Thursday, March 29, 2012

A river in Thailand randomly shoots red fireballs into the air. No one knows why.

Weird things are happening some 70 - 100 kilometres downstream from the Vientiane - capital of Laos. In the nights from the muddy waters of Mekong river appear red glowing balls which quickly rise up in the air and disappear without noise (some, who manage to be close to the lights, report silent hiss). These mysterious sparkles are small, but sometimes they reach a size of a basketball.

These are not some ghosts seen by occasional people and questioned by majority. Ghost fireballs of Mekong have been seen by thousands of people, photographed and captioned on movies and, after all, investigated by scientists looking for the explanation of this interesting phenomenon.

Fireballs are observed in some 250 kilometres long sector of Mekong: approximately from Ban Muang upstreams from Vientiane down to Bung Kan. Most of them rise from the 500 - 800 m wide Mekong River, but they have been observed rising from smaller ponds and rivers as well. These places might sound exotic and remote to Europeans but they are densely populated, filled with houses, roads, schools and other usual features of civilisation.

Phenomenon of Naga fireballs is not too well documented in earlier times. Some say that Wat Luang temple (in Phon Phisai, Wat Pho Luang Phra Sai) contains centuries old written records mentioning them. There are mentioned also occasional written reports from British soldiers in 1960ies - although nothing concrete is cited. Numerous local people claim that they have seen the lights for all their life and their parents and grandparents did it as well.

Although the appearance of fireballs is celebrated at certain days in October, in fact this event is not predictable. There have been cases when the official festivity "ends without results" and fireballs come unexpected in another night. Many people have tried hard to see them for years without success, many are lucky and see them at first visit to this site. For example, in 2001 there were reported 3,000 fireballs, the festivity of 2004 was disappointing in this respect but in 2008 the illumination was excellent.

Ghostly fireballs can be seen in different times of the year but most frequent they are in late October - early November, when the long period of rains has ended and Mekong is filled with lots of fast flowing, muddy water.

Balls seem to be rising out of the water (some sceptics though say that it looks more like going up in Laotian side of river). They appear in different places, but sometimes several come out from single place.

Phaya Naga - king of serpents
Since ancient times numerous people have been living along Mekong. According to some reports, as recently as in 1980ies these balls of light attracted little attention of local people (3). It may be though possible that there are some ancient myths related to this event which later have been nearly forgotten by local people and then somehow revived.

Whatever the history of this myth but one is clear - since the early 1990ies Mekong fireballs gradually became famous and simultaneously there were attached myths to them. One of these myths:

One particular naga (a kind of snake or dragon) loved to crawl around the mountains right in the place where Mekong flows today. This outstanding naga still continues to travel her usual route - now underwater, and spits flames wherewer it goes - as all respectable dragons do.

There is involved also Buddhism into this story, making it more complex - although local Buddhist monks seem to be spectators of show and not active promoters of it. This "Buddhist" myth has involved the ominous Phaya Naga - serpent-king of underworld - in making of these fireballs. Phaya Naga in this story turns out to be an ally of Buddha. Buddha and Phaya Naga in their mythical battles obtained a blessing for local people - regular periods of rain. As the rain ends, Buddha returns to Earth from heaven and Phaya Naga greets him with fireballs.

There is traditional and well proven method to facilitate tourism anywhere in world, which works especially well in southern Asia: if your locality happens to have some interesting natural phenomenon, find a religious explanation to this and organise yearly festivities to celebrate it.

In a case of Phon Phisai town in Thailand (and several other towns along Mekong) naga fireballs have been perfectly well suited. Fireballs are most frequent in the end of October - thus exactly then is organised the religious Phaya Naga festival.

This coincides very well with an important event in Buddhist calendar - the end of vassa: three months long period of a kind of fasting. The end of vassa - Wan Awk Pansa - is joyous festivity of the people of Isan (North-east Thailand) and Laos. This festivity in a way marks the end of long rain period. Staying out in the evening after the long rains finally is pleasant and moon over the Mekong makes this time romantic.

