Shakespearean Stabbings, How to Feed a Dictator and Other New Books to Read – Smithsonian.com

An estimated 74 heroes, villains and sidekicks featured in William Shakespeare’s writings meet unsavory onstage ends. Thirty of these men and women succumb to stabbing, according to a 2015 analysis by the Telegraph, while five die by beheading, four by poison, and three by both stabbing and poison. At the more unconventional end of the spectrum, causes of death range from grief to insomnia, indigestion, smothering, shame and being baked into a pie.

Kathryn Harkup’s Death By Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts adopts a scientific approach to the Bard’s many methods of killing off characters. As the chemist-by-training writes in the book’s prologue, Shakespeare may not have understood the science behind the process of dying, but as a someone who lived at a time when death—in the form of public executions, pestilence, accidents and widespread violence—was an accepted aspect of everyday life, he certainly knew “what it looked, sounded and smelled like.”

The latest installment in our “Books of the Week” series, which launched in late March to support authors whose works have been overshadowed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, details the science behind Shakespeare, the golden age of aviation, women doctors of World War I, the meals enjoyed by five modern dictators and the history of the controversial Shroud of Turin.

Representing the fields of history, science, arts and culture, innovation, and travel, selections represent texts that piqued our curiosity with their new approaches to oft-discussed topics, elevation of overlooked stories and artful prose. We’ve linked to Amazon for your convenience, but be sure to check with your local bookstore to see if it supports social distancing-appropriate delivery or pickup measures, too.

Death By Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts by Kathryn Harkup

Death By Shakespeare

The author of A Is for Arsenic and Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein continues her macabre cultural musings with an immensely readable roundup of Shakespearean death. Looking beyond the literary implications of characters’ untimely passing, she explores the forces that shaped the Bard’s world and, subsequently, his writing.

Sixteenth-century London was a hotbed of disease, unsanitary living conditions, violence, political unrest and impoverishment. People of the period witnessed death firsthand, providing palliative care in sick friends’ and family members’ last moments, attending strangers’ public executions, or falling prey to misfortune themselves. Writes Harkup, “With limited effective medical treatments available, the grim reality of death, from even the most trivial of illnesses and infections, was well known, up close and in detail.” It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that all of Shakespeare’s plays reference disease in some capacity.

After establishing this sociopolitical context, Harkup delves into chapter-by-chapter analysis of specific characters’ causes of death, including infirmity, murder, war, plague, poison, emotion and bear attack. The author’s scholarly expertise (she completed two doctorate degrees in chemistry before shifting focus to science communication) is apparent in these chapters, which are peppered with rather clinical descriptions: In a section on King Lear, for instance, she mentions—and outlines in great detail—the “clear post-mortem differences between strangulation, suffocation and hanging.”

Death By Shakespeare is centrally concerned with how its eponymous subject’s environment influenced the fictional worlds he created. Combining historical events, scientific knowledge and theatrical carnage, the work is at its best when determining the accuracy of various killing methods: In other words, Harkup asks, how exactly did Juliet appear dead for 72 hours, and is death by snakebite as peaceful as Cleopatra claimed?

Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World by Alexander Rose

Empires of the Sky

Today, most people’s knowledge of the zeppelin is limited to the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. But as historian Alexander Rose writes in Empires of the Sky, the German airship—invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin at the turn of the 20th century—was once the world’s premiere form of air travel, easily outpacing its contemporary, the airplane.

The airship and airplane’s fight for dominance peaked in the 1920s and ’30s, when Zeppelin’s handpicked successor, Hugo Eckener, faced off with both the Wright Brothers and Pan American Airlines executive Juan Trippe. Per the book’s description, “At a time when America’s airplanes—rickety deathtraps held together by glue, screws, and luck—could barely make it from New York to Washington, Eckener’s airships serenely traversed oceans without a single crash, fatality, or injury.”

Though the zeppelin held the advantage in terms of safety, passenger satisfaction and reliability over long distances, the airplane enjoyed the benefit of sheer quantity, with the United States producing 3,010 civilian aircraft in 1936 alone. The Hindenburg, a state-of-the-art vessel poised to shift the debate in airships’ favor, ironically proved to be its downfall.

Detailing the aftermath of an October 9, 1936, meeting between American and German aviation executives, Rose writes, “Trippe … suspects the deal is done: America will soon be in the airship business and Zeppelin will duel with Pan American for mastery of the coming air empire.” Eckener, meanwhile, flew home on the Hindenburg in triumph, never guessing that his airship had “exactly seven months left to live.”

No Mans Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britains Most Extraordinary Military Hospital During World War I by Wendy Moore

No Man's Land

At the turn of the 20th century, the few female doctors active in Great Britain were largely limited to treating women and children. But when war broke out in 1914, surgeon Louisa Garrett Anderson and anesthesiologist Flora Murray flouted this convention, establishing a military hospital of their own in Paris and paving the way for other women doctors to similarly start treating male patients.

