Thursday, April 29, 2010

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!


The Scottish Play and the Bard's play are euphemisms for William Shakespeare's Macbeth. The first is a reference to the play's Scottish setting, the second a reference to Shakespeare's popular nickname. According to a theatrical superstition, called the Scottish curse, saying Macbeth inside a theatre will cause disaster. A variation of the superstition forbids direct quotation of the play while inside a theatre.

Because of this superstition, the lead character is most often referred to as the Scottish King or Scottish Lord. Sometimes Mackers is used to avoid saying the name, mostly in North America.

Those who believe in the curse claim that real spells are cast in the three witches scene. Some believers claim that including the character Hecate, frequently cut from productions of the play due to questions about her part's authorship, intensifies the curse.

Productions of Macbeth are said to have been plagued with accidents, many ending in death. According to legend, this dates back to the premiere of the play: an actor died because a real dagger was mistakenly used instead of the prop[dubious ]. The play does include more fight scenes and other such opportunities for accidents than does the average play, and the atmosphere in the backstage area of old-fashioned theaters was a prime setting for disasters, especially when dealing with potentially dangerous equipment. This would explain the accidents without invoking magic.

The popularity of the superstition might also be related to its mild hazing aspect. Veteran actors might relate some tale of woe that they witnessed personally due to someone invoking the curse, lending credibility and immediacy to the tale.

One hypothesis for the origin of this superstition is that Macbeth, being a popular play, was commonly put on by theatres in danger of going out of business, or that the high production costs of Macbeth put the theatre in financial trouble. An association was made between the production of Macbeth and theatres going out of business.

According to the superstition, Shakespeare got a few of the lines from an actual coven of witches and when they saw the play they were greatly offended and cursed the play. Another tradition tells that the original propmaster could not find a suitable pot for a cauldron and stole one from a coven, who then cursed the play in revenge for the theft. It is believed that breaking the taboo calls the ghosts of the three witches to the show and it is they who cause all the mishaps. The last, and probably most spectacular view of the curse is that Shakespeare used the curse in the play to actually curse the play himself, guaranteeing that no one other than himself would be able to direct the play.

Another line of thought is that if your play was a flop, the manager of the theatre would take the show off and would always be able to get a theatre company to put on Macbeth as it was always a hit.

When the name of the play is spoken in a theatre, tradition requires the person who spoke it to leave, perform traditional cleansing rituals, and be invited back in. The rituals are supposed to ward off the evil that uttering the play's name is feared to bring on.

The rituals include turning three times, spitting over one's left shoulder, swearing, or reciting a line from another of Shakespeare's plays. Popular lines for this purpose include, "Angels and ministers of grace defend us" (Hamlet 1.IV), "If we shadows have offended" (A Midsummer Night's Dream 5.ii), and "Fair thoughts and happy hours attend on you" (The Merchant of Venice, 3.IV). A more elaborate cleansing ritual involves leaving the theater, spinning around and brushing oneself off, and saying "Macbeth" three times before entering again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

One Drop At A Time

Harold Eugene "Doc" Edgerton (April 6, 1903 – January 4, 1990) was a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is largely credited with transforming the stroboscope from an obscure laboratory instrument into a common device. For example; today, the electronic flash is completely associated with the field of photography.

He was born in Fremont, Nebraska on April 6, 1903, the son of Mary Nettie Coe and Frank Eugene Edgerton, a direct descendant of Richard Edgerton, one of the founders of Norwich, Connecticut and a descendent of Governor William Bradford (1590-1657) of the Plymouth Colony and a passenger on the Mayflower. His father was a lawyer, journalist, author and orator and served as the assistant attorney general of Nebraska from 1911 to 1915. Harold grew up in Aurora, Nebraska. He also spent some of his childhood years in Washington, D.C., and Lincoln, Nebraska.

In 1925 he received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where he became a member of Acacia Fraternity. He earned an S.M. in electrical engineering from MIT in 1927. Edgerton used stroboscopes to study synchronous motors for his Sc.D. thesis in electrical engineering at MIT, awarded in 1931. He credited Charles Stark Draper with inspiring him to point stroboscopes at everyday objects: the first was a stream of water coming out of a faucet.

In 1937 he began a lifelong association with photographer Gjon Mili, who used stroboscopic equipment, particularly a "multiflash" strobe light, to produce strikingly beautiful photographs, many of which appeared in Life Magazine. This strobe light could flash up to 120 times a second. Edgerton was a pioneer in strobe photography, subsequently using the technique to capture images of balloons during their bursting, a bullet during its impact with an apple, or tracking of a devil stick motion, as only a few examples. He was awarded a bronze medal by the Royal Photographic Society in 1934, and the National Medal of Science in 1973.