Festivity is organized at full moon. Somehow the determination of full moon has ended up with a situation where Thailand celebrates the festivity one day earlier than Laos. Lately though the festivity is expanding and lasts for several days and nights.

According to locals, festivities have taken place here for many generations - but if there were any festivities before 1990, these were of truly local nature, not known elsewhere. But in early 2000ies the festivity at Mekong came into vogue.

Thus, at the end of every October tens of thousands of people flock to Phon Phisai and other Thai and Laotian towns along Mekong. In 2002 - 2004 there were hundreds of thousands of people coming. They take the "best places" along the river.

Earlier people just walked at the bank of Mekong and looked at occasional fireballs rising up. Nowadays there is organised festive program with the great Mekong in focus: in the river are floating beautiful illuminated boat processions and river receives offerings - mainly sweets. Numerous other events take place, as it is ususal in popular festivals.

But the main event is the appearance of fireballs. Thousands of people look with awe at them rising up in the air as fast as sparks from the campfire. In some nights thousands of such weird sparks rise out from the waters but sometimes - none. People cheer the lights with joy and feel happy to be together at this mystery.

Scientists get involved
Contrary to most other ghostly apparitions around the world, Naga fireballs have been observed by thousands of people and captured on numerous photographs and movies.

Most local people believe in the mythical explanation involving nagas. In 2002 there arised a scandal when independent Thai TV channel iTV reported that they observed the following: each time when Laotian soldiers shot some tracer bullets in the air, Thai side of river was greeting this with cheerful shouts. TV reporters thus proved that sometimes "fake" naga balls are greeted.

This report met with stiff resistance of local people expressing even hate towards iTV.

Government of Thailand decided that scientists should be involved and explanation should be provided. A kind of "dreamteam" of Thai experts was established, at the same time rising heated debates about the intrusion of science in traditional myths.

In 2003 thermal scanners and five teams of scientists were stationed in several spots along the river in Rattanawapi district (Thailand). A team was located also at the most famous observation spot - at the Naga temple in Phon Phisai town. There were rumours about the involvement of specific submarine in research.

Some scientific reports mention an upward movement of gas bubbles in Mekong water. According to them - as the gas bubbles reached the surface, the gas started to burn and rised up like a glowing orange bubble.

Phosphine? Methane?
Earlier some scientists considered that the most likely reason for flames is phosphine (PH3). This gas, especially in the presence of the diphosphine (P2H4), is capable of spontaneous flammability. Thus one can assume that bubbles of this substance may rise from the sediments of Mekong and, as it reaches the atmosphere, burn with yellow - orange flame. Small amount of this substance quickly is consumed in flames, and, as the burning bubble rises up in the air, it disappears.

Possible source of phosphine might be a chemical reaction in the river sediments - bacterial reduction of phosphate in decaying organic matter.

Often is mentioned another gas - methane, which, theoretically, if mixed with the same phosphine and some other gases at very specific conditions may experience spontaneous ignition.

...or hoax?
There remained unsolved issues though:

Phosphine is not a light gas, it is heavier than air. Naga lights though rise up in the air very quickly.
When phosphine burns, it produces dense, white and highly toxic cloud. None of these effects (luckily) have been observed on Mekong.

Thus the hypothesis of phosphine is rejected and specialists focus more on other self-inflating gases: burning gas seems to be the most logical explanation for Mekong fireballs. But - even if scientists find another igneous gas rising from the sediments of Mekong - why don't we observe similar phenomenon elsewhere - in other tropical rivers and lakes? How can a bubble of gas rise up that quickly without being extinguished?

Some consider that these igneous gases are somehow pulled out of the river sediment by full moon and some researchers even build up highly complex theories involving specific composition of gases in sediments coupled with the action of moon, ultraviolet rays, Sun etc. All of this at the end looks too laborious and unlikely.

Also the imaginary organic sediments of Mekong seem not to exist - river here for most part has sandy bed with occasional rocks.

