Jan 24

Friday Crap Roundup XXXIII: Crap I Like

When I started SB nearly a year ago the intent was to supplement what I wrote at Cracked. Unfortunately, as of today said contributions at Cracked comprise entirely of a single Photoplasty entry. I haven’t even sent them a proposal in months. It’s very much a lack of desire on my part, and also because I think they’ve slipped a bit recently. Don’t get me wrong, they still produce great stuff from time to time. I’m just not “feeling” them as much anymore.

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Too many movie and video game articles I frankly don’t give a rat’s ass about.
Image credit: Valve Corporation

That said, there’s plenty of other good stuff out there. That’s a good thing, given what kind of a slacker I am.

Continue reading

Apr 17

History Wednesday: Pranking Made Elementary

Last week’s History Wednesday was a bit on the dark side, so this week I wanted to lighten the mood. What happened in Boston earlier this week only makes the call for a less intense article all the more stronger.

Today History Wednesday travels back to 1917, but not to the bleak, war-torn landscape often associated with that year. Instead this story takes place in the countryside of Great Britain, specifically a town called Cottingley in West Yorkshire. It was here in this unassuming hamlet nearly a century ago that two girls pulled off a hoax that bamboozled an entire nation and made a very famous author look foolish indeed.

And so it was in this pastoral environment of rural north-central England that 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her 10-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths, often found themselves dirty and wet after playing in the stream near their home. They explained to their exasperated mothers that they frequented the area because fairies lived there.

One day, the girls decided to “prove” it. Arthur Wright, Elsie’s father, was an amateur photographer who had set up a darkroom on the property. Consequently Elsie – a gifted artist – was somewhat adept at photography as well. Using illustrations from Princess Mary’s Gift Book, the girls made several two-dimensional fairy drawings. Elsie then took a picture of Frances with the figures.

Cottingley_Fairies_1

Pictured: Photoshoppe -13.0.

A couple months later the girls repeated the prank, posing Elsie with a “gnome.” Arthur Wright, who was sick and tired of the girls screwing around with his equipment, forbade them access to the camera after that.

That should have been the end of it right there. However, Elsie’s mother, Polly, believed the photographs were the real deal. A couple years after the incident she took them to a local meeting of the Theosophical Society, a group that researched esoterica such as, you know, fairies.

learyalbum

Kind of like this, but without the LSD.

Needless to say, the photos were a big hit. Edward Gardner, a leading member of the Theosophical Society, became their prime apologist. After they were featured at the society’s national conference, they were “authenticated” by a guy who merely said the negatives weren’t tampered with (which was true). But hell, close enough, right?

Well, they were close enough for a certain Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an active Spiritualist who learned about the photographs through his editorial contacts. As the more astute among you know, Conan Doyle was a famous Scottish author best known for creating a character named Sherlock Holmes. He totally bought the “fairies are real” line, even after the photographic companies Kodak and Ilford expressed their, um, doubts.

Conan_doyle

The mustache, however, is obviously fake.

That’s when things started getting seriously stupid.

In order to corroborate the “evidence,” Conan Doyle sent Gardner to Cottingley to meet the Wright family and get some more fairy photographs. Gardner brought with him two new Kodak cameras and some marked photographic plates. He taught the girls how to use the cameras and then left, charging them with taking the pictures themselves. The girls in turn would only take photographs when no one else was around, as they were the only ones the “fairies” trusted. Sure enough, three new fairy photographs appeared and the plates were dutifully shipped back to Gardner in London.

CottingleyFairies4

“Hey, hey. Let’s tell them we found a way to turn brown sauce into diamonds. They’ll totally go for it!”

So did Gardner or Conan Doyle catch on? Oh, hell no! Upon hearing of the new photographs, Conan Doyle replied:

I had your note and the three wonderful pictures which are confirmatory of our published results. When our fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance.

Conan Doyle triumphantly published his findings in December 1920. While some fell for the hoax, many others were quick to call bullshit. In other words, the world wasn’t completely stupid in 1920 after all. As for Elsie and Francis, they finally owned up to the hoax.

In 1983.

Apr 07

The SB Travel Guide

When I’m bored, which happens a lot, I like to peruse travel sites such as Lonely Planet and Wikitravel. You see, I’ve lived all over the United States, and I’m not content to park my ass in Idaho for the rest of my life. I want to get out and see stuff.

Does that mean I’m going to sign up for the first package tour to come through my e-mail? Oh, hell no! My travel philosophy is very similar to Mojo Nixon‘s. One of the truly great American prophets, Nixon had this to say back in 1999:

I like the local place. I like Billy Bob Bubba Junior’s burger place on the edge of town with the B sanitary rating. Local promoters will ask me where I want to go eat, and I’ll say, “I wanna go eat at the place where your drunk uncle goes to, that your mother doesn’t like.”

So today I’m sharing a few travel destinations on my bucket list. As of this writing I haven’t been to any of them, but I hope to change that one of these days. Flight prices are based on what I found today at Kayak departing 7 May (a Tuesday) from Boise Airport (BOI) and returning the following week. If you were to actually do this, however, I recommend taking a longer vacation. Many of these destinations take up to two days to get to, if not longer.