He was a cofounder of the company EG&G, with Kenneth Germeshausen and Herbert Grier, in 1947. EG&G became a prime contractor for the Atomic Energy Commission and had a major role in photographing and recording nuclear tests for the United States through the fifties and sixties. For this role he developed the Rapatronic camera, which was supplied by EG&G.

His work was instrumental in the development of side-scan sonar technology, used to scan the sea floor for wrecks. Edgerton worked with the undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, by first providing him with underwater stroboscopes, and then by using sonar to discover the Britannic. Edgerton participated in the discovery of the American Civil War battleship USS Monitor. While working with Cousteau, he acquired the nickname he is still known by in photographic circles, "Papa Flash".

In addition to having the scientific and engineering acumen to perfect strobe lighting commercially, Edgerton is equally recognized for his visual aesthetic: many of the striking images he created in illuminating phenomena that occurred too fast for the naked eye adorn art museums worldwide. In 1940 his high speed stroboscopic short film, "Quicker'n a Wink" won an Oscar.

He was appointed full professor in electric engineering at the Masschusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1948 . He was especially loved by MIT students for his willingness to teach and his kindness: "The trick to education," he said, "is to teach people in such a way that they don't realize they're learning until it's too late." His last undergraduate class, taught during fall semester 1977, was a freshman seminar titled "Bird and Insect Photography." One of the graduate student dormitories at MIT carries his name.

Edgerton's work was featured in an October 1987 National Geographic Magazine article entitled, "Doc Edgerton: the man who made time stand still."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lucio is a Quijote that did not fight against wind mills, but against a true giant

Lucio Urtubia Jiménez (born 1931 in Cascante, Navarre) is a Spanish anarchist famous for his practice of political expropriation. At times compared to Robin Hood, Urtubia carried out bank robberies and forgeries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the words of Albert Boadella, "Lucio is a Quijote that did not fight against wind mills, but against a true giant".\

Lucio Urtubia was born in Cascante, the fifth child in a very poor family. His father, a Carlist was imprisoned and, while in jail, experienced a conversion to communism.

Recruited for military service, Urtubia and his companions ransacked a warehouse belonging to their company and deserted, fleeing to France in 1954. In Paris he began to work as a bricklayer, an occupation he continued with throughout his life. Additionally, he became involved with the Young Libertarians of the Fédération Anarchiste and befriended André Breton and Albert Camus.

Soon after moving to Paris, Urtubia was asked to hide a member of the Maquis, Spanish guerrillas who opposed Franco from exile, in his house. The refugee turned out to be the fabled Francesc Sabaté Llopart. Sabaté stayed on with Urtubia for several years, until his death.

Sabaté guided families and libertarians exiled in Toulouse, Perpignan and Paris and members of the old Spanish CNT in Barcelona, Saragossa, Madrid and Pamplona. Before the imprisonment of Sabaté halted these activities, Urtubia began to emulate his incursions into Spanish territory. Later he undertook a series of robberies and holdups to obtain funds for the revolutionary cause. Accompanied by his inseparable Thompson machine gun which he inherited after Sabaté's death.

By this time, Urtubia's falsification of documents had begun and no guerrilla or exile left him without false papers. He united with other libertarian companions to forge currency in the 1960s. With this strategy they financed numerous groups while attempting to destabilize the capitalist economy. With these activities, in the heat of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Urtubia proposed to Simeón Rose, the ambassador of Cuba in France, to destroy American interests in France using explosives. This offer was refused, nevertheless. He then presented Ernesto Che Guevara, the Cuban Minister of the Interior, with a plan for the massive forgery of American dollars. This proposal was likewise rejected and Urtubia left the meeting disillusioned.

The masterful blow that changed his life was the forgery of Citibank travellers' checks in 1977. This criminal undertaking included 8,000 copies of 25 checks worth 100 dollars each and damaged the bank so severely that its stock price fell. The stolen money was used, as always, in the aid of guerrilla movements in Latin America (Tupamaros, Montoneros, etc) and Europe. In spite of the specularity of the forgery, Urtubia was only sentenced to 6 months in jail thanks to an extrajudicial agreement with Citibank, which dropped the charges in exchange for Urtubia's printing plates.