Popular Thai movie "15 Kham Duan 11" ("The 15th of the 11th Lunar Month", made in 2002) offers another explanation - here Laotian monks place clay eggs on the river bed - these rise to the surface and there light up. There are though serious drawbacks in this fine movie, which seem to make this proposed explanation flawed (if art is taken seriously): more or less safe and controlled diving in this muddy, powerful river is nearly impossible even with modern diving gear.

Often it is considered that fireballs are created artificially - just like some people find fun in making crop circles or other weird things. Now it is essential to keep the big festivities running - after all this event has been turned into highly profitable show (but spread among huge local communities - what isn't bad at all). One can easily see that there might be a commercial interest to "maintain" this phenomenon artificially.

In addition to this - some locals tell that in earlier times naga fireballs were much smaller and nearly white, they rised above the water just for a few metres. Now, with increased popularity they somehow have evolved, increased in size, fly high and fast and have orange color. A bit heretical thought - may be naga serpent has changed diet?

Hoax is impossible?
Locals deny a possibility of hoax - naga fireballs often are observed in very secluded places where the putative "organiser" of fireballs has nearly no chances to impress anyone. It is just weird to imagine countless Thai and Laotian people keeping themselves busy by making illuminations in remote lakes and rivers.

Appearance of fireballs has been reported in more than 45 kilometres long section of river in one night. River has been closely watched by numerous people for many days before. In such circumstances the possibility of fraud seems to be quite low - who would manage to organise such illumination without getting caught in the act?

Naga fireballs rised from the river during the hostilities between Thailand and Laos: the border was heavily guarded then and it is little likely that somebody would risk his life to organise the fraud.

Legend of modern times
Wondermondo will not present a judgement about the source of naga balls. One though should be recognized - if this is a hoax, it is organised very well and there are lots of people who are happy to believe in this.

But may be naga fireballs are real, natural mysterious light effects - so called Earth lights (see another example - Chir Batti)? Riddles posed by these phenomena are not that easy to solve.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Youngest Mother Ever Was 5 Years Old!

Peruvian five-year-old Lina Medina, accompanied by her 11-month-old-son Gerardo, and Doctor Lozada who attended her son's birth, are shown in this 1940 file photo taken in Lima's hospital.

When her child was born by Caesarean section in May 1939, Medina made medical history, and is still the youngest known mother in the world.

Lina Medina's parents thought their 5-year-old daughter had a huge abdominal tumor and when shamans in their remote village in Peru's Andes could find no cure, her father carried her to a hospital.

Just over a month later, she gave birth to a boy.

Medina was born on September 27, 1933 in the small village of Paurange.  She was only 5 years 8 months old at the birth of her child on Mother's Day, May 14, 1939.

Born at full term at Lima's maternity clinic, her child was taken through a caesarian operation (Dr. Lozada and Busalleu, operators, Dr. Colretta, anesthesiologist). The child (boy), weighing 2,700 grams, was well formed and in good health. Child and mother were able to leave the clinic after only a few days.

Doctor Lozada has conducted very detailed studies since the diagnostic of the pregnancy which aroused much curiosity in the country; he took an x-ray of the child and her baby, established a diagnostic of the fetal situation, observed the state of functionality of the little mother who had begun menstruating at the age of 8 months. At four years old she had already developed breasts as well as pubic hair, her body proportions were a bit amazing and her bone hardening a bit advanced, things that are often observed in cases of such premature pregnancy.

After taunting from schoolmates, Medina's son, Gerardo - who was named after one of the doctors who attended Medina and who became their mentor - discovered when he was 10 that the person he had grown up believing to be his sister was in fact his mother.

Gerardo died in 1979 at age 40 from a disease that attacks the body's bone marrow, but it was said it was not clear there was any link with his illness and the fact his mother had been so young at his birth.

Medina herself married and in 1972 had a second son, 33 years after her first.  Her second child now lives in Mexico.

Why Bilinguals Are Smarter..!!

SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.

They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.

