Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep

We survived the December 21, 2012, Doomsday predictions. We survived the holidays and following New Year's Day things return to normal. Once again we'll know what day of the week it is—every day won't feel like a Saturday-Sunday weekend. :)

Therefore…it seemed that a New Years themed blog would be appropriate.

New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke. Every January 1st we make resolutions for the upcoming year and if we're lucky, they could actually remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2013? Here's a list of several such resolutions. I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered. If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance.

1. Gain Weight: Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks.

2. Go Deeper Into Debt: You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping. After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3. Spend More Money: This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list. Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4. Don't Get A Better Job: Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5. Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine: Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6. Don't Go Back To School: Look at your current life and time schedule. Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new 60-inch HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks. Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7. Drink More Alcohol: Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new HDTV.

8. Smoke Like A Chimney: When someone chastises you for putting second hand smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9. Stay At Home: If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10. Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).

As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.

Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses. Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason. Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved totemic status. At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cakelike substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem. Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts. It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…

While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover. According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin. And what are congeners, you might ask? They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic. They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste. They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :) And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning. According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges. The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail). The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover. The credit goes to the alcohol itself

Wishing everyone a marvelous New Year, and health and happiness for 2013.

And most of all Peace On Earth for everyone.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

Early Europeans celebrated light in the darkest days of winter. They rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the Winter Solstice on December 21 through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and set them on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out which could be as long as twelve days.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Odin. They believed he made night flights through the sky to observe his people and then decide who would prosper or perish.

In Rome, where winters weren't as harsh as in the far north, Saturnalia was celebrated beginning the week before winter solstice and continuing for a full month. It was a hedonistic time with lots of food and drink. For that month the social order was turned upside down with slaves becoming masters and peasants in charge of the city. Business and schools were closed so everyone could join in.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, on December 25 members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithras, the god of the unconquerable sun.

It wasn't until the fourth century that Christian church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. The Puritans denied the legitimacy of the celebration, pointing out that the Bible does not mention a date for his birth. Pope Julius I chose December 25. The common belief is that the church chose the date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had mostly replaced pagan religion. Christmas was celebrated by attending church then celebrating in a drunken carnival type of atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras celebration.

In the early seventeenth century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces gained control in England and vowed to do away with decadence. As part of their agenda, they cancelled Christmas. When Charles II regained the throne, he restored the holiday.

The pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston. In contrast, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all in the Jamestown settlement.

Some Christmas facts:

Each year 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

Christmas wasn't a holiday in early America until June 26, 1870, when Congress declared it a federal holiday.

The first eggnog made in the United States was in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of an advertising campaign to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

The first tinsel decoration was made from real silver and originally used to reflect light from candles placed on Christmas trees (in the days before electric lights replaced candles). Tinsel came into popularity in 1610 in Germany. Silver was hammered out and cut into thin strips to hang on the tree. Real silver tarnished, so the tinsel rarely lasted more than one season. Silver tinsel was used until the early 1900s and was seen as a status symbol. Today's tinsel is made of PVC. Due to its environmentally unfriendly nature, it has mostly gone out of style.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season. And most of all – Peace On Earth.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 21, 2012—Doomsday?

Most of the Doomsday talk about December 21, 2012, being the day the world will come to some sort of an apocalyptic end is related to a Mayan calendar from centuries ago. Over the years, the Mayan calendar end date has been misinterpreted as a prophecy of the earth's end not to mention that the end date was never specified as December 21st. The date in question as shown on the Mayan calendar is winter solstice in Northern hemisphere (summer solstice in Southern hemisphere) of 2012 which, for this year, happens to fall on December 21st but can occur anywhere on December 20 through December 23 depending on the year.

For those who are thinking that modern changes to the calendar such as converting from the Julian calendar to the current Gregorian calendar and adding a leap day every four years means the moment of doom would have already come and gone, you can set that notion aside since it's not the specific date of December 21st that's in question. The moment of truth is the moment of the solstice which is not determined by modern man's calendar.

The Mayan calendar actually consists of three calendars working together simultaneously. The Long Count calendar is divided into bak'tuns (144,000-day cycles) that began at the Maya creation date. The winter solstice of the year 2012 is the last day of the 13th bak'tun…the end date of that specific cycle of that calendar, not the end of the world. In addition to the Long Count calendar, there is the Tzolkin (divine calendar) and the Haab (civil calendar). Time goes in cycles in the Mayan calendars meaning that a specific number of days must occur before a new cycle can begin.

The current cycle of the Long Count calendar ends with this month's solstice, thus all the corresponding doomsday predictions. So, where is the calendar that picks up where the current one leaves off? One of the saddest events of Mayan history can be attributed to the Spanish explorers of the 16th century. In 1562, Spanish Inquisitor, Friar Diego de Landa, destroyed over 5000 Mayan artifacts carved in stone and made of clay and burned most of the written manuscripts. It was his attempt to force the Maya to abandon their pagan practices, thus losing all those valuable artifacts as part of history.

There are several current world-wide fears of Doomsday predictions, many connected to the specific means of our alleged demise.

Mayan Calendar: The Maya calendar is made up of different cycles of day counts but the calendar does not end this year. What ends is one cycle of 144,000 days (394 years) then the next cycle begins.

Mayan Prophecy: The ancient Maya did not predict the end of the world. Such Doomsday predictions were created by modern man. The Maya were gifted mathematicians and astronomers who made observations and charted future scientific occurrences based on those observations. They did not make prophecies.

Planet Nibiru: Nibiru is most likely the name of a minor god found in ancient Mesopotamia, not the name of a planet.

Rogue Planet Headed For Earth: Reports of this unknown planet colliding with Earth on December 21, 2012, have circulated for the last decade. IF such a thing existed, by now it would be the brightest object in the sky visible to everyone so that its existence couldn't be denied or hidden, astronomers would have been tracking it for years, and its gravitational pull would be distorting the orbits of other planets (especially Earth and Mars). None of these situations exist.

Planet Alignments: Another myth that this astronomical quirk would tear the Earth apart. There is an approximate lining up of the Earth and Sun with the center of our Galaxy in late December which is not unusual.

Pole Shift: The magnetic polarity changes every million years or so. A sudden change in the rotational axis has never happened and is not possible.

Increasing Disasters: The Earth is behaving normally in 2012 in spite of the fact that we're seeing more and more news stories about natural disasters. There has been an increase in extreme weather, including droughts and floods, partly due to global warming. Remember—the Earth is still a living planet going through cycles of change just as it has for over 4 billion years.

Solar Outbursts: The Sun's ongoing 11-year activity cycle is expected to peak in 2013 with its maximum strength predicted to be lower than average.

Of course, the final truth will be told when we wake up the morning of December 22 to find it's just another day. And for those who have been holding off on holiday plans just in case, you'll only have a couple of shopping days remaining until Christmas.

And for those of you who maxed out your credit cards thinking you didn't need to worry about paying them, those January bills will be in the mail before you know it!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


With the winter solstice of 2012 now less than two weeks away and some people putting forth the theory that the Mayan calendar shows Friday, December 21, 2012, as the end of the world, this seems like a good time to look at some of the failed doomsday predictions that were proclaimed to be absolute in their accuracy at the time. Then next week (December 16) I'll look at the information (facts and myths) surrounding the Doomsday prediction for December 21.

Doomsday predictions have been around for many centuries. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say millenniums. No sooner has one prophecy come and gone without the earth coming to an apocalyptic ending than another one pops up to take its place.

Needless to say, so far none of these prophecies have come to fruition. Regardless of the dire predictions and the credentials of the doomsday prophet du jour, the world is still here.

The Prophet Hen Of Leeds, 1806
For the last two thousand years many of the doomsday predictions have been associated with the imminent return of Jesus. One of the strangest is a hen in the English town of Leeds. In 1806 the hen began laying eggs that had "Christ is coming" written on the shell. Many people believed the miracle and claimed the end was at hand—until a curious neighbor watched the hen laying eggs and discovered that the entire thing was a hoax.

The Millerites, April 23, 1843
William Miller, a New England farmer, came to the conclusion that the date God had chosen to destroy the world could be determined by a strict and literal interpretation of scripture. He eventually had thousands of followers known as Millerites who decided the actual date for the end of the world was April 23, 1843. When the date arrived and nothing happened, the group disbanded.