His life has been a continuous adventure: targeted by five international orders, including the CIA; he prepared the kidnapping of the Nazi Klaus Barbie in Bolivia; collaborated in the flight of the leader of the Black Panthers; interceded in the kidnapping of Javier Rupérez; mediated in the case of Albert Boadella; and worked with the Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación and later with the Grupos de Acción Revolucionaria Internacionalista. He always defended his work, saying "we are bricklayers, painters, electricians - we do not need the state for anything"; "if unemployment and the marginalization created revolutionaries, the governments would already have ended unemployment and the marginalization". Urtubia continues to live in Paris and works as a bricklayer.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I have never told a lie in my life


World's Biggest Liar is an annual competition for telling lies, held in Cumbria, England. Competitors from around the world have five minutes to tell the biggest and most convincing lie they can. Competition rules bar the use of props or scripts. Politicians and lawyers are not allowed to enter the competition, because "they are judged to be too skilled at telling porkies".

he World's Biggest Liar competition is held every November at the Bridge Inn, Santon Bridge, in memory of Will Ritson (1808–1890), a pub landlord from Wasdale, who was well-known for his "tall tales". One of Ritson's most famous fibs was that turnips grew so large in the Lake District that people carved them out to make sheds for housing sheep.

In 2008, John "Johnny Liar" Graham won the competition for the seventh time after telling the judges a story of a magical ride to Scotland in a wheelie bin that went under the sea. The previous year Graham's winning lie was that a World War II German submarine had invaded Britain to capture digital television decoders. Comedienne Sue Perkins won the competition in 2006, marking the first time in the event's history that a woman won the competition. Her winning tall tale was about how the ozone layer became damaged, ice caps melted and people had to be taken to work on camels. In 2003, Abrie Krueger of South Africa was named the world's biggest liar after telling a story about how he was crowned King of the Wasdale Valley. This marked the first time that a foreigner had won the competition, which was marked with allegations of Krueger having cheated. A Bishop of Carlisle was supposed to have once won the competition with the shortest-ever speech; he simply said, "I have never told a lie in my life."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keeps Fresher, Longer -

Sokushinbutsu () were Buddhist monks or priests who caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in their mummification. This practice reportedly took place almost exclusively in northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture. It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only between 16 and 24 such mummifications have been discovered to date. The practice is now extinct in modern Japan, and not advocated or practiced today by any Buddhist sect.

For 1,000 days (a little less than three years) the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another thousand days and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.

This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another 1,000 days, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful.

If the monk had been successfully mummified, they were immediately seen as a Buddha and put in the temple for viewing. Usually, though, there was just a decomposed body. Although they weren't viewed as a true Buddha if they weren't mummified, they were still admired and revered for their dedication and spirit.

As to the origin of this practice, there is a common suggestion that Shingon school founder Kukai brought this practice from Tang China as part of secret tantric practices he learned, and that were later lost in China.

The practice was satirized in the story "The Destiny That Spanned Two Lifetimes" by Ueda Akinari, in which such a monk was found centuries later and resuscitated. The story appears in the collection Harusame Monogatari.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Even at school he kept a pet jackdaw and trained a hedgehog to follow him around


Jemmy Hirst (1738–1829) was an English eccentric.

James "Jemmy" Hirst was born to a farmer family of Rawcliffe, Yorkshire. Even at school he kept a pet jackdaw and trained a hedgehog to follow him around. His parents' hope that he would become a priest never materialised when he was thrown out of school for his pranks. Hirst was apprenticed to a tanner, fell in love with his daughter and became engaged to her.

Reputedly Hirst's eccentricity began when his betrothed died of smallpox after he rescued her from a flooding river. At first Hirst retired to his bed and reputedly contracted "brain fever". When he recovered (apparently), he continued his habits of animal training. His first success was his later favourite, a bull he named Jupiter and trained to behave as a horse so he could ride him and use him to pull his carriage. The carriage itself was made of wicker, had unusually big wheels and looked like a lampshade upside down. It also had an odometer of Hirst's own design that would ring a bell after a mile of travel. When Jupiter found it hard to pull, Hirst fitted it with sails. The experiment was unsuccessful and the carriage crashed into a shop window in Pontefract; Hirst was banned from the town.

Hirst rode Jupiter in a fox hunt, using pigs as pointers instead of dogs. He tried to train an otter to fish - but getting the otter to let go of his catch was too hard. He went to Doncaster races dressed in a lambskin hat with a nine-foot brim and a waistcoat of duck feathers. Hirst also blew his hunting horn to summon the poor and the elderly to his house for tea. Sometimes the visitors found that the refreshments were served from their host's favourite coffin. Hirst hung the walls of his house with bits of old rope and iron and wrote doggerel verse. Eventually he married his housekeeper; during the ceremony he wore a toga and insisted that the formalities should be conducted in sign language. However, he did make a profitable trade of his produce and increased his wealth.

Hirst's fame grew enough that King George III was intrigued and invited him to visit London. At first Hirst sent a reply that he was busy, reputedly trying to train otter to fish, but would come later. When he arrived in his carriage he attracted much attention in his flamboyant costume. During his visit, one noble began to laugh. Jemmy proceeded to throw a goblet of water in his face because he was clearly "having hysterics". He announced that he was pleased to find his monarch a "plain-looking fellow" and invited him to visit him in Rawcliffe for a good brandy. The king did not oblige, but reputedly gave him a number of bottles from the royal wine cellar.