In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin marked with a conflicting color. The bilinguals were quicker at performing this task.

The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.

Why does the tussle between two simultaneously active language systems improve these aspects of cognition? Until recently, researchers thought the bilingual advantage stemmed primarily from an ability for inhibition that was honed by the exercise of suppressing one language system: this suppression, it was thought, would help train the bilingual mind to ignore distractions in other contexts. But that explanation increasingly appears to be inadequate, since studies have shown that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals even at tasks that do not require inhibition, like threading a line through an ascending series of numbers scattered randomly on a page.

The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.” In a study comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals on monitoring tasks, Mr. Costa and his colleagues found that the bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.

The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age (and there is reason to believe that it may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life).

In a 2009 study led by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth were compared with peers raised with one language. In an initial set of trials, the infants were presented with an audio cue and then shown a puppet on one side of a screen. Both infant groups learned to look at that side of the screen in anticipation of the puppet. But in a later set of trials, when the puppet began appearing on the opposite side of the screen, the babies exposed to a bilingual environment quickly learned to switch their anticipatory gaze in the new direction while the other babies did not.

Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

Nobody ever doubted the power of language. But who would have imagined that the words we hear and the sentences we speak might be leaving such a deep imprint?

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is a staff writer at Science.     (Source)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Iceland is mostly green and grassy, while Greenland is mainly cold and icy.

Dear Straight Dope:

I'm curious to know about one of the greatest marketing ploys in history, namely, did Iceland and Greenland at one time switch names to fool invaders? What did the people of old Iceland have to say about the sudden influx of pillaging tourists? Since many Americans supposedly can't find their own country on the map, what's stopping Canada from pulling a "Greenland" on us? They've always seemed a bit jealous and sneaky.

— Steve

So basically you're asking "Why is Iceland green and Greenland icy?" That puts us dangerously close to the whole parkway/driveway mess. Not a problem, just thought I'd clarify.

I can't quite imagine anyone packing up an invasion and going home just because somebody told them they're on the wrong island. Not outside a Monty Python sketch, anyway. I didn't have much luck tracking down the origin of the legend of the name switch, but I can tell you it's not true. The fact is that Greenland was never called "Iceland" even though the ice cap and smaller glaciers cover 85% of the land. Iceland has had four different names, but it has never been called "Greenland," even though some parts of it are brilliantly green at the right time of year.

Iceland's first name, Thule or Ultima Thule, was mentioned by a Greek explorer and writer named Pytheas, who lived around 330 B.C. Nobody is sure whether he visited the island himself, or even if he really meant Iceland. Over a thousand years later, the monk Dicuil in his De mensura orbis terrae definitely meant Iceland when he reported that Irish priests started living in Thule at least part-time in the late eighth century. The source of information about the island's other three names is a twelfth-century Icelandic history based on oral tradition, called the Landnámabók. It confirms the story of the Irish priests in Iceland, and goes on to describe other early expeditions. The first Norseman to visit Iceland was a Viking named Naddoddur, who arrived about 850 after being driven off course. He gave the island its fitting second name, Snæland ("snow land") because so much snow fell on the mountains. Not long after, an ever-so-humble Swede named Garðar Svavarsson visited, and he gave the island its third name, Garðarshólmur ("Garðar's little island"). 

Iceland got its modern name from another visitor, the Norwegian Viking Flóki Vilgerðarson. The Landnámabók makes it clear that Flóki chose the uninviting name ísland ("ice land") for the view of a distant fjord full of sea-ice that he glimpsed from a tall mountain. No doubt his choice was influenced by the fact that he was not at first taken with the land, and he bad-mouthed the place after his return to Norway. But eventually he changed his mind about it and moved there himself. The Landnámabók account is at odds with the common notion that Iceland was named for its glaciers, some of which are bigger than any in Europe.