Mormon Armageddon, 1891 or earlier
At a meeting of his church leaders in February 1835, Joseph Smith announced he had spoken with God and learned Jesus would return within the next 56 years and immediately afterward the End Times would begin.

Halley's Comet, 1910
In 1881, an astronomer discovered that comet tails include a deadly gas called cyanogen. This was of no particular interest until someone realized that Earth would pass through the tail of Halley's comet in 1910 which would subject everyone on the planet to the deadly gas.

Pat Robertson, 1982
Televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, informed his 700 Club television audience that he knew when the world would end. He guaranteed that by the end of 1982 there would be a judgment on the world.

Heaven's Gate, 1997
In 1997 with the appearance of comet Hale-Bopp, rumors circulated that an alien spacecraft was following the comet and NASA was covering up this fact. A San Diego UFO cult, Heaven's Gate, concluded that this meant the world would end soon. On March 26, 1997, 39 members of the cult committed suicide.

Y2K, January 1, 2000
With the turn of the millennium, rumors were flying fast and furious that the world's computers would fail and what they controlled would cease to function because the computers wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the year 1900 and 2000. Catastrophic problems were predicted. Planes would fall out of the sky. However, the new millennium began with only a few minor glitches.

May 5, 2000
And just in case the Y2K bug didn't finish us off on January 1st, the year 2000 had another shot at it. A 1997 book titled 5/5/2000 Ice: the Ultimate Disaster assured us that specific date when the planets would be aligned in the heavens and would result in a global icy death. Guess they forgot about global warming.  :)

Nostradamus, August 1999
The writings of Nostradamus have intrigued people for over 400 years. However, the accuracy of his predictions depends on a very flexible interpretation. One of his quatrains said,
The year 1999, seventh month
From the sky will come great king of terror
Many believed this was Nostradamus' vision of Armageddon.

God's Church Ministry, Fall 2008
Ronald Weinland, minister of God's Church, said in his 2006 book that hundreds of millions of people will die and by the end of 2006 there will be a maximum of only two years remaining before the world will be plunged into the worst time in all human history.

And most recently…

Harold Camping, 2011
On his radio program, Harold Camping proclaimed that Judgment Day would be May 21, 2011, and would begin with global earthquakes and a rapture of the faithful. This would be followed by months of catastrophe and the world would end of October 21, 2011.

And now we wait for December 21, 2012. More on that next week.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Frivolous Lawsuits—Almost Too Ludicrous For Words

Is the U.S. the most lawsuit-happy country in the world? Am I the only one who is sick and tired of reading/hearing about frivolous lawsuits where people are suing someone (or more often a company that they assume has deep pockets) for something that's the result of their own stupidity or carelessness? Apparently it's easier to sue someone rather than take responsibility for their own actions. Of course, the humor element of the lawsuit content is fun, but the reality of the cost to tax payers and having the court calendar bogged down isn't funny. It just seems to me that in something like the last maybe 20 years frivolous lawsuits have skyrocketed—not only in number, but also in how ludicrous and ridiculous they are. There is the reality that many reports of frivolous lawsuits are nothing more than internet hoaxes, but there are as many that are legitimate.

Ever wonder why those weird warnings are sometimes on the packages of items you purchase? Things like telling you not to operate various electrical appliances while in the bathtub, something that seems so blatantly obvious that it shouldn't require a special warning. But, obviously the manufacturer was sued at some time by someone who did just that.

And why the warning to tell you that hot coffee is actually hot? Well, that goes back to another lawsuit.

I think my conscious disgust with frivolous lawsuits dates back to the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit of several years ago. Woman buys a cup of coffee at McDonalds then puts the cup between her legs in her car so she could drive. Well…surprise, surprise…the coffee spilled and she suffered burns. Needless to say, she certainly didn't take any responsibility for what happened. After all, it was McDonald's fault because their hot coffee was actually hot. So she sued them. And the clincher is that a jury awarded her an obscene amount of money thus rewarding her for her poor decision making and actions.

And here's one I read in a news report a few months ago. In March 2012 a man died of heart failure while engaged in a threesome with a woman (not his wife) and another man. The dead man's family sued his cardiologist claiming the doctor should have warned him not to become involved in strenuous physical activity. The man had been to the cardiologist the week before with chest pains. The doctor determined he was at high risk of having clogged heart arteries and ordered a nuclear stress test for 8 days later. The threesome and the man's death occurred the day before the scheduled stress test. The jury awarded the man's family $3 million in damages even though the doctor had instructed his patient to "avoid exertional activity until after the nuclear stress test was completed." Apparently he should have explained that avoiding exertional activity included staying away from sexual threesomes.

And there's the guy who, in 1991, tried to sue Anheuser-Busch for $10,000 because, after drinking large quantities of Bud Light, beautiful women didn't come to life in tropical settings and pursue him like they did in the commercials.

As we all know, staged haunted houses at Halloween are there for the specific purpose of scaring people. But in 2000 a woman sued Universal Studios for $15,000 because their Halloween Horror Nights haunted house caused her "extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress." Makes you wonder exactly what she thought something called Halloween Horror Nights haunted house would be.

A woman sued Starbucks for serving her tea that was "unreasonably hot." Makes you wonder which came first…McDonalds or Starbucks?

An Israeli woman sued a television station for predicting fair weather. Because of the forecast, she dressed in light clothes but later that day the weather turned cooler and it rained. She ended up sick and had to miss work so she sued for $1000. Bottom line, she sued over an act of nature…and won. I do have to admit that it's nice to come across one that isn't U.S.

And speaking of suing for an act of nature, isn't that like suing God?

A man living in Minnesota thinks he's a god of some sort. He became upset after seeing David Copperfield and David Blaine perform their magic acts and sued both of them for using his "godly powers." (this is me shaking my head in disbelief)

Two teen girls in Colorado decided to bake some cookies and share them with neighbors. One neighbor woman was so shocked by two 15-year-old girls at her door at 10:30pm that she had an anxiety attack. She sued for medical expenses and won $930 to cover the expense of her trip to the emergency room but was denied money for "pain and suffering."

And here's a truly bizarre one. A woman standing on a train platform was pelted by portions of an unfortunate young man who had just been hit by an oncoming train. She tried to sue the victim but the judge dismissed the suit because the young man had no way of knowing where his body parts were going to land…due to the fact that he was dead.

A fugitive murder suspect kidnapped a couple and claimed he entered into a verbal contract with them where they would hide him from the law in exchange for an unspecified amount of money. The couple turned him in and during the subsequent arrest he was shot. The couple sued the fugitive for $75,000 for trespassing, intrusion, and emotional distress. He countersued for $235,000 claiming the couple violated their verbal contract with him. The judge dismissed the fugitive's counterclaim because the couple could not have entered into that contract as hiding a fugitive was illegal.

And that's just a sampling of the idiocy clogging our legal system. It does make you wonder how any legitimate legal business get resolved.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving—The Aftermath

Turkey Day, as Thanksgiving is sometimes called in homage to the traditional meal, has come and gone for another year. So…what now? Am I the only one suddenly feeling a little disoriented (for lack of a better word)?

It's almost like a let down from a high. Holiday preparations centering around a large meal with the turkey as the centerpiece. All the family members, relatives both local and from out of town, and even friends and their family members. Who is hosting the large group of family and friends…who has a house large enough to accommodate everyone? And all the preparations. Making sure people coming from out of town and even out of state have a place to stay. Delegating everyone's contribution to the meal—someone brings the dessert (how many pumpkin pies will we need), someone else brings the sweet potatoes, someone else another vegetable, and there's the cranberries in some form, and so on.

And then there is all the work the hostess has to do in preparing a meal for that many people even before guests arrive bringing their assigned dishes. There's the turkey which necessitates that the same person also prepare the dressing and gravy since those items are intertwined which says that the same person also prepare the mashed potatoes.

And all that preparation requires a massive kitchen clean up and running a full load in the dishwasher before dinner so everyone can sit down to the table (or tables depending on how many) and gorge themselves. Then kitchen clean up phase two takes place with running two full loads of dishes in the dishwasher following dinner. And at this point, we haven't had dessert yet because everyone is too full to eat anything else. So, we wait a couple of hours then serve dessert (and enjoy phase three of the kitchen clean up).

