A founding father’s books discovered in Missouri library

Researchers announced Monday that 74 volumes in the rare books collection at the Washington University in St. Louis originally belonged to none other than Thomas Jefferson, our country’s third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Scholars at Monticello, Jefferson’s sprawling Virginia plantation, were thrilled. In the 1800s, Jefferson’s extensive library was legendary, and it still carries quite a legacy in our country’s intellectual history; parts of it went on to form today’s Library of Congress. The rest was auctioned off following its owner’s death on Independence Day 1826. By looking at the books Jefferson thought were worth reading, we can get a feel for the literature and worldviews that shaped the early days of our country.

That, at least, is the argument put forward by Monticello scholar Endrina Tay, who is creating a publicly accessible catalog of all the books Jefferson ever read, owned or even recommended. Tay and her Monticello colleague, Lisa Ann Birle, discovered the volumes at Washington University, a find that Tay described as “the culmination of three months of intense and thrilling detective work.”

Among the 28 titles (split among 74 volumes) are architecture books containing a few of Jefferson’s handwritten notes and calculations, Aristotle’s “Politica” (most  likely the last book Jefferson read before he died), and Plutarch’s “Lives” (which included a handwritten note,  in Greek, tucked inside).

The University received the books in 1880 as part of a donation. The donor failed to mention, however, that the volumes’ original owner was one of our country’s founding fathers.

Photo: Raising Old Glory

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima Photo: AP/Joe Rosenthal

On this day 66 years ago, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the now iconic photo of five U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Division and one Navy corpsman raising the American flag (actually a second flag) on Mount Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima in World War II. The photo won Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and may be the most reproduced photograph in history. The event was also covered by a Marine photographer Bob Campbell and a motion-picture cameraman William H. “Bill” Genaust.

The men depicted in the photo are Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, Michael Strank, John Bradley, Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes. Sousley, Block and Strank were killed before the end of the battle.

Pakistan blasphemy laws retake center stage

A hydra-esque monster has reared its head again in Pakistan, as the country’s controversial blasphemy laws retake center stage.

A prominent Pakistani director, Syed Noor, is about to release a film in which the hero kills a man for blasphemously proclaiming himself a prophet. The central theme of the movie, called “Aik Aur Ghazi” (One More Holy Warrior), is that anyone who dares to commit blasphemy should be killed.

Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistani Punjab Province, met with Pakistani Christian Aasia Bibi at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan, in November 2010. Bibi had been accused of blasphemy. Taseer was shot dead less than two months later. Photo: AP

Noor’s film comes in the wake of the assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab and an outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws. The governor’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, said Taseer deserved to die for speaking out against the laws. In return for his brutality, Qadri has been met with overwhelming support from the public — he was showered with rose petals on his way to the antiterrorist court in Rawalpindi days after committing the murder, and just last week received Valentine’s Day cards from his supporters. Many of these supporters will undoubtedly flock to see Noor’s film.

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Photo: 30 million tons of ice

Approximately 30 million tons of ice from the Tasman Glacier slid into Tasman Lake as a result of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand on Tuesday, February 22, 2011. The massive quake has killed at least 65 people and has left one of New Zealand's largest cities in ruins. AP Photo/NZPA, Denis Callesen

Rent Is Too Damn High Party founder, now a Republican, has a new slogan

Jimmy McMillan is no longer a one-issue candidate.

The longtime New York gadfly and founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, who rocketed to Internet stardom last year with his performance in the New York gubernatorial debate, announced recently that he will run for president in 2012 — as a Republican. And the rent that is “too damn high” is no longer his sole focus.

“I’m registered Republican now,” McMillan told me in an interview this weekend (which I recorded on my phone and uploaded to YouTube). “I was a Democrat, but I changed my line so that I can get the issues to the front that Obama’s not addressing.”

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A victory for David over Goliath

Cofan indigenous women stand near a pool of oil in Ecuador's Amazonian region, Oct. 20, 2005. Photo: AP/Dolores Ochoa

A judge in Ecuador has ordered oil-giant Chevron to pay nearly $9 billion in damages and cleanup costs for contaminating the Amazon jungle.

The case, one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits in the world, pits 30,000 rainforest dwellers from the Ecuadorian Amazon against the multinational company. The plaintiffs allege that Texaco (which was bought by Chevron in 2001, hence Chevron’s involvement) dumped oil into their water supply, causing birth defects, increased rates of cancers and other illnesses.

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Photo: All that and a ball of yarn

Cat lovers take part in a wool ball fight in front of the Royal Castle to mark International Cat Day in Warsaw, Poland, on Feb. 17, 2011. Cat Day was first celebrated in Poland in 2006 and is intended to celebrate the value that cats bring to people's lives and to help homeless cats. Photo: AP/Alik Keplicz

Fear not, humans: Watson the new Jeopardy champion won’t take over the world — yet

Ken Jennings, left, Brad Rutter and a computer named Watson compete on the game show "Jeopardy!" Photo: AP/Jeopardy Productions, Inc., Carol Kaelson

After “Jeopardy” began taping its three man-vs.-machine matches last month, pitting the IBM artificial intelligence software Watson against two of the game show’s most celebrated champions, host Alex Trebek confessed some concern about the contest to author Stephen Baker.

“Is this going to be fair?” he and the producers of “Jeopardy” asked, repeatedly. It wasn’t just a matter of ensuring an honest fight. The show’s producers wanted the Watson challenge to be compelling television. And if the machine — powered by a cluster of 90 servers with nearly 3,000 processing cores and 16 terabytes of data storage — made mincemeat of its human opponents, the show would be a pretty dull affair.

The IBM team, led by principal investigator David Ferrucci, reassured the show’s producers that the terms of the contest would, if anything, favor the humans.

“What we’re doing is we’re building a machine, and the machine has all kinds of weaknesses. It doesn’t understand language very well. And it doesn’t know anything,” Baker said, recalling the IBM team’s argument. “So we’re putting an ignorant machine that has a language handicap up, and you’re saying it’s not fair because it happens to be fast on the buzzer?”

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Photo: A good hair day for dogs

Bear, a 7-year-old Puli from Kalamazoo, Mich., waits backstage after competing in the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The coat of a Puli is curly or wavy and clumps together into wooly "cords" which protect this herding dog from harsh weather. Photo: AP/Mary Altaffer