Friday, October 29, 2010

Victorian Ladies Spy Camera Concealed in Watch

"Secret gadgets up under her clothes,
Stuff you hear about but nobody knows,
It ain't no use - all women are bad."

- Lux Interior, 1989.

Spotted on Watchismo:

“The Lancaster Watch Camera was patented in October 1886 and made until 1890. Such tiny cameras were the forerunners for the ‘spy’ camera – a mechanism disguised as a different object. However, it would have been very inconvenient to use as four very small catches had to be released in order to remove the glass screen and to fit a separate metal sensitised material holder for each exposure. As a result, the model sadly sold badly and is much rarer than the improved version which came on the market in 1890. The ladies’ pattern is therefore particularly special, and only four original models are known to exist."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Indiana Jones Does Thimble Theatre

Chuck Forsman is a minor deity and here's why. Someone hire this man and put him to work rendering all modern films into E.C. Segar's style, immediately. I want to see him do Inglourious Basterds.

Buy a print of the full sheet of strips here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Sitchin Situation

The news hit me yesterday like an atom bomb: Zecharia Sitchin is Dead. Everyone, including myself, was shocked, but the guy was ninety years old. Sitchin seemed timeless, ageless, exempt from death, more of a force or a fixture than a mere mortal. As it turns out, he passed away earlier this month but few knew about it until it was finally announced on the official Sitchin site:

The family asks that you respect its privacy during this difficult time and refrain from contacting family members directly. Instead, to offer tributes to Mr. Sitchin or to contact those handling his affairs, please email or send a letter to P.O. Box 577, New York, NY 10185.

Far from simply succumbing to senescence, "old age", or so-called "natural causes", Sitchin was still extremely active at 90 and published a new book just a few months ago. It was apparently lingering complications from an "acute abdominal problem" in July that did his physical shell in.

It's rather difficult for me to enunciate a general summary of Sitchin's work, since its tentacles extend to virtually all aspects of life, and since I disagree vehemently with portions of it even as I champion other portions. And those conflicting portions are so intermixed, that even discussing and debating it can be, as Russell Long once said of the JFK assassination mess, "like pickin' gnat shit out of pepper."

Unlike many armchair researchers (like, say, Erich Von Daniken), Sitchin actually travelled extensively and was out there in the field, mixing the map and the message. On one of his "Earth Chronicles Expeditions", he actually visited Phaestos, the city where the Phaestos Disc was unearthed, and made some fascinating discoveries of his own. No, far from being the charlatan that internet negativists sometimes accused him of being, Sitchin was the real deal, and did more hands-on archaeology than some archaeologists I know.

On the other hand, Sitchin did promote a convoluted mythology involving the Anunnaki, a race of extra-terrestrials from a planet beyond Neptune called Nibiru. According to Sitchin, the planet Nibiru (or "Planet X") has a severely elliptical orbit in our own Solar System, and makes return visits to us with a long periodicity. Sitchin insisted that the ancient Sumerian culture - which in turn could be said to be the cradle of all subsequent civilization - was created by the Anunnaki, who were also supposedly the same entities as the Biblical Nephilim and the Islamic Jinn.

Wikipedia says: "Sitchin's speculations have been ridiculed by professional scientists, historians, and archaeologists, who note many problems with his translations of ancient texts and categorize his work as pseudohistory and pseudoscience." And that's true enough, but you know and I know that some of the greatest achievements of our lifetime have been labeled "pseudoscience" by the ignoble intelligentsia. The halls of the non-existent museum of pseudoscience are littered with inventions and ideas that really worked, independently of the skeptics who seek to supress puzzle pieces that don't fit their idea of what the big jigsaw puzzle is supposed to be depicting.

Me, I applaud Sitchin's research on its own merits and for its own sake; the puzzling evidence is patently obvious, but Sitchin and I simply differed on how to interpret that evidence. This in no way invalidates the subject itself - I simply prefer to leave most of the blanks unfilled-in and unknown for now, while Sitchin tended to abhor a vacuum every bit as much as the rationalist-skeptics who attacked him, and would fill in the blanks of any unknowns he encountered with a theory to explain them away. Sitchin was rarely heard to say "I just don't know" or "I have no idea what this might mean."

Of course, the Sumerians aren't here to contradict us. They didn't even call themselves Sumerians - they called themselves ùĝ saĝ gíg-ga ("ung sang giga"), which roughly translates as "men with black heads". The terms "Sumer" and "Sumerian" didn't come about, to be retroactively applied, until thousands of years later!

For better or for worse, Sitchin's work has influenced or inspired a whole raft of other para-cosmologies, from The Raelians to The Nuwaubians to David Icke to Nancy Lieder and the Zetas. To his credit, Sitchin took great pains to distance himself from the most rabid of the internet's doom-hungry legions who constantly claim that Nibiru will destroy Earth either in 2012 or any day now. As is so often the case, the problem is not with the originator of an idea or a philosophy, but with demented individuals who appropriate that material and misuse it. The best thing you can do is not to read about Sitchin (this blog post included), but go read what Sitchin himself wrote.

Sitchin's most important work ever was in progress at the time of his passing. In his new book, he proposes that the ancient Sumerian Puabi was an alien goddess whose 4500-year-old skeletal remains may still contain DNA from her alien race. And he was in the process of mounting the "Goddess of Ur Genome Project", an effort to test that DNA and prove that aliens seeded humanity. Perhaps his death will spur his devotees to spearhead this testing through - and posthumously prove him right.

"And of His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the living creatures that He has spread out in them. He has the power to bring them together when He so wills." (Ash-Shura 42:29)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

1928 Time Traveller?

There's been a lot of hubbub about this alleged "time traveller" film clip going around the interwebs for a few days now, and it seems to be gathering steam. I hadn't planned on covering it here, but I suppose I should, given the circumstances.

Basically, there's this film footage shot at the 1928 premiere event for Charlie Chaplin's movie The Circus, which seems to show a woman walking around talking on a cellphone. Of course, within conventional thought, that's not possible.

Some have suggested that perhaps it's merely a walkie-talkie, but the earliest walkie-talkies were in the 1940s, and so huge that they were contained in a backpack. It wasn't until the 1950s that handheld walkie-talkies were developed, and even then they were as big as a loaf of bread. These devices were strictly for military use anyway, and public use of walkie-talkies didn't occur until even later.

Maybe she's just listening to a Dodgers game on a small radio and holding it against her ear to hear it clearly? No. Handheld radios didn't happen until the transistor radio boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

For a few moments I thought I'd solved the mystery when I started looking at hearing aids of the time, but then realized that all "ear trumpets" are meant to be held longways with the end against your ear, not the side. If our mystery lady is indeed employing one of those, she's doin' it wrong. And she's apparently talking to it.

So what are we seeing here? Though by no means do I wish to invalidate the idea that this could be a time-traveller or one of the Men in Black, it should be noted that a mobile communication device that transmits through space and time is quite a stretch, and would require some sort of quantum psycho-cybernetic nano-implant, which would then render the need for such a large clunky physical device unnecessary.

Consider that there were crazy people wandering the streets back then, just as there are today. Consider that it is not impossible that some nut is walking around talking to herself while holding a loofah up to her ear or something.

And there have also been suggestions from some quarters that this may actually be a man. I'm indecisive on that point, but if it is a crossdresser, he's not a very good one. Though the shoes and skirt are definitely female, the cloak and hat are mannish, and almost suggest Jack the Ripper.

But let's leave that door shut just now.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jupiter Over Jefferson County

The planet Jupiter has recently been closer to the Earth than at any time since 1951 or 1963, depending on conflicting media sources.

How close is it?

It's so close that last night, standing in E.P. Sawyer Park in Anchorage, KY, I actually managed to see (I think) one of its 63 known moons through high-powered binoculars.

It's so close that I even managed to take photos with my ordinary and mundane digital camera (an Olympus SP-350, 8.0 megapixel) that, while, not likely to appear in Sky & Telescope anytime soon, are good enough to show Jupiter's characteristic pinkness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sea of Shibboleths

A Shibboleth is an ancient concept extending back to Biblical times, from the Hebrew word שִׁבֹּלֶת meaning "grain-bearing plant" (such as wheat or corn). Members of the tribe of Gilead found that enemy members of the tribe of Ephraim invariably mispronounced this word, and so used it as a code word to detect spies.

Today, shibboleths occur in everyday talk and in political speeches via Cant Language, using words and phrases that help to subtly and silently distinguish members of any given group from non-members. Politicians such as George W. Bush II have peppered their language with keywords and phrases that act as a signal to certain extreme right-wing Christian organizations, who say "hey, this guy's one of us!" when they hear them. The phrases are usually innocuous enough that they pass unnoticed, even through the major media scrutiny that a politician's speech receives.

One of my favorite films, Inglourious Basterds, is all about the nuances of language and codes and customs and shibboleths - even its very name is a shibboleth. Tarantino, a devout film buff, liberally loaded his movie with film history references, some obvious, some abstract. And throughout the film, we see the characters scrutinize each other in terms of language, of accent, and of certain social cues:

* The Jewish family's inability to speak English seals their doom as they hide under the floorboards of the French farmer's house, unaware that Landa is openly discussing their demise. And by pulling out a Sherlock Holmes pipe and puffing on it as he prepares to reveal that he has known all along that the farmer is hiding the family, Landa is practically telegraphing this to the farmer - but it only makes sense after it's too late.

* British agent Lt. Hicox gives himself away as a spy first by his German accent (which, good as it may be, cannot fool an authentic German) and then by being unaware of the cultural custom of holding two fingers and a thumb up to signal the number three (rather than the more common method of simply using the main three fingers).

* At the Nazi film event, Landa can instantly detect the Basterds are spies by their poor Italian accents.

* And at the restaurant alone with Shosanna, Landa drops some shibboleth-hints to suggest he secretly knows who she really is, by making overt references to milk and cream as he grills her about her made-up identity.

I tend to speak in shibboleths anyway, through no conscious effort or conspiratorial agenda of my own. I often weave pop-culture references into things I say (but in a dry and ironic way, and not necessarily endorsing the sources of those references.) Example: speaking to a group of children at an art education event a few years back, I pronounced the word "authority" as "autho-ri-tahhh", a la South Park's Cartman. The kids immediately burst into laughter en masse, while the reference was lost on all the adults in the room, who looked around confusedly, wondering what had just happened.

I love those kind of moments, and that's why I sprinkle shibboleths around for my own amusement, and to enjoy bisecting a conversation into multiple invisible levels, each of which may have a different effect on a different listener. Sometimes my associate J.T. Dockery and I will have conversations that consist solely of quotes from old songs and movies that we both adore, which can be quite puzzling to an outsider.

Friday, October 8, 2010

1877 E. Howard Tower Clock

Last week I spotted this clockwork wonder in the lobby of the Henry County courthouse in Kentucky. It was the original courthouse tower clock, which had been abandoned when it ceased to work many years ago, but then some enterprising soul rescued it from whatever guano-encrusted shed in which it had been stored, and coaxed it like Frankenstein's Monster back into renewed life.

The clock was manufactured in 1877 by a Boston, Massachusetts company specifically for the Henry County courthouse's original incarnation. I was thrilled to discover such a Steampunky find out in the glory lands of rural Kentucky, but the locals seem jaded about it, and found it a source of considerable mirth that I was taking pictures of it like a foreign tourist.