And the next day (or maybe even later that night) there's the Black Friday shopping madness for those with the strength and determination to actually hit the stores. Personally, I'm not fond of shopping under the best of conditions so for me Christmas shopping is more of a Cyber Monday online type of thing.

Then we say goodbye to out of town relatives who are now hitting the highways or tackling the airports to return home.

And suddenly we're looking around and feeling at a loss because the frantic activity of Thanksgiving is now in the past. And what's worse, with a Thursday holiday which incorporates Friday into the activities followed by a weekend…well, we end up not sure what day of the week it is.  :)

And that brings us to Monday—the day we try to get back on our regular schedule. And along with that, we now need to turn our attention to the next round of holidays. Getting out the decorations, trying to get our holiday card list together…

And the beat goes on. Hope everyone in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving and everyone else enjoyed a terrific weekend.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Those Naughty Pilgrims

I have some Mayflower myths to share with you, then we'll talk about those naughty and sexy pilgrims!

Myth: The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and the pilgrims celebrated it every year after that.
Fact: The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition. In fact, it wouldn't have been called Thanksgiving because to the pilgrims a thanksgiving was a religious holiday. That feast in 1621 was a secular celebration and would not have been considered a thanksgiving in their minds.

Myth: The original Thanksgiving feast took place on the fourth Thursday of November.
Fact: The original feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11 and was a three day celebration based on the English harvest festivals. In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November, a decision fraught with controversy. The date was approved by Congress in 1941.

Myth: The pilgrims wore only black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, garments, and shoes.
Fact: Buckles did not come into fashion until later in the 17th century. Black and white were commonly worn only on Sunday and formal occasions.
But what about the actions and activities of those naughty pilgrims? As with so much in life, there's the façade and then there's the reality. :)

Although not liberal in their thinking or lifestyle, the pilgrims were not as uptight as history would have us believe. They tried to create a strict religious society, but had an understanding and mercy unusual for their time. As time passed, intolerance grew and was reflected in their laws as demonstrated by the notorious Salem witch trials.

Men were not the only offenders in Plymouth colony. The prim women weren't always so pious either. Women were often caught with the evidence of their dalliances being babies. The records of the times are filled with one out-of-wedlock child after another. Babies showing up just a few months after marriage were also evidence of wrong doing. Pre-marital sex was severely punished. Fines were levied even for making passes, for appearing to have a lascivious carriage in public, or partying in mixed company at an unseemly time of night.

Sex outside marriage, even between two unmarried consenting adults, usually meant a whipping and fines. If the woman became pregnant, the man had to either marry her or pay for the child's upbringing. The man was usually placed in the stocks and whipped while the woman was made to watch. Sometimes mercy was granted as in the case of a servant, Jane Powell. Following years of hard servitude, she was destitute and had agreed to having sex in the hopes of marrying the man. Apparently the court found her plea convincing and she went unpunished.

Even though the pilgrims imposed strict punishment for crimes, they also understood human temptations. In 1656, Katheren Aines and William Paule were sentenced for committing adultery. William was whipped and forced to pay the costs of his imprisonment. Katheren was whipped, imprisoned and forced to wear a letter on her shoulder designating her as an adulteress. (Calling Nathaniel Hawthorne!) However, Katheren's husband, Alexander, was also punished. Alexander had left his family for some time and treated her badly during their marriage. The pilgrims viewed him as guilty of "exposing his wife to such temptations." Alexander was required to pay for his wife's imprisonment, and sit in the stocks while William and Katheren were whipped.

This Thanksgiving as you sit down to your turkey dinner, it might be a good idea to take a moment to be thankful that you aren't a pilgrim. :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Good question. Just ask some of the Hollywood celebrities whose careers would probably never have gotten off the ground using the name they were born with.

Back in the days when the studios literally ruled the performer's lives with iron-fisted control—told the stars which movies they were allowed to make, who they could date, hushed up pregnancies of unwed actresses, made drunk driving arrests go away and paid off victims, and in some instances it's even rumored that they covered up murder—they also controlled the star's name.

Nowadays it's a matter of individual choice whether or not a celebrity wants to select a name more suited to his/her career with some nearly unpronounceable names appearing on the marquee belonging to celebrities that chose to stay with their real name…something that never would have been allowed in the old days.

Here are a few celebrities, some of them old school and others current, whose name change definitely helped their careers.

Fred Astaire, certainly one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century, but would he have been as successful as Frederick Austerlitz? And what about his partner from many of his films, Ginger Rogers? Would she have been as popular as Virginia Katherine McMath?

And then there's Mariska Hargitay's mother, Vera Jayne Palmer. She probably wouldn't have been as successful without the name change to Jayne Mansfield. And Mariska's co-star on Law & Order—SVU, would Tracy Morrow be as interesting Ice-T?

How many women would actually have swooned over the man who is considered one of "Hollywood's all-time definitive leading men" if Archibald Alexander Leach hadn't changed his name to Cary Grant?

Would that famous Jack Benny stare have been as funny coming from Benjamin Kubelsky?

What about a movie marquee announcing Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. and Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff rather than Rock Hudson and Doris Day?

Would "Missed it by that much!" have been such a great catch phrase if it had been uttered by Donald James Yarmy rather than Don Adams?

Would Boris Karloff have been any where near as frightening if he had kept his birth name of William Henry Pratt?

Would Wolfgang Puck have been as successful as a chef and restaurateur under the name of Wolfgang Johannes Topfschnig?

Would we be as mesmerized by the magical illusions of David Copperfield if they were being performed by David Seth Kotkin?

Would Whoopi Goldberg be as funny if she was working as Caryn Elaine Johnson?

We have that teenage song and dance team from those old MGM musicals, Joseph Yule, Jr., and Frances Ethel Gumm. Would they have been as successful if they hadn't changed their names to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland?

And what about one of the most famous comedy teams in show business history, Crocetti and Levitch? You probably know them better as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

There are so many more that I could have listed here, the famous who changed their name in pursuit of a career. Some from days of yore and others current. Do you have any particular favorite celebrities who have chosen to do the name change?

LATE ADDITION:   I'm adding this in now (10 hours later) because I forgot to put it in the original post.  Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta shortened her name to something much simpler and attention getting.  She became Lady Gaga.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Daylight Saving Time—a brief history

At 2:00AM on Sunday, November 4th, we went off Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. We readjusted that flexible one hour of daylight, putting it back into standard or normal time until next Spring. First we Spring forward and lose an hour's sleep, then we Fall back and regain that hour. Daylight Saving Time (yep, technically it's the singular saving rather than the plural savings)—why in the world do we do this? How does this bizarre ritual benefit us? Or does it? Maybe the answer can be found in the history of Daylight Saving Time.

The purpose of Daylight Saving Time is to make better use of natural daylight. We change the clocks in spring as we're approaching warm summer weather to give us an additional hour of daylight in the evening when we can be outdoors, a time when people would otherwise be using more lights and electricity.

The concept of Daylight Savings isn't a creation of modern times. It was introduced by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 but it didn't go anywhere until 1907 when Englishman William Willett advocated Daylight Saving Time in a pamphlet titled Waste Of Daylight. After several European countries put Daylight Saving into practice during World War I, the U.S. formally adopted it in 1918. It proved unpopular and was discontinued in 1919. At that time the U.S. was still had a large agrarian population and businesses in cities didn't stay open in the evening as they do now. People were more inclined to get up early and go to bed early thus making that additional hour of daylight time in the evening not practical.

Some states and regions continued Daylight Saving after 1919, but it didn't become a national decree again until World War II. From 1942 to 1945, it was referred to as War Time and observed year-round. From 1945 to 1966 there was no federal law dealing with Daylight Saving. States and local regions were left to their own devices, to institute it as they saw fit or to abolish it completely.

By 1966 the need for consistent time schedules nationwide (television broadcasting and airlines, for example) resulted in Congress passing the Uniform Time Act which designated Daylight Saving to begin the last Sunday in April and quit the last Sunday in October with states free to exempt themselves from participating in Daylight Saving Time but not allowed to alter the dates of its use. In 1986 the federal law was amended to start Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April but still end the last Sunday in October.

Then in August 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act which changed the dates effective in 2007 to start the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November which leaves us on Daylight Saving Time for the majority of the year.

This year I do have fewer clocks to reset than previous years and I owe that to my cable company. A couple of months ago I switched from regular cable to HD digital and replaced two of my vcr/dvd combos with the dvr boxes from the cable company which gave me two fewer clocks to reset. So…my desktop and laptop computers reset themselves, the atomic clock in my office resets itself, the dvr boxes reset themselves. That leaves me an answering machine, four clocks, two watches, one microwave…and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh, wait a minute. No partridge. Instead there's the the clock in my car.

And the debate continues…do we really need Daylight Saving Time? Can't we just pick one or the other, Daylight Saving or Standard, and let that be it year-round?

What do you think?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

10 Halloween Superstitions

Superstitions flourish in all countries and all cultures. Some of the origins are so obscured by time that no one knows when, how or why they came into being. Friday the 13th always brings out superstitions and rituals to thwart them.

And then there's Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits. They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world. Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

Here's a list of ten superstitions that seem to apply specifically to Halloween.

1) If a candle goes out on its own on Halloween, it is thought a ghost has come to call.

2) A burning candle inside of a Jack-o-lantern on Halloween keeps evil spirits at bay.

3) You invite bad luck into your home if you allow a fire to burn out on Halloween.

4) A person born on Halloween can both see and talk to spirits.

5) Seeing a spider on Halloween could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.

6) If you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween, don't look back because it could be the dead following.

7) Don't look at your shadow in moonlight on Halloween night. Otherwise, you will die within a short period of time.

8) If a bat flies around a house three times, it is a death omen.

9) Ringing a bell on Halloween will scare evil spirits away.

10) A bat that enters a home may have been let in by a ghost.

Do you have any superstitions that apply to Halloween?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Most Haunted Cities in America

With the approach of Halloween, it's natural for thoughts to occasionally dwell on ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. For the second of my three Halloween blogs, I'm talking about America's most haunted cities.

There are several lists of the most haunted cities in the United States, most of them basically naming the same cities in varying order. Here's one list of 10 cities that recently came to my attention.

10) Portland, Oregon: Portland has a reputation for being the most haunted city in the Pacific Northwest. It's a city of many haunts, both seasonal tourist attractions and historical happenings where the participants refuse to leave. One of the most famous…or more accurately, infamous…historical haunts are the Shanghai Tunnels. We've all heard the expression of someone being Shanghaied, meaning to be abducted. This is where it originated. In the Victorian era (around the 1870s), ship captains would put into Portland on the Columbia River looking for fresh crew members. Local middlemen would drug pub goers, dropped the bodies through trapdoors into the tunnels below where they were held captive until they could be carted to the waterfront and sold to the captain for $50/each. These ships were quite often headed for China, thus the term being Shanghaied. Many of these drugged unfortunates died while being held in the tunnels. Today, the Shanghai Tunnels have several ghosts, some menacing and others apparently confused.

9) San Francisco, California: A city of many haunted locations and happenings. One of the most interesting is Alcatraz. The island was a military prison during the Civil War. It was used off and on by many different groups to house various prisoners from that time until 1933 when it was officially turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and used as a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. On March 23, 1963, Alcatraz closed its prison doors for good. Over the one hundred plus years that the island housed prisoners of all types, many died in cruel and terrible ways. Those spirits still inhabit Alcatraz. Even today as part of the National Park system, tourists taking one of the park ranger guided tours report seeing and hearing strange things that can't be explained.

8) Chicago, Illinois: Chicago was the center of gangland activity during Prohibition, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Many gangsters of the era used Chicago as a body dumping ground. There were also six thousand Confederate soldiers and sailors buried during the Civil War at Oak Woods Cemetery which has ongoing paranormal activity. Chicago's most famous ghost is Resurrection Mary named for Resurrection Cemetery. She was killed by a hit and run driver on the street in front of the cemetery and now is often seen hitch hiking along that street.

7) Charleston, South Carolina: The downtown area known as The Battery was a protective artillery installation during the Civil War. The area is known for its ghost stories. The Battery Carriage House Inn is the city's famous haunted hotel where visitors often see strange happenings. The inn's two most famous ghosts are the gentleman ghost and the headless torso. The gentleman ghost is thought to be a young man whose family owned the house in the early 1900s and, for reasons unknown, jumped off the roof and killed himself. The headless torso is believed to be military from the Civil War. There is no evidence that he intends any harm, but guests have felt threatened when he has suddenly materialized in their room.

6) St. Augustine, Florida: The nation's oldest city and the first permanently occupied European settlement on our shores, dating back to its founding in 1565. Castillo de San Marcos is a star-shaped fort and is considered to be one of the most haunted places in a city filled with unexplained phenomenon. The construction of The Old Fort began in 1672 and took twenty-three years to build. Many strange sightings, including a Spanish soldier, have been reported. It is not uncommon for individuals to capture on film strange lights, orbs, rods, spheres, and even distinct apparitions composed of strange mists.

5) San Antonio, Texas: The home of the Alamo is regarded as the most haunted city in Texas. Prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the ground was a cemetery between 1724 and 1793. It's estimated that about one thousand people were buried during those years. On the morning of March 6, 1836, following the thirteen day Battle of the Alamo, one thousand six hundred Mexican shoulders lay dead along with the approximately one hundred forty-five defenders of the old mission. The remaining buildings at the Alamo as well as the surrounding area is one of the most haunted places in the nation. Tales of ghostly sightings have been reported for almost two centuries.

4) New Orleans, Louisiana: With a history of voodoo and slavery in its past, it's no wonder that New Orleans is considered a very haunted city. Its most famous ghost is voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who was buried at St. Louis Cemetery #1, considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country. New Orleans is well below sea level, so the dead are buried in above ground tombs or vaults resembling small architectural buildings. Located on the edge of the haunted French Quarter, this oldest still in service cemetery has been the setting for many Haunted New Orleans movies such as Easy Rider, Interview With The Vampire, and Johnny Handsome. But its biggest draw is the tomb of Marie Laveau.

3) Salem, Massachusetts: This site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s certainly makes the list of haunted cities. Gallows Hill is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the nineteen women accused of being witches who were hanged there. It also shouldn't be surprising that Salem has one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the country for people of all ages.

2) Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Civil War battle at Gettysburg resulted in fifty-one thousand casualties. It is believed that nearly all forty miles of the Gettysburg battlefields have paranormal activity. Many of the ghosts show up in photos, including the ghost of Robert E. Lee. In July 1863, Gettysburg's living population was out numbered twenty to one by the dead.

1) Savannah, Georgia: Savannah was named "America's Most Haunted City" in 2002 by the American Institute of Parapsychology. The city was home to a Revolutionary War battleground and also the site of the Civil War capture of General Sherman. Savannah offers several different haunted tours and is also famous as the location of the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that all of these cities offer ghost tours. Have any of you ever had first hand experience with hauntings or taken a ghost tour?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

America's Haunted Hotels

Are you looking for that Halloween thrill that's real rather than manufactured? A true haunted hotel for a night away from home? We have many haunted hotels and inns from which to choose. Here's a sampling (in no particular order) of 20 spooky destinations to spend the night. Or longer…if you're brave enough. Just make sure your stay doesn't become permanent.

The Myrtles Plantation—St. Francisville, Louisiana
Built approximately 1796, this former home is considered one of the most haunted homes in the U.S. with one murder and several natural deaths. The Plantation now has 11 guest rooms.

Hotel del Coronado—Coronado, California (San Diego)
Opened in 1888 and a National Historic Landmark since 1977, the Hotel del Coronado is said to be haunted by the ghost of Kate Morgan, who died there. This is one of my favorite hotels and has also been used as a location in many movies and television shows, probably the most well-known being SOME LIKE IT HOT starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe.

Marrero's Guest Mansion—Key West, Florida
Built in 1889 by Francisco Marrero for his bride, the 13 guest room Victorian home is rumored to still be haunted by her ghost.

Stanley Hotel—Estes Park, Colorado
First opened in 1909, this hotel is most famous these days as the inspiration for Stephen King's THE SHINING.

