Thursday, November 30, 2017

Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Michael - Thursday

The Nutshell Studies are amazingly carefully constructed miniatures, based on actual murder scenes, that were lovingly designed by Frances Lee in the first half of the twentieth century.  Since I came across their story a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the concept, and that these creations, more than sixty years old, are still used to train detectives today. I didn’t imagine that I would ever get to see them; they aren’t normally on public display, and all (except one) reside at the Harvard Medical School. But, at the end of our recent book tour to promote Dying to Live, while I was visiting a friend in Washington, I discovered that there was a special exhibition at the Renwick Gallery for three months. I had to see them, so I dragged my friend downtown. (He wasn’t impressed, pronouncing them ‘weird.’ Fortunately, the gallery, which specializes in modern crafts, had other wonderful exhibits for him to enjoy.)

Puzzling out the mysteries
I expected that the exhibition would be fairly lightly attended—many might think it weird—but it was a good thing we went early; it was soon packed. Although admiring the craftwomanship, the visitors were actually keener to solve the mysteries. Many suggestions flew about. When I was unmasked as a mystery writer, my opinion was eagerly sought. I could have sold a dozen books if I’d had them with me!

Frances Glessner Lee herself was just as interesting as her creations. She was a nineteenth century heiress with no formal post-school education, who became an expert and teacher of forensic crime investigation, who rose to be the first female police captain in a US police force, who is considered the “mother of forensic science,” and who helped to found the first Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University when the field of forensics was in its infancy. She had an international reputation, but modestly said of herself: “Luckily, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. It gives me the time and money to follow my hobby of scientific crime detection.”

Lee was keen to study Law and Medicine, and to join her brother at Harvard, but her family believed that it was inappropriate for a lady to go to college.  Her role was to marry and bring up children in an appropriately created and managed domestic environment.  She had a go at this, but although she had three children with her husband, they separated and later divorced.

She was apparently a great lover of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and loved solving murder puzzles.  She came to believe that studying a crime scene would enable a detective to make large strides towards solving the case by picking up appropriate clues – just as the fictional Holmes did.  A friend of her brother – later to become medical examiner of Boston – piqued her interest even more with his stories of crimes and their solutions.  However, her interest in forensics was even less acceptable than her desire to study at Harvard, and she had to wait until her parents and brother had died in the 1930s before she could pursue her interest.  Then, with her substantial inheritance from her father’s International Harvester fortune, she endowed a department of legal medicine at Harvard.  Not content with that, she set up a seminar series for investigators that continues to this day.  She wasn’t just tolerated as a rich donor and heaped with formal honors.  She became the first woman police chief in New Hampshire, and she was the first woman invited to join the International Association for Chiefs of Police.

Barbara Barnes, housewife, found dead by police who responded to a call from her husband, Fred Barnes.
Mr. Barnes gave the following statement:
About 4 pm on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 11, he had gone downtown on an errand for his wife. He returned about an hour and a half later and found the outside door to the kitchen locked. It was standing open when he left. Mr. Barnes attempted knocking and calling but got no answer. He tried the front door but it was also locked. He then went to the kitchen window, which was closed and locked. He looked in and saw what appeared to be his wife lying on the floor. He then summoned the police.
The model shows the premises just before the police forced open the kitchen door.

At the time there was very little training for investigators, so they often overlooked or damaged key evidence, or contaminated the crime scene. Few had any medical training that would allow them to determine cause of death. As Lee and her colleagues at Harvard worked to change that, there was a need for real examples that the trainees could investigate using their new knowledge. That’s apparently what motivated her to create the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. The investigator has ninety minutes to study the crime scene, read the statements of witnesses, and consider the evidence.  Then he or she needs to make deductions and plan further investigations.

The Log Cabin

Lee said that her aim was to teach police detectives to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell,” but there must have been more to it than that. She must have enjoyed the physical creation process as well. She worked with a carpenter on the models, but also did many things herself—writing tiny letters with a pen consisting of a single paintbrush hair, knitting tiny socks by hand with two pins, rolling miniature cigarettes with real tobacco (and burning them down to relatively the right length). Everything is strictly to scale—one twelfth of the original size. The scenes are based on challenging real cases, and she was fixated on getting the details perfect. Her carpenter once made her a tiny rocking chair which she rejected because it didn’t stop after the same number of rocks as the original!