You sometimes hear the story that Iceland was so named to discourage excessive immigration, but there seems to be no basis for this claim. Even if it's true, it didn't work very well. Between about 870 and 930, a period called the landnám, productive land in Iceland was free for the taking to all comers, and thousands of people immigrated from Norway, which was in political upheaval at the time. Landnám is usually translated "settlement," but "land grab" is a more literal translation and comes closer to the point. Incidentally, the Irish priests disappeared around the beginning of the landnám, probably muttering to themselves, "There goes the neighborhood."

Greenland got its name because its inhabitants sported blue-green skin from living near the sea. At least that's what Adam of Bremen wrote (in Latin) in the eleventh century. As the old proverb says, "A fool, unless he knows Latin, is never a great fool." I think it's safe to say that Adam of Bremen was a great fool, at least on this point.

The real story behind the name is given in Erik the Red's Saga, based on oral tradition and written down in the early thirteenth century in Iceland. After the Icelandic landnám was over, Erik the Red and his father Thorvald were forced to leave Norway because one or both of them was involved in killings (details are not given). After Thorvald died, Erik was involved in yet more killings, for which his punishment was three years' vacation--er, I mean banishment from Iceland. (And you thought O. J. got off easy.)

He used the time to explore the rumored lands to the west. When his term of banishment expired, he returned to Icleand to invite his neighbors and friends to settle the new country with him. He purposely chose the pleasant name Grænland ("green land") to attract settlers, but the choice wasn't exactly misleading. Some parts of Greenland, especially the parts the Norse settled, really are green, as these pictures from the tourist board attest ( He may have been a killer, but at least he wasn't a real-estate scam-artist. He didn't have that much to gain by lying anyway, since he didn't charge anyone for the land. As in Iceland a century before, the land was free for the taking. Natives had lived in the area in the past, but at the time of Erik's voyage, only the northern part of Greenland was occupied by the Inuit (Eskimos).

The unoccupied land in southern Greenland really was of much higher quality than anything that remained unclaimed in Iceland. The greenery that most interested the settlers was the pasturage, which was good enough to support their sheep, goats, horses, swine, and cattle. The Norsemen lived on the milk and meat from their livestock, supplemented with their catch of caribou, small game, fish, and sea mammals. No doubt they also partook of sea-bird eggs and berries. They were able to grow some grain (probably barley), but they must have had to import some as well. They also imported luxury goods, such as wine and silk. They could afford the imports because they sold wool, hides, and walrus and narwhal tusks. The last two items especially were in high demand in Europe. The trade continued for hundreds of years despite the fact that the voyage was always a dangerous one.

The Norse settlements in Greenland died out eventually, but they thrived for at least three centuries and survived almost five. Five hundred years is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that Jamestown was settled less than 400 years ago. The exact reason behind the failure is still an open question, but worsening climatic conditions, with a very cold period in the early- to mid-fifteenth century, surely contributed to it. A PBS documentary series, Secrets of the Dead, did an informative episode about the disappearance of the Greenland colony (

And you're absolutely right about those sneaky Canadians. Next thing you know, they'll be trying to steal Manitoba from us.  (Source)

Woman Accused of Dumping Mayo on Library Books

Idaho police believe they've nabbed Boise's messiest reader.

Since May 2009, officials have been on the lookout for a person who has been smearing mustard, mayo and other barbecue staples on more than 100 library books.

Boise police now say they've cracked the curious case of the condiments, arresting 74-year-old Joy L. Cassidy outside Boise's Ada County Library on Sunday. They said Cassidy had dumped an open jar of mayo into the library's book drop moments earlier.
"It's just senseless," Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower told AOL News. "The victims really are all the citizens who use the library. Those are taxpayer-supplied books, and destroying them is really senseless."