Queen Anne Hotel—San Francisco, California
This B&B in San Francisco's Pacific Heights area is said to be haunted by the spirit of Mary Lake who was the Head Mistress of the school that used to be located inside the building.

Manresa Castle—Port Townsend, Washington
A former 30 room private residence is haunted by 2 ghosts, including a former guest who was stood up by her lover and subsequently jumped to her death from the hotel.

Driskill Hotel—Austin, Texas
Originally built in 1886 for cattle baron Jesse Driskill, the Austin landmark hosts travelers today in addition to the spirit of Jesse Driskill.

The Lemp Mansion—St. Louis, Missouri
This hotel offers paranormal tours complete with appetizers and a drink. Several members of the Lemp family died under various circumstances including more than one suicide.

Hawthorne Hotel—Salem, Massachusetts
The town that was the site of the Salem Witch Trials would certainly lend itself to hauntings and Halloween visitors. Guests of the hotel reported hearing eerie sounds in the stairwells and feeling ill at ease while staying there.

Green Mountain Inn—Stowe, Vermont
Boots Berry died in a fall from the roof. His ghost has been seen standing in room 1840, where he was born.

Buxton Inn—Granville, Ohio
The ghost of Orrin Granger, who built the Buxton Inn, has been seen wandering the halls. The ghost of Bonnie Bounell, a former innkeeper, is said to hang out in room 9.

1866 Crescent Hotel & Spa—Eureka Springs, Arkansas
The deceased who are still residing at the hotel include a stonemason, a cancer patient, a cat and a man in a white suit. A new ghost, a dancer, was recently spotted at the hotel.

Beverly Hills Inn—Atlanta, Georgia
This property is said to be haunted by the souls of 3 women. An investigation in 2007 recorded voices whispering "Get out."

Hotel Queen Mary—Long Beach, California
With its history as both a luxury cruise ship and a troop transport ship during World War II, the Queen Mary is reportedly haunted by many spirits. One of them is a young girl who broke her neck sliding down one of the ship's banisters. She can be seen today hanging out by the swimming pool.

Gettysburg Hotel—Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Ghosts dance in the ballroom and the ghost of a Union soldier strolls through the halls. The nearby Gettysburg Civil War battle field is considered by many to be the most haunted place in the country.

Congress Plaza Hotel—Chicago, Illinois
Built in 1893 for visitors to the Chicago World's Fair, the hotel is reputedly one of Al Capone's hideouts. Members of a rival gang did a drive by shooting attempt on his life while he was staying there. The hotel is said to be haunted by a young boy, possibly an innocent victim of that shooting.

The Battery Carriage House Inn—Charleston, South Carolina
Many guests have reported seeing the torso of a decapitated confederate soldier floating through the Inn.

1859 Historic National Hotel—Jamestown, California
Located in the Sierra foothills in the heart of the California gold rush country, the hotel is said to be haunted by a woman whose fiancé was shot by a drunk on the hotel premises. She is said to have died of a broken heart while wearing her wedding dress and has been giving hotel guests an uncomfortable feeling ever since.

Burn Brae Mansion—Glen Spy, New York
The former home of the third president of the Singer Sewing Machine company offers ghost tours.

Prospect Hill Bed & Breakfast Inn—Mountain City, Tennessee
The haunting spirit at this Inn apparently has a sweet tooth. The smell of baking cookies wafts through the Inn in the wee hours of the morning.

The Colonial Inn—Concord, Massachusetts
This 24 room Inn was established in 1716. Room 24, located in the oldest part of the Inn, was reportedly used as an emergency hospital during the Revolutionary War and that is where guests have reported odd happenings.

There are, of course, many more reportedly haunted hotels and inns in the United States. This is just a sampling. Do you have any haunted hotels in your city? I have been to six of the hotels on this list and of those the Hotel del Coronado is definitely my favorite.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Blurb:  Dani Foreman is determined to expose the secrets of the mysterious Third Floor club in order to secure her career as an investigative reporter. Problem? So far, many have tried but none have been able to gain access to the private club. An encounter with the sexy bartender might just be her way inside the club to discover the truth behind the rumors of orgies among the rich and powerful.

Mitch Sinclair is a man of many secrets, including owning the Third Floor, an exclusive sex club. He doesn't know who Dani is, but he does know she is not what she claims. His need to protect the secrets of Third Floor runs deep and very personal. But his attraction to Dani is strong and he must decide whether to trust her or compromise the single most important thing in his life?

And that's the crux of the character's problems and conflict in the fifth book in my Encounter series, THIRD FLOOR ENCOUNTER, scheduled for release on Friday, October 12, 2012, from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press).

I found this an interesting book to write. From the day I started putting the storyline together, I included the rumors about the Third Floor private club and speculation that it was a sex club. But it took me a while to decide if that would end up being the truth and if so, what type of sex club and who were the members? And another decision about the storyline if Third Floor did end up being a sex club would be the problem of the man who owned the private club—the hero of the story. How would that impact his good guy/hero status? Why a sex club rather than a gambling club or just a high end private club serving drinks and food and maybe having a dance floor? And if it did end up being a sex club, to what purpose? And what would it say about the heroine if she became involved with a man who owned a sex club? At some point in time she would discover the truth. Then what?

How to reconcile all of that? Be able to show the hero is still the good guy and worthy of her love even though he purposely deceived her about his true identity and several other things. Provide a valid reason for her to accept that he owns a sex club, a reason that will allow her to retain her integrity when she is presented with a viable reason for not doing an investigative report on Third Floor and exposing it as a sex club.

What factor could make all of that okay?

Following is an Adult excerpt from THIRD FLOOR ENCOUNTER, an erotic romance by Samantha Gentry. Available Friday, October 12, from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press.

Adult Excerpt (first kiss):

Mitch continued to hold Dani's hand as they walked next door. Her hand felt good in his, very comfortable and relaxed. He unlocked the front door and stepped aside so she could enter.

Three steps inside and she came to an abrupt halt then whirled around to face him. "Oh, my God! This isn't an apartment building, it's a house!"

Her sudden stop caught him off guard. He bumped into her, knocking her off balance. He grabbed her in his arms, catching her before she fell. He pulled her body tightly to him, her face close. Her firm breasts pressed against his chest. He felt each breath she drew, her ragged breathing matching his. His cock responded to her body heat, twitching to life and rising to the occasion. Taking it slow…testing the situation…taking the time to figure out specifically why she had invaded his territory. It all went by the wayside in a heated moment of unbridled lust.

His mouth came down hard on hers, an involuntary reaction he couldn't have prevented even if he wanted to. After a brief moment of surprised hesitation, she fully responded with an earthy sensuality that nearly knocked his socks off. She felt good in his arms, the contours of her body fitting with his as if they were made to be together. He aggressively thrust his tongue between her lips. Exploring, tasting and teasing. At that moment, he had only one thing on his mind—spending the night engaged in hot sex with the delicious Dani Foreman.

She had grabbed his attention, captured his interest, and stimulated his libido all in one fell swoop. His common sense and instincts told him to back off, put it on hold, keep his pants zipped, leave it alone. If he hadn't been inside his own home, his instincts would be telling him to turn and run. But his desires vetoed his concerns. He wasn't even sure exactly what specifically concerned him.

Information on my other Encounter books available on my website:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

7 Foods You Shouldn't Cook While Naked

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make the assumption that most of us don't cook while in the the naked as the proverbial jaybird. Now, I'm referring to actually standing at the stove and cooking rather than simply popping something into a microwave.

But (that's with only one T rather than a naked two Ts), that doesn't mean cooking in the nude is a bad thing. There are, however, certain foods and situations that would be better if the preparer were to wear something even if only a full chef's apron.

And why have I brought up this unlikely topic? Well...I came across an article recently that talked about 7 foods that shouldn't be cooked while the preparer is au naturel. So, without further fanfare, I present to you that list of 7 foods.

So obvious that it almost doesn't require a mention. Bacon sizzling in the skillet—it smells oh so good regardless of what you are pairing it with for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But as we all know, bacon creates its own grease and all the sizzle is really popping hot grease projectiles. Definitely requires something to cover that bare skin.

Burning hot seeds...unprotected body parts...need I say more? Well, yes—I probably do need to say more. If you are making guacamole while in the nude, you might want to rethink things. If you insist on squishing those avocados through your fingers as a sensual experience while in the nude, you might want to consider leaving out those seeds.

