Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bon Appetit!

Adolf Frederick or Adolph Frederick (Swedish: Adolf Fredrik, German: Adolph Friedrich) (Gottorp, 14 May 1710 – Stockholm, 12 February 1771) was King of Sweden from 1751 until his death. He was the son of Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp, Prince of Eutin and Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach ...

... The king died on 12 February 1771 after having consumed a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, which was topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla served in a bowl of hot milk. He is thus remembered by Swedish school children as "the king who ate himself to death."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: The Works Of Satoshi Kon

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Satoshi Kon. If you haven't watched any of his amazing films then do yourself a huge artistic favor and go - now - and discover them for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Squirrel Girl


Squirrel Girl (Doreen Green) is a fictional character, a superhero in the Marvel Comics Universe. Her first appearance was in Marvel Super-Heroes (vol. 2) #8 (Jan. 1992), in a story plotted and drawn by Steve Ditko and scripted by Will Murray. Her ability to control squirrels is surprisingly powerful, and has allowed her to defeat major supervillains. She later became a member of the Great Lakes Avengers ...

... Following her defeat of Dr. Doom, an ongoing joke depicts Squirrel Girl repeatedly attaining victory over various villains, some of whom are considerably more powerful than she is. Typically, these victories occur off-panel, though some, like her battle with Deadpool, are fully shown. Deadpool, having been bested by her twice, considers Squirrel Girl to be one of the major powers of the Marvel Universe, comparing her to Iron Man and Thor.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Is A Giant Not A Giant?

The Cardiff Giant was one of the most famous hoaxes in United States history. It was a 10-foot (3.0 m) tall purported "petrified man" uncovered on October 16, 1869 by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. "Stub" Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by P.T. Barnum are still on display.

The giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument at a Methodist revival meeting about the passage in Genesis 6:4 stating that there were giants who once lived on Earth.

The idea of a petrified man did not originate with Hull, however. In 1858 the newspaper Alta California had published a bogus letter claiming that a prospector had been petrified when he had drunk a liquid within a geode. Some other newspapers also had published stories of supposedly petrified people.

Hull hired men to carve out a 10-foot (3.0 m) long, 4.5-inch block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired a German stonecutter to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy.

Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weathered, and the giant's surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. In November 1868 then Hull transported the giant by rail to the farm of William Newell, his cousin. By then, he had spent US$2,600 on the hoax.

Nearly a year later, Newell hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well, and on October 16, 1869 they found the giant. One of the men reportedly exclaimed, "I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!"

Newell set up a tent over the giant and charged 25 cents for people who wanted to see it. Two days later he increased the price to 50 cents. People came by the wagon load.

Archaeological scholars pronounced the giant a fake, and some geologists even noticed that there was no good reason to try to dig a well in the exact spot the giant had been found. Yale palaeontologist Othniel C. Marsh called it "a most decided humbug". Some Christian fundamentalists and preachers, however, defended its authenticity.

Eventually, Hull sold his part-interest for $23,000 to a syndicate of five men headed by David Hannum. They moved it to Syracuse, New York for exhibition. The giant drew such crowds that showman P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant. When the syndicate turned him down he hired a man to model the giant's shape covertly in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display in New York, claiming that his was the real giant and the Cardiff Giant was a fake.

As the newspapers reported Barnum's version of the story, David Hannum was quoted as saying, "There's a sucker born every minute" in reference to spectators paying to see Barnum's giant. Over time, the quotation has been misattributed to Barnum himself.

Hannum sued Barnum for calling his giant a fake, but the judge told him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable injunction.

On December 10, Hull confessed to the press. On February 2, 1870 both giants were revealed as fakes in court. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake giant a fake.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

- and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you


George Parker (1870 – 1936) was one of the most audacious con men in American history. He made his living selling New York's public landmarks to unwary tourists. His favorite object for sale was the Brooklyn Bridge, which he sold twice a week for years. He convinced his marks that they could make a fortune by controlling access to the roadway. More than once police had to roust naive buyers from the bridge as they tried to erect toll barriers.

Other public landmarks he sold included the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant's Tomb and the Statue of Liberty. George had many different methods for making his sales. When he sold Grant's Tomb, he would often pose as the general's grandson. He even set up a fake "office" to handle his real estate swindles. He produced impressive forged documents to prove that he was the legal owner of whatever property he was selling.

Parker was convicted of fraud three times. After his third conviction on December 17, 1928 he was sentenced to a life term at Sing Sing Prison by a Judge McLaughlin in the Kings County Court. He spent the last eight years of his life there behind bars. He was popular among guards and fellow inmates alike who enjoyed hearing of his exploits. George is remembered as one of the most successful con men in the history of the United States, as well as one of history's most talented hoaxers. His exploits have passed into popular culture, giving rise to phrases such as "and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you", a popular way of expressing a belief that someone is gullible.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Rocambole


Rocambole (rok-uhm-bohl) is introduced in the series as a highly resourceful adolescent, an orphan adopted by the wily crone, Maman Fipart. He first assists the evil Andrea de Felipone, a.k.a. Sir Williams, in his fight against Andrea's half-brother, the Comte de Kergaz. A major protagonist in the battle is a courtesan with a heart of gold and a fearless temper, Louise Charmet, a.k.a. Baccarat.