Not only has the museum made a set of pictures of the Nutshells available, but it also has a virtual reality option which allows you to explore them in 3D. These are HERE. And if you are in the Washington area, take a look for yourself and see how many you can solve!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Patriarchy is the greatest threat facing humanity today

Leye - Every other Wednesday

By Soman

The greatest threat facing humanity today is not the depletion of the ozone layer, micro plastics in the oceans, drug resistant bacteria, extreme poverty, rampant pollution, pervasive inequality, bees dying out, modern slavery, or the very real possibility of nuclear war.

Not even the inevitable rise of A.I. and the possibility of robots doing to us what Europeans did to native populations all over the globe.  Not even North Korea’s missile tests. Not even Donald Trump in the White House.

The greatest threat facing humanity today is patriarchy. Everything else is a symptom.

The continued, sustained, and systematic exclusion of half of humanity from all of humanity is an order of things that is unnatural, grossly inefficient, and ultimately destructive. Evidence alone has proven and continues to prove this.

For most of recorded history, men have ruled the world, and for most of recorded history, men have made the decisions to go to war, men have gone to war, destroyed nations, destroyed civilisations, depleted natural resources, raped and pilfered, destroyed the natural balance that sustains all life on earth, including mankind. Men.

Today, the man led world is fast approaching the point of no return in terms of the destruction man has caused to earth. Man is killing earth.

Women have ruled. Yes, women have gone to war. Women have made great discoveries, gifted great inventions to humanity, breastfed nations, done great things.

But if the statement above seems even in the slightest patronizing, it’s further evidence of an unequal world and the great violence of this inequality. The great and foolish exclusion of half of humanity from all of humanity.

(Of course, no one can totally exclude anyone from humanity, but it hasn’t stopped men from trying, and as a result, effectively excluding women in many ways from many things.)

If with men in charge, the world as we know it today is as messed up as it is, the only guarantee of change is to try a different order of things; to have women in charge - or at least to have as many women as men in charge, and on a fiercely and unyielding equal footing.

I think that that every decision and action of man being in charge has led us to a situation in which human beings are being sold in open slave markets in Libya and the leaders of the world are united in their silence, safe for a few words of ineffectual condemnations.

(I refuse to refer to any human as a slave, even if they are sold in slave markets. They are not slaves; they are victims of crimes against humanity.)

In Libya, men are harvesting organs from migrants who are sold in slave markets. Right now. This is happening now.

I sometimes dream of what the world would have been like if some or all of the great religions had female saviours and prophets. If the world had been ruled equally by women and men. If girls and boys grew up equal in all ways: the toys they play with, the aspirations assumed for them, their dressing, their permissions. A world in which men do not in isolation make the decisions that affect women. A world in which men do not drag us all into war, impose obsolete and self-serving laws and customs upon the rest of us and take us the brink of extinction.

The greatest threat facing humanity today is patriarchy. But beware, patriarchy cannot, and will not, correct itself.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Who knew cigars were manufactured in Paris? I didn't. It never figured in my research on the arrondissement where I'm setting a story. But now after discovering this, there's little that remains of what was a booming industry here.
It turns out that in the 19th century cigar assembling was a thriving business and employed hundreds of people in many factories where you'd least expect it.
Below the Bastille in the area of what was,  and still contains, artisans of the furniture trades.
Today the only remnant of the factory is the gate.
But in the 1850's the consumption of cigars selling for 15 centimes had reached such proportions that it was almost impossible to meet the public demands. The merchants of Havana threatened to increase their prices. The idea, by a Monsieur Rey a tobacco engineer (tobacco engineer?), was to buy leaf tobacco in the best plantations in Cuba, ship them to Paris and make them into cigars.

