Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween....

I'm watching The Thing (From Another World)!!

Lt. Dykes: Hey Scotty, did you get a picture of that thing while it was on fire?
Scotty: Naw. I shot one while I was falling backward over the bed.
Dewey Martin -- you mega-hunk!!!! Short, cute, powerful jaw, black hair, great grin, muscular, and just all around adorable!!

I don't know if anyone else out there has read Luther Blissett's book, Q. I have, and I absolutely love the book.

"Luther Blissett" is the nom de plume of a group of Italian writers who engage in "communal" writing. Their work is highly subversive, incredibly well-researched, and contains excellent prose.

Q is about an unnamed German college student who comes under the sway of a number of radical Protestant theologians. The story begins in 1524, seven years into the Protestant Reformation. The unnamed protagonist is witness to some of the early theological debates between Andreas Karlstadt (the conservative head of the newly-established University of Wittenberg who became a radical Protestant theologian), Philipp Melanchthon (who, unlike Martin Luther, did not initially preach rebellion against the princes), Hans Denck (an Anabaptist -- or adult baptism-only -- leader who preached about "inner light"), and Thomas Muntzer.

Muntzer is the key to the book. The father of liberation theology, he preached rebellion against immoral secular authority, redistribution of wealth, and various simplifications of Christian doctrine (most of which are embraced today). Enthralled by Muntzer's increasingly radical calls for the overthrow of the nobility and clergy, our unnamed protagonist participates in the "Peasants' War" of 1524-1525, during which half of Germany attempted to throw off its Catholic rulers. The war concludes with the seizure of the city of Mühlhausen and the Battle of Frankenhausen, in which 3,000 troops led by Landgrave Philip I of Hesse wiped out more than 10,000 lightly armed peasants. Muntzer was tortured repeatedly for weeks, renounced Protestantism, and was eventually beheaded. His body and head were places on spikes and set before the city.

The protagonist escapes, and falls in with Anabaptist preachers in The Netherlands and Westphalia in 1533. He travels with the Anabaptist preacher Melchior Hoffman (who first developed most of modern Baptist theology). He manipulates Hoffman by pretending to be one Lienhard Jost, a merchant. Jost and another woman, who took the name Ursula Jost and pretended to be his wife, come up with wacky apocalyptic visions which Hoffman takes to heart and has published. (The Josts were real, but almost nothing is known about them except that they had a number of prophetic, apocalyptic visions which proved influential among the people of the area. Hoffman really did write down their visions, and publish them. The book has survived to this day. Q sneaks the unnamed protagonist into the story by having him adopt the persona of "Lienhard Jost" and pretend to have prophetic visions in order to sway Hoffman.)

Hoffman then converted the Haarlem baker, Jan Matthys, to radical Christianity. With Jan Bockelson (aka John of Leiden), a Matthys convert), he traveled to the city of Münster. Bockelson was a pimp and actor, but he soon converted local Lutheran minister Bernhard Rothmann and two local guild leaders, Bernhard Knipperdolling and and Bernhard Krechting, to Anabaptist millenialism as well. They soon seized the town of Münster, expelling Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck. They managed to hold off Waldeck's forces for 18 months. The seige tightened and starvation set in, but Matthys himself arrived and was able to reach the city. Believing that all nonbelievers should be executed, Matthys had half the city's population beheaded and the skulls set atop the city walls. On Easter 1534, Matthys -- believing himself to be a "second Gideon" and unstoppable -- walked out of the city and into Waldeck's lines alone. He was promptly killed. His body was dismembered and tossed over the city walls in a basket via catapult.

Knipperdolling was named "King" of the city, and instituted polygamy, orgies, feasts, and more. Three young children were set up as judges, and determined the guilt and innocence of people accused of sin with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the spur of the moment. Waldeck's forces captured the city in July 1535, and Knipperdolling, Bockelson, and Krechting were tortured for nearly six months before being beheaded in the town square. Their bodies were displayed in cages from the tower of St. Lambert's Cathedral.

Fifty years later, their bones were removed -- but the cages remain to this day.

The plot moves to... But I get ahead of myself. It's an enthralling book. I've re-read it many times. Since nearly all of the book's people are real and events are real, it has this electric emotional edge which really draws the reader in.

I was re-reading the book for the umpteenth time on my plane trip home. I decided to look up some of the people and places in the novel online.

I discovered that the Church of St. Lambert in Münster still has the cages which contained the wrecked, mutilated bodies of Bockelson, Knipperdolling, and Krechting hanging from its steeple


Can you imagine living there, with those things hanging over the city's head every day? *shudder*

This is a skeleton hanging over the door to the south transept in the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It's part of the tomb of Pope Alexander VII, and it's just creepy.