Jemmy Hirst died 1829. His will left £12 to twelve old maids who were to follow his coffin and two musicians, a fiddler and a bagpiper, who were to play happy songs. Only two old maids obliged. The priest did not let the piper play anything but O'er the hills and far away and forbade the fiddler from playing anything at all. Rumour claims that Hirst had had his own coffin built with windows and shelves.

In his memory there is a pub in Rawcliffe near Goole named Jemmy Hirst.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What A Wonderful Barn!


The Wonderful Barn is a corkscrew shaped barn built on the edge of Castletown House Estate of the Conolly family, which borders Leixlip and Celbridge, Ireland. It was built in 1743 on the Leixlip side of the Castletown Estate. Flanked by two smaller dovecote towers, its was built with the stairs ascending around the exterior of the building.

Several purposes are suggested for the unique structure. One theory is based in the custom in Georgian times of using doves as a delicacy when other game or animals were not in season, and suggest its use as a dovecote. The height of the structure would also lend itself to sport shooting, supporting another theory of its use as a shooting or game keepers tower.

The tower is seen from the east windows of Castletown House, so it filled that vista, possibly as a folly.

However, a central hole through each of the floors supports the generally accepted theory of its use as a granary. The barn was built in the years immediately following the famine of 1740-41, as there was a need for new grain stores in case of another famine. The Conollys owned Kilmacredock and rented it out, so the barn was also useful for their tenants.

The construction project also likely served as a way to keep the local poor employed. In this it is not unlike the Conolly Folly (an Obelisk) which was built on the estate in 1740-41.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

At The Tone, The Time Will Be -


Ruth Belville (1852/1853-1943), also known as the Greenwich Time Lady, was a businesswoman from London. She, her mother Maria, and her father John Henry, sold people the time. This was done by setting a watch to Greenwich Mean Time, as shown by the Greenwich clock, and then selling people the time by letting them look at their watch.

Ruth Belville's father, John Henry Belville, created a service for 200 clients in 1836. Each morning, John Henry went to Greenwich Observatory, where he worked, and set his watch to Greenwich Mean Time. He would then set off in his buggy and would set the clocks correctly for clients subscribed to the service.

John Henry continued this service up until his death in 1856. His widow, Maria, took over the business and continued the business until her retirement in 1892, when she was in her eighties. Ruth Belville then took over the business. She continued the business up until 1940, by which time World War Two had started. Belville was in her eighties when she retired. She died at the age of 90.

The watch used by the business was a John Arnold pocket chronometer No. 485/786, nicknamed "Arnold". It was originally made for the Duke of Sussex and had a gold case. When it was given to John Henry, he changed the case to silver because he was worried thieves might steal a gold watch. When Ruth died, the watch was left to the London Clockmakers' Company.

Belville's business came under attack from St John Wynne, a director of the Standard Time Company, which sold a telegraphic time signal service and was therefore Belville's main competitor. Wynne made a speech at the city United Wards Club attacking Belville, claiming, "that her [Belville's] methods were amusingly out of date," he also implied that she might have been using her femininity to gain business."

The speech was published in The Times newspaper, but the article did not mention the Standard Time Company and the fact that he was Belville's competitor. Following the publication of the comments, Belville was besieged by reporters interested in her business and also the possible scandal, which was implied by Wynne's comments. However, Belville managed to cope, and the resulting publicity resulted in an increase in sales. Belville said that all Wynne had managed to do was to give her free advertising.

- 999 men plus the goat


The tradition of goat mascots in the military dates back 200 years, from at least 1775. The history of the regimental goat dates back to the American War of Independence in 1775 when a wild goat wondered into a battlefield in Boston, and ended up leading the Welsh regimental Colours off the battlefield at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Since then a goat has served with the Battalion. In 1884, Queen Victoria presented the regiment, then called the Royal Welch Fusiliers, with a Kashmir goat from her royal herd, and a tradition was started. The British Monarchy has presented an unbroken series of Kashmir goats to the Royal Welch Fusiliers from the Crown's own royal herd. The royal goat herd was originally obtained from Mohammad Shah Qajar, Shah of Persia from 1834-1948, when he presented them to Queen Victoria as a gift in 1837 upon her accession to the throne.

All the goats are called William Windsor or Billy for short. Their primary duty is to march at the head of the battalion on all ceremonial event. The present Billy was chosen from a herd of goats living on the Great Orme in Llandudno in June 2009. After his selection, months of work followed to get him used to his fellow soldiers and to make him learn what is expected of him. As the goat progressed, he was taught to get used to sounds and noises coming from marching soldiers.