He succeeded and established the Reuilly manufacturer in 1855 where workers were trained.  Each year about 240,000 kilograms of tobacco harvested in Cuba arrived at Reuilly, and were stored in vast, dimly lit cellars of even temperature. So successful was the manufacturing that the factory at Reuilly provided luxury cigars to connoisseurs in Paris, to cafe owners, casinos, restaurants and to London and courtiers of the Queen, charging them 25 to 50 centimes. A bit of a price hike but the tobacco came directly from the Cuban plantations. At it's height, the factory employed 748 people of which 700 were women.
Who knew the Parisians and the English royal court had such an addiction?
Women were considered desirable workers because of their small hands. To make a quality cigar it required a two year apprenticeship. Working at the cigar factory was considered a good job in the working class. At that time, when many of the female working class had few options apart from back breaking labor in the laundries or piecemeal sewing, the advantages were unheard of - job security and retirement at sixty years old. 
Here's a translation of a visitors account of his visit to the Reuilly factory at that time:
"When one enters two hundred women turn their heads, whisper, and, under the look of the counter-master, get back to their job quickly.
Every worker has in front of her a roll, debris of tobacco, a small pot of glue, a wheel-shaped trench and a perforated zinc plate whose opening represents the exact shape that the cigar must have, this last tool is called the caliber or the jig. Tobacco which must form the inside is assembled on a board of vulcanized rubber, stretched, then arranged in such a way that there are no creases. And with one blow of the palm of the hand - at once fast and precise - it rolls them in a leaf which is the souscape, it is almost a cigar, but a cut cigar which lacks the skin. The first quality is then removed by roller, and by two pieces of sliced ​​trench cut into strips of 4 to 5 centimeters and is glued slightly at the end so that the cigar, perfectly maintained and imprisoned, offers enough resistance to stay together; then, with the aid of a very ingenious instrument, which gives all the cigars of the same species an equal length, the end is cut, and the operation is finished. A good worker, not wasting time and working ten hours, can make 90 to 150 cigars of choice in her day. "
Here's a picture of it today - the factory was demolished but the gates remain and the ghosts of the workers.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Bonobos: Your Cousins You've Never Met

Annamaria on Monday

Most likely, you have never heard of them.  But it’s important that we learn of their plight.  Hopefully, we will understand enough to inspire us to try to save them, for they are close to disappearing completely.

Allow me to introduce you to this fascinating species:  Relatives of the common chimpanzee (and therefore closely related to us), their official designation is Pan paniscus.  They used to be called pygmy chimpanzees, but now usually bonobos—to make an important distinction between this threatened group and our other, more common great ape cousins.

Bonobos are found only in Central Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They live in forests south of the Congo River.  Biologists believe that they may have become a distinct species once the river formed about two million years ago and isolated them from their more common relatives up north.

Adult males grow to around four feet, females around three and half.  Gestation is about seven and half months.  They feed on fruit.  They live forty to sixty years in captivity.  No one knows how long in wild.

In the wild they are threatened.  For a bunch of reasons.

One is that, like most threatened species, such as pandas (and totally unlike us humans), they are not fecund reproducers.  Females begin to reproduce at 12 years but they give birth only once every five or six years.  This is not fast enough to grow their current population of fewer than 100,000, especially considering what else is happening to their habitat, only a small portion of which is protected.

The Congo has been unstable politically for more than a decade.   With factional war frequently breaking out, the local population has no motivation to worry about a threatened species.  Deforestation is one killer.  But there are many others: The local populations and the logging company employees depend on bushmeat for their protein.  So bonobos are hunted for food, and also for body parts thought to have magical powers.  That perennial favorite of poachers, sexual drive, for instance.  All I can say about that is, UGH!

Bonobos are worth our concern.

Their plight was brought to my attention by a friend—Sibylle  Westbrook, whom I met at Icelandic Noir a few years ago.   She recounted to me the following experiment into the behaviors of bonobos:

The laboratory contains a group three rooms with locked glass doors.  In one is a bonobo named Semendwa.  In a second Kikwit, Semendwa’s bonobo friend.  They can both see, in the third room, a mound of a favorite food—green apples.  The investigator opens the door so that Semendwa can get at the apples.  But before she touches them, she opens the other door so Kikwit can also eat.   This tells us something about bonobos' attitudes.

But then the experiment is repeated with Semendwa and, not a friend this time, but a bonobo who is a complete stranger to her.  Still, when she gets access to the food, before eating, she opens the door for a hungry stranger so they can both eat.

So you see, bonobos (though they share 98.7% of our DNA) know something that many human beings do not know about altruism.  (Cf. Jeff’s post this past Saturday about the rich EU countries and the poor refugees flooding into Italy, Greece, and Spain.)

In Sibylle’s words, “We cannot afford to let our lesser-known cousins go extinct.  We are too similar and need them to recover what is buried in us.   We might consider ourselves superior in knowledge.  But they know one thing we don’t.  They know how to live in peace."

The African Wildlife Foundation is trying to help.  You can find out more about how you can pitch in here:

Addendum:  Sibylle asked me to further explain:

The experiment described above took place at the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary.  You can find out more about them and how to help here:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Another Reason to Choose the Road Less Traveled

-- Susan, every other Sunday

When traveling in Japan, and especially when hiking its glorious mountains, I try to live by the immortal (and lovely) words of Robert Frost:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." (--Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken)

Never once has the less-traveled path disappointed me, and my experience hiking a preserved section of the Nakasendo Road through the Japan Alps last November was no exception.

I set out from the preserved post town of Magome just after dawn, in time to see the sun rise over Mount Ena - one of Japan's "Hundred Famous Peaks."

A glorious start to any day.

I anticipated it would take between 3 and 4 hours to hike the trail over the mountain pass that separates Magome from the (also preserved) historical town of Tsumago. Both served as post towns on the Kisoji and Nakasendo, travel roads that connected Kyoto with Edo (now Tokyo) during Japan's medieval age.

I hiked through forested hills aflame with brilliant foliage and resounding with the calls and cries of many different birds. The air smelled crisp, with undertones of wood smoke and autumn leaves.

In the footsteps of samurai . . .
Because I started early, I had the road to myself and plenty of time to stop and investigate the sights along the way. I stopped at a lovely old mill:

Nakasendo scenery

And a Shintō shrine - both of which I'd noted on my map and planned to see.

The intersection of history, faith, nature, and culture.

But then, about halfway to Tsumago, I saw a sign I hadn't expected sitting beside a fork in the road.

Road Less Traveled Calling. Please pick up the white courtesy phone.

Waterfalls? They weren't on my map - and the sign gave no indication how far I'd have to walk to find them. (A note: this is *extremely* unusual in Japan. Trail markers customarily tell you exactly how far you are from multiple destinations.)

But based on my personal traveling philosophy, they immediately became a part of my itinerary. I stepped off my intended road and headed off in search of adventure.

About ten minutes later, I had my first sight of the waterfall through the trees.

Followed shortly by another sign, pointing me along a narrow, somewhat overgrown path that apparently led to the falls. I followed without hesitation.

This is a far more normal Japanese trail sign.
You might not know where you are, but you know how long it will take to get where you're going.

As promised, almost 50 meters later the path opened onto a bridge.

With a waterfall at the other end....

Although the photo doesn't show it, the wood was significantly weathered and slippery with spray from the waterfall-fed river that ran beneath it.

In case people didn't notice, someone had also posted a warning sign:

Slippery when wet . . . and it's always wet.

I crossed the bridge and found myself facing a lovely, laughing waterfall.

Otaki Falls: approximately 15 meters tall.

It doesn't look that large, but the wind it created was enough to blow my hair back off my face, and its spray dampened my cheeks enough that I had to wipe them off when I walked away.

Otaki Metake falls consists of two waterfalls (Otaki and Metake, which mean "Man" and "Woman" respectively).  After I finished enjoying Otaki falls, I walked about a hundred yards to Metake, which is narrower, but just as high:

Metake Falls

After several minutes photographing the falls and several more just standing nearby and appreciating their beauty, I backtracked to the original trail and set off for Tsumago. The detour cost me a little more than half an hour, but gave me far more enjoyment than the sum of its time and step-based parts.

Back on the trail.

Yet again, the road less traveled made all the difference in a day I will always treasure.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Shame on You, Civilization


This week two articles reported by Reuters on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean caught my eye, concomitantly raising my blood pressure. Admittedly, they’re directly related to the subject of my ninth Andreas Kaldis mystery-thriller, AN AEGEAN APRIL, coming January 2nd from Poisoned Pen Press. But this is not about promoting my book.

This post is directed at western governments that, while righteously condemning atrocities in what they deign less civilized regions of the world, are at the same time brazenly complicit in condoning equivalent behaviors designed at keeping refuges from reaching their national borders.

