethical question. The author and his wife found out that she had about three years to live, but didn’t tell their three young children because they didn’t want them to worry. So they knew she had cancer and that it had returned, but didn’t know it was terminal. The good news is that she wound up living for 10 years, and her children all say they are glad they didn’t know, because they would have worried too much. But it’s still a really tough question. Shouldn’t they have known the truth?

My father died of cancer, and he refused to talk about his prognosis because he didn’t want to dwell on the negative — he wanted to focus on getting better (which was never really an option). I respected his choice, but it meant that we couldn’t really talk about his eventual death, or what would happen afterwards, or even about his life, because to do so was to acknowledge what he didn’t want to talk about. I wish we had had the ability to do that, but then I wasn’t a young child, so my perspective is probably significantly different.

We decided not to tell the kids. Marla knew that once our three daughters understood that their mother had been given 1,000 days to live, they’d start counting. They would not be able to enjoy school, friends, their teams, or birthday parties. They’d be watching too closely—how she looked, moved, acted, ate, or didn’t. Marla wanted her daughters to stay children: unburdened, confident that tomorrow would look like yesterday.

Source: My Wife and I Didn’t Tell Our Children About Her Cancer – The Atlantic

The tragic tale of Audrey Munson, the most beautiful woman in the world

This is such a fascinating story — how Audrey Munson, a young girl from Rochester, became the muse for dozens of famous artists and sculptors around the turn of the century, her face and body immortalized in statues and busts all around New York. And then, just as suddenly, she was out of fashion, fell on hard times and was eventually committed to a mental institution.

She modeled for the greatest sculptors and painters in New York, including Alexander Stirling Calder, Daniel Chester French, and Karl Bitter. She made thirty-­five dollars a week and lived simply, in a small one-bedroom apartment that she shared with her mother. The art that she posed for, however, was a gateway into the upper echelon of society. When Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands commissioned Bitter to create a Venus de Milo statue “with arms,” Audrey’s arms served as the inspiration. The Rockefeller

Source: Descending Night – Believer Magazine

Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

This is well worth reading from Whitney Phillips, a professor of communications, culture and digital technologies at Syracuse University. She is also the author of a great report from Data & Society called “The Oxygen of Amplification,” about how not to report on extremists and trolls.

Too much false and misleading information, too much harassment, too many memes, spreading too quickly with too little oversight or editorial restraint: This outcome isn’t incidental to how contemporary information systems function. It is a function of how these systems function.

Source: Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended » Nieman Journalism Lab

Fake news and viral social battles in the 17th century

They may have taken place at a much slower pace — months or even years instead of minutes or hours — but the 17th century saw its share of social warfare and accusations of “fake news.” Christy Henshaw writes at the Wellcome Collections website about an argument that took several years to play out. And the subject? Whether or not one Richard Dugdale was possessed by a demon.

This little treatise was written in 1697 by a group of Dissenters (Protestants who had split from the Church of England for a variety of reasons), and described in detail the possession of Mr. Dugdale by Satan or his servants, and the “strange and dreadful actings in and about the body” of the said Mr. Dugdale. Later that year, however, a Church of England priest said the whole story was a fake, and accused the original authors of being “papists” in league with the Vatican.

The following year, one of the men involved in the Dugdale exorcism wrote his own treatise, saying the incident was true (although he said he couldn’t vouch for all the details). Finally, the skeptical priest Zachary Taylor wrote his own followup in 1699, entitled: “Popery, Superstition, Ignorance, and Knavery, Confess’d, and fully Proved on the Surey Dissenters” in which he doubled-down on his initial allegations, which he claimed had all been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

There’s a lot more to that iconic photo of a Dust Bowl mother

This is a fascinating story that I was unaware of: As Jason Kottke points out, the iconic picture of a mother cradling her children during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s has become a symbol of the Great Depression, but there is a lot more to it than it first appears. For one thing, the woman in question wasn’t a resident of the migrant camp where it was taken — she had stopped to fix the family’s car — and she was also a full-blooded Cherokee

An experiment in creating a “travel log” with interactive map

One day awhile back, I saw someone post on Twitter that they had created an interactive travel log that combined a regular blog-style overview of a number of trips with a map that automatically flew to and then zoomed in on the place the person was writing about. It looked pretty cool, and the person who created it — Lauren Hallden, a product designer with Stitch — made the code open-source by putting it on Github. So since I’ve been playing around on a test server I have, I decided to see if I could replicate what she did, and I think I’ve gotten it working pretty well. I liked it so much I created a second one focused solely on our trips to Italy, including our time in Turin, Venice, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast: Travelog: Italy.

In a nutshell, it uses a relatively small amount of CSS and JavaScript, combined with a map API from MapBox, which is free to use as long as you don’t make a lot of calls to the database. Lauren did a really good job of marking up the code and explaining it on Github, so it’s obvious where to input your API key, where and how to add the GPS co-ordinates (naturally, Google’s GPS co-ordinates are the opposite of the way that MapBox does it, so that takes some manual editing) and where to put your images. I had an issue with permissions on my pics, but once I got that sorted out it was dead easy to put together and I think it looks pretty cool.

Best part of doing this was it forced me to go back through all of my photos from our various trips last year, and that reminded me of how many amazing places we had been and how much fun it all was. I’m thinking I might make other travel logs for individual trips. Thanks for doing this, Lauren, and for allowing others to re-use your code.