Papal tombs were horrifyingly ostentatious displays of power in the Dark Ages and Renaissance. Better to spend millions on marble for the dead than on food for the poor, eh? Alexander was born Fabio Chigi, a member of the ultra-rich Chigi banking family. He was a great-nephew of Pope Paul V. Because of his great wealth, Chigi bought himself some high office in the Roman Catholic Church. He was named vice-papal legate at Ferrara in 1627, and Inquisitor of Malta in 1634. As he'd not even been ordained yet, this created complications -- so he was made a priest in December 1634 and appointed Bishop of Nardo a few weeks later. (So much for faith having a role!) He loathed Protestants, and would have burned them all at the stake. He was made papal nuncio (ambassador) to Germany in 1639, but was so virulently anti-Protestant and wished to kill all heretics that he was recalled to Rome and made Secretary of State in 1651. He was made a cardinal a year later, and pope in 1655. The Barberini family, which had controlled the papacy for a century, was disunited and backed both a French and Spanish candidate -- which cancelled one another out. Chigi promised to end nepotism in Rome, which had deeply compromised the administration of the church and excluded many young cardinals from eating at the trough. Olimpia Maidalchini was the sister-in-law of the pope who'd just died, Innocent X, and this woman of strong will controlled Innocent X absolutely -- and was particularly interested in the awarding of patronage posts. Older cardinals, worried about the trouble-making younger ones, asked Maidalchini if she was opposed to Chigi. She was not, and the papal conclave voted to make Chigi Pope. He immediately broke his anti-nepotism promise and installed most of his family as administrators of the Vatican.

A year after his elect, Alexander VII selected the most famous sculptor of the day, the 73-year-old Gian Lorenzi Bernini, to sculpt his tomb. Alexander wanted his tomb placed in one of the empty niches along the left-hand side of the nave in St. Peter's. It would be close to the chancel (the space around the altar). Light would fall onto it from the left, and Bernini's early plans show Alexander kneeling and facing right. But Alexander's nephew, Cardinal Flavio Chigi, realized that the Baldacchino (the massive bronze canopy over the high alter in the center of the transept) blocked the view of the tomb.

So the tomb was moved to the south aisle just west of the south transept. If one stands in front of the Baldacchino and looks diagonally to the left, the tomb is directly in the line of sight. (Gee, how'd that happen?) Light now hits the statue from the right. So Bernini altered the composition of his work to bring the statue far forward (so the light would hit it), and inclined Alexander's head so that it seems to look down and left onto the crowds in front of the Baldacchino.

The new problem here was there's a door! This door leads to a sacristy (a room for vestments) in the thick western wall of the transept. It was not uncommon for doors to be incorporated into tombs (they were symbols of the passage from life to death), but it had never been done in a papal tomb...

From the beginning, Bernini wanted to show the pope kneeling in prayer on a pedestal. Below would be a flowing "pall" (funeral drapery) of marble, beside which would be statues of Truth and Love. Statues (upper portions only) of Prudence and Justice would stand behind the pall. Hidden behind the pall and below the plinth on which the statue stood would be the simple sacrophagus for the body. The statue was designed to stand in a round-headed apse, flanked by two columns which held up a triangular pediment. Bernini wanted to place the papal coat of arms in this pediment.

In one early design from November 1660, Bernini had a skeletal figure of Death flying upward, apparently caught beneath the pall -- an arm thrust out, holding an hourglass (showing that "time was up" for the dead pope). The coat of arms would be supported by a flying cherub representing Fame, assisted by another figure of Death. The whole thing was designed to be freestanding in the niche (not resting on the walls).

Bernini abandoned this scheme in favor of a much simpler one that eliminated both figures of death as well as the cherub of Fame. Again, the statue was intended to be freestanding.

Bernini also played with his figures of the "Four Virtues". He toyed with their postures, their placement, and just how intensely foregrounded Truth and Love must be. The figure of Truth, to the right of the tomb, is showing standing on a globe. Her foot stands on England, where Alexander VII tried to stamp out Anglicanism.

In Bernini's final design, dated to early 1667, the skeletal figure of Death returns beneath the pall, its head concealed. Wings were added to ensure that viewers understood this to be a figure of winged Death, not just a skeleton. Death's bony feet rest to the right on the jamb of the door. (This is a change from earlier studies, in which his feet dangled like a sick joke in front of the doorway.) Is Death fleeing out the door, disappearing beneath the drapery? Or is Death coming in through the door, about to pop up out of the drapery and frighten everyone? It's not clear, and it's that ambiguity which makes this a great work of art. The falling pall also helps to conceal the upper part of the door, allowing for a more disguised and gradual change in the perception of level and depth.

Construction on the statue began in 1671, four years after Alexander's death. The delay is because Bernini was hired by Alexander to design and decorate the Piazza San Pietro and colonnade in front of St. Peter's and design the interior decoration of the Basilica -- including the Scala Regia (the monumental grand stairway entrance to the Vatican Palace) and the Cathedra Petri (the "Chair of Saint Peter" in the apse of St. Peter's). Alexander also briefly flirted with asking Bernini to relocate the tomb to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. There were preliminary designs for a full-sized tomb here, but these were swiftly abanonded in favor of the St. Peter's site.

Bernini designed and did models for the statue. But the aged sculptor was not longer capable of chiseling marble. Four assistants did most of the work, and Antonio Raggi did the statue of Alexander. The most carving Bernini did was on the face of Alexander (whom he'd modeled and carved before, although never authoritatively).

