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Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Daily Drift

Editor's Note: This weekend the local Highland Games will be held and the staff will be there and some of us will be participating in the heavy athletics, i.e., turning the caber (throwing telephone poles for those who are not familiar with the games). So our daily edition will be a complete day's posts albeit a bit later in the day than usual depending on Friday night's Caleidh (pronounced Kay-lee - a party) and the athletics on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Don't hold your breath for Monday's edition being on time either, although we plan on all editions being on time ... but we are Scots and when we party, well ...
Memories of the way we were  ...
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Today in History

1790 The U.S. patent system is established.
1809 Austria declares war on France and her forces enter Bavaria.
1862 Union forces begin the bombardment of Fort Pulaski in Georgia along the Tybee River.
1865 At Appomattox Court, Va, General Robert E. Lee issues his last orders to the Army of Northern Virginia.
1866 The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is formed.
1902 South African Boers accept British terms of surrender.
1912 The Titanic begins her maiden voyage which will end in disaster.
1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald publishes The Great Gatsby.
1930 The first synthetic rubber is produced.
1932 Paul von Hindenburg is elected president in Germany.
1938 Germany annexes Austria.
1941 U.S. troops occupy Greenland to prevent Nazi infiltration.
1945 In their second attempt to take the Seelow Heights, near Berlin, the Red Army launches numerous attacks against the defending Germans. The Soviets gain one mile at the cost of 3,000 men killed and 368 tanks destroyed.
1945 Allied troops liberate the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald north of Weiner, Germany.
1947 Jackie Robinson becomes the first black to play major league baseball as he takes the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
1953 House of Wax, the first 3-D movie, is released.
1971 The American table tennis team arrives in China.
1974 Yitzhak Rabin replaces resigning Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir.
1981 Imprisoned Irish Republican Army hunger striker Bobby Sands is elected to the British Parliament.

Non Sequitur


Highland Games

Highland games are events held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. Certain aspects of the games are so well known as to have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. While centered on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.
The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August, is the largest Highland games in the world, attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 23,000 spectators from around the globe. Worldwide, however, it is exceeded in terms of spectators by two gatherings in the United States: the 50,000 that attend Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and the even larger gathering—the largest in the Northern Hemisphere—that has taken place every year since 1865 hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco. This event is currently held on Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, California.
The games are claimed to have influenced Baron Pierre de Coubertin when he was planning the revival of the Olympic Games. De Coubertin saw a display of Highland games at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.


The origin of human games and sports predates recorded history. An example of a possible early games venue is at Fetteresso, although that location is technically a few miles south of the Scottish Highlands.
It is reported in numerous books and Highland games programs, that King Malcolm III of Scotland, in the 11th century, summoned contestants to a foot race to the summit of Craig Choinnich (overlooking Braemar). King Malcolm created this foot race in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger. Some have seen this apocryphal event to be the origin of today's modern Highland games.
There is a document from 1703 summoning the clan of the Laird of Grant, Clan Grant. They were to arrive wearing Highland coats and "also with gun, sword, pistol and dirk". From this letter, it is believed that the competitions would have included feats of arms.
However, the modern Highland games are largely a Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances.


Heavy Events

In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider Highland athletics to be what the games are all about — in short, that the athletics are the Games, and all the other activities are just entertainment. Regardless, it remains true today that the athletic competitions are at least an integral part of the events and one — the caber toss — has come to almost symbolize the Highland games.
Although quite a range of events can be a part of the Highland athletics competition, a few have become standard.
  • Caber toss: A long tapered pine pole or log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in his hands (see photo). Then the competitor runs forward attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end with the upper (larger) end striking the ground first. The smaller end that was originally held by the athlete then hits the ground in the 12 o'clock position measured relative to the direction of the run. If successful, the athlete is said to have turned the caber. Cabers vary greatly in length, weight, taper, and balance, all of which affect the degree of difficulty in making a successful toss. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o'clock toss on an imaginary clock.
  • Stone put: This event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic Games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is often used. There are also some differences from the Olympic shot put in allowable techniques. There are two versions of the stone toss events, differing in allowable technique. The "Braemar Stone" uses a 20–26 lb stone for men (13–18 lb for women) and does not allow any run up to the toeboard or "trig" to deliver the stone, i.e., it is a standing put. In the "Open Stone" using a 16–22 lb stone for men (or 8–12 lb for women), the thrower is allowed to use any throwing style so long as the stone is put with one hand with the stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of release. Most athletes in the open stone event use either the "glide" or the "spin" techniques.
  • Scottish hammer throw: This event is similar to the hammer throw as seen in modern-day track and field competitions, though with some differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball (weighing 16 or 22 lb for men or 12 or 16 lb for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and made out of wood, bamboo, rattan, or plastic. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one's head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. Hammer throwers sometimes employ specially designed footwear with flat blades to dig into the turf to maintain their balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement as it is whirled about the head. This substantially increases the distance attainable in the throw.
  • Weight throw, also known as the weight for distance event. There are actually two separate events, one using a light (28 lb for men and 14 lb for women) and the other a heavy (56 lb for men, 42 lb for masters men, and 28 lb for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The longest throw wins.
  • Weight over the bar, also known as weight for height. The athletes attempt to toss a 56 pound (4 stone) weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each height. Successful clearance of the height allows the athlete to advance into the next round at a greater height. The competition is determined by the highest successful toss with fewest misses being used to break tie scores.
  • Sheaf toss: A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds (9 kg) for the men and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women and wrapped in a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting. The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the Weight Over The Bar. There is significant debate among athletes as to whether the sheaf toss is in fact an authentic Highland event. Some argue it is actually a country fair event, but all agree that it is a great crowd pleaser.
  • Maide Leisg (Scots Gaelic meaning 'Lazy Stick'): Trial of strength performed by two men sitting on the ground with the soles of their feet pressing against each other. Thus seated, they held a stick between their hands which they pulled against each other until one of them was raised from the ground. The oldest 'Maide Leisg' competition in the world takes place at the Carloway show and Highland Games on the Isle of Lewis.
Many of the Heavy Events competitors in Scottish highland athletics are former high school and college track and field athletes who find the Scottish games are a good way to continue their competitive careers.
Increasingly in the USA, the Heavy Events are attracting women and master class athletes which has led to a proliferation of additional classes in Heavy Events competitions. Lighter implements are used in the classes.