In the third novel of the series, Rocambole takes over and kills Sir Williams. But his evil schemes are again thwarted by Baccarat, and he ends up imprisoned in the hard labor camp of Toulon (the same where Jean Valjean was imprisoned in Les Misérables.)

In the fourth novel, an older and wiser Rocambole, who has been pardoned, has become a do-gooder; however, the feuilleton was not popular with the readers, and Ponson du Terrail rewrote a new version in which Rocambole escapes from Toulon, redeems himself and becomes a full-fledged hero.

The latter novels portray Rocambole as a fearless hero fighting a variety of dastardly villains such as the Thuggee, etc. He has become a veritable mastermind who has been to India and has gathered around him a coterie of equally talented assistants.

Rocambole anticipates characters such as A.J. Raffles, Arsène Lupin, Fantômas, The Saint, Doc Savage, Judex and The Shadow.

In a final chapter to the sixth volume, Ponson du Terrail revealed that Rocambole really existed and was narrating his own exploits through him, making Rocambole perhaps the first metafictional hero of his kind.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about some of the strange - and beautiful - creatures living in the VERY deep sea.

Here's a fun fact for you: did you know that you, an unprotected human being, can last for about two whole minutes in a vacuum -- say on the surface of the moon? Here's another amusing bit of knowledge: did you also know that you, still just an unprotected homo sapiens, would last only the barest smidgen of a second before being totally, completely pulped by the crushing pressures at the bottom of the sea?

Still with the facts and, hopefully, still fun: there is more light on the dark side of the moon than there is down, down, down in those ocean depths.

But what's especially chilling is that these facts -- amusing or otherwise -- are some of the few of things we know for certain about the deep sea: it's commonly said we know more about the surface of the moon than we know about what happens right here on our own planet, in that murky world at the bottom of the sea.

One thing we do know, though, beyond that despite the crushing pressure (at least 16,000 pounds per square inch) and the absolute, total, complete darkness, there is life.

Even at the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, and the deepest part of the Trench, the Challenger Deep, there are living things. Auguste Piccard, who made an adventurous trip in 1960 to the bottom of the Deep in his bathyscaphe, the Trieste, saw a few extreme creatures that managed to made that extreme environment their home.

While not as deep – but just as dark – as the Deep, scientists have found, and continue to find, an amazing, and sometimes nightmarish, world of creatures in the abyssal plains, which make up more than a staggering 50% of the earth's surface.

Light is so rare down there that its uniqueness is an allure, for mating, as well as a lure, for eating. Grammatostomias flagellibarba, a dragon fish to you and I, uses bioluminescence – biological light– mainly for the latter: any deep, deep, deep swimmers that notices, and becomes interested in, a certain tiny flickering light will end up becoming caught by the dragon fish's monstrously huge, and needle-sharp toothed, mouth. The light being a glowing lure at the end of a long, thin filament connected to the underside of the fish's jaw.

The sea angler uses a similar trick, though it's more globular instead of having the dragon fish's lean and nasty body. The angler's lure is the same in function, but different in location: its flashing trick is a kind of deadly finger between its eyes and it's similarly sharp-toothed mouth rather than being at the end of a thin strand like the dragon fish.

While neither of these fish – and there are far too many to name here – are monsters in size, there something called abyssal gigantism, the tendency for other forms of extremely deep-dwelling organisms to not only be odd, strange, bizarre and darned creepy but also oddly, strangely, bizarrely and – yes, you guessed it – creepily huge.

Do you have a small dog, a cat, or a larger-than-average tortoise? How would you like to have a pet the size of any of them but isn't just from a different species but from a whole different phylum?

Cute? Not really. Cuddly? Absolutely not. But the giant isopod would certainly be a conversation starter if you took it out for a walk: imagine a pill bug weighing over four pounds.

Other abyssal giants include the poster child for arachnophobia, the Japanese spider crab, which averages 12 feet from leg to creepy leg; and then there's the giant ... well, we'll get to him in a minute.

While not a heavyweight, one of the most oddly lovely creatures living in the dark depths is the very-correctly named vampire squid. Blood red, with soft hooks instead of a squid's regular suckers, it has the neat trick of flipping it's legs over its soft body turning itself into a spiny ball. The vamp has its own bioluminescent trick as well: glowing when it wants to be seen but turning its lights off when it wants to vanish into the darkness.

The so-called Piglet variety of squid is, for want of a better word, actually cute: looking for all the world like the strange mating of a cartoon character, a bunny rabbit, and a kitten, this deep water oddity is almost a complete mystery – though scientists, not reputable ones, have speculated that the piglet's defense mechanism is to make adversaries go "Awwwwww..." and leave them alone.

The granrojo is almost the vamp and the piglet's relation, despite the fact that it's a jellyfish and not a squid. While neither hooked or spiked -- or cute -- this deep-water creature is just as odd, with chubby arms and an almost plastic looking crimson bell.

Yet another contender for the oddly pretty prize is the so-called barreleye. This fish takes vision to a new level of spooky strange. Sure, it has eyes, but instead of having to deal with an oh-so-annoying skull that gets in the way of what it's trying to see, the barreleye's head is transparent: to look up it just moves its eyes to focus through its clear – and a bit disturbing – cranium.

We could go on, and there are certainly more than enough odd and strange and weird and beautiful and disturbing creatures out there, but it has to be mentioned that while we know about some, there are still possibly thousands of even odder, stranger, weirder, more beautiful and disturbing creatures in the deep seas.

Remember the promise about getting back to one particular example of abyssal gigantism? Well, there is one creature that is a mix of the known and the unknown, almost a poster-child for the wonder, and horror, of the dark oceans. For a long time it was thought it was just a myth, a story shared by sailors who'd been out at sea too long. But then there was evidence: the disturbing marks on the sides of Sperm Whales, the kings of the sea -- evidence of nightmarish battles between one and the other miles below the surface.

These giants are out there, possibly the largest species currently on the planet: eyes the size of dinner plates, 30 foot tentacles dotted with razor-toothed suckers, and a massively strong beak. Architeuthis, the giant squid to you and I, was recently filmed, for the first time, but there is still much – too much – we don't know about it.

So take a moment and look up at the full moon, wonder about the mysteries that may be up there, but then go to the shore, look out at the sea, and think that we may very well know more about a hunk of rock 250,000 miles away than we know about a world full of life just a few miles away, and many, lightless, miles straight down.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Doctor Will See You Now: Doctor Doctor!

Doctor Doctor is an American television sitcom that aired on CBS. It began a short run in June 1989, and was picked up for a full season the following fall. A second season followed in fall 1990, but the show was cancelled at the end of the 1990-1991 season, due to low ratings. One episode, "Long Day's Journey Into Deirdre", remains unaired in the US (although it was aired as part of the series run in Australia).

The show features Matt Frewer as a doctor who belongs to the practice Northeast Medical Partners with three other doctors in Providence, Rhode Island. Most of the comedy surrounds Dr. Stratford's zany antics, tempered by his obvious commitment to his profession and his patients. Though at first serving as "straight men" for Frewer's manic style of comic acting, the other characters gained more depth as the series progressed, sometimes focusing on issues such as AIDS, breast cancer, and homophobia.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Best Death Of A Comic Book Character EVER

Jonah Woodson Hex is a Western comic book antihero created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga and published by DC Comics. Hex is a surly and cynical bounty hunter whose face is horribly scarred on the right side. Despite his poor reputation and personality, Hex is bound by a personal code of honor to protect and avenge the innocent ...

... In 1904, Jonah was shot during a card game. His corpse was stolen, stuffed, mounted, and dressed in a ridiculous singing cowboy costume, then put on display in a traveling circus. The circus owner was eventually murdered and Jonah's body was stolen yet again. It would pass through various hands before finally being acquired by the restaurant Planet Krypton, owned by Booster Gold.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

7 Faces of Dr. Lao is a (Metrocolor) 1964 film adaptation of the 1935 fantasy novel The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney. It details the visit of a magical circus to a small town in the southwest United States, and the effects that visit has on the people of the town. The novel was adapted by Charles Beaumont, directed by George Pal and starred Tony Randall in the title roles ...

... According to notes on the Leigh Harline soundtrack CD released by Film Score Monthly, Pal's first choice for the role was Peter Sellers who was strongly interested in the role. MGM decided that they wished an American in the lead role.

William Tuttle received an honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film. It was the first of only two honorary Oscars awarded for makeup; the other went to John Chambers in 1968 for Planet of the Apes. As part of Tuttle's work, Randall had his head shaved, not only to play the bald Dr. Lao, but also to make it convenient for the "appliances" which he had to wear. The studio publicity department arrived at the barber too late to photograph the process, so they had a make-up artist glue hair back on Randall's head and the barber once again removed it, this time for the cameras.

Jim Danforth's model animation of the Loch Ness Monster, the Giant Serpent, Medusa's snake hair were nominated for an Academy Award.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

- this time wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet


Maria Spelterini (whose last name is sometimes spelled as Spelterina), born about 1853, was an Italian tightrope walker who was the only woman to cross the Niagara gorge on a tightrope, which she did on July 8, 1876. She used two and a quarter inch wire and crossed just north of the lower suspension bridge. She crossed again on July 12, 1876, this time wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. She crossed blindfolded on July 19, and on July 22 she crossed with her ankles and wrists manacled.

She also toured Europe, performing at Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saint Aubin on the Island of Jersey (August, 1872), and Catalan (24 August 1873).

An article appeared in the French paper L'Univers Illustre in October, 1873, showing her crossing the harbour at Saint Aubin, Jersey and her portrait.