Michelangelo’s secret drawings remained hidden for 500 years

In 1530, to escape the wrath of the Pope, Michelangelo holed up in a tiny secret room under the Medici Chapel of the Basilica di San Lorenzo. The artist had been working on the lavish tomb when all hell broke loose in Florence, and he was forced into hiding. With nothing but time and a little charcoal on his hands, he covered the bare walls with some prisoner graffiti.

Michelangelo owed his career to the Medici, one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Europe. But in 1529 he joined ranks with other Florentines who had grown weary of their rule, hoping for a more democratic system of governance, and defied the formidable family, which included Pope Clement VII.

After ten months of struggle the Pope and his family won, and the rebels were swiftly punished. This would have included Michelangelo, had he not retreated for those three months to his subterranean hideaway to wait it out. In November of 1530, after the Pope let it be known that Michelangelo could go back to work—unpunished–to complete the Chapel, he reemerged. All was forgiven.

His hiding place remained secret for more than 500 years. Michelangelo never let on where he had been, and some believed he had been staying with a friend or in a church bell tower. The room and the drawings weren’t discovered until 1976, when they were stumbled upon by the director of the Museum of the Medici Chapel (via Michelangelo’s Hidden Drawings – Atlas Obscura)

The ongoing mystery of Edgar Allen Poe’s death

It’s a mystery that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the author’s famous stories: Edgar Allen Poe was found by a passer-by in October of 1849, lying in a gutter near a public house in Baltimore, delirious and dressed in shabby second-hand clothes that appeared not to belong to him. He was only semi-conscious, and unable to move, and couldn’t (or didn’t) say what had happened to him, or how he came to be there. Poe spent his final days wavering between fits of delirium, gripped by visual hallucinations. The night before his death, according to his attending physician, Poe repeatedly called out for “Reynolds”—a figure who, to this day, remains a mystery. The famous poet and author died four days later, but to this day, no one knows what happened to him.

Poe had departed Richmond, Virginia almost a week earlier, bound for Philadelphia, to edit a collection of poems for Mrs. St. Leon Loud, a minor figure in American poetry. But he never arrived. When he was found in the gutter, it was the first time anyone had heard or seen of him after he left Richmond. After editing the poem collection, he was supposed to travel to his home in New York, to escort his aunt back to Richmond for his impending wedding, but he never arrived in New York. His death certificate listed the cause of death as phrenitis, or swelling of the brain, but the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death have led many to speculate about the true cause. “Maybe it’s fitting that since he invented the detective story,” says Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, “he left us with a real-life mystery.”

Among the theories about his death are:

1) He was beaten by thugs: In 1867, biographer E. Oakes Smith theorized that Poe was beaten “at the instigation of a woman who considered herself injured by him,” and a brain fever followed. Eugene Didier wrote in 1872 that while he was in Baltimore, Poe ran into some friends who asked him to join them for drinks, and he became so intoxicated that he left his friends and wandered the streets, and was “robbed and beaten by ruffians, and left insensible in the street all night.” This theory doesn’t explain why Poe was wearing clothes that appeared to belong to someone else, however.

2) He was a victim of “cooping”: Some believe Poe died as a result of a practice called cooping, a method of voter fraud practiced by gangs in the 19th century, where an unsuspecting victim would be kidnapped, disguised and forced to vote for a specific candidate multiple times under multiple identities — often under the influence of alcohol. Voter fraud was extremely common in Baltimore around the mid 1800s, and the polling site where Walker found the disheveled Poe was a known place that coopers brought their victims.

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Why Twitter and Facebook treat Bloomberg’s tricks differently

Note: This is something I originally wrote for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 used to be the high-water mark (or low-water mark, depending on your perspective) for the aggressive use of social networks in targeting voters. This time around, it’s a different billionaire — Mike Bloomberg — who is testing the limits of what is permitted on various platforms, and so far they seem to be treating him very differently. To take just one example, Twitter recently suspended 70 accounts because they each posted identical pro-Bloomberg messages as part of the campaign’s social-media marketing blitz. According to a number of reports, Bloomberg has hired hundreds of social-media “influencers” to post messages about him on various networks, and is paying them $2,500 a month. But while Twitter reacted harshly, Facebook seems untroubled by this kind of behavior. It says such posts are fine so long as they are labeled as ads.

In one sense, this difference of opinion on the Bloomberg campaign’s digital strategy is tied to the corporate DNA of each company. Historically, Twitter always placed a premium (for better or worse) on making “authentic” communication on its platform as friction-less as possible, although it has muddied those waters somewhat by introducing images, auto-play videos, algorithmic filtering, and advertising. But regardless, from Twitter’s point of view, the posting of dozens or hundreds of identical messages — whatever their content or intention — meets the definition of spam, or what the company calls “platform manipulation,” and therefore must be removed. Twitter’s rules forbid creating multiple accounts to post “duplicative content,” posting identical or similar Tweets or hashtags from multiple accounts operated by a single individual or corporate entity, and “coordinating with or compensating others to engage in artificial engagement or amplification.”

Coordinating with and/or compensating others for generating artificial engagement and amplification, of course, is exactly what the Bloomberg campaign is designed to do. To Twitter, that might look like spam, but to Facebook it just looks like advertising, and therefore the social network is more than happy to facilitate it. In fact, as the Trump campaign discovered in 2016, the company isn’t just happy to have it exist on the platform, if you are important enough and pay Facebook enough, it will embed Facebook staffers inside your campaign and help you do it better. But isn’t that kind of thing what the company calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior?” Apparently not. Facebook says that term is reserved for coordinated campaigns where people pretend to be other people, not campaigns where people pretend to like or admire someone they don’t. That’s just called advertising.

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Segway investor’s independent nation of Dumpling Island

Dean Kamen is the inventor of the Segway, among other things. When he bought a two-acre island off the coast of Connecticut, he wanted to put up a wind turbine, but the state wouldn’t allow it. So he seceded from the United States, and made North Dumpling Island an independent nation. He signed a non-aggression pact with his friend George Bush, issued his own money, created his own flag, and named the founders of Ben & Jerry’s as his “Ministers of Ice Cream.” The island has a lighthouse, a replica of Stonehenge, and a “navy” consisting of one amphibious vehicle. The official vehicle of the island is (of course) the Segway. /via

The misshapen pieces of Google’s disinformation magazine

Note: This is something I originally wrote for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer

Jigsaw, a unit of Google previously known as Google Ideas, recently launched a digital magazine called The Current, which aims to “explore today’s digital threats and solutions.” There isn’t much exploring to be found in the inaugural edition, however. It’s mostly a cursory overview of the problem of disinformation, alongside brief descriptions of some tools that Google has used to combat the problem, gussied up with a coat of digital paint, along with two contemporary art pieces that seem only loosely relevant, and an interactive map. It’s a magazine best not read too closely. But I did anyway.

It’s unclear why Jigsaw decided to publish The Current now, but it’s probably not a coincidence that Google—and its parent company, Alphabet—is under pressure from legislators in the US and Europe to take action against misinformation. Founded in 2010 and run by Jared Cohen, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, Jigsaw says its mandate is to “forecast and confront emerging threats, creating future-defining research and technology to keep our world safer.” The reality is not as bright. Last summer, Vice described Jigsaw as “a toxic mess”; a dozen current and former staffers complained of an environment of mismanagement and poor leadership in an organization that, “despite the breathless headlines it has garnered, has done little to actually make the internet any better.” In one case in 2018, Jigsaw set up a fake political activism site—putting political misinformation out into the world—and then hired a Russian troll factory to attack it.

The Current looks nice, at least. With a toned-down, almost monochromatic color scheme, it looks like a high-end-furniture catalog. It’s also interactive: when a user hovers over text, the mouse arrow turns into a Magic Marker icon and a pop-up window encourages readers to send in comments. But if you click on “send a message,” you see a small box with three choices: “Agree,” “Disagree,” and “Want to know more.” Your ability to weigh in, it turns out, is limited to one of three pre-programmed responses. The text of The Current’s “articles” is organized into snippets not much longer than Netflix promotional descriptions, with links inviting you to “Dive Deeper.” Click a first link, and you go to a page titled “The Problem,” which explains, for instance, that disinformation campaigns are “professional and coordinated—not unlike marketing campaigns.”

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The woman who jumped from the Empire State building and lived

On December 2 in 1979, Elvita Adams decided to end her life. After losing her job, the 29-year-old Bronx woman was reportedly living off $100 welfare checks. Unable to pay the rent, her landlord was threatening to evict her and her 10-year old son. So in a deep depression and not knowing what to do, she found herself on top of the Empire State Building. She said later that she had wandered over from the Bronx to see the lights. “They were so pretty, I wanted to reach out and touch them,” she was quoted as saying afterwards.

Adams Esb

Adams climbed over the fence that surrounded the observation platform on the 86th floor and leapt to what she no doubt thought would be her death. But instead, something miraculous happened: a powerful wind — between 23 and 38 miles per hour, according to historical reports — was blowing towards the building, and it blew her back in to the 85th floor, where she landed on a small ledge. A security guard pulled her to safety through a window after he heard her moaning. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a broken hip, and put under psychiatric watch, but later discharged (via All Things Interesting).

Dangerous roads: The medieval Broomway in Essex

If you’re into dangerous roads, the Broomway is right up your alley. It is an ancient medieval road that leads straight into the sea near Essex. At high tide it is impossible to traverse, and even at low tide it can be dangerous, not just because it is mostly mud but because of unexploded munitions from the war. Known locally as The Black Grounds, the path makes its way northeast, running parallel to the coast for a few miles before curving back to land at the delightfully-named Foulness Island. Before modern roads it was the only way to access the island. The pathway used to be defined by bundles of broomsticks tied to poles which would guide those intrepid enough to wander out into the mist—this is where the name comes from, though it’s also been dubbed “Doomway.”

The Broomway is exceptionally dangerous. The tide comes in quicker than you expect, and drowning rates are high here—the Foulness burial register records 66 dead bodies recovered from the sands since 1600, and that’s only a fraction of those who have lost their lives to the tide. Even when the surface is walkable, at low tide, it’s not to be completely trusted, riddled with patches of sticky mud and quicksand and surrounded by old mines that may explode if touched. With sand in all directions, it can be hard to stay on track in the misty weather, but even in perfect conditions it’s not hard to become disorientated and lose the path.

Source: The Broomway – Essex, England – Atlas Obscura