Originally both Truth and Love were naked, but Pope Innocent XI complained (in 1677) that this was too erotic. So Bernini had to fashion bronze drapery, mold it to the statues, and paint it white to look like marble.

The statue was unveiled in 1678. Bernini died two years later. The tomb was his last masterwork.

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... Glenwood Cemetery was once considered one of the "Big Five" cemeteris in Washington, D.C., and has not been significantly altered since the construction of its chapel in 1892?
Samhain (pronounced "SAH-win") is a pagan festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of the "darker half" of the year. It begins at sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 1.

Samhain is when the barriers between our world and the spiritual world become thin. Spirits and the souls of the dead may pass into our world, and humankind may pass into the spiritual world or commune with spirits or souls in order to gain emotional insight or knowledge.

The door is open on Samhain. Enter.

Happy Halloween....

Happy Halloween

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It comes.....

They call him "Joey Noble" in this video, but it's clearly former gay adult film star Joey Hart.

OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mecha King Ghidorah dresses up like a Halloween ghost to scare MechaGodzilla! What will happen to Our Hero(tm) if he is frightened off by this apparition??

The horrors that occur on Mt. Laundry are simply too innumerable and ghastly to mention...

Mecha King Ghidorah tries to spook-prank MechaGodzilla a - 2013-10-29
The "Graveyard Theme" is my favorite segment from the animated show It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. In part, it's that creepy flute-driven music that accompanies Snoopy as he tries to get back to Allied lines. But it's also the great artwork, which utilizes Dadaism to create an uncanny, unsettling feeling of isolated and fear. It works! I'm totally creeped out by this segment.

Looks like the Wicked Witch of the East got crushed in my USB port.

wicked witch in the USB port

Monday, October 28, 2013

You can hear the air
on cold October ev'nings
snap like a dry twig.

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that although chapter eight of the 1933 serial The Perils of Pauline is titled "The Mummy Walks", the characters are depicted flying in a Dornier Do X flying boat (depicted)?
Three days...

Friday, October 25, 2013

OOOOOH! I am so getting this book! Just ordered it!

It's Jung Chang's new biography, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China.

When I saw The Last Emperor in 1987 in the theater, I had no clue what it was about. Nor did my ignorance improve in the 1990s. It wasn't until about 1997 that I started to figure the movie out on my own.

* * * * * * * * * *

China (or portions of it) had been ruled by a succession of Chinese dynasties since 2100 BCE. The last of these, the Ming Dynasty, took power in 1368 CE. But the Ming were continually harassed by Mongol invasions, including one that captured an emperor in 1449 and another that reached the outskirts of Beijing in 1550. Massive poverty abounded, with famine common, and China lost most of its southeast Asian empire (what is now Vietnam, Korea, Laos, and Cambodia). In 1556, the Shaanxi earthquake killed approximately 830,000 people. Between 1592 and 1598, China and Japan fought over Korea -- with China losing.

In Manchuria, the agriculturally rich steppe northeast of China, the Jurchen peoples finally unified around 1600. Instead of tribal allegiance, the Jurchen leaders established banners, and reorganized their society around these flags. Initially, there were eight "Banners", but in time there came to be more than 30 (with the more ancient banner societies having far more prestige). Fierce tribal horseback warriors armed with strong short bows, the Jurchen began invading China in 1626. The Ming didn't have the resources to fight. They used silver as currency, but Spain shut down the New World's flow of silver to China (preferring to import it directly across the Caribbean and Atlantic rather than through Spanish colonies in Asia). Japan shut its borders to foreign trade, further reducing the flow of silver. Hoarding began, and the government found itself without money. In 1638, the Jurchen (now calling themselves the Manchu) seized Korea, cutting off more of the flow of resources and tribute to the Ming. Mutinies erupted among various Ming armies as food supplies failed to be sent. Finally, on May 26, 1644, Beijing fell to a rebel army which in turn welcomed the Manchu as the new leaders of China. The Chongzhen Emperior, the last Ming, hanged himself on a tree in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City.

The Manchus began calling themselves the Qing. They garrisoned China with their Banner armies, and worked overtime to prove that they were as Chinese as the last guy. China is (and remains today) very Confucian, and ancestor worship and "the mandate of heaven" and engaging in ritual worship and sacrificing was considered important to retaining the people's support for the usurping Manchu. The Qing also controlled Mongolia and Tibet, where Buddhism was strong. So the Qing also engaged in extensive Buddhist worship and rituals as well. When Christians showed up, the Qing held communion. The Qing strategy was to be everything to everyone, and thus offend no one. The Qing also didn't get rid of the Ming bureaucracy. They re-energized it, they placed Manchu bannermen in positions of authority over it. But they largely left the Ming governance structure in place.

And lo and behold, this worked!! The Qing quickly conquered Xinjiang (northwest China), Tibet, and Mongolia. They easily put down a rebellion in the rich south of China, and conquered Taiwan.

But it all started to come apart in the 1700s. China was at the height of its economic and military power. But it hadn't grown. Europe had quickly surpassed it in the production of iron, gunpowder, cannon, naval vessels, and more. The scientific revolution sparked by the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance swiftly brought Europe out of the Dark Ages, and the Age of Exploration led to the flood of new goods and wealth into Europe from the New World. China was completely bypassed by all of this. Although the great Qianlong Emperor ruled from 1735 to 1796 and was considered the best emperor China ever had, he knew little about the great changes occurring in Europe and did little about it when he did.

There was a huge demand in Europe for Chinese goods, particularly tea, jade, silk, jewelry, art, and porcelain (which only the Chinese knew how to make). China agreed to open "cantons", a handful of ports where European ships could drop off silver and buy Chinese goods at highly inflated prices. No European was allowed to cross the border of the "canton" into China proper. By the 1830s, European nations realized China had most of their silver, and they had little to show for it. To counteract this, the British in particular began shipping opium into China. China had almost no drug problem prior to this, but suddenly millions of Chinese were addicted.

When the Chinese banned opium, Britain went to war in 1841. The Chinese Navy, old and slow wooden junks, was smashed and Beijing seized in the First Opium War. China was forced to repay the cost of the war (which saw huge amounts of silver flow back to Europe), open more cantons, and permit Christian missionaries to proselytize anywhere in China. China was stunned by the way its navy sank and its vast army was easily out-maneuvered and defeated. In 1851, a wacky Christian cult formed around the city of Taiping. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was formed, and Chinese officials rushed to put down the rebellion. It was a slaughter: More than 20 million Chinese died, and the number of troops moving in China was three or four times that of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The need to provision and pay these troops, the devastation of China's great agricultural breadbasket, and the economic devastation caused by the rebellion left China reeling. And then in 1856, a Second Opium War broke out after Chinese officials seized opium from a Chinese vessel staffed by British sailors. France, Spain, and Germany joined England in attacking China, and again Beijing was seized. This time, Indochina was lost to France, and foreign ships won the right to ply all navigable waters throughout China to prevent interference with European trade.

China's slow-motion collapse, which began with the First Opium War in 1841 and ended with the abolition of the monarchy in 1912, is difficult to understand. Was it just poor leadership at the top? Sure, some emperors were just small children when they assumed the throne, but what about the regents? Where they incompetent? The Qing army fell apart, and warlords took over. Why did warlordism arise? Why was the central government so weak, and getting weaker? How did the emperors go from being absolute rulers in 1800 to figureheads in 1850? Was the immense reliance on Confucianism really to blame? If the imperial court was truly effective in using ritual to enhance its power, why did the empire collapse so swiftly? What role did Tibetan Buddhism play or not play, for good or bad, in the collapse or sustenance of the empire?

Good luck with finding answers, because while most histories of China can list dates and actions and who did what when and to whom, there is very little "why" or discussion of causality in Chinese histories. One can point to slavery, the enshrinement of slavery in the Constitution, the inability of federalism to resolve the slavery issue, economics, demographics, and other things as causes of the U.S. Civil War. But just try asking, "Why did China grow weak?" Uh,, uh...... hmm.....

* * * * * * *

In 1851, at the age of 16, Lady Cixi became the third of the 18 wives taken by the Xianfeng Emperor. Initially just a "noble lady" (second-from-the-bottom of the eight ranks of wives), she became Concubine, then Consort, then Noble Consort, and finally Imperial Noble Consort. She gave birth to Xianfeng's only male son (that made her Empress), who in 1861 became the Tongzhi Emperor.

But the Tongzhi Emperor was only five years old when he became emperor, and Cixi was named regent along with Empress Dowager Ci'an. Tongzhi died at the age of 18. Cixi and Ci'an selected Tongzhi's four-year-old cousin as the the Guangxu Emperor, and again provided a regency. Ci'an died in April 1881 when Guangxu was just 10 years old, leaving Cixi to rule China.

China was crushed by Japan in 1894 in the First Sino-Japanese War. Guangxu became determined to rapidly modernize China. His efforts created a massive backlash which threatened to unseat the Manchu rulers of China. Cixi intervened, had her grand-nephew declared insane, and began ruling China again in 1898 as regent. Desperate to expel foreigners from China or at least make them respect Chinese power, Cixi allied herself with the anti-Christian, xenophobic cult known as the Boxers in 1900. The Boxer Rebellion slaughtered hundreds of Christian missionaries, but was put down when eight foreign armies invaded China. Cixi was forced to flee Beijing, and did not return until 1900 (18 months later). Back in power, Cixi instituted reforms even more radical than those of her grand-nephew.

It was all too little, too late. Warlords of all types were tearing China apart. The Guangxu Emperor died of arsenic poisoning on November 14, 1908, probably at Cixi's order. Cixi herself died two days later.

Cixi picked two-year-old Puyi, nephew of Guangxu, to be the new ruler of China on November 13. (Last-minute choices like this were not unusual in the Qing dynasty.) His father, the indecisive Prince Chun, was named regent.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Was Cixi some sort of back-stage martinent, pulling the reactionary conservative strings? Was she an illiterate hillbilly who manipulated everyone around her so she could retain as much autocratic power as she could for as long as she could? Or was she a sweet-natured girl from the sticks at the mercy of misogynist, hide-bound men who were slurping at the trough of a dying China?

For most of the 20th century, Cixi was portrayed as a "dragon lady", the arch-conservative and bitch who destroyed China in her greedy grasph for power. More recently, however, authors like Sterling Seagrave have challeged this, portraying Cixi as an illiterate naif who was at the mercy of the men who made a greedy grasp for power in China.

Now comes Jung Chang, a China scholar whose 2005 book about Mao Zedong was highly controversial. Chang argues that Cixi was not as illiterate and pathetic as Seagrave says, but also not the dragon lady and kneejerk reactionary that she's been portrayed either. Cixi had to retain the support of the highly conservative and deeply influential bureaucracy that ran China, but at the same time was highly patriotic and desperately wanted to make China strong again through progressive reform. With China already in deep trouble, Cixi's options were limited and her own choices (sometimes poorly made) limited them even further.

We'll see! The book comes out in four days. I'm on pre-order.

Six days....

Six days....

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that although the first government pensions in American history were awarded to naval officers in 1799, it wasn't until 1849 that there were enough pensions to justify the creation of the Bureau of Pensions?
Six days....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Many years ago, I bought Flesh and the Word on a lark at Lambda Rising Bookstore. The book totally enthralled me, primarily because editor John Preston really pushed hard to establish erotica as a genre of good writing rather than something whose pages will stick together after the second "reading." I edged for nearly a year, until Flesh and the Word 2 came out.

Preston died of AIDS while editing the third volume. A relatively uninspiring editor, Mike Rowe, took over. Rowe was a fetish author who specialized in BDSM fiction. The third volume reflected quite strongly Rowe's own taste in fiction, and I think the volume suffered measurably for it.

Nevertheless, I was willing to give Rowe the benefit of the doubt. When his book of author fiction, Writing Below the Belt, came out a year after Flesh and the Word 3, I eagerly picked it up. I was disappointed. For one thing, most of the interviews were with no-name authors rather than the demi-gods of fiction who I'd expected him to interview. Second, nearly all the interviewees were from the BDSM school of writing. It became painfully clear just a few interviews into the book that nearly all these authors had some sort of personal issue to work out through their writing. Worse, all the issues seemed the same. Reading "how I need to work X out" over and over just got boring. I nearly gave up on the book, but plowed ahead through sheer obstinacy. I guess I really hoped to find some gems in there, but found only slag.

I did get one good thing out of all of this. Flesh and the Word 2 introduced me to Aaron Travis (aka Steven Saylor), a BDSM author. Uninterested in the genre, I nevertheless read his story. It was amazing. I finally understood why Preston had argued so vociferously that "good writing is good writing, whatever the genre." The short story was goddamn good writing.

A few years later, I was looking for a gift for a friend who is an erotic fiction writer. Travis/Saylor had written at least one novel that I was aware of, Slaves of Rome. I decided to see if Saylor had written other novels, and thought I might build my friend a little "BDSM library" for his home library.

Imagine my surprise when I found that Saylor had written only the one erotic novel.

Like many authors, Saylor tasted fame and found it good. He quickly gave up on BDSM and erotic fiction in order to write relatively tame "historical novels" about the Roman period. He has now written some seven or eight novels, with many more on the way.

I remember reading in Writing Below the Belt how Saylor adamantly asserted that BDSM was his ouevre and One True Love and that nothing would deter him from writing in that style.

But suddenly, he gave it all up.

I know I'm judging the man on precious little evidence, but I feel really ripped off.

How many times has the gay community finally developed a truly good artist, only to have that artist run off in search of fame and wealth -- abandoning the genre which made him or her popular in the first place? Bryan Singer did superb small homoerotic films like Apt Pupil, then sold out to do X-Men and Superman Returns. Instead of helming the first gay Gone With the Wind, he did comic books.

It all sort of ticks me off, to be honest. Many LGBT artists wonder why the gay community won't support them. I now think their complaints are naive at best, hypocritical at worst.

HOW COOL IS THIS?????????????

They found the "Potomac Stone"!!!!

On June 20, 1632, Charles I, King of England, made a land grant in North America to Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, which became the Province (later the state of) Maryland. This grant set the boundary of Maryland at the low-water mark of the southern bank of the Potomac River.

On September 27, 1688, King James II made a land grant in North America to Thomas Colepeper, 2nd Baron Colepeper, which became the Colony of (later the state of) Virginia. This grant designated "the Potomac River" as the boundary of Virginia.

Virginia and Maryland agreed that their southern boundary would extend to the "headwaters" of the Potomac. From there, Maryland's boundary would extend on a north-south line to the border with Pennsylvania.

But where was the Potomac River? It's pretty easy to determine its course to about Cumberland. But after that, the river looks no different than any other stream. And there are lots and lots of streams up there!! Which of them was the "true" headwaters of the Potomac River??

At the time, no one realized that the Potomac River split into a North Branch and South Branch just east of Green Spring, West Virginia. Worse, the South Branch extended westward for many more miles than the North Branch.

In 1746, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, sent a party of surveyors to find the headwaters of the Potomac River. On October 23, 1746, they located what they believed to be the headwaters at what is now Fairfax Stone Historical Monument State Park. They carved the letters "Ffx" and Lord Fairfax's coronet into a large pyramidal rock and placed it at the center of these headwaters. Francis Deakins was appointed surveyor to establish the north-south boundary, what became known as the "Deakins line." Unfortunately, the Deakins line was not straight, and it was not a true (astronomical) meridian but rather a magnetic meridian that drifted to the east.

On October 12, 1891, the state of Maryland filed suit against the state of West Virginia (created in 1861 during the Civil War) to settle the boundary dispute. By now, the South Branch had been determined to be the main source of the Potomac River, and Maryland began to claim the South Branch as its true southern boundary. In 1897, the state of Maryland appointed a team of surveyors to locate the headwaters of the South Branch of the Potomac River. A marker named the "Potomac Stone" was placed there, and a new survey line north to the Pennsylvania border established, which Maryland claimed as its new border.

In Maryland v. West Virginia, 217 U.S. 1 (1910), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the true border was the one most accepted through history. Neglect to regain possession indicates the original owner's intent to relinquish the land, the court said. Even if Maryland's claim was true, it would upset more than 150 years of deeds, regulation, and taxation -- and the court refused to create that kind of legal tangle.

For 115 years, the Potomac Stone lay forgotten.

In 2012, however, a group of surveyors and amateur historians decided to go find it. It took them two years! The original surveyor's documentation contained small errors, springs and streams had dried up and new ones formed, the South Potomac's course had changed slight, and erosion and farming had created new landforms.

On August 18, 2012, the surveyors located the Potomac Stone -- almost buried, tipped over into the creek, but still in great shape. It had not been touched in 115 years!!!!!

7 days...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... Enewetak Atoll formed atop a seamount that is now about 4,600 feet below sea level due to general subsidence of the entire region and not because of erosion?

Reuters and the "New York Times" fail the Grizzly Bear Test today.

("Editing"? Really? Paul Simao, you are going to be held back a grade.)

More Bad News at They are raising the amount of money you have to spend in order to get free shipping. It's now $35, not $25.

Amazon's spin: This encourages everyone to join Amazon Prime, which gives you free two-day shipping on everything if you pay $79 a year.

The negative spin: The biggest rollback in customer benefits EVER at Amazon.

The possible real reason for the change (and it's really negative): Amazon stresses that offering low prices to fundamental to the company's success. One way they offer lower prices is through shipping offers. By cutting back on free shipping, Amazon will lose less money. And why does it need to do that? Because in all likelihood the company is HEMORRHAGING cash and needs to staunch the blood flow.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that although most people believe Dwight Eisenhower established the established the National System of Interstate Highways, the project began under Franklin D. Roosevelt with passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944?
MORE HORROR CINEMA TRIVIA!!!!!!! As always, answers after the cut. No one tried to answer my first quiz, such is the pity...

1. Ben Carre, set designer for The Phantom of the Opera (1925), actually once worked at the Paris Opera -- an experience which helped him design the great sets for this film.

a. True
b. False

2. The mummy's name, Ardath Bey, in 1931's The Mummy (1925), was purposefully chosen because it is an anagram for the phrase "death by Ra."

a. True
b. False

3. 1931's The Mummy was originally about a magician called "Cagliostro" who claimed that he had lived for centuries. It was hastily rewritten after the discovery of King Tut's tomb to take advantage of the public's sudden fascination with Egyptian relics, and was called "Im-Ho-Tep" until just prior to its release.

a. True
b. False

4. A lengthy scene in 1931's The Mummy showed the reincarnation of Imhotep and Princess Ankh-sen-Amon through the ages, but was cut. This pissed off:
a. Star Zita Johann, who firmly believed in reincarnation.
b. Star Boris Karloff, since this constituted the majority of his scenes.
c. Director Karl Freund, who wrote these scenes.
d. No one! They never filmed any such crap!

5. James Whale's 1932 classic, The Old, Dark House, credits "John Dudgeon" as Sir Roderick Femm. This is a surprise, as:
a. The actor playing Sir Roderick is actually Elspeth Dudgeon -- a woman!
b. It's really Charles Laughton, in his first American film.
c. There is no Sir Roderick Femm in the film (the scenes of this actor were cut).
d. It was supposed to read "John Gielgud," but the name was horribly misspelled by a studio hack.

6. The Old, Dark House (1932) was pulled from release in 1963 when William Castle's remake came out. The film was not shown again until 1994 because:
a. Castle owned the rights, and refused the original to be shown for 30 years.
b. The few remaining prints of the 1932 version were lost forever, until a collector discovered one final copy in the eaerly 1990s.
c. James Whale refused to let it be re-released, and he did not die until the 1990s.
d. It could only be shown in Great Britian due to copyright issues.

7. Cat People (1942) got very poor critical reviews when it opened on November 13, 1942, but very positive reviews toward the end of its lengthy run in theaters. Why?
a. RKO paid a number of reviewers to do good reviews.
b. The start of World War II led critics to praise the portrayal of Irina, whom they now saw as a Serbian "freedom fighter."
c. Most critics never actually saw the film, and panned it solely because it had a low budget (just $150,000).
d. The film's lengthy run in theaters allowed critics to see it again, and they re-assessed it quite positively after that.

8. The most terrifying scene in Cat People (1942) is the pool scene, where the monster threatens Alice Moore. What little we see of the monster is created by:
a. Director Jacques Tourneur waving his hands in front of some lights.
b. Animation provided for free by Disney animators (who had to be uncredited).
c. A hand-held camera (just like in "The Blair Witch Project").
d. Sound effects and nothing else.

9. Elizabeth Russell had a bit part in Cat People (1942) as the mysterious Serbian woman who speaks to Irina Dubrovna during her engagement party in the restaurant. She had another small role in a very famous horror film. In what?
a. She was the old lady in the turret in 1977's The Sentinel.
b. She played Mary Shelley in 1939's Bride of Frankenstein.
c. She posed as Mary Meredith, the woman in the painting, in 1944's The Uninvited.
d. She reprised her role in 1944's Return of the Cat People.

10. Gail Russell ("Stella Meredith") co-starred with Cornelia Otis Skinner ("Miss Holloway") in 1944's The Uninvited. Russell had another connection to Skinner. What was it?
a. She was Skinner's real-life daughter.
b. She was Skinner's student when Skinner was a teacher years earlier.
c. She portrayed Skinner (a well-known author in real life!) in the 1944 film Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.
d. She reprised Skinner's role in the Broadway production.

Horror Cinema Quiz Answers - Behind the link!!

That is the Unknown Solider being carried on a caisson through the streets of Washington, D.C., on November 11, 1921.

World War I began in Europe on July 28, 1914. It wasn't until Imperial Germany supported a Mexican invasion of Texas and the Southwest that the U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917. Even then, it took the woefully unprepared U.S. Army nearly a year to get troops to Europe. Even then, U.S. troops didn't fully engage with the enemy until August. The war ended on November 11, 1918. The Treaty of Versailles, creating a formal peace, was signed in June 1919.

There were 10 million military and 7 million civilian deaths during the war. About 2 million died from disease. A whopping 6 million -- that's 40 percent -- simply went missing, presumed dead. Some 40 to 50 percent of French and British war dead were unidentified. In the U.S., just 2 percent went unidentified, all because an insistent but tiny group of people in the Army demanded the use of dog-tags (which Army brass opposed).

The mind-boggling number of unknowns led to a demand in England and France to erect monuments to these dead. Both nations interred the remains of an unknown soldier on Armistice Day in November 1919. Some American generals, too, had suggested in 1919 that a "Tomb of an Unknown Soldier" be created in the United States. The idea didn't gain traction at first, but the British and French ceremonies received much press attention in the United States. On February 4, 1921, Congress enacted legislation establishing a memorial.

The American tomb was a rush job. Congress did not specify a site for the tomb, and some veterans' groups wanted to use the crypt beneath the Capitol Rotunda. Terrified that the Capitol might become a mausoleum, Congress instead chose Arlington National Cemetery as the site for the memorial. On March 4, 1921, with just hours left in his presidency, President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation into law.

The process of choosing an unknown soldier was difficult. A grave had to be unearthed, and the body and uniform inspected for any identifying marks. Only those remains which were absolutely unidentifiable could be used. A body was identified at Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme, and St. Mihiel. Each disinterment team was given an identical steel casket and a wooden shipping crate. All caskets and crates had to be absolutely clean before being transported. The four caskets were shipped on October 23, 1921, to Châlons-sur-Marne in France and placed in the main foyer of the City Hall. The paperwork for each casket was then burned in an alley in back of the building, so no one could tell which cemetery each casket came from. On the morning of October 24, Sgt. Edward F. Younger entered the City Hall, the doors were closed behind him, and Younger made his choice. (The three bodies not selected were reburied in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.)

Back in the United States, preparation for the tomb was frantically under way. The newly-formed American Legion (a congressionally-chartered veterans' lobby group) was pressing as late as May 1921 for the body to be buried in the Capitol's crypt. This debate was not resolved until mid-July, and by then very little time remained to create the monument. Where to build the tomb at Arlington National Cemetery continued until October, when it was decided that the view from the Memorial Amphitheater's plaza was the most appropriate site for the new memorial.

The tomb required major construction, and the Army Corps of Engineers frantically cut through the steps of Memorial Amphitheater, dug 40 feet down, and created a huge, concreate lined shaft. The vault was then lined with marble which had to be rushed to the site. Additional marble for the plinth (or "sub-base") and the base also had to be rushed to D.C., and a capstone created. The capstone was pierced with the a hole to permit the coffin to be lowered into the vault. The bottom of the vault was lined with two inches of French soil, taken from various battlefields in France.

The World War I unknown was interred as scheduled on November 11, 1921. More than 100,000 people attended the ceremonies, including the Premier of France, Aristide Briand; the former Premier of France, Rene Viviani (who led France through the war); Marshal Ferdinand Foch (the French general who was Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in France); President Warren G. Harding; and former President William Howard Taft. (Former President Woodrow Wilson, his body and mind shattered from the massive stroke he suffered on October 2, 1919, and from which he had never fully recovered, was to weak to attend. He rode in the funeral procession, but then returned to his home.)