Hightower said Cassidy had caused thousands of dollars worth of damage. Cassidy was charged with misdemeanor injury to property and misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon, after police said they found a loaded handgun under the front seat of her car. The Idaho Statesmen reported that she did not have a concealed weapons permit.
Investigators consider Cassidy a person of interest in about 10 other stealth ketchup, corn syrup and mayo attacks that have left library books soiled and sticky over the past year, but Cassidy has not been charged in those incidents.
Hightower said officers nabbed Cassidy in a classic stakeout of the library.
"They had been tracking the crimes, and they knew there was a pattern of what time of day the vandalism usually occurred," she said. "The officers were giving the library extra patrol and stopped a vehicle at the library drop box."
But one question remains unanswered: What prompted the alleged bandit to tarnish the city's books -- and waste jars and jars of perfectly good condiments?
"She did give officers some indication of a motive," Hightower told AOL News. "But that's not something we can release at this time."   (Source)

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Indiana State Prison lets murderers adopt cats in their cells.

Cats started the Indiana State Prison cat program. One by one, over the years, they arrived, entering the prison through the bars of the North Gate, depositing litters of kittens into the eager arms and hearts of the inmates there.

Indiana State Prison is a men’s maximum security prison. Before coming here, I had mentioned my impending visit in various conversations. Concerned cat lovers had fretted over the fate of cats confined with such a rough crowd. 70% of the offenders incarcerated at Indiana State Prison are there for murder.

However, during my interviews, I found that whatever the complexities of their relationships with other people, most of the offenders in the cat program have always been animal lovers. And their devotion to their cats goes beyond providing these felines with security. These men adore their cats. Again and again, they affirmed that the cats had changed their lives, calming their anger, offering them love and teaching them about the joys and sacrifices of responsibility.

“When I arrived here, I had nothing to lose.” Explains ‘Bear’. “When you have nothing to lose—you can get yourself into a lot of trouble. When I got my first cat, it changed me. There is something about holding a cat that makes your anger melt away. And if someone does something that upsets me—I have to remember my cat. I can’t keep my cat if I get into trouble.” He smiles wryly, reaching for little Ziggy. Bear’s last cat died recently from a pulmonary disorder. Bear was devastated, as were the other men on his floor. Because the cat died of natural causes, he was able to get a new kitten. Ziggy was sourced through a local animal shelter that works with the prison. 

He and his cellmate, Tom (who also has a cat, Booger) had to ‘kitten-proof’ their cell. They took down the cat tree that they had constructed for Booger and the previous cat, concerned that the very energetic and inquisitive kitten might injure himself on it. They also built a makeshift ‘cage’ for Ziggy to keep him safe when Tom and Bear have to be away from the cell.

According to the rules, all the cats are supposed to be leased at all times, but the guards and administration are very lax about these regulations, observing closely and using their discretion in individual cases, always with an eye toward the safety of the cat.

The gorgeous, fluffly Milo tends to stay in Mark Booher’s cell. Though the cat’s outgoing, sociable personality draws many visitors to his cell. The showers are immediately adjacent to Mr. Booher’s cell and Milo will pad over to stay close to his person. “A while back, I had a court date so I was gone for 10 days. The last thing I did before leaving was to shower. Milo followed along. When I got back, everyone told me that whenever he heard the showers turned on, Milo would hop over to see if it was me. It was nice to know that he was missing me.” Mr. Booher continues, “I was really lucky to get a cat like Milo. He has softened me. In a place like this, you have to keep your front up all the time, but not with Milo.”

Mark’s mother has always been a cat lover. Being able to swap cat anecdotes helps him stay close to her. “If it wasn’t for Milo, there wouldn’t be much to talk about.” He gestures out at the prison. “The cat program is the best thing happening here. It gives my life a purpose.”

James Stone got his first cat ‘Jinx’ years ago, well before the prison formalized the cat program. An inmate in his building had found a cat in the yard and brought it to his cell. “James, something is wrong with this cat.” The inmate called on him because James had a reputation for caring about animals.- Examining the cat, James assured him that the cat was fine—just in labor. Both men attended the birth. As the kittens matured, the other man sold these highly prized companions to other offenders for hundreds of dollars. But the runt of the litter was twitchy, with a crooked tail, poor balance and patches of fur missing. “He was real pathetic and nobody wanted that kitten. The guy was asking $300 cash, