Articles of Interest

Why are there so few skeletal remains of dodo birds?

Even for a species that, famously, has been extinct for more than 350 years, dodo remains are scarce. The University of Oxford has a dodo head—the only specimen that includes any soft tissue—and a skeletal dodo foot. There’s a dodo skull in Copenhagen, and a dodo beak in Prague. The British Museum used to have its own dodo foot, but lost it around 1900.

“The dodo remains that were collected while the bird was still alive would fit in a shoebox,” says Leon Claessens, a paleontologist at the University of Maastricht, in the Netherlands.

The rest of what remains of the dodo, in public and private hands, is fossilized, made up of bones that were buried in caves and bogs for thousands of years. Today, the most complete dodo specimens on public display are two fossilized skeletons, one on the dodo’s native island of Mauritius and the other in Durban, South Africa. And both were excavated during a craze for dodo memorabilia that occurred centuries after the species went extinct.

Antonio Salieri’s Revenge: He was falsely cast as Mozart’s murderer and music’s sorest loser. Now he’s getting a fresh hearing.

A brief history of venture capital:

The uniqueness of venture-funded entrepreneurialism is usually celebrated with little thought given to the structural developments that have made it seem unique—namely, the rise of the “managerial economy,” as famously analyzed by Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means, James Burnham, Alfred Chandler, and others. (Nicholas, incidentally, currently teaches a Harvard course once taught by Chandler.) America’s largest corporations mostly transitioned away from entrepreneurial ownership and control to managerial direction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the professional asset management industry originating as a more or less concomitant development. During this time, entrepreneurial control became an outlier at the commanding heights of the U.S. economy, and the principles of systematic portfolio management discouraged the funding of risky small enterprises. Tellingly perhaps, old-line families such as the Rockefellers and Whitneys dominated venture investing until deep into the 20th century.

The phrase “venture capital” itself was scarcely used before the 1940s. Prior to that, there was little need to identify it as a unique asset class, as it was effectively the funding model for broad and diverse swaths of the American economy. But when institutional venture capital was being born, the sources of high-risk, long-tail small business investment seemed to be disappearing. By the late 1930s, a “funding gap” for startups had become apparent. As one banker stated in a 1939 congressional hearing, “I think the difficulties today, for a variety of causes, are greater in getting proprietary risk capital for small and moderate-size businesses than was the case in former years.” “The crux of the matter,” writes Nicholas, “was that entrepreneurs could not systematically obtain startup capital or long-term financing because of the high-risk nature of the activity and the likelihood of poor returns.”

Students at universities are no longer checking out books from university libraries.

Buried in a slide deck about circulation statistics from Yale’s library was an unsettling fact: There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library over the past decade.

Yale’s experience is not at all unique—indeed, it is commonplace. University libraries across the country, and around the world, are seeing steady, and in many cases precipitous, declines in the use of the books on their shelves. The University of Virginia, one of our great public universities and an institution that openly shares detailed library circulation stats from the prior 20 years, is a good case study. College students at UVA checked out 238,000 books during the school year a decade ago; last year, that number had shrunk to just 60,000.

Before you tsk-tsk today’s kids for their lack of bookishness, note that the trend lines are sliding southward for graduate students and faculty members, too: down 61 percent and 46 percent, respectively, at UVA. Overall, across its entire network of libraries, UVA circulated 525,000 books during the 2007–08 school year, but last year there were only 188,000 loans—nearly 1,000 fewer books checked out a day. The Association of Research Libraries’ aggregated statisticsshow a steady decrease of the same proportion across its membership, even as student enrollment at these universities has grown substantially.

Sweden’s floating libraries face an uncertain future:

The Stockholm county library boat (or bokbåten), visits 23 islands, including Möja, in the Stockholm archipelago, for one week twice a year. It carries around 3,000 books and a rotating staff of three to four librarians.

When it docks, island residents have about one-and-a-half glorious hours to come aboard the motor ship, browse its treasures, and borrow anything they’d like. Each island has one library card and, in a delightful detail, there are no penalties if a book isn’t returned six months later.

The bokbåten is a manifestation of a strong literary tradition across Scandinavia, where literacy rates are among the highest in the world, and both boat and bus libraries bring books to rural or otherwise underserved communities.

Merging neutron stars gave the universe heavy elements.

Ammonia on Pluto’s surface hints at there being liquid water underground.

Tienanmen’s survivors and the burden of memory:

When soldiers shot at pro-democracy protesters on June 4, 1989, one of the casualties was Qi Zhiyong, then a young construction worker who had come to Tiananmen Square out of curiosity. Bullets hit both of his legs, one of which was later amputated. He received a bad blood transfusion that gave him hepatitis C, and in recent years his kidneys have failed. Now 63, Mr. Qi spends three days a week in a Beijing hospital bed, receiving dialysis treatment.

Despite his frailty and age, the authorities still regard him as a “sensitive person” for his involvement in 1989 and his activism since then. Police keep him under watch at times such as the Tiananmen anniversary, even escorting him to and from the hospital, partly because he refuses to be silent about the past.

Many in China, says Mr. Qi, have left behind memories of 1989, but he refuses to do the same. “Who still thinks about June Fourth?” says Mr. Qi, who ekes out a living running a small shop. He wants to serve as a living reminder of that date, despite the uncomfortable government attention it brings to him. “It’s the Communist Party that shot me,” he says. “Why shouldn’t I say it?”

How John Marshall made the Supreme Court supreme.

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