This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,234) on Friday, April 29, 2022.
A popular myth that animates much of our political life is that the U.S. Supreme Court decides an issue. The justices, in their collective wisdom or ignorance, may make a ruling, but they rarely if ever decide an issue. This is not just a semantic difference. Understanding this distinction may change our entire outlook on the court.
When I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, in both my elementary and high schools, a student would come onto the speaker system every morning, read a verse from the King James version of the Bible, and offer a Christian prayer. In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that such actions were illegal, and the practice ceased. But the court decision did not decide the issue. Ever since then, there has been a continuing debate over the buzz phrases “prayer in schools” and “separation of church and state.”
Just this past week, the Supreme Court has heard a case on this issue, and many court watchers believe that this set of justices will take the opportunity to loosen the near absolute ban on adult-led prayers in public schools. Just how they might do this is not clear. But whatever ruling the court makes, it will not decide the issue. The debate will continue, probably for the remainder of the life of the republic. That’s the way we do things in America.
Have a great weekend.
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The strange disappearance of the man who took the first motion picture, Louis Le Prince
The identity of the person who “invented” motion pictures, in the sense that we know them today, has always been a matter of dispute—even though Thomas Edison has made the claim and owned the patent. Like many modern inventions (the airplane, the radio, etc.), cinema has many founders. In reality, Edison may be the least of them.
Indisputably, as far as the evidence now at our disposal, the person who made the first “film” was the rarely acknowledged Louis Le Prince, a Frenchman with an English wife. The couple moved from Europe to America in 1881. One of the reasons why he is so self-associated with the origins of cinema is that he disappeared—literally—in 1890.
Le Prince was a chemist and “dabbler” with various emerging technologies in the latter part of the 19th century. His future wife, Lizzie Whitley, met him when she came to Paris to study sculpture. They married and returned to Leeds, England, where Le Prince joined the family firm as a draftsman and foreign sales agent. They had children and for a time shifted their living arrangements between Leeds and France.
After the move to America, Le Prince got interested in photography and in the idea of making “moving pictures.” Le Prince was not alone in this interest. Thomas Edison’s domain and reputation had grown to the extent that he believed that anything new coming down the pike should be his, and he and his lawyers were adept at filing preemptive claims on inventions that he had simply heard about. He had heard about what Le Prince and others were up to, and so claimed the idea.
Meanwhile, Le Prince actually did it. A year after he and his family returned to Leeds in 1887, he made a motion picture. It still exists and shows people in a garden, moving about. The “film” is about two seconds long. (You can see it here on the New York Times website.) Le Prince had built a single-lens camera that would record motion. There were flaws and shortcomings in what he had made, but he kept tinkering and eventually prepared for a public demonstration, which would mean a return to America.
That was in 1890, and on September 16, he boarded a train in Dijon and headed for Paris. His brother saw him board the train. He was never seen or heard from again.
Police from France and England mounted exhaustive searches for him over the next few years but found very little to indicate what had happened to him. His wife and family tried in every way they could to advance their claim that he should be credited with inventing the film camera, but his absence effectively blocked their efforts. Lizzie Le Prince came to believe that Thomas Edison had a hand in her husband’s death, but there is no evidence to support that idea.
Film historian Paul Fischer has research Le Prince’s life and death extensively and has recently published The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures: A True Tale of Obsession, Murder, and the Movies. A review by Leah Greenblatt in the New York Times says:
Barring some improbably rich paper trail, no conscientious biographer can presume to know for sure, and that’s a hazard Fischer has to navigate: the editorial line between strictly available truths and making a dead man come alive. His eloquent, sometimes excitable writing style goes a long way when it doesn’t wander off into the celluloid weeds. And the final pages offer, if not hard conclusions, a bittersweet postscript and even real catharsis — too late for Le Prince, maybe, but some kind of justice nonetheless.
Fischer was interviewed on Dan Snow’s podcast HistoryHit.com, and you can listen to that at this location.
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Unitarian, Universalist, Urbanity, Usage, Uxoriousness
UNITARIAN, n. One who denies the divinity of a Trinitarian.
UNIVERSALIST, n. One who forgoes the advantage of a Hell for persons of another faith.
URBANITY, n. The kind of civility that urban observers ascribe to dwellers in all cities but New York. Its commonest expression is heard in the words, “I beg your pardon,” and it is not inconsistent with disregard of the rights of others.
The owner of a powder mill
Was musing on a distant hill—
Something his mind foreboded—
When from the cloudless sky there fell
A deviled human kidney! Well,
The man’s mill had exploded.
His hat he lifted from his head;
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said;
“I didn’t know ’twas loaded.”
USAGE, n. The First Person of the literary Trinity, the Second and Third being Custom and Conventionality. Imbued with a decent reverence for this Holy Triad an industrious writer may hope to produce books that will live as long as the fashion.
UXORIOUSNESS, n. A perverted affection that has strayed to one’s own wife.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
The myths and realities of “free speech” on campus
A professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has taken on the notion, depicted in article after article in major media outlets, that there is a “free speech” crisis and ensuing turmoil roiling American college campuses.
In a recent article on Slate.com, Lucas Mann, a professor of English and journalism, points out that most of the articles about this “issue” center on local controversies within the confines of so-called “elite” universities.
What is really happening with the 16 million college students at the more than 5,000 institutions of higher education throughout the nation is quite different.
What I find most foreign in accounts of “free speech” on campuses is the depiction of militancy among students, a monolith of kids who, in these representations, apparently show up at age 18 secure in their views and voice and the power of that voice in an academic setting. Instead, what I observe to be the biggest hurdle for my students is the challenge of allowing themselves to speak, which means feeling at home, engaged, and empowered enough to validate their own perspective as worthy of the discussion. Source: Campus free speech crisis: Its myths and its realities.
Mann outlines some of the challenges that most college professors face.
The trick isn’t convincing students to drop their dogmas. It’s convincing them that the stuff we’re talking about could matter in lives already complicated by many other things—that they could create a space of excitement or pleasure, one worth the commitment. I think their sense of the purpose of college is constantly shifting, and often under stress. My conceptions of my own teaching, my values and goals, are always under scrutiny and changing as well. Each class is an act of enormous shared challenge and, ultimately, faith.
Higher education in this country is not grinding to a halt under the weight of free speech controversies. It is still an active and vital part of the nation’s intellectual infrastructure. Institutions and faculty remain committed to meeting student needs and serving the best interests of the country.
Despite its current challenges, America’s system of higher education is still the envy of the world. It should be cherished and supported.
Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing
The father of modern true crime writing is back.
William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.
His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.
Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.
The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include:
- Mackcoull and the Begbie Mystery
- The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story
- The Ghost of Sergeant Davies
- The Parson of Spott
Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style. The links above will take you to a JPROF page that contains the editors’ introduction and the first few pages of the chapter.
We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers.
We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.
During March and April, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.
Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.
Kill the Quarterback is part of a group giveaway, April Crime Thriller Giveaway, a BookFunnel giveaway that runs through the month of April. This giveaway is exclusively for all sorts of crime-related books and novels.
The giveaway includes more than 30 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors. The link for this giveaway is https://books.bookfunnel.com/pka-crime-thriller-giveaways/glkpa6m4vw.
It helps me if you use this link to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Blount County Public Library
Best quote of the week:
Politeness is the art of choosing among your thoughts. Madame de Staël, writer (1766-1817)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The education of August Wilson, a current combat artist, and continuing giveaways: newsletter, April 22, 2022
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