Tirana, Albania

The Albanian capital is still a bit off the beaten path, but it’s nowhere near as hard to get to as it was 35 years ago. Back when the Enver Hoxha regime was in power, Tirana was right up there with Pyongyang in terms of mysterious, remote cities. Pyongyang would be interesting too, but the whole point is to get away from guided tours. In North Korea, you don’t have a choice.

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Even the 2T has better nightlife than Pyongyang.

Anyway, in sharp contrast to Kim Jong-un’s stomping grounds Tirana is said to have a very vibrant night life. According to Wikitravel, Albanians “are very hospitable towards foreigners,” and crime rates are quite low. Once I have my druthers, I’m definitely going.

From BOI to Tirana (TIA): Fairly straightforward. $1,458 with layovers at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and Munich (MUC).

Other places to consider: Ljubljana, Slovenia; Sofia, Bulgaria; Skopje, Macedonia; Podgorica, Montenegro.

Bangui, Central African Republic

The more astute among you know I’ve already written about the Central African Republic here. From my standpoint sitting here in Idaho Africa seems very remote, and Bangui seems remote even by African standards. I wouldn’t be terribly interested in going on safari there or anything like that (although I understand the region is well-suited for such things). Like most other places, I’d want to hang out with the locals and see what they do to spend the time.

The problem with the CAR is that’s it’s constantly in turmoil. I mean, constantly. The government there was overthrown by rebels less than a month ago. I’d want to go when it’s a bit safer, but when that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

From BOI to Bangui (BGF): “No matching results were found.” Wusses. I know Air France has a flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Bangui. Looks like that would be 687,500 Central African francs, which is, um, around $1,360. Add another $1,204 from BOI to Paris – with a layover in San Francisco (SFO) – and that’s $2,564.

SF_From_Marin_Highlands3

Nothing like burning an entire flight going backwards.

Other places to consider: N’Djamena, Chad; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Timbuktu, Mali.

Rabbit Flat, Northern Territory, Australia

Speaking of remote, few places are as out of the way as the Australian outback. In the outback itself, there are places even the locals consider remote, particularly in the interiors of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Rabbit Flat is one such place. Hundreds of miles away from any significant settlement, Rabbit Flat is not much more than a roadhouse on a long, seldom-traveled road. I understand the roadhouse closed down, too.

Ah, who cares? There are times when I’m feeling my inner Ted Kaczynski and just want to get away from it all. I very much doubt I’d stay in Rabbit Flat for very long, but the trip there and back would certainly be an adventure.

From BOI to Rabbit Flat: No airport to speak of there, so I’d have to fly to the closest city of any size, which would be Alice Springs (ASP). $1,815, with stops in San Jose (SJC), Los Angeles (LAX), and Sydney (SYD). That, plus a 375-mile one-way trip on roads that make Nevada 318 look like Manhattan. I’m sure they aren’t giving those away.

DCF 1.0

Regardless, that’s gonna be a long-ass trip.
Image credit: Nachoman-au

Other places to consider: Coober Pedy, South Australia; Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Svalbard is the mirror image of Rabbit Flat. While the Australian outback is excessively hot and remote, Svalbard is excessively cold and remote. How remote? How about 78° North latitude, well north of the Arctic Circle?

Although officially part of Norway, Svalbard has also been occupied by the Soviet Union and later Russia for decades, which makes for an interesting cultural mishmash. In Longyearbyen, the capital and largest city, the sun rises in April and sets in November, with only a few weeks a year experiencing a normal day and night cycle. Temperatures rarely go above 45° F.

Who’s up for volleyball?

From BOI to Longyearbyen (LYR): Kayak wusses out again. $922 from Boise to Oslo (OSL) with stops in Denver (DEN) and Newark (EWR). Then on Scandinavian Airlines to LYR, $467. Total: $1,389.

Other places to consider: Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada; Nuuk, Greenland; Belushya Guba, Novaya Zemlya, Russia.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

Many people (myself included), find even simple words in the Welsh language difficult to pronounce. How about this one? Apparently it sounds like this.

Located on the island of Isle of Anglesey just northwest of the Welsh mainland, the town has the distinction of being the longest place name in Europe. I suspect no one on the local train misses the station.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch-railway-station-sign-2011-09-21-GR2_1837a

“Yeah, that place.”

From BOI to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-whatever: Northern Wales is apparently lacking in sizable airports, so I looked eastward into England, specifically Liverpool (LPL). Evidently LPL isn’t big enough either, as Kayak directed me further east to Manchester (MAN). That’s $848 with stops in different locations each way (but not through London, go figure). A rental car or train ticket would probably put me a bit north of $1,000, which would make this my least expensive international trip.

Other places to consider: Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta, Andhra Pradesh, India; Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, South Africa; Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, New Zealand.

Thermopolis, Wyoming

The seat of Hot Springs County, Wyoming, may not strike you as all that special. Indeed, I suspect it’s like any other town of its size in the western United States (around 3,000 if you’re interested). It’s still somewhere I want to go, perhaps because it was once mentioned by Daffy Duck.

Duck_Amuck

Another great American prophet.

Unlike the other places I mentioned today, I have concrete plans to visit Thermopolis in the near future. It’ll probably be May or June. I want to make sure winter is truly done and over with around here before I make the trip.

Besides, it’s much closer than Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

From BOI to Thermopolis: I suppose the closest commercial airport is in Cody (COD), but I’ll be driving this one.

Mar 27

History Wednesday: How to Drive the Family Business Into the Ground

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve noticed that most old-timey nation-states in Europe and elsewhere were ruled by dynastic kingdoms, with a son (or sometimes daughter) succeeding the parent. As History Wednesday has pointed out before, successions such as these can lead to giving absolute power to complete incompetents. Today we travel to the 14th Century to examine another one of these yutzes.

The Plantagenet Dynasty came to power in England in 1154. Except during a period in the 1210s when King John had his ass handed to him by both the French and his own nobility, resulting in the Magna Carta, the Plantagenets provided decent leadership in England for the next 150 years or so. In 1272 the English crown passed to Edward I, an imposing figure and a very capable military leader.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Who could have been England’s starting center had James Naismith lived a few centuries earlier.
Image credit: Steve Lipofsky, Basketballphoto.com

Edward was all about conquest. After a series of successful campaigns, by 1285 he had effectively assimilated Wales into his domain. During the latter years of his reign, Edward often faced off against the Scots and their fabled military leader Mel Gibson William Wallace. Although Wallace and his cohorts proved to be excellent fighters, Edward had the last laugh by defeating Wallace at Falkirk and executing him a few years later.

William_wallace

“Mad Max? Never heard of him.”

Edward died in 1307 and was succeeded by his son, Edward II. Unlike his all-business father, Edward II was all about the lifestyle and bling, caring little for annoyances such as, you know, government. More importantly, he “had so little confidence in himself that he was always in the hands of some favorite who possessed a stronger will than his own.”

While Edward II was heir apparent he became close to a knight from present-day southwestern France named Piers Gaveston. Real, REAL close according to some contemporary chroniclers, if you know what I mean. Edward went out of his way to please him, regardless of how ridiculous or extravagant the request. Gaveston proved to be such a nuisance that shortly before Edward I died he was sent into exile. However, once Edward II became king he immediately recalled Gaveston, made him Earl of Cornwall and arranged a sweet marriage package deal for him.

Edward_II_&_Gaveston_by_Marcus_Stone

And there was much rejoicing.

Unfortunately for Gaveston, none of this sat well with the rest of the English nobility. His earldom was especially resented as it was traditionally reserved for members of the immediate royal family. In addition, Gaveston continued to be an arrogant pain in the ass around just about everyone except Edward. Political maneuvering forced Edward to exile Gaveston in 1308 and again in 1311. Shortly after he returned from his third exile, nobles took matters into their own hands and flat out killed him.

Meanwhile the Scots, who were clearly on the ropes when Edward II became king in 1307, slowly but surely began to bounce back. By 1314, the Scots under their king Robert the Bruce had erased almost all of Edward I’s territorial gains against them. Eager to keep a strategic castle under English control, in June 1314 Edward II slapped together a poorly-trained army and marched north. The resulting Battle of Bannockburn was one of the most epic ass-kickings of the Middle Ages, guaranteeing an independent Scotland for the next 400 years.

Robertthebruce

“Haggis and single malts for all!”

Surrounded by suspicious nobility and with his father’s Scottish ambitions in total ruins, Edward II was not in the best of positions to say the least. Even so, towards the end of his reign he took on another favorite who irritated the hell out of everyone, a guy named Hugh Despenser. Depesnser became royal chamberlain in 1318 and with his father (also named Hugh Despenser) proceeded to wreak havoc on the country for the next eight years. While Gaveston was little more than an arrogant ass, the Despensers were straight up tyrants. They engaged in land seizures, torture, corruption and even high seas piracy. As for the king, he simply let them do what they pleased.

Finally even Edward’s wife was done with this crap. In September 1326 Queen Isabella joined forces with the noble Roger Mortimer, raised an army in France and proceeded to invade England. Edward, who by this time had alienated just about everyone in the country, was unable to recruit an army in response. By January 1327 Mortimer and Isabella had de facto control of England. Edward was forced to abdicate and the Despensers were executed. Hugh Despenser the Younger’s demise was particularly gruesome, making a standard draw and quartering look like a deep tissue massage.

622px-BNMsFr2643FroissartFol97vExecHughDespenser

Gibson Wallace got off easy.

Sadly, the truly badass story (pun intended) of Edward’s execution via hot poker up his rectum is likely apocryphal. Even so, he disappears from history after 1327. Mortimer and Isabella ran the country for the next three years until they were removed from power by a young Edward III, who proved to be a far more competent ruler. Contrary to what’s implied in Braveheart, Edward III is not Mel Gibson’s William Wallace’s son.