For many Highland games festival attendees, the most memorable of all the events at the games is the massing of the pipe bands. Normally held in conjunction with the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, as many as 20 or more pipe bands will march and play together. The result is a thunderous rendition of traditional favourites Scotland the Brave or Amazing Grace, and other crowd-pleasing favorites.
It is, in fact, the music of the bagpipe which has come to symbolize music at the Games and, indeed, in Scotland itself. In addition to the massed bands, nearly all Highland games gatherings feature a wide range of piping and drumming competition, including solo piping and drumming, small group ensembles and, of course, the pipe bands themselves.
But the pipes and drums are not the only music which can be heard at Highland games. Music at Highland games gatherings takes on a variety of forms. Many such events offer fiddling, harp circles, Celtic bands and other forms of musical entertainment, the latter usually spiced with a healthy amount of bagpipe music.


The Cowal Highland Gathering hosts the annual World Highland Dancing Championship. This event gathers the best competitive dancers from around the world who compete for the SOBHD sanctioned World Championship title.

Secondary events and attractions

At modern-day Highland Games events, a wide variety of other activities and events are generally available. Foremost among these are the clan tents and vendors of Scottish related goods. The various clan societies make the Highland games one of the main focus of their seasonal activities, usually making an appearance at as many such events as possible. Visitors can find out information about the Scottish roots and can become active in their own clan society if they wish.
At modern games, armouries will display their collections of swords and armour, and often perform mock battles. Various vendors selling Scottish memorabilia are also present selling everything from Irn-Bru to the stuffed likeness of the Loch Ness Monster.
Herding dog trials and exhibitions are often held, showcasing the breeder's and trainer's skills. In addition, there may be other types of Highland animals present, such as the Highland cattle.
Various traditional and modern Celtic arts are often showcased. This could include Harper's circles, Scottish country dancing, and one or more entertainment stages. In addition, most events usually feature a pre-event ceilidh (a type of social event with traditional music, dancing, song, and other forms of entertainment).
Various food vendors will also offer assorted types of traditional Scottish refreshment and sustenance.

The Pinup


Bettie Page
Bettie Page
Check out more of Bettie over at It Is What It Is daily.

The Ballet

238 years ago, in  April of 1776, Prince Pyotr Urusov obtained a privilege from Catherine the Great allowing him to run a entertainment company. This later became known as the Bolshoi Theater. 

In The 1870s And '80s, Being A Pedestrian Was Anything But

Walking The Walk: Fans look on as pedestrian Edward Payson Weston walks at a New York City roller rink in 1874. His unique stride was described as "wobbly."  
Walking The Walk: Fans look on as pedestrian Edward Payson Weston walks at a New York City roller rink in 1874. His unique stride was described as "wobbly." 
We may think of baseball as America's national pastime, but in the 1870s and 1880s there was another sports craze sweeping the nation: competitive walking. "Watching people walk was America's favorite spectator sport," Matthew Algeo says in his new book, Pedestrianism.
"In the decades after the Civil War there was mass urbanization in the United States [with] millions of people moving into the cities," Algeo tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "And there wasn't much for them to do in their free time, so pedestrianism — competitive walking matches — filled a void for people. It became quite popular quite quickly."
Huge crowds packed indoor arenas to watch the best walkers walk. Think of it as a six-day NASCAR race ... on feet.
"These guys were walking 600 miles in six days," Alego says. "They were on the track almost continuously. They'd have little cots set up inside the track where they would nap a total of maybe three hours a day. But generally, for 21 hours a day, they were in motion walking around the track."

When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport

Interview Highlights

On what you saw at a pedestrian match
[For] six-day walking matches, the rules were pretty simple. They would just map out a dirt track on the floor of an arena — many of the matches took place at the first Madison Square Garden in New York — and the lap was about 1/7th or 1/8th of a mile. And you could only walk six days because public amusements were prohibited on Sundays. So beginning right after midnight on Sunday night/Monday morning, the walkers would set off and they would just keep walking until right up until midnight the following Saturday.
But people didn't go just to watch the people walk. It was a real spectacle. There were brass bands playing songs; there were vendors selling pickled eggs and roasted chestnuts. It was a place to be seen. There were a lot of celebrities who attended the matches: James Blaine, the senator from Maine, was a fan. So was future president Chester Arthur. Tom Thumb attended many matches. And so people went to see celebrities and see the spectacle, not just to watch the people walk.
On champion pedestrian Edward Payson Weston
[Edward Payson Weston] was one of the most famous pedestrians of the 19th century. He was ... a door-to-door bookseller from Providence, R.I. And ... in 1860, he made a bet with a friend on the presidential election. [He] bet that Lincoln would lose, and of course he lost the bet. The terms of the bet were that the loser had to walk from Boston to Washington in 10 days to see the inauguration. And Weston did this. It generated much publicity.
Dan O'Leary, "Champion Pedestrian of the World." 
Dan O'Leary, "Champion Pedestrian of the World." 
People were fascinated by the idea that somebody would walk from Boston to Washington in 10 days in the dead of winter on these horrible roads. And all along the way, large crowds came out to see him. And after the war, Weston, still famous, decided to capitalize on his fame by taking the act indoors. He would go to a roller rink, say, and attempt to walk 100 miles in 24 hours. And people would pay 10 cents just to come and watch him walk in circles for a day.
On Weston's competitor, Dan O'Leary
Dan O'Leary ... was the first great rival to Edward Payson Weston. I call them the Muhammad Ali/Joe Frazier of their generation. Weston was a flashy guy. He wore ruffled shirts and sashes and capes and carried a cane ... he really understood that it was about entertainment as much as it was an athletic event.
Dan O'Leary, on the other hand, was kind of a taciturn guy. He was an Irish immigrant from Chicago and he would walk ramrod straight, upright with his arms moving like pistons. He was sort of the Joe Frazier character in this. He was all about the competition. ...
He was really one of the first famous Irish-American athletes. He was from Chicago, which, of course, had a large Irish population. There was almost kind of an internationalist rivalry between the two of them, Weston representing old England and O'Leary representing new America — kind of pull yourself up by your bootstraps America. A guy that was self-made, came to the States with nothing and made the equivalent of a million dollars today engaging in these walking matches.
On Frank Hart, a great African-American pedestrian
He was actually an immigrant from Haiti who was a grocery store clerk in Boston and, on a whim, entered a six-day race in Boston and performed so well that he immediately moved up to the major leagues so to speak. ... "The Negro Wonder" is what many of the papers called him; it was always mentioned that he was black. But it was an opportunity for him and for other African-Americans at the time to take part in what was largely a white sport.
On the gambling and fixing scandals
Gambling was a big part of the allure, no doubt about it. You could bet on who would be the first pedestrian to drop out of the race, who would be the first pedestrian to, say, achieve 100 miles in a race. There were so many different ways you could gamble on the walking matches. And so the pedestrians themselves were often susceptible to attractive offers from gamblers to fix races.
On "performance enhancing drug" scandals

[Weston] was found to be chewing coca leaves while he walked in a race in 1876. This wasn't strictly illegal but it was considered unsportsmanlike and outright cheating at the worst. He admitted that he used coca leaves in a race, but he said it was under the advice of his doctor.
On how pedestrians drank champagne throughout the race
Champagne was considered a stimulant. And a lot of trainers — these guys had trainers — advised their pedestrians to drink a lot of champagne during the race. They thought that this would give them some kind of advantage. The problem was a lot of these guys would drink it by the bottle. That definitely was not a stimulant to say the least.
On how bicycles took over pedestrianism as the popular spectator sport
In 1885, an Englishman named John Starley invented what is called the safety bicycle. Before the safety bicycle, bicycles were the penny farthings — with the ginormous front wheel and the tiny little back wheel. And the penny farthings weren't very nimble or fast, but the safety bicycle, which is the bicycle we know today, these were much more nimble, much faster and they were much more interesting to watch race around a track for six days than the pedestrians just walking.
It sort of went from a NASCAR at superslow motion to a NASCAR at slow motion. And the other advantage of the bicycle races is that especially at the end, when the competitors were completely sleep deprived, there would be spectacular crashes, and of course the crowd enjoyed that a lot.
On the lasting legacies of pedestrianism
For one, the whole idea of corporate sponsorship ... so prevalent in modern sports really began with pedestrianism. Pedestrians had lucrative sponsorship deals. Dan O'Leary was the spokesman for a brand of salt. John Hughes, another pedestrian, was sponsored by the National Police Gazette, a popular newspaper, and he actually raced with a shirt that had the paper's logo on it. But for a more concrete example, you can go to London. The Royal Agricultural Hall was the site of many great six-day races involving Americans and Brits, but it is one of the few tangible, physical remnants of the great walking matches of the 1870s and 1880s.

Annie Oakley, wheelwoman

Annie Oakley's biography is interesting and worth a couple minutes' browsing.
Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. Oakley believed strongly that it was crucial for women to learn how to use a gun, as not only a form of physical and mental exercise, but also to defend themselves. She said: "I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies."
Photo from the tumblr of the Smithsonian library, where it is noted that she biked 20 miles a day and incorporated a bicycle into her performance in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.

TIL: "During her lifetime, the theatre business began referring to complimentary tickets as "Annie Oakleys". Such tickets traditionally have holes punched into them (to prevent them from being resold), reminiscent of the playing cards Oakley shot through during her sharpshooting act."

Women in Major League Baseball

In April 1931, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during an exhibition game against the Yankees. 

A few days later, her contract was voided and women were declared unfit to play baseball. 

Fashion for the Working Girl

Two women show off a new uniform - including a plastic ‘bra’ - designed to help prevent occupational accidents among female war workers in Los Angeles in 1943.
via wikipedia.com 
Two women show off a new uniform - including a plastic ‘bra’ - designed to help prevent occupational accidents among female war workers in Los Angeles in 1943.

The Strange Tale of Britain’s Last Witch

You may have thought that witchcraft trials died out hundreds of years ago, but Scottish medium Helen Duncan was prosecuted for being a with in 1944! She was an accomplished performer who drew believers to her psychic appearances and seances by producing “ectoplasm” from her mouth and foretelling the future. But one forecast was so uncanny that it caused an investigation.
Her psychic “talents” came to the notice of the Royal Navy after Helen claimed she saw an apparition of a dead sailor from the sunk ship HMS Barham, during a seance in Southampton. She said the dead sailor claimed his ship had been sunk with the loss of all life on board. As this was during the Second World War, official announcements about any sunk British vessel were held back so as not to damage morale. Duncan claimed she knew it HMS Barham as she had seen the ship’s name in the band of the dead sailor’s hat.
Duncan was right, but that information was classified. Was she a spy or a witch? Read about Helen Duncan and her legal troubles at Dangerous Minds.

Anita Berber Weimar Cabaret Goddess

Weimar cabaret goddess Anita Berber led a life that would be considered shocking even today. Berber embodied decadence: she was an unapologetic spendthrift drug addict and alcoholic sometime prostitute whose many high-profile bisexual and S&M affairs remain the stuff of legend. An electrifying avant-garde dancer, she often performed nude or wearing androgynous costumes.
She also acted in several movies, including Different from the Others (1919), the first film to sympathetically portray homosexual relationships. This human volcano of scandal and creativity expired in 1928 at the age of 29.

If you don't think History is amusing ...


Archaeologists vs. The National Geographic Channel

Archaeologists and historians came out on top  in a battle against The National Geographic Channel.
The channel was promoting a new show — all about treasure hunters, metal detectors, and collectibles salesmen digging up World War II graves in Eastern Europe. Called, classily, Nazi War Diggers, the show appeared to violate some pretty key tenets of scientific archaeology.
Video clips and press materials for the show featured body parts being yanked out of the ground (and misidentified), rather than carefully excavated. And, despite promises that the relics uncovered would go to museums, there's evidence that an American Nazi memorabilia dealer was selling some of things that were found.
In general, the show seemed to involve a lot of behaviors that, while legal in Poland and Latvia where the filming was done, are viewed as horribly unethical by the folks who do this kind of work professionally.
The National Geographic Channel bowed to criticism and put the show on "indefinite" hiatus.
It's worth noting that The National Geographic Channel is a joint venture between The National Geographic Society and Fox Cable Networks.
 Some of the programming on that channel is created by the NGS, some is not, and Fox is generally in charge of the marketing and advertising.
 It's not clear to me from what information is available whether the Nazi War Diggers show was created by NGS.
But, even if it wasn't, the show was trading partly on the Society's good name, which would have created problems for the legitimate archaeologists the Society works with and relies on.
There are a couple of good pieces to read that explain why archaeologists didn't want this program aired:
&bull: Springtime for Hitler and Nazi [Death Porn] Diggers by Andy Brockman at Heritage Daily explores the many problems with this show in detail.
Urgent Ethical and Legal Questions for National Geographic by Sam Hardy at the Conflict Antiquities blog is a list, but it's a great bullet-point introduction to what archaeologists were worried about and what big questions were left unanswered.
• Finally, Tom Mashberg's piece in The New York Times summarizes the conflict and is the primary source for the news that the National Geographic Channel has pulled the show.

The Communist Fantasy of Living on the Moon

The Space Race of the 1950s and ‘60s was just as exciting for the Soviet Union as it was for Americans, and both nations encouraged that excitement in children to build their interest in science and technology for the future. io9 has a roundup of illustrations from Soviet magazine, comic books, and children’s books about future colonists living on the moon and even further out to the planets. The pictures have many elements in common, like the domed structures and the proud outstretched hand showing off the progress, but the styles are varied and beautiful. You have to wonder about the helicopters, though.
The illustration shown here is by Andrei Sokolov. Typical of the time, those visions of a future in space had absolutely too much wasted space. As any real astronaut or cosmonaut will tell you, they don't give you an inch more than absolutely necessary.