The predecessor mascot, a Kashmir goat from the royal herd at Whipsnade Zoo, was presented to the Regiment by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001. Following eight years of distinguished military service, he retired in 20 May 2009 due to his age. As he left Dale Barracks, Chester for the last time, hundreds of soldiers from the Battalion lined the route from his pen to the trailer to say farewell and thank you for his many years of good service. He was led into the trailer by the battalion's Goat Major in full ceremonial dress that included a silver headdress which was a gift from the Queen in 1955. He was taken to Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire where he is spending his honourable retirement. Zoo keepers say he is having an easy life at the Children's Farm.

The goat is more than a mascot. It is a full member of the battalion and in the days gone by, when it was a 1,000-strong unit, it was 999 men plus the goat. As a soldier, the goat can move up the ranks. It starts as a Fusilier and if it is well behaved and does well on parades, quite often it is promoted to Lance Corporal, a non-commissioned officer rank. As a full member of the battalion, he is accorded the full status and privileges of the rank. These include membership in the Corporals' Mess and the right to be saluted by his subordinates. The goat mascot that just retired in 20 May 2009 was a Lance Corporal.

There are perks to the job of regimental mascot. Billy gets a two-a-day cigarette ration (He eats them, as traditionally, the tobacco is thought to be good for the coat.) and Guinness to drink when he is older "to keep the iron up".

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shakespeare never wrote anything like this


William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was a Scottish weaver, actor, amateur poet, and performance artist. His performance art centered on his own belief that his verse showed a high degree of verbal skill and talent. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his works; these performances drew large audiences which responded enthusiastically to McGonagall's poetic lines.

Contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many of these listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse continue in popularity, with several volumes available today.

Born in Edinburgh to Irish parents, McGonagall was working as a handloom weaver in Dundee, Scotland when an event occurred that changed his life. As he was to write:

The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877.

He wrote his first poem An Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan, which showed the hallmarks that would characterise his later work. Gilfillan commented, "Shakespeare never wrote anything like this."

McGonagall has been acclaimed as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms of his poetry are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. In the hands of lesser artists, this might generate merely dull, uninspiring verse. However, McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings generate. The inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most spontaneously amusing comic poetry in the English language. However, his is a long tradition of verses written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public. His way of expressing himself attracted at the time sneering criticism from the upper classes, an attitude which rather surprisingly, survives to this day.

Of the 200 or so poems that he wrote, the most famous is probably The Tay Bridge Disaster, which recounts the events of the evening of 28 December 1879, when, during a severe gale, the Tay Rail Bridge near Dundee collapsed as a train was passing over it.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

(Modern sources give the death toll as 75.) One commentator remarked that "a lesser poet (one should note that the German poet Theodor Fontane did write a poem about this event as well) would have thought it was a good idea to write a poem about the Tay Bridge disaster. A lesser poet would have thought of conveying the shock of the people of Dundee. But only the true master could come up with a couplet like:

And the cry rang out all round the town,
Good heavens! The Tay Bridge has blown down."

McGonagall had previously written a poem in praise of the Tay Bridge: The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay "With your numerous arches and pillars in so grand array". Once the new replacement bridge had been built, without the least feeling of irony, he proceeded to compose an ode to the new construction: An Address to the New Tay Bridge “Strong enough all windy storms to defy”.

He also campaigned vigorously against excessive drinking, appearing in pubs and bars to give edifying poems and speeches. These were very popular, the people of Dundee possibly recognising that McGonagall was "so giftedly bad he backed unwittingly into genius".

"Poet-baiting" became a popular pastime in Dundee, but McGonagall seemed oblivious to the general opinion of his poems, even when his audience were pelting him with eggs and vegetables. It is possible he was shrewder than he is given credit for, and was playing along to his audience's perception of him, in effect making his recitals an early form of performance art.

McGonagall also considered himself an actor, although the theatre where he performed, Mr Giles' Theatre, would let him perform the title role in Macbeth only if he paid for the privilege in advance. Their caution proved ill-founded, as the theatre was filled with friends and fellow workers, anxious to see what they correctly predicted to be an amusing disaster. Although the play should have ended with Macbeth's death at the hands of Macduff, McGonagall believed that the actor playing Macduff was trying to upstage him, and so refused to die.

In 1892, following the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, he walked from Dundee to Balmoral, a distance of about 60 miles over mountainous terrain and through a violent thunderstorm, "wet to the skin", to ask Queen Victoria if he might be considered for the post of Poet Laureate. Unfortunately, he was informed the Queen was not in residence, and returned home. In 1894, representatives of King Thibaw Min of Burma knighted him as Sir Topaz, Knight of the White Elephant of Burmah, a title he used in his advertising.