Because the tomb was rushed, no appropriate memorial could be designed or built. The structure you see today was approved in 1926, and after a national competition a design chosen in 1929. The memorial was placed in April 1932. (Notably, this sculpture has never been formally dedicated.)

There's a lot more here, at the link.

The results of a major new study on how children learn to read and comprehend what they read has appeared in the journal Developmental Science.

The upshot: "[B]ecause professional parents speak so much more to their children, the children hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income households. ... Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read."

Why does this matter? Because a majority of public schoolchildren in one-third of the states come from low-income families.

If you want to know why America is falling behind, you look here. Not at teacher performance, not at unions, not at spending per se. You look at the way America treats its poorest children, and the support poor families get. In Norway, poor parents are paid to stay at home to care for their kids and get an education. Norway understands what America refuses to: That in the long run, this breaks the cycle of poverty for poor children and assists poor parents in radically improving their skills and work ethic. It's why you see poor children rising into the ranks of the middle class in numbers DOUBLE that of the United States.

Every single school district in America spends money on remedial education. Want to stop that, and spend money in art and sports and chess club and drama club? Spend the money on pre-K and support for the working poor.

Half of all colleges in the U.S. provide remedial writing, reading, and math education to entering freshmen. Want colleges to focus on higher education instead? Spend the money on pre-K and support for the working poor.

America: We step over a dollar to pick up a dime. We're #1!

There's a front-page article in today's New York Times about how much money is losing. The company, founded in 1996, didn't show a profit until 2009. Its revenue keeps growing, but its shareholders have never seen dime one of profit.

Has it taken Wall Street this long to realize that is a money-loser and always has been? It lost $32.5 billion between 1996 (its founding) and 2009. Since then, it has generated just $3.5 billion, enough to pay down a bare a tenth of its debt. The company survives simply because it keeps borrowing to service that debt (pay the interest and what little principal is coming due). But when will bankers wise up?'s strategy has been to grow so fast that all competition dries up. It's done so only by being a bully, by pressuring suppliers to offer it deals that no one else can get. That's called "monopoly".

And guess what? It will be Jeff Bezos' strategy at the Washington Post, too.

Up next for Amazon: A major push into streaming television and movies. They see Netflix as a challenger, and they will go after them hard.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Horror film trivia quiz! Answers are after the cut. But it's helpful if you try to answer first, and post your responses as a comment.

1. Who was originally cast to star as the title character in 1931's Dracula?
a. Lon Chaney
b. Bela Lugosi
c. Boris Karloff
d. Claude Rains

2. Universal Studios did not want the scene where Dracula attacks Renfield in 1931's Dracula to be filmed because it reeked of homosexuality.
a. True
b. False

3. 1931's Frankenstein shows the monster being assembled out of numerous body parts and brought to life with electricity. But in the novel, the monster is created in a different way. The method used was:
a. He grew out of a vat of chemicals.
b. It was one large man's body; only the brain was different.
c. Ultraviolet, infrared and X-rays are used in the novel.
d. Frankenstein grew some parts, but the brain and organs had to be stolen.

4. The most-quoted line from 1931's Frankenstein is "It's alive! It's alive!" It was followed by another famous line. What was that next line?
a. You all called me crazy, but it's alive!
b. Now I know what it's like to be God!
c. No line, just maniacal laughter.
d. It's Fritz's line: "You are a god, master!"

5. Claude Rains is on screen almost all the time in 1933's The Invisible Man. But all his dialogue was dubbed later!
a. True
b. False

6. In 1933's The Invisible Man, the Invisible Man is actually never given a name.
a. True
b. False

7. William Alland, producer of 1954's Creature From the Black Lagoon, got the story from where?
a. He came up with it during a drunken, late-night story session with Orson Welles.
b. He read about it in an old book about sea monsters.
c. Trick question! William Alland didn't come up with the story!
d. It was a South American myth told to him by a Mexican cinematographer.

8. Walt Disney was so impressed with Fess Parker as the "craxy Texan flier" in 1954's Them! that he later cast him as Davey Crockett in the films and TV show of the same name.
a. True
b. False

9. RKO asked the U.S. Air Force for assistance in filming 1951's The Thing. But the Air Force turned the studio down. Why?
a. They were worried that Air Force flights in the Arctic might spook the Russians.
b. They thought it would undercut the government's claim that UFOs didn't exist.
c. A top general thought the idea of vegetables attacking the Earth was idiotic.
d. They disliked the unknown director, Christian Nyby.

10. During 1951's The Thing, a soldier is asked if he knows how to use a flare gun. He says yes, licks his thumb, and wiped the end of the gun's muzzle. Why?
a. He was removing a speck of dirt from the gun.
b. No reason, the actor thought it was just something to do.
c. This done in the film Sgt York to help York improve his aim, directed by producer Howard Hawks, and it is a tribute to Hawk's earlier film.
d. He's imitating a soldier who, moments earlier, was playing cards and licked his thumb before dealing.

Answers below in bold