Just as the word bacon conjures up an image, so does the word searing. Yes, we again picture the popping of the fat that's part of the meat. And we picture that hot grease landing on our bare skin in the most inappropriate places.

Once again we're talking hot oil. It's tough to get that nice crispy exterior without it. Better do this one with that aforementioned full chef's apron.

A recent trend for Thanksgiving is to deep fry that turkey rather than putting it in the oven. As this is basically an outdoor activity, same as grilling those summer hamburgers, it's more common in warmer climates. Being outdoors in the nude at Thanksgiving is not a cold weather activity. But for those of you who do live in the warmer climes...there's that popping hot oil again.

The concept of working with brown rice and raw fish might seem like a healthy endeavor. But, that super hot mustard is hot to more than the taste buds. There's the possibility of having it on your hands and then needing to scratch one of those unclothed places...

You have a choice of sweet seduction or hot, smooth sexy. Either way, you risk physical damage when cooking with sugar while in the nude. We're talking serious spattering. Something that should not be exposed to your exposed places.

There are, of course, other foods that should also be kept at more than arm's length if cooking in the nude. These 7 seemed like the most interesting.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Have We Become A Totally Superficial Society?

I came across an article a while back (actually it was July 2011) and I decided this would be a good time to pull it out of my save for possible blog file. It reported the results of a survey that showed half of the men who participated in that survey said they would leave a partner who gained weight.

I stared at the headline for maybe a full thirty seconds (a long time…try holding your breath while watching the seconds tick away on a clock and you'll find out it's much longer than it sounds). Had I read that headline correctly? I returned my attention to the article. Yep, I had correctly defined the words.

Then my thoughts turned to what the women who participated in that survey had to say. According to the same survey, twenty percent of the women would leave a significant other over a few extra pounds. Not as eye-opening as the male response, but still a surprise.

Whether a marriage or a committed relationship with a significant other, traditional considerations such as love, respect, and trust are totally expendable and can be callously thrown out the window over a few pounds? The article didn't mention how much of a weight gain. The aforementioned survey was a combined project of AskMen and with the results reported by MSNBC.

And, according to those results, apparently size really does matter!

So, this brings me back to my original question. Have we become such a superficial society that we consider the wrapping paper to be far more important than the contents of the package?

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries

A few weeks ago I saw a list titled 9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries. The items listed…well some were a surprise that they made an All Time list and I was curious about some that were left off the list. This list seem to consist of only places and things and not specific people so I guess that explains why the mystery of Jack The Ripper's identity, what happened to Amelia Earhart, and exactly who took that axe and gave Lizzie Borden's parents all those whacks didn't make the list.

Two of the items on the list were new to me—the Chase Vault and the Taos Hum (and I've been to Taos…didn't hear a mention of this).

So, confusion still in hand about the criteria for what made the list and what didn't, I present 9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries.

9) ATLANTIS—location unknown
Myth or reality? The lost continent from ancient times [rather than the current Caribbean resort :) ] is one the world's favorite legends. Most of what we know about Atlantis comes from the Greek philosopher Plato who wrote about it approximately 2000 years ago although the story of the ancient civilization places its time at 9000 years prior to that. He described Atlantis as a huge island where brave and virtuous people…a highly advanced civilization…lived in a kind of paradise. He placed its location west of the Pillars of Hercules, known today as the Straits of Gibraltar. The story claims that the physical disappearance of the actual island came as a result of a massive earthquake or volcanic eruption that caused it to sink into the ocean. To this day debate continues about whether Atlantis was real or myth and people continue to search literally all over the world for the remains of the lost continent.

Discovered in October 1900 in a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera, this machine contains the oldest known complex gear mechanism…sometimes referred to as the world's first analog computer. It's estimated to have been made in the first century B.C. and appears to have been constructed on theories of astronomy and mathematics. The device is believed to be made from a bronze alloy of 95% copper and 5% tin, but its advanced state of corrosion from having been in the ocean for almost 2000 years has made it impossible to perform an accurate analysis. It's precise functions have not been scientifically confirmed.

This mystery begins in 1808 in Barbados when the wealthy Chase family purchased an 80 year old vault to inter their dead relatives. At the time they acquired the used vault, it contained only one occupant—Thomasina Goddard. Col. Thomas Chase made the decision not to disturb Goddard, so she was not moved to another vault. Shortly after that, young Mary-Anne Maria's body was added to the vault. Then 4 years after that, the vault was opened to inter her sister's body. Only a month after that, Col. Thomas himself passed away. And that's when the legend takes hold. Coffins had moved, some were standing on end. Vandals were blamed. Everything was returned to its original position and the vault once again closed and sealed. From then on, every time the vault was opened to admit another coffin, the vault's contents would be in disarray, including Col. Thomas' heavy casket which took 8 men to lift. No seals had been broken, no evidence of illegal entry into the vault, no evidence inside the vault of anyone being there as the sandy floor was undisturbed with no signs of flooding or earthquake. The Chase family bodies were eventually moved to other burial sites in the cemetery and all incidents stopped.

The Nazca Lines were discovered by accident when a small airplane flew over the arid Peruvian coastal plains in 1927. More lines were discovered nearby at the end of the 1980s. The lines depict animals and geometric forms, many of them several kilometers in length with some of them only recognizable from an airplane. The most outstanding shapes depict the figures of a spider, monkey, dog, small lizard, hummingbird, condor, and what appears to be an astronaut. The lines were scratched into the desert between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D. They are believed to have had ritual astronomical functions. Others believe they were meant as sign posts for ancient extraterrestrials. UNESCO named the Nazca Lines an Archaeological World Heritage Site in 1994.

5) EASTER ISLAND—Chile (South Pacific)
Roughly 64 square miles in area and located in the South Pacific approximately 2,300 miles from Chile, Easter Island was named by Dutch explorers in honor of the day they discovered it in 1722. It was annexed by Chile in the late 19th century. The mystery of Easter Island centers around the almost 900 giant stone figures that are centuries old and are distinctive from other stone sculptures found in various Polynesian cultures. The purpose of the statues, how they were constructed and transported is still a matter of speculation. Today, Easter Island's economy is based on tourism.

June 30, 1908, a mighty explosion occurred in this remote area of Siberia. It was 1927 before a scientific expedition investigated the site. They found 800 square miles of remote forest ripped apart, 80 million trees on their sides in a radial pattern. They acted as markers pointing directly away from the blast's epicenter. When the members of the expedition arrived at ground zero, they found the trees standing upright but all the limbs and bark had been stripped away, resembling a forest of telephone poles. This phenomenon was seen again 37 years later at another massive explosion in Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II. A century after the Tunguska Explosion there is still debate over the cause, but the generally agreed upon theory is that a space rock approximately 120 feet across entered the atmosphere above Siberia at about 33,500 miles per hour, heated the surrounding air to 44,500 degrees Fahrenheit and self-exploded at an altitude of about 28,000 feet producing a fireball and releasing energy equivalent to 185 Hiroshima atomic bombs. The majority of the asteroid was consumed by the explosion so there was no impact crater.

3) PIRI REIS MAP—circa 1513
The Piri Reis Map is often cited as proof that civilization on Earth was once very advanced then for unknown reasons disappeared with man only now gaining any understanding of this mysterious cultural decline. In addition to the map's historical interest, it contains details that no European could have known in the early 1500s. The Sumerians in Mesopotamia are the earliest known civilization and appeared on the scene apparently from out of nowhere around 4000 B.C. but had no nautical or maritime cultural heritage. Piri Reis' own commentary indicates some of his source maps in creating his map were from the time of Alexander The Great (332 B.C.). The map shows that the makers knew the accurate circumference of the Earth to within 50 miles. The depicted coastline and island shown in Antarctica are as they were prior to 4000 B.C. when they were ice free. Debate continues with no clear answers of how Piri Reis could have created such an accurate map at that time.

2) TAOS HUM—New Mexico
The Taos Hum is a low-pitched mechanical buzzing sound often heard in Taos, New Mexico. Not everyone can hear it, but those who do say it's driving them crazy. Apparently it begins suddenly as if someone had turned on a switch, never abates, interferes with their sleep, and is more noticeable inside the house than outside. In 1993 residents requested that Congress carry out an investigation into the source of the hum, but no specific causes were uncovered. In 1997, Congress asked various scientists from several elite research institutes to look into it. So far, no concrete facts have been uncovered to prove exactly what is causing the hum or what it is that allows some people to hear it and others to not hear it.

There is intense debate among scientists, theologians, historians, and researchers about the origins of the shroud and its image. The shroud is housed in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. It is a linen cloth showing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma of the type consistent with crucifixion. This image is commonly associated with Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and burial. In 1988 a multi-national scientific group did a radiocarbon dating test on small samples of the shroud and concluded that the samples they tested dated from the Middle Ages, between 1260 A.D. and 1390 A.D. Since 2005, at least four articles have appeared in scholarly publications stating the cloth samples used were not representative of the whole shroud. The shroud continues to be a much studied and controversial artifact.

Are there any unsolved mysteries of place or thing that you think should have been on this list?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

10 Of The World's Oldest Aphrodisiacs

Since ancient times mankind has been experimenting with various potions, serums, and foods in search if that elusive tangible that can be called a genuine aphrodisiac. In the U.S., we generally put our support behind such on-going favorites as chocolate (good for absolutely everything), spicy peppers (acceptable), and oysters (not on my list of favorite things). Other cultures, however, have more exotic offerings to add to the category.

Following is a list of 10 decidedly unusual love potions for your consideration…offerings that have been around for a very long time and steeped in the traditions and history of other cultures.

1) Cobra Blood (China, Southeast Asia, The Philippines)
This Cantonese tradition dates back to 205 B.C. Some restaurants serve this aphrodisiac straight up or with alcohol. However, it's said that more benefits are gained if those using this aphrodisiac actually catch and kill the cobra themselves.

2) Cow Cod Soup (Jamaica)
This is a rural delicacy and aphrodisiac in Jamaica. It's made with a rum-based broth to which bananas, chili peppers and bull genitalia have been added. It's claimed that this concoction will increase virility and re-establish a flagging libido. This offering is eaten only by men.

3) The Spanish Fly (Europe)
The secretions of the European blister beetle cause irritation and swelling when making contact with human skin. And it's this swelling that has had European men using it to stimulate erections since the days of Caesar. It does have a definite side effect of prolonged erections. As they say in a certain commercial, if this condition lasts for more than 4 hours…

4) Fetal Duck Egg (The Philippines, Southeast Asia)
This libido enhancer is called balut and is often sold on the sidewalk for as little as one dollar each. After drinking the egg's liquid, the user peels back the shell and reveals the yolk and young chick inside, both of which are eaten.

5) Stewed Crocodile (Thailand)
According to the beliefs of many cultures, when you eat a specific animal you take on that animal's characteristics. Crocodile is a much sought after aphrodisiac in Thailand where they believe they will obtain the croc's appetite and aggression, traits highly prized in the bedroom. Canned croc stew is readily available on grocery shelves. The Thais can now have their aphrodisiac without risking life and limb by hunting it in the wild.

6) Skink (Lizard) Flesh (North Africa)
Pliny the Elder (ancient Roman scholar and author) is possibly the person responsible for the skink being considered an arousing creature. In his writings, he said certain parts of the lizard should be steeped in wine and consumed to enhance sexual appetite. Skinks are usually kept as pets these days rather than eaten, but native tribes in North Africa still eat them for the libido.

7) Leaf-Cutter Ants (South America)
These two centimeter long insects are soaked in water and roasted producing a crunchy snack that supposedly tastes like bacon. It's been given to couples as a marriage gift since Pre-Columbian times and is still available in several Columbian towns today.

8) Deep Fried Tarantula (Cambodia)
This was first considered food out of necessity, then later valued for the aphrodisiac qualities of its venom. More recently, this has become a popular item at markets catering to tourists. The spiders are often as large as a man's hand. This delicacy is typically mixed with MSG, sugar, salt and garlic then fried so that it's crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside.

9) Ambergris (Europe, Middle East, China)
Today, ambergris is commonly used as a fixative in perfumes. But in the 15th to 19th centuries this solid waxy substance regurgitated by sperm whales was a popular aphrodisiac. Various salves and balms containing ambergris were rubbed on the skin to encourage arousal. There are some Far Eastern cultures that still use it for this purpose.

and finally…

10) Dried Tiger Penis (China, Taiwan, South Korea)
In the same way as the Thais eat crocodile to acquire that aggression, the Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean men ingest dried tiger penis in soup, wine or rice in order to gain the tiger's masculine prowess. This practice is one of the reasons the tiger is now on the endangered species list.

Hmmm…after going through this list, those oysters sound very tame in comparison.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

History Of Labor Day Holiday

The Labor Day holiday is celebrated on the first Monday in September. This is the same day that Canada celebrates their Labor Day holiday. This year, that date is September 3, 2012.

The history of Labor Day in the U.S. goes back to the labor movement of the late 1800s and became an official federal holiday in 1894, celebrated with parties, parades and athletic events. Prior to 1894, workers who wanted to participate in Labor Day parades would forfeit a day's pay.

Over the ensuing decades, Labor has come to symbolize something else, too. In defiance of the Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox signaling the beginning and ending of the summer season, Labor Day has become the unofficial end of the summer season that unofficially started on Memorial Day weekend (the fourth Monday in May).

What led up to the creation of a holiday specifically designated to honor and celebrate the workers and their accomplishments? The seeds were planted in the 1880s at the height of America's Industrial Revolution when the average American worked 12 hour days/7 days a week in order to manage a basic living. Although some states had restrictions, these workers included children as young as 5 years old who labored in the mills, factories and mines earning a fraction of the money paid to the adults in the same workplace. Workers of all ages were subjected to extremely unsafe working conditions in addition to insufficient access to fresh air and sanitary facilities.

Labor Unions had first appeared in the late 1700s. As America changed from an agrarian society into an industrial one, these labor unions became more vocal and began to organize rallies and strikes in protest of poor working conditions and low wages. Many of these events turned violent. One prominent such incident was the Haymarket Riot of 1886 where several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Other rallies were of a more positive nature such as September 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off from their jobs and held the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history when they marched from City Hall to Union Square in New York City.

It was another 12 years before Congress legalized the holiday. This was primarily brought about on May 11, 1894, when employees at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. Then on June 26, the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars thus crippling railroad traffic nationwide. To break the strike, the government sent troops to Chicago. The resulting riots resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers. As a result, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in all states, the District of Columbia and the territories (many of which later became states).

And now, more than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day still hasn't been identified.

So, for everyone enjoying this 3 day holiday weekend, now you know why you have that additional day. And why the banks are closed and you don't have any mail delivery. :)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

9 Delicious Reasons To Eat Dark Chocolate

I've done blogs before about the health benefits associated with eating dark chocolate, of consuming dark chocolate and red wine, of drinking red wine (are we sensing a pattern here?)

We all know how sinfully good chocolate tastes and there have been enough studies lately to alleviate the guilt feelings about indulging the temptation. And we've also read that it's the antioxidant-rich dark chocolate—the darker the better—that provides those benefits rather than the sweeter fat-laden milk chocolate.

Well…I recently came across another study about the healthy qualities attributed to dark chocolate. More positive information and reinforcement equals less guilt! :)

It Fights Free Radicals
When we eat plant derived foods (chocolate comes from the cacao plant) rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, those benefits are passed on to us. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules thought to be responsible for aging and also some diseases. Antioxidants protect us from damage caused by free radicals.

It Prevents Heart Disease
Dark chocolate's most researched benefit is its role in preventing heart disease. British researchers found that people who ate the most dark chocolate weekly had a 37 percent lower risk of any heart disease than those who ate the least amount of dark chocolate.

It Decreases Stroke Risk
Swedish researchers found that women who ate 2 candy bars a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke. A similar study by British researchers fund that people who ate more chocolate were 30 percent less likely to have a stroke. Researchers added that more study is needed to determine exact amounts and how they impact stroke risk.

It Raises Good Cholesterol
Cholesterol-lowering superfood is another label that's been attached to dark chocolate thanks to the cocoa butter which contains oleic acid, the same fat found in heart-healthy olive oil. Scientists believe this can raise your HDL (good cholesterol).