Here’s what Reuters had to say this week about the migrant situation on the Greek island of Lesvos (population 86,000)—the setting for An Aegean April—a situation that is the direct result of an agreement reached between the EU and Turkey to shut down the route taken by refugees into Greece, via Turkey, on their way to Northern Europe.  

 “Greek Island on Strike In Protest Against Becoming a Migrant ‘Prison.’”

ATHENS (Reuters—Karolina Tagaris) - Residents on the Greek island of Lesbos went on strike on Monday to protest against European policies they say have turned it into a “prison” for migrants and refugees….

Just a few miles from Turkey’s coast, Lesbos has borne the brunt of Europe’s migrant crisis. In 2015, nearly a million people - most fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - landed on its shores before heading north, mainly to Germany.
It is now hosting some 8,500 asylum-seekers in facilities designed to hold fewer than 3,000.
“Lesbos is not an open prison, nor will we allow anyone to view it as such,” Mayor Spyros Galinos was quoted as saying by the Athens News Agency.
Thousands of asylum-seekers have become stranded on Lesbos and four other islands close to Turkey since the EU agreed a deal with Ankara in March 2016 to shut down the route through Greece.
Some have been moved to camps on the mainland, but authorities say the terms of the agreement prevent asylum-seekers from travelling beyond the islands.
Rights groups have described conditions in camps across Greece as deplorable and unfit for humans. On Lesbos, violence often breaks out over delays in asylum procedures and poor living standards.
“The message (today) was that we can’t take it any more,” Galinos said. “Lesbos is in a state of emergency.”
And here’s the second article, this one addresses the deal with Turkey, but also the shame implicit in an EU deal that enlists Libya to keep refugees from making it to Italy, and from there on into Northern Europe.  Don’t miss the last two sentences…assuming you have the stomach for what civilized governments are willing to sweep under the rug in the name of protecting their national interests.

Mediterranean ‘by far world’s deadliest border’ for migrants, IOM says.
More than 33,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach European shores this century, making the Mediterranean "by far the world’s deadliest border", the United Nations migration agency said on Friday.

After record arrivals from 2014 to 2016, the European Union’s deal with Turkey to stop arrivals from Greece, and robust patrols off Libya’s coast have greatly reduced the flow, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

Professor Philippe Fargues of the European University Institute in Florence, author of the report, said the figures probably underestimated the actual scale of the human tragedy.

"The report states that at least 33,761 migrants were reported to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean between the year 2000 to 2017. This number is as of June 30," IOM’s Jorge Galindo told a Geneva news briefing.

"It concludes that Europe’s Mediterranean border is by far the world’s deadliest," he said.
So far this year some 161,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by sea, about 75 percent of them landing in Italy with the rest in Greece, Cyprus and Spain, according to IOM figures. Nearly 3,000 others are dead or missing, it said.

"Shutting the shorter and less dangerous routes can open longer and more dangerous routes, thus increasing the likelihood of dying at sea," Fargues said.

The report said: "Cooperation with Turkey to stem irregular flows is now being replicated with Libya, the main country of departure of migrants smuggled along the central route; however, such an approach is not only morally reprehensible but likely to be unsuccessful, given the context of extremely poor governance, instability and political fragmentation in Libya."

Libya’s UN-backed government said on Thursday it was investigating reports of African migrants being sold as slaves and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Footage broadcast by CNN appearing to show African migrants being traded in Libya sparked an international outcry and protests in Europe and Africa. [Stephanie Nebehay for Reuters]

Shame on all for going along.


Jeff’s Upcoming Events

My ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, publishes on January 2, 2018 and here is the first stage of my book tour:

Thursday, January 4 @ 7PM
Poisoned Pen Bookstore,
Scottsdale, AZ (joint appearance with Thomas Perry)

Saturday, January 6 @ 2 PM            
Clues Unlimited
Tucson, AZ

Monday, January 8  @ 7PM
Vromans (on Colorado)
Pasadena, CA

Wednesday, January 10 @ 7PM                   
Tattered Cover (on Colfax)
Denver, CO

Saturday, January 13 @ 2 PM                      
Book Carnival 
Orange, CA

Sunday, January 14 @ 2 PM
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, January 17 @ 7 PM      
Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park)
Seattle, WA

Sunday, January 21 @ 7 PM
Book Passage
Corte Madera, CA