He died penniless in 1902 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. A grave-slab installed to his memory in 1999 is inscribed:

William McGonagall
'Poet and Tragedian
"I am your gracious Majesty
ever faithful to Thee,
William McGonagall, the Poor Poet,
That lives in Dundee."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Surprising Reception Down There -


Eltanin Antenna is the name popularly given to an unusual sponge photographed on the sea floor by the Antarctic oceanographic research ship USNS Eltanin in 1964, while photographing the sea bottom west of Cape Horn.

Due to its regular antenna-like structure and upright position on the seafloor at a depth of 3,904 meters, some proponents of pseudoscientific and UFO-related theories including Bruce Cathie have suggested that it might be an extraterrestrial artifact.

The 1,850 ton displacement Eltanin was originally launched in 1957, and served with the US Navy as a cargo-carrying icebreaker. In 1962 she was reclassified as an Oceanographic Research Ship and became the world's first dedicated Antarctic research vessel, a role which she filled until 1975.

On 29 August 1964, while engaged in taking sample cores and photographing the seabed west of Cape Horn, the Eltanin took the photograph reproduced in this article, at position 59:07'S 105:03'W, in a depth of 3,904 meters.

The first public mention of the unusual subject of the photograph was a news item which appeared in the New Zealand Herald on 5 December 1964, under the heading "Puzzle Picture From Sea Bed".

In 1968, author Brad Steiger wrote an article for Saga magazine, in which he claimed that the Eltanin had in fact photographed "an astonishing piece of machinery... very much like the cross between a TV antenna and a telemetry antenna".

In 2003 Tom DeMary, a researcher in underwater acoustics, contacted oceanographer A.F. Amos, who had been aboard the USNS Eltanin in the 1960s, and in turn Amos referred DeMary to the 1971 book The Face of the Deep by Bruce C. Heezen and Charles D. Hollister. It transpired that Hollister had already identified the mysterious object as Cladorhiza concrescens, a carnivorous sponge. Heezen and Hollister's book reproduces the photograph taken by the USNS Eltanin and a redrawn version of a drawing by Alexander Agassiz which originally appeared in his 1888 Three Cruises of the Blake. Hollister and Heezen describe Cladorhiza concrescens as a sponge which "somewhat resembles a space-age microwave antenna", while Agassiz described the sponges as having "a long stem ending in ramifying roots, sunk deeply into the mud. The stem has nodes with four to six club-like appendages. They evidently cover like bushes extensive tracts of the bottom".

Sunday, April 11, 2010



The Carancas impact event refers to the fall of the Carancas chondritic meteorite on September 15, 2007, near the village of Carancas in Peru, close to the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca. The impact created a crater and scorched earth around its location. A local official, Marco Limache, said that “boiling water started coming out of the crater, and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby”, as “fetid, noxious” gases spewed from the crater.

After the impact, villagers who had approached the impact site grew sick from a then-unexplained illness, with a wide array of symptoms. Two days later, Peruvian scientists confirmed that there had indeed been a meteorite strike, quieting widespread speculation that it may have been a geophysical rather than a celestial event. At that point, no further information on the cause of the mystery illness was known. The ground water in the local area is known to contain arsenic compounds, and the illness is now believed to have been caused by arsenic poisoning incurred when residents of the area inhaled the vapor of the boiling arsenic-contaminated water.

At 11:45 local time (16:45 GMT) on September 15, 2007, a chondritic meteorite crashed near the village of Carancas in the Puno Region, Peru, near the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca (see map box on right). The impact created a crater larger than 4.5 m (15 ft) deep, 13 m (43 ft) wide, with visibly scorched earth around the impact site. A local official, Marco Limache, said that “boiling water started coming out of the crater, and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby”, as “fetid, noxious” gases spewed from the crater. The crater size was given as 13.80 by 13.30 meters (45.28 by 43.64 feet), with its greatest dimensions in an east-west direction. The fireball had been observed by the locals as strongly luminous with a smoky tail, and seen from just 1000 meters (3280.84 ft) above the ground. The object moved in a direction toward N030E. The strong explosion at impact shattered the windows of the local health center 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) away. A smoke column was formed at the site that lasted several minutes, and boiling water was seen in the crater.

Soon after the impact, over 600 villagers who had visited the site began to fall ill from unexplained causes, including symptoms of dermal injuries, nausea, headaches, diarrhea and vomiting. On September 20, Peruvian scientists confirmed that there had been a meteorite strike, but no further information on the cause of the illnesses was known. Impact crater specialists have called the impact unusual, and have stated that the meteorite was at least 3 m (10 ft) in diameter before breaking up. The ground water in the area is known to contain arsenic compounds, and the illness was believed to have been caused by arsenic poisoning incurred when residents of the area inhaled the vapor of the boiling arsenic-contaminated water. However, further investigations have led to the conclusion that the arsenic content in the groundwater did not differ from that of the local drinking supply, and that the illness reported was likely caused by the vaporization of troilite, a sulfur-bearing compound present within the meteorite in large amounts, and which would have melted at relatively low temperatures and high pressures created by such an impact.