The horrid little man who invented fascism

by Ben Steelman 

d'AnnunzioHe was one of the top European best sellers of the late 1800s and early 1900s and was once taken seriously, but not too many people read Gabriele D’Annunzio now.His florid style has gone out of fashion (although Ernest Hemingway admired his war memoir “Notturno,” since he largely gave up the classical allusions and the frou-frou and just told the story straight.) He was a poet, novelist and playwright, yet among his contemporaries, we’re more likely these days to recognize Luigi Pirandell0.
Yet Lucy Hughes-Hallett, the British critic and cultural historian, thinks we all should know D’Annunzio.
Why? Because, basically, he invented fascism as we know it. The parades, the black shirts, the cult of the leader, the spectacles, the military rigamarole — D’Annunzio started it all in a now-forgotten little city-state called Fiume.
All this was before Hitler; at the time, Benito Mussolini was still wearing business suits. Both future dictators (and several others) watched D’Annunzio and copied him. An Italian Fascist biography in fact referred to him as “The John the Bsptist of Fascism.” For D’Annunzio, that was a slap. He hated playing second fiddle to anybody.
Hughes-Hallett writes the strange tale in “D’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer and Prophet of War” (Knopf, $35), one of the more intriguing of recent biographies. It’s timely as we ponder the centennial of World War I.
Had D’Annunzio died before 1914, he would have been an amusing literary footnote. As Oscar Wilde once said of himself, he seems to have put his genius into his life and merely his talent into his work.
Born in 1863, the coddled oldest son of a south Italian mayor, D’Annunzio was a literary prodigy. He was also a cad. At the age of 19, he eloped with the daughter of a duke, only to abandon her a few years later. Sitting in a cramped apartment with squalling babies was not conducive to thinking higher thoughts. (He later wrote a novel in which the hero murders his infant son, since the babe interfered with Papa’s sex life.)
For decades, D’Annunzio was classed with the Decadents, an Italian equivalent of Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde or Ronald Firbank. Unlike Wilde, however, his instincts seem to have been exclusively, and obsessively, heterosexual.
He never actually divorced his duchess (though he almost never provided for her support), yet he passed through a dizzying string of affairs. There was a long liaison with the great actress Eleanora Duse, possibly one with the dancer Isadora Duncan, plus a long string of rich, lonely and neglected Italian countesses and princesses with complaisant or neglectful husbands.
The odd thing was, D’Annunzio was as unlikley a ladies’ man as the Howard Wolowitz character on “The Big Bang Theory.” He was short, he had bad teeth, and he went bald early. Liane de Poligny, a celebrated French courtesan of the era, described him as “a frighful gnome with red-rimmed eyes and no eyelashes, no hair, greenish teeth (and) the manners of a mountebank.”
Liane was the sort of lady who checked her beaux’s bank accounts first, and D’Annunzio, who was perpetually broke, held no appeal for her. For others, ah … The secret seems to have been the voice. He was an amazing speaker, smooth, hypnotic. Walter Starkie, a Briton who witnessed one of his speeches, said he played his audience “as a supreme violinist does upon a Stradivarius.”
Before 1914, though, this eloquence had no real point. D’Annunzio was an aesthete who surrounded himself with damask curtains, huge libraries, marble curios, exquisite little objets d’art and, of course, the finest tailored wardrobes. He made millions from his writings but nevertheless was constantly in debt, dodging creditors and process servers. At one point, he had to flee Italy for five years to avoid arrest.
His crassness matched his incompetence with money. Once Duse presented him with a large sum of money to pay for his children’s schooling. Instead, D’Annunzio, a fox-hunting enthusiast, used the cash to buy a horse.
Then came the Great War.
Before then, D’Annunzio had been a political dilettante. Once he ran for Italy’s parliament on the platform of “the politics of poetry.” He was actually elected but then almost never showed up for sessions to show his contempt for the grubby political process. A disciple of Nietzsche, he regarded
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himself as above the mere mob and normally paid them no heed.
Once his beloved France was attacked, however, D’Annunzio changed. Suddenly, he became a fiery, almost apocalyptic orator, rallying the youth of the Mediterranean to fight against the Teutonic barbarians. He writings had always had a Poe-like attraction to death; now he preached the glory of dying for the fatherland.
In particular, he returned to Italy and began to attack the weaklings, the cowards, the poltroons in the Italian government who insisted on sticking to Italy’s treaty of neutrality with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Now, he adopted the cause of “Irredentism,” the recovery of Italian lands still in Austrian hands. (His definition of what was “Italian” was broad, including much of the old Venetian empire, which would have covered much of the Balkans.)
The Giolitti government favored peace, as did a majority of Italians, according to the polls of the day. Hughes-Hallett credits D’Annunzio with tipping the scales and pushing Italy into a war that would cost it at least half a million war dead, plus another half million civilian deaths from starvation, epidemic and war-related causes.
Then, D’Annunzio did an amazing thing. He enlisted. At first the high command used him as a sort of mascot, sending around to serve rousing speeches to the troops.
Yet D’Annunzio (a lifelong physical fitness nut who’d fought a few duels) did more. He rode along on torpedo-boat raids on Austrina-held ports. He rode flights over enemy territory, dropping first propaganda leaflets, then bombs. These climaxed with a daring air raid on Vienna, the capital of the Austrian empire, itself. By the war’s end, D’Annunzio — who’d made himself something of an expert on military aviation — was commanding whole bomber squadrons. This, from a man who was well past 50 when hostilities broke out.
Imagine if Oscar Wilde had lived, had joined the RAF and wound up dueling the Red Baron in the skies over France. That was the equivalent of what D’Annunzio did. Even Hemingway, who considered him a blowhard and a “jerk,” nevertheless conceded he was brave.
Then, to paraphrase the old BBC parody, tragedy struck — peace broke out. Covered with medals, D’Annunzio sank into one of his periodic funks and retreated to his apartments in Venice and the arms of a harem of paramours.
Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself. Despite its staggering losses, Italy reaped almost no territorial gains from the peace conference. Most of the land it coveted wound up in the newly created kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Thus, on Sept. 12, 1919, riding in a red Fiat sports car, D’Annunzio sped into Fiume, a small port city on the Adriatic, with a majority of Italians in its population but in territory technically assigned to Yugoslavia. With about 2,000 demobilized Italian soldiers (accompanied by some who deserted their units), he seized Fiume and set up a “Republic” (later reclassified a “Regency” out of respect to Italian monarchists), pending Fiume’s annexation by Italy.
He held onto Fiume, as de facto dictator, for some 15 months. And while the city, for a while, seemed a refuge for every freak and loon in Europe — anarchists, syndicalists, nudists, yoga enthusiasts — it was here that D’Annunzio invented fascism.
He came up with all the trappings: The mass marches, the “politics of spectacle,” the black uniforms, the speeches, the contempt for democratic or legislative niceties, the glorification and imitation of a supposed Roman past. He even adapted the title of “Duce,” years before Mussolini.
D’Annunzio drew up a constitution that was radical in some respects (absolute equality between men and women was supposed to be guaranteed) but which turned the economy into a system of “corporations” or guilds — the essence of what would become Italian fascism.
More ominously, D’Annunzio stood by while his barely disciplined troops and police targeted ethnic minorities and practiced a crude early version of ethnic cleansing. Some sources claim his thugs started the fascist practice of dosing opponents with castor oil.
Eventually, an embarrassed Italian government — which had dithered, fearing its army would disobey — ran D’Annunzio out. But by then, the damage was done. As the Italian Communist Angelo Trasca wrote, D’Annunzio (who had often been accused of plagiarism) became “the victim of the greatest piece of plagiarism the world has ever seen.”
In 1922, Mussolini — now the Duce, now in black-shirted uniform — led a “column” of fascists and disconteted veterans on a march into Rome to seize power. His Italy became Fiume writ large. There’s evidence Adolf Hitler paid attention.
As for D’Annunzio, he retreated to his estate, which he converted into a monument to his ego, and kept his mouth shut. Afraid the hero of Fiume would cause trouble, Mussolini paid his bills (which were considerable), saw that he was created a noble and showered him with little gifts, including the front half of battleship, big guns and all, which was installed on his proprety complete with a crew.
Increasingly decrepit, likely addicted to cocaine and probably suffering from syphilis, D’Annunzio lingered on until his death in 1938.
Hughes-Hallett — who has written a well-regarded biography of Cleopatra — tells the story with gusto, at times narrating the action in present tense, rather like Thomas Carlyle in his hstory of the French Revolution.
And then there are the odd little moments of synchronicity when other characters wander onto the stage. At an air show in Brescia before the war, when D’Annunzio took his first airplane ride. we spot Franz Kafka and Max Brod, stopping by on a vacation from Prague. And we catch a glimpse of Marcel Proust, glancing out the windows of his cork-lined apartment to admire the beauty of the planes dogfighting over Paris.

Sensible Heels and Six Channels


Sensible heels and only six channels. Welcome to pure bliss, darlings!
Sensible heels and only six channels. Welcome to pure bliss, darlings!

Deadly Fashion Trends

When fashion mavens say that such-and-such is to die for, they don’t literally mean it. However, some clothing fads have actually killed their wearers now and then. You are no doubt familiar with foot binding in China, a practice that only started to die out around a hundred years ago. But have you ever heard of muslin disease? It’s not a bug, but it make some women in France unable to fight off common diseases.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was all the rage for women to dampen themselves in water before dressing in their muslin gowns. The wet, thin fabric would then stick to their backsides, showing off their figures and emphasizing that they were dressed sans undergarments. In revolutionary France, the Sumptuary Laws stated that one’s clothing and accessories could not weigh more than 3.5KG, as rich fabrics and heavily embroidered clothing were reserved strictly for the upper class. So, lower class women would forego underwear. The cold temperatures, however, proved to be too strong for the women wearing wet, weak fabric, leading to severe cases of pneumonia.
The Daily Beast has the story of muslin disease and six other fashion trends that cost at least some people their lives.

22 Strange Medical Instruments From The Past That Make You Shudder

In the history of medicine, machines became crucial parts of the diagnostic and treatment process in the first half of the 20th century. Scientists and doctors experimented with some really strange devices, and they developed a lot of creepy-looking health equipment - at least some of which seems almost horrific, seen through the eyes of today.

Here are 22 instruments that are partly scary, partly weird, and partly awesome - just as inventions should be.

10 Fantastically Awful Retro Toys

This is a great idea! If there’s one thing we need to teach young children, it’s the importance of rooting around medicine cabinets and experimenting. What could possibly go wrong? You’d better look through eBay for a vintage 1950s toy medicine chest. It comes with basic hygiene items, such as soap and toothpaste. But feel free to add prescription drugs and razor blades. Once your kids run out of their own, they know that they can find more in mommy and daddy's medicine cabinet.
This is 1 of 10 weird old toys rounded up at Anorak. You can find the rest here.



Did the Amazon Warriors Really Exist?

I was a fan of Wonder Woman as a comics-reading child, just as I was a fan of Batman and Superman. Being a kid, I figured the land of the Amazons was in the Amazon Rainforest. The legendary Amazons actually came from ancient Greek tales. Homer included them in the Iliad, and from there mentions of a warrior class of women were peppered into many epic stories. But were those tales based on fact or fiction?
The more important the Amazons became to Athenian national identity, the more the Greeks searched for evidence of their vanquished foe. The fifth century B.C. historian Herodotus did his best to fill in the missing gaps. The “father of history,” as he is known, located the Amazonian capital as Themiscyra, a fortified city on the banks of the Thermodon River near the coast of the Black Sea in what is now northern Turkey. The women divided their time between pillaging expeditions as far afield as Persia and, closer to home, founding such famous towns as Smyrna, Ephesus, Sinope and Paphos. Procreation was confined to an annual event with a neighboring tribe. Baby boys were sent back to their fathers, while the girls were trained to become warriors. An encounter with the Greeks at the Battle of Thermodon ended this idyllic existence. Three shiploads of captured Amazons ran aground near Scythia, on the southern coast of the Black Sea. At first, the Amazons and the Scythians were braced to fight each other. But love indeed conquered all and the two groups eventually intermarried. Their descendants became nomads, trekking northeast into the steppes where they founded a new race of Scythians called the Sauromatians. “The women of the Sauromatae have continued from that day to the present,” wrote Herodotus, “to observe their ancient customs, frequently hunting on horseback with their husbands...in war taking the field and wearing the very same dress as the men....Their marriage law lays it down, that no girl shall wed until she has killed a man in battle.”
The Amazon women were presumed to be legendary, until a Sauromatian graveyard was found in the early 1990s. The 2,000-year-old graves found in southern Russia near the border with Kazakhstan were excavated and threw an entirely new light onto the legends. Read about what they found, and what it means for the Amazon legend, at Smithsonian.

Asbestos Lurking Beneath Byzantine Wall Paintings

Hundreds of years before asbestos became ubiquitous in the construction industry, Byzantine monks used the fibrous material in plaster coatings underlying their wall paintings.

First Contact

Indigenous societies’ ‘first contact’ typically brings collapse, but rebounds possible
It was disastrous when Europeans first arrived in what would […]

Shepherds Spread Grain Along Silk Road 5,000 Years Ago

Archeologists recently discovered domesticated crops from opposite sides of the continent mingled together in ancient herders campsites found in the rugged grasslands and mountains of central Asia.

Daily Comic Relief


Discoveries Challenge Beliefs on Humans’ Arrival in the Americas

by Simon Romero

Humans’ First Appearance in the Americas

In Piauí, Brazil, archaeologists say stone tools prove that humans reached what is now Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago, upending a belief that people first arrived about 13,000 years ago.

Niede Guidon still remembers her astonishment when she glimpsed the paintings.
Preserved amid the bromeliad-encrusted plateaus that tower over the thorn forests of northeast Brazil, the ancient rock art depicts fierce battles among tribesmen, orgiastic scenes of prehistoric revelry and hunters pursuing their game, spears in hand.
“These were stunning compositions, people and animals together, not just figures alone,” said Dr. Guidon, 81, remembering what first lured her and other archaeologists in the 1970s to this remote site where jaguars still prowl.
Hidden in the rock shelters where prehistoric humans once lived, the paintings number in the thousands. Some are thought to be more than 9,000 years old and perhaps even far more ancient. Painted in red ocher, they rank among the most revealing testaments anywhere in the Americas to what life was like millenniums before the European conquest began a mere five centuries ago.
But it is what excavators found when they started digging in the shadows of the rock art that is contributing to a pivotal re-evaluation of human history in the hemisphere.

Reassessing Human History in the Americas

Researchers at Serra da Capivara National Park unearthed stone tools last year that they say prove that humans reached what is now northeast Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery adds to the growing body of research upending a prevailing belief of 20th-century archaeology in the United States known as the Clovis model, which holds that people first arrived in the Americas from Asia about 13,000 years ago.
Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Researchers here say they have unearthed stone tools proving that humans reached what is now northeast Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery adds to the growing body of research upending a prevailing belief of 20th-century archaeology in the United States known as the Clovis model, which holds that people first arrived in the Americas from Asia about 13,000 years ago.
“If they’re right, and there’s a great possibility that they are, that will change everything we know about the settlement of the Americas,” said Walter Neves, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of São Paulo whose own analysis of an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil implies that some ancient Americans resembled aboriginal Australians more than they did Asians.
Up and down the Americas, scholars say that the peopling of lands empty of humankind may have been far more complex than long believed. The radiocarbon dating of spear points found in the 1920s near Clovis, N.M., placed the arrival of big-game hunters across the Bering Strait about 13,000 years ago, long forming the basis of when humans were believed to have arrived in the Americas.
More recently, numerous findings have challenged that narrative. In Texas, archaeologists said in 2011 that they had found projectile points showing that hunter-gatherers had reached another site, known as Buttermilk Creek, as early as 15,500 years ago. Similarly, analysis of human DNA found at an Oregon cave determined that humans were there 14,000 years ago.
But it is in South America, thousands of miles from the New Mexico site where the Clovis spear points were discovered, where archaeologists are putting forward some of the most profound challenges to the Clovis-first theory.
Paleontologists in Uruguay published findings in November suggesting that humans hunted giant sloths there about 30,000 years ago. All the way in southern Chile, Tom D. Dillehay, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University, has shown that humans lived at a coastal site called Monte Verde as early as 14,800 years ago.
And here in Brazil’s caatinga, a semi-arid region of mesas and canyons, European and Brazilian archaeologists building on decades of earlier excavations said last year that they had found artifacts at a rock shelter showing that humans had arrived in South America almost 10,000 years before Clovis hunters began appearing in North America.
“The Clovis paradigm is finally buried,” said Eric Boëda, the French archaeologist leading the excavations here.
Exposing the tension over competing claims about where and when humans first arrived in the Americas, some scholars in the dwindling Clovis-first camp in the United States quickly rejected the findings.
Gary Haynes, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, argued that the stones found here were not tools made by humans, but instead could have become chipped and broken naturally, by rockfall. Stuart Fiedel, an archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group, an environmental consulting company, said that monkeys might have made the tools instead of humans.
“Monkeys, including large extinct forms, have been in South America for 35 million years,” Dr. Fiedel said. He added that the Clovis model was recently bolstered by new DNA analysis ancestrally connecting indigenous peoples in Central and South America to a boy from the Clovis culture whose 12,700-year-old remains were found in 1968 at a site in Montana.
Such dismissive positions have invited equally sharp responses from scholars like Dr. Dillehay, the American archaeologist who discovered Monte Verde. “Fiedel does not know what he is talking about,” he said, explaining that similarities existed between the stone tools found here and at the site across South America in Chile. “To say monkeys produced the tools is stupid.”
Having their findings disputed is nothing new for the archaeologists working at Serra da Capivara. Dr. Guidon, the Brazilian archaeologist who pioneered the excavations, asserted more than two decades ago that her team had found evidence in the form of charcoal from hearth fires that humans had lived here about 48,000 years ago.
While scholars in the United States generally viewed Dr. Guidon’s work with skepticism, she pressed on, obtaining the permission of Brazilian authorities to preserve the archaeological sites near the town of São Raimundo Nonato in a national park that now gets thousands of visitors a year despite its remote location in Piauí, one of Brazil’s poorest states.
Dr. Guidon remains defiant about her findings. At her home on the grounds of a museum she founded to focus on the discoveries in Serra da Capivara, she said she believed that humans had reached these plateaus even earlier, around 100,000 years ago, and might have come not overland from Asia but by boat from Africa.
Professor Boëda, who succeeded Dr. Guidon in leading the excavations, said that such early dates may have been possible but that more research was needed. His team is using thermoluminescence, a technique that measures the exposure of sediments to sunlight, to determine their age.
At the same time, discoveries elsewhere in Brazil are adding to the mystery of how the Americas were settled.
In what may be another blow to the Clovis model of humans’ coming from northeast Asia, molecular geneticists showed last year that the Botocudo indigenous people living in southeastern Brazil in the late 1800s shared gene sequences commonly found among Pacific Islanders from Polynesia.
How could Polynesians have made it to Brazil? Or aboriginal Australians? Or, if the archaeologists here are correct, how could a population arrive in this hinterland long before Clovis hunters began appearing in the Americas? The array of new discoveries has scholars on a quest for answers.
Reflecting how researchers are increasingly accepting older dates of human migration to the Americas, Michael R. Waters, a geoarchaeologist at Texas A&M University’s Center for the Study of the First Americans, said that a “single migration” into the Americas about 15,000 years ago may have given rise to the Clovis people. But he added that if the results obtained here in Serra da Capivara are accurate, they will raise even more questions about how the Americas were settled.
“If so, then whoever lived there never passed on their genetic material to living populations,” said Dr. Waters, explaining how the genetic history of indigenous peoples links them to the Clovis child found in Montana. “We must think long and hard about these early sites and how they fit into the picture of the peopling of the Americas.”

An eccentric genius explains how half-Yeti hybrids have enslaved mankind

In 1934 the government of Poland declared Stanislav Szukalski the country’s ‘Greatest Living Artist.’ It built the Szukalski National Museum in Warsaw to hold his massive sculptures and dramatic, mythological paintings.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, they destroyed the museum and all of Szukalski’s sculptures and paintings. He fled to the United States, where no one recognized him as a celebrated hero. He lived in a small apartment in Glendale, California and made a meager income drawing maps for the aerospace industry. He devoted the rest of his life developing his theory of “Zermatism,” which centered on his belief that human beings were under the control of a race of human-yeti hybrids (the result of ‘yeti apes’ raping human women). Szukalski wrote over 10,000 pages about Zermatism and illustrated his argument with 40,000 illustrations.
Szukalski would have remained in total obscurity if he hadn’t been discovered by a few popular underground cartoonists: Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, and Jim Woodring – who recognized Szukalski’s immense artistic talent, and befriended him. (I interviewed Woodring about his friendship with the incredibly arrogant yet charming Szukalski on my Boing Boing podcast, Gweek. You can listen to it here.)
Several years ago I had the opportunity to see the entire Zermatism archives firsthand. They are bound in massive books and are in the possession of comic book art collector Glenn Bray. It was a stunning sight. Behold!!! The Protong represents less than 1% of the total Zermatism oeuvre, but it’s enough to give you a feel for the depth of breadth of Szukalski’s lifelong obsession.

History's weirder theories about dinosaur extinction

Scientific consensus suggests that dinosaurs died out thanks to the combination of an asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruptions, and climate change. But there have been other ideas on the subject. Brian Switek has cataloged some of the odder theories, from poor eyesight to deadly farts to overactive pituitary glands.

Coming Tomorrow

Coming Tomorrow
  • Did a dolphin really say 'sargassum'?
  • Dead plants hold earthquake secrets
  • Ants squirting formic acid
  • Deadliest Mushroom spreading worldwide
And more ...
This gator is our Animal Picture, for today.