It Lowers Blood Pressure
German researchers found that eating chocolate may help lower blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk. Australian researchers also found noticeable blood pressure benefits. As with cholesterol, researchers believe more study is required.

It Improves Vision
It seems that dark chocolate has something in common with carrots. Test subjects performed better on vision tests after eating the dark chocolate.

It's a Mood Booster
It's not wishful thinking or imagination. Some research supports the idea that chocolate really can improve someone's mood. It's the fatty acids in dark chocolate that do this. More research needs to be done, but studies show that chocolate can make you feel happier and improve your mood.

It Helps Prevent Cancer
There is limited evidence, but it's growing that dark chocolate may play a role in cancer prevention. Preliminary studies in Europe, Asia, and North America show that people who eat many flavonoids or a lot of antioxidant-rich chocolate develop fewer cancers than those who don't.

It May Help You Live Longer
A Harvard University study found that one or two doses of dark chocolate per week could even help you live longer. There is currently more research being done to determine the exact role chocolate plays in longevity.

So…once again Science has given us permission to consume dark chocolate. For medicinal purposes only, of course. :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

9 Worst American Traitors

For those of you who might have flashed on the thought that the subject of this blog is about current political situations—it is not! Only 2 of the people on the list are post World War II and I was surprised to see that neither of them were the infamous Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed for providing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union.

I recently came across an article about what the people compiling the list considered the 9 worst American traitors. While I thought I had a decent knowledge of most of these cases, I was surprised with information I had never heard before in some of the cases.

I don't know why the list is in this order as it's neither alphabetical nor chronological. And I even question some of the choices for the concept of worst on a list of only 9, but here's the list.

You hear the name and immediately associate it with traitor without even questioning it…at least here in the United States. You might also assume the perpetrator of such dastardly deeds was summarily arrested and executed for such betrayal. This was not the case with Benedict Arnold whose military career had him moving quickly toward being an American hero of the Revolutionary War with important victories against the British in New York at Saratoga and Fort Ticonderoga. Unfortunately for him, a combination of his quick temper and his lack of knowledge about the ins and outs of politics and bureaucracy soon earned him powerful enemies and side-tracked his military career. When ultimately relegated to a military command in Philadelphia, he made contacts among the American Loyalists and began selling intelligence information to the British. He joined the British army and eventually went to Canada to live out his days. So, although famous (or perhaps notorious?) as a Revolutionary War turncoat, he was never arrested, officially tried and convicted as such.

An interesting and honorable man, not the type that comes to mind when you mention traitor which usually conjures up images of people sneaking around performing clandestine acts against their own country. Perhaps he should not be on this list associated with the traditional concept of traitor. Robert E. Lee continued his family's history of illustrious and exemplary military service. Abraham Lincoln promoted him to full colonel after Texas seceded from the Union. He was approached several times by Confederate conspirators but always swore allegiance to the Union. He was one of only a few people who believed a civil war would be a long and bloody action. As Civil War became inevitable, Lee's allegiance was first to his state of Virginia and second to his country. When Virginia seceded he felt he had no choice but to resign his commission in the Union and join the Confederacy. After the war, he immediately set his goal on reconciliation efforts between the North and the South.

One of two post World War II traitors on this list. Aldrich Ames created the most damage of any mole in CIA history and the most damaging spy in American history until the discovery of Robert Hanssen (#6 on this list). Ames started working for the Russians in 1985. It was 9 years later that the CIA finally noticed that a $60,000 a year desk analysis had paid cash for his $50,000 Jaguar and $540,000 house and also had credit cards with a minimum monthly payment more than his monthly salary. It finally dawned on them that he must have another source of income. After investigating, the CIA finally brought him in. He casually admitted to selling the Soviets information that exposed over a hundred Western agents behind the Iron Curtain, several of whom were executed based on that betrayal. Ames pleaded guilty in order to avoid the death penalty and the American intelligence community called it case closed on the worst leak in our country's history. But only for the time being…

The other post World War II traitor. Robert Hanssen was a computer and wiretapping expert who rose high in the FBI structure while actively spying for the Soviets and the Russian Federation governments for all but the first 3 years of his career. During his 22 year spy career he earned an ill-gotten $1.4 million which comes out to only a little less than $64,000 a year. He maintained a much lower profile than Aldrich Ames. He might never have been caught if his brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) hadn't spotted a huge stack of cash on top of a nightstand during a visit to Hanssen's house. He was captured in 2001.

A committed Fascist, Ezra Pound was an expatriate poet and literary critic who blamed the international banking system for World War I. He believed that only a Fascist government could implement a system of social credit to replace banks. He moved to Italy and met Mussolini. His poetry took a backseat to his new activities centered on writing pamphlets and giving lectures with anti-Semitic wording and ending with Heil Hitler. During the World War II invasion of Italy, he made propaganda broadcasts to American Troops. He was arrested in 1945, was subjected to harsh conditions in an American prison camp in Italy. It's said the experience drove him insane (assuming he wasn't already there) which deemed him unfit to stand trial. After his release from a Pennsylvania mental institution in 1958, he returned to Italy for the rest of his days.

Although born in Germany, he lived and worked in America since 1928. He was in charge of the infamous U.S. Nazi group called the German-American Bund. In addition to being an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler's ideas on racial purity and the Fascist system of government, he was also a fan of Hitler's style. But in an odd twist of fate, Hitler was not a fan of Kuhn and his American Nazi party. Kuhn's Bund meetings were often highlighted by dramatic outbursts of violence unknown to the American way at that time. Hitler wanted a powerful American Nazi party, but not one so powerful that it would propel the United States into the war. Kuhn was arrested following a New York City tax investigation that showed he had embezzled $14,000 from the Bund. After he got out of jail, he was arrested as an enemy agent. He was released after the end of the war and returned to Germany.

Germany's Nazi-run SS formed several volunteer and propaganda divisions of non-German and sometimes even non-Aryan ethnicities. French traitors had the Charlemagne Division, British traitors were the Freiwillige Korps, and for years there were rumors about a George Washington Brigade made up entirely of American traitors. The existence of the George Washington Brigade turned out to be a myth, but there were occasional discoveries of SS troops with American accents and names, some naturalized citizens and others born in the U.S. There isn't any information about the specific numbers of Americans who actually fought on the side of the Nazis as soldiers rather than being spies.

One noteworthy American SS was Martin James Monti, an Army Air Corps pilot. In October 1944 he made his way to an Italian airbase, stole a plane, and flew it north into Axis hands to defect. He made a few propaganda broadcasts and eventually became an SS sergeant in the final weeks of the war. His mother was native German, but it's not clear why he chose to defect at a time when Germany was obviously losing the war. When caught in a full-dress SS uniform, he convinced a U.S. Army patrol that he was only a U.S. Army deserter, not a defector. He served a short jail sentence, then was released back into the army. He kept a low profile and actually made sergeant by 1948 when someone at the FBI caught up with the situation and he ended up in prison for the next 25 years.

The list contained a lot of information about Burr the traitor that I didn't know. We've all heard about the infamous duel where Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. And we know that Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson's Vice President at a time when the President and Vice President were often from different parties and spent a great deal of time in heated conflict with each other. We also know that Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury. After killing Hamilton, Burr's political career was essentially over. Then came all that other stuff about Aaron Burr (this is the part where my surprise came in). Burr decided on dramatic measures to revive his career. And what could be more dramatic than to take control of the Texas and Louisiana territories and possibly invade either Mexico or Washington D.C.? Unfortunately for Burr, Thomas Jefferson had been keeping a close eye on him and various states were collecting evidence on the Burr Conspiracy. A treasonous letter Burr had written was intercepted and decoded, then published in a New Orleans newspaper in full along with notice of a reward for his capture. He abandoned his small army and went into hiding. He was eventually captured and put up for trial before the Supreme Court. Despite Jefferson's push for guilty and execution, the Supreme Court threw out the case based on a technicality. He might have assembled an army of about 100 men, but he hadn't actually done anything with them yet. Burr briefly exiled himself to Europe but returned to the U.S. under an assumed name, but even under his new identity couldn't manage to keep a low profile.

And there you have it…a list of the 9 Worst American Traitors, at least according to the list I read.