According to cosmochemist Larry Grossman of the University of Chicago, the aerial lights and explosions reported were consistent with extraterrestrial material.

The loud noise and explosive impact originally led Peruvians to think that the neighboring nation of Chile had launched an attack.

A report from three geologists at Peru’s Geophysics Institute was released on Thursday, September 20. Astrophysicist Jose Ishitsuka confirmed that there had been a meteorite strike.

On September 20, the X-Ray Laboratory at the Faculty of Geological Sciences, Mayor de San Andres University, La Paz, Bolivia, published a report of their analysis of a small sample of material recovered from the impact site. They detected iron, nickel, cobalt, and traces of iridium — elements characteristic of the elemental composition of meteorites. The quantitative proportions of silicon, aluminum, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are incompatible with rocks that are normally found at the surface of the Earth.

INGEMMET (Instituto Geológico Minero y Metalúrgico) of Peru released internally on September 21 a report on the Carancas meteorite fall. The release of the document to the public was delayed for one week. The researchers found that the fragments from the crater zone had a chondritic texture and the following mineral composition: pyroxene (1) 40%, olivine 20%, feldspar 10%, pyroxene (2) 10%; kamacite 15%, troilite 5%, and traces of chromite and native copper. Kamacite occurs naturally only in meteorites.

The official classification of the Carancas meteorite, accepted by the Meteoritical Society was done by a team of scientists working at the University of Arizona. The meteorite is an ordinary chondrite, an H chondrite breccia, containing clasts of petrologic types 4 to 5. The formal classification is H4-5. The meteoroid had experienced a considerable amount of shock before its ultimate encounter with Earth. Further results are expected, and material is also going to be studied by NASA, British, and Japanese researchers according to media reports.

Afterwards, local townspeople went to see what happened, and 100 to 200 people who got near to the meteorite crater soon reported feeling sick. First responding police officers arriving to investigate the scene also fell ill. After the initial event of September 15, the number of people falling ill increased, requiring physicians to establish auxiliary medical tents for the Carancas health center. Patients were treated for dermal injuries, nausea, headaches, diarrhea and vomiting. The death of nearby livestock was also reported. Locals made the decision to stop drinking from nearby water sources for fear of contamination and authorities considered declaring a state of emergency. Four days after the meteorite impact and the unexplained illness, most villagers reported having recovered.

Reported details about the event, such as water boiling in the muddy crater for ten minutes from the heat of the impact, presented a problem for experts. Because the impact site is at a high altitude of more than 3,800 m (12,467 ft), the meteoroid may not have been slowed down as much as it ordinarily would have been by passage through the Earth’s denser lower atmosphere, and kinetic energy at impact may have been unusually high for a terrestrial impact of an object of this size and mass. Most larger meteorites are cold in their bulk mass when they land on Earth, since their heated outer layers ablate from the objects before impacting. It was later confirmed that the meteorite had high degrees of iron and possessed magnetic properties common to similar metallic objects, which contributed to its capacity to retain heat during atmospheric entry.

In contrast with other international media reports, Peruvian health officials downplayed the incident. Jorge López Tejada, the Regional Health Director for Puno, Peru, denied any serious medical situation existed. However, a health brigade arrived with personnel and medication to the site on September 18, reporting that the odors rising from the crater were causing medical issues. Earlier, Tejada had stated that the officers were dizzy, nauseous and some were vomiting.

On September 19, Andina, Peru’s official government news agency, reported that the sick villagers appeared to be recovering somewhat. "They are recovering, there aren't any critical cases. A total of 200 people with different symptoms have been seen," stated López Tejada. Government officials also specifically asked people to avoid the "glowing object that fell from the sky."

Scientists initially ruled out radiation as the cause of the illness. Renan Ramirez of the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute stated that the medical conditions could have been caused by sulfur, arsenic or other toxins that may have melted in the extreme heat produced by the meteorite strike. Some unnamed Peruvian sources stated soon after the event occurred that it was indeed a meteorite. Later on September 18, a Peruvian vulcanologist stated that the impact was caused by a chondrite meteorite arrival.

Some reports indicated initial suspicions that the illnesses may have been psychosomatic in nature. Don Yeomans, head of the Near Earth Object Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said, “Statistically, it’s far more likely to have come from below than from above. The noxious fumes that have supposedly sickened curious locals who went to examine the crater would seem to indicate hydrothermal activity, such as a local gas explosion, because meteorites don't give off odors.”

By September 21, it was believed that the illness was caused by arsenic poisoning. Luisa Macedo of Peru’s Mining, Metallurgy, and Geology Institute said gases were created when the meteorite’s hot surface reacted with an underground water supply tainted with arsenic. Natural arsenic deposits in ground water are not uncommon in southern Peru. José Ishitsuka of the Peruvian Geophysics Institute said, “If the meteorite arrives incandescent and at a high temperature because of friction in the atmosphere, hitting water can create a column of steam.” Meteorites, however, often impact the earth at low temperatures, making this an unusual event.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One Way To Make An Angel

From the always-amazing s.a.

"The Angel Makers of Nagyrév" were a group of women living in the village of Nagyrév, Hungary who between 1914 and 1929 poisoned to death an estimated 300 people (however, Béla Bodó puts the number of victims at 45-50). They were supplied arsenic and encouraged to use it for the purpose by a midwife or "wise woman" named Júlia Fazekas and her accomplice Susi Oláh (Zsuzsanna Oláh). Their story is the subject of the documentary film The Angelmakers.

Fazekas was a middle-aged midwife who arrived in Nagyrév in 1911, with her husband already inexplicably missing. Between 1911 and 1921 she was imprisoned 10 times for performing illegal abortions, but was consistently acquitted by judges supporting abortion.

In Hungarian society at that time, the future husband of a teenage bride was selected by her family and she was forced to accept her parents' choice. Divorce was not allowed socially, even if the husband was an alcoholic or abusive. During World War I, when able-bodied men were sent to fight for the Austro-Hungarian empire, rural Nagyrév was an ideal location for holding Allied prisoners of war. With the limited freedom of POWs about the village, the women living there often had one or more foreign lovers while their husbands were away. When the men returned, many of them rejected their wives' affairs and wished to return to their previous way of life, creating a volatile situation. At this time Fazekas began secretly persuading women who wished to escape this situation to poison their husbands using arsenic made by boiling flypaper and skimming off the lethal residue.

The first poisoning in Nagyrév took place in 1911; it was not the work of Fazekas. The deaths of other husbands, children, and family members soon followed. The poisoning became a fad, and by the mid 1920's, Nagyrév earned the nickname "the murder district." There were an estimated 45-50 murders over the 18 years that Fazekas lived in the district. She was the closest thing to a doctor the village had and her cousin was the clerk who filed all the death certificates, allowing the murders to go undetected.

Two conflicting accounts have been cited to explain how the Angel Makers were eventually detected. In one, Mrs. Szabó, one of the Angel Makers, was caught in the act by two visitors who survived her poisoning attempts. She fingered a Mrs. Bukenoveski, who named Fazekas. In another account, a medical student in a neighboring town found high arsenic levels in a body that washed up on the riverbank, leading to an investigation. According to Béla Bodó, a Hungarian-American historian and author of the first scholarly book on the subject, however, the murders were finally made public in 1929 when an anonymous letter to the editor of a small local newspaper accused women from the Tiszazug region of the country of poisoning family members. The authorities exhumed dozens of corpses from the local cemetery. Thirty-four peasant women and one man were indicted.

Afterwards, 26 of the Angel Makers were tried, among them Susi Oláh. Eight were executed, seven imprisoned for life, and the rest imprisoned for a duration.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

... and, yes, I AM one of them ...

The Nine Unknown is a group of men first popularized in the 1923 Talbot Mundy novel by the same name. The novel the "Nine Unknown Men", a secret society founded by the Mauryan Emperor Asoka around 270 BC to preserve and develop knowledge that would be dangerous to humanity if it fell into the wrong hands.

The nine books entrusted to the Nine Unknown contain information on (1) Propaganda and Psychological warfare, (2) Physiology, including secrets concerning the "touch of death", (3) Microbiology, (4) Alchemy, (5) Communication, including communication with extraterrestrials, (6) Gravity, and anti-gravity devices (Vimanas, the ancient UFOs of India), (7) Cosmology, including hyperspace and time-travel, (8) Light, and a technology capable of modifying the speed of light and (9) Sociology, including rules predicting the rise and fall of empires.

The Nine Unknown is a group of men first referred to in the 1923 Talbot Mundy novel by the same name. The novel the "Nine Unknown Men", a secret society founded by the Mauryan Emperor Asoka around 270 BC to preserve and develop knowledge that would be dangerous to humanity if it fell into the wrong hands. The nine unknown men were entrusted with guarding nine books of secret knowledge.

In the Mundy novel the nine men are embodiment of good and face up against nine Kali worshippers, who sow confusion and masquerade as the true sages. The story surrounds a priest called Father Cyprian who is in possession of the books but who wants to destroy them out of Christian piety, and a number of other characters who are interested in learning their contents.

The Nine Unknown Men also appear in Mundy's Caves of Terror (1924), but are portrayed as evil in that book.