Housed in a repurposed hotel and funded by donations from friends, family and fellow suffragists, the pair’s hospital soon drew the attention of the British War Office, which asked Anderson and Murray to run a military hospital in London. As author Wendy Moore points out, this venue “was, and would remain, the only military hospital under the auspices of the British Army to be staffed solely by women doctors and run entirely by women.”

Tens of thousands of patients arrived at the hospital over the next four-and-a-half years, according to Kirkus’ review of No Man’s Land. Staff performed more than 7,000 surgeries, treating previously unseen ailments including the aftereffects of chlorine gas attacks and injuries inflicted by artillery and high-explosive shells. Though initially met with distaste by men who dismissed a hospital run by “mere women,” Anderson and Murray’s steadfast commitment to care managed to convince even their critics of women’s value as physicians.

In 1918, the flu pandemic arrived in London, overwhelming the pair’s Endell Street Military Hospital just as the war reached its final stages. Writes Moore, “Now that they found themselves fighting an invisible enemy, to no apparent purpose, they had reached the breaking point.”

The pandemic eventually passed, and as life returned to a semblance of normality, women doctors were once again relegated to the sidelines. Still, Sarah Lyall points out in the New York Times’ review of the book, the “tide had started to turn” in these medical professionals’ favor—in no small part due to the perseverance of Anderson and Murray.

How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks by Witold Szablowski

How to Feed a Dictator

The favorite meals of five 20th-century dictators are more mundane than one might think. As Rose Prince writes in the Spectator’s review of Polish journalist Witold Szablowski’s How to Feed a Dictator, Saddam Hussein’s cuisine of choice was lentil soup and grilled fish. Idi Amin opted for steak-and-kidney pie complemented by a dessert of chocolate pudding, while Fidel Castro enjoyed “a simple dish of chicken and mango.” And though popular lore suggests Pol Pot dined on the hearts of cobras, the Cambodian dictator’s chef revealed that he actually preferred chicken and fish.

According to Szablowski, How to Feed a Dictator strives to present “a panorama of big social and political problems seen through the kitchen door.” But tracking down the personal chefs who kept these despots—Hussein, Amin, Castro, Pot and former Albanian prime minister Enver Hoxha—well-fed proved to be an understandably difficult task. Not only did Szablowski have to find men and women who didn’t particularly want to be found, but he also had to earn their trust and convince them to discuss traumatic chapters in their lives. Speaking with Publishers Weekly’s Louisa Ermelino, Szablowski notes that Amin’s, Hoxha’s and Hussein’s chefs were simply culinary professionals; Castro’s and Pot’s, on the other hand, started off as partisans.

Ultimately, the author tells NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro, “Sometimes they are very easy to like, but sometimes they are very easy to hate. Like, they are not easy characters, because it wasn’t an easy job.”

The Holy Shroud: A Brilliant Hoax in the Time of the Black Death by Gary Vikan

The Holy Shroud

Gary Vikan has spent some 35 years tracking down evidence refuting the Shroud of Turin’s authenticity. In The Holy Shroud, Vikan—former director of Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum and a respected art historian—outlines his findings, arguing that the controversial burial cloth belonged not to Jesus, but to a medieval artist employed by French monarch John II at the height of the Black Death.

“I knew right away that the Holy Shroud was the fake, for the simple reason that it does not fit into the chronology of Christian relics or iconography, and because it appears for the first time in the historical record in 14th century France,” wrote Vikan in a blog post earlier this year. “ … [W]ith the help of a brilliant scientist, I am [now] able to answer the questions of when, why, by whom, and how the Shroud was made.”

Per the book’s description, John II gifted the “photograph-like body print” to his friend Geoffroi de Charny shortly before the latter’s death at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. Originally meant as an “innocuous devotional image” for the knight’s newly-built church, the cloth was soon reinvented as one of Christianity’s most significant relics.

“Miracles were faked,” says Vikan, “and money was made.”

Covid-19 is a gift for authoritarians and dictators – EUobserver

The dramatic crisis we are experiencing as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic is likely to bring about countless changes at the political, economic and social level.

It is safe to say that the world, particularly our society and our ‘Western’ way of life as we have known it, will not be the same as before.

The ‘better world’ that the generation before us built after the Second World War, even with all its limitations, is in danger of being disrupted and wiped out.

At this time, albeit with different timeframes, methodologies and results, the world’s leaders are engaged in this battle and are diverting the maximum resources possible to this end, while public opinion and the mass media are rightly focusing on the health risks for humanity, especially weaker and poorer populations, and on the dangers for the world’s economies, which risk a phase of stagnation and depression with few equals in history.

However, even in this emergency, it is necessary to maintain a very high level of attention to what is happening to democracy in this historical phase. The fight against the pandemic cannot be used as a pretext for a global attack on human rights and democracy, as is unfortunately happening in several parts of the world.

We are not ‘diverting attention’. Quite the opposite.

While we are doing everything we can to stop the contagion and start thinking about how to get out of the pandemic socially and economically, we also need to assess the risks for democracy and human rights at a global scale. It is essential to take care ‘now’ also of democracy and rights, because ‘later’ there is a real risk of regression, and without them our future can only be darker.

Three issues emerge among others:

First, we are witnessing the progressive “suspension” of democratic guarantees: while some measures restricting individual freedom or privacy can be justified and understood for health reasons, especially if they are temporary, others are unacceptable and very dangerous.

The literal cancellation of democracy implemented by Orban can only be met by a vehement European reaction.

Dictator within the EU

A dictatorship cannot be part of Europe.

Second, many countries, on the pretext of Covid-19, are quietly taking advantage of the lack of world public opinion reaction to restrict the space and quality of democracy and eliminate opponents and human rights defenders.

Just to mention a few examples:

In Iran, the authorities are brutally suppressing anti-government protests.

In Egypt, the imprisonment of human rights defender Ibrahim Ezz El-Din and student Patrick Zaky is being arbitrarily extende.

In Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz al Saud who was unjustifiably under house arrest since 2018 was taken and forcibly disappeared by Saudi officials, his fate unknown.

In Algeria, Karim Tabbou has been convicted on appeal without the presence of his lawyers.

In Turkey, convictions are confirmed for demonstrators in Gezi Park, including Osman Kavala.

And in Thailand, anyone who criticises the government’s actions on Covid-19 or reveals scandals and corruption in the health sector suffers heavy retaliation.

The list could unfortunately continue.

Finally, refugees in camps, detainees in every country in the world, homeless people, who have the right to be protected and safeguarded as far as possible against the epidemic, must not be forgotten in the emergency.

In this context, Europe cannot waive its leading role in the protection of human rights.

We therefore welcome the joint proposal presented last Wednesday, 25 March, by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the European Commission to the European Council to adopt a decision on the “EU Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024“.

This includes, inter alia, strengthening the EU’s leadership in promoting and protecting human rights and democracy around the world, and identifying priorities for action, maximising the EU’s role on the world stage by expanding the “human rights toolbox”.

An important move was the proposal that issues relating to the EU’s human rights policy in the world should no longer be subject to unanimity but to qualified majority voting, in order to avoid vetoes and denials by countries now in dangerous drift.

Without wishing to make an irreverent comparison, we remember that as the Second World War was raging, Altiero Spinelli, from his confinement in Ventotene, thought and imagined a new, prosperous and free Europe, as did Jean Monnet and others.

They created the conditions for Schuman, De Gasperi, Adenauer and Spaak to give life and body to that dream.

Today we are at war: we must fight without forgetting our past, without denying our values and the still valid reasons that gave rise to the European dream.

This is the duty for our generation: to ensure that Europe lives up to this historic challenge.

Latest Fiat-Crypto Exchange Launches In India as Local Trade Volumes Soar

A new fiat-crypto exchange has launched in India, two months after lifting the country’s stringent ban on banks’ dealings with crypto businesses.

The Bangalore-headquartered exchange, dubbed BitPolo, went live on May 6. It was originally founded in March; the same month the Supreme Court ruled against the central bank’s longstanding moratorium on crypto-related banking support.

BitPolo supports Rupee (INR) deposits and withdrawals, and crypto-fiat pairs with major currencies such as Bitcoin (BTC).

In a statement accompanying the launch, Bitpolo chief business officer, Suresh Choudhary, said the exchange team had been building throughout the bear market and considers that the platform’s launch, mid-lockdown, comes at an apposite time:

“The world is slowly inching back towards normalcy post a pandemic and recessionary environment. As we foresee fragilities of traditional asset classes, crypto markets seem to offer the bigger upside.”

Echoing these comments, head of strategy, Chandan Choudhury, argued that “COVID-19 is an eye-opener,” which has exposed the “huge bubble across traditional asset classes fuelled by loose monetary policy.”

Crypto trading volumes surge on veteran exchange WazirX

In correspondence with Cointelegraph, Nischal Shetty, founder and CEO of the well-known Indian exchange, WazirX, revealed that the platform witnessed a month-on-month growth of over 80% in both March and April.

It has also reported a steady increase in user sign-ups and attributes the uptick not only to the improved post-ban climate, but also to the exchange’s proactive role in the case levelled against the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)’s ban in the Supreme Court and its attendant social media #IndiaWantsCrypto campaign.

Moreover, back in mid-2018 — when the RBI’s controversial imposition was still in force — WazirX had been prompted to transform its business model into a P2P platform so as to avoid in-house crypto-fiat conversion, thereby providing a degree of continuity for domestic traders.

The last factor the exchange considers likely to be contributing to strong volumes is the adverse impact of India’s lockdown on the Indian stock market, which it contends may be leading more citizens to turn to Bitcoin as an alternative investment option.

Some regulatory obstacles remain

Even with the RBI’s ban now lifted, several of India’s crypto exchanges have recently collectively penned a letter to the institution claiming that the current absence of regulatory clarity has led some banks to continue denying services to exchanges dealing with crypto assets.

Exchanges have asked for more clarity as to whether their operations will be classified as dealing with goods, currencies, commodities, or services in order to ascertain whether they are subject to the country’s Goods and Services Tax, or GST.

Ransomware Hackers Threaten to Release Credit Card Data From Costa Rican Bank

A group of hackers dubbed Maze claims to have compromised the infrastructure of Banco BCR, a Costa Rican state-owned bank, and is now threatening to leak millions of credit card numbers.

On April 30, Maze claimed that it has scoped out the bank in August 2019:

“According to Financial Institutions Protocol this bank had to notify other institutions about the security breach case. But nothing was made. Servers and workstations were not blocked. Private data was not secured. Anyway the Bank decided to conceal information about the breach. Though the security personnel were able to analyze the attack logs and to see that the attackers have accessed the payment processing system. We have stopped the attack as the possible damage was too high.”

Maze states that subsequently, in February 2020, they checked the systems and saw that nothing was done to fix the cybersecurity vulnerabilities. The hackers claim that because of this, they decided to steal the data from the bank, including transaction information and credit card data:

“We have got over 11 milion credit card credentials. Over 4 millions of those credit cards are unique. [Of those cards,] 140,000 belong to US citizens.”

The ransomware group announced on May 5 that it was going to leak the information without concealing card numbers. While in this particular instance there is no data on the amount of Bitcoin (BTC) requested by the hackers, the group has ransomed data in the past.

Do not take ransomware group’s claims too seriously

Brett Callow, cybersecurity threat analyst at Emsisoft previously told Cointelegraph that hacker’s claims should be viewed suspiciously:

“Claims made by ransomware groups should be taken with a grain of salt. […] The details that the criminals choose to release will be cherry-picked and only information that they want to be in the public domain — probably because they believe it will help their cause in some way. […] The press should avoid portraying ransomware groups as being in any way Robin Hood-like or repeating claims that assist them.”

As of press time, Banco BCR has not answered Cointelegraph’s request for comment.

Ransomware activity continues amid the pandemic

As Cointelegraph reported in late April, a recent report showed a major drop in the number of ransomware attacks carried out during the pandemic on the United States public sector. Still, this is unlikely to be linked to the cybercriminals’ willingness to avoid damaging the public sector amid the distress already caused by the coronavirus.

In fact, at the end of April, hackers reportedly compromised the largest health center in Pueblo County, Colorado with cryptocurrency ransomware. While the hospital’s official statements claim that it won’t affect patient care, workers allegedly said that the paper-based record-keeping methods to which they have resorted are cumbersome and could negatively impact services.

ErisX Becomes Latest Crypto Firm to Receive New York’s BitLicense

Eris Clearing, the clearing and settlement arm of ErisX, has been awarded the hard-to-come-by Virtual Currency License from New York’s Department of Financial Services (NYDFS).

“We are pleased that the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) recognized our commitment to the high standards we borrowed from existing capital markets structures and applied them to the cryptocurrency space,” said Thomas Chippas, CEO of ErisX, in a press release.

In 2019, ErisX was also awarded a Derivatives Clearing Organization (DCO) license from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for its futures market and clearinghouse. As a result, ErisX entities are licensed to operate in 47 states and jurisdictions, including New York.

Formally launched in June 2015, the BitLicense was designed by the NYDFS to provide a framework for companies looking to services relating to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies such as trading or custody.

The NYFDS requires any businesses conducting cryptocurrency transactions with New York residents to be licensed to operate within the state even if the companies are based elsewhere.

Towards the end of 2019, the BitLicense came under review from NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell, who said it was “good to take a close look” at the platforms operating in the emerging cryptocurrency industry, and to reflect the changes to the space since 2015.

“DFS continues its commitment to fostering financial innovation in New York,” said Superintendent Lacewell. “Today’s approval is another step in expanding virtual currency activities in the State and promoting New York’s support for financial innovation, which will be especially important as we work to reopen the economy of the world’s financial capital.”

Discussing the news, Chippas told CoinDesk: “Our work with regulators is always open and transparent, which allows us to build innovative products and services while still operating a compliant and safe business.”

“Having recently announced alignments with Fidelity Investments and TradeStation Crypto we look forward to welcoming New York based individuals and institutions to the spot platform now that we are able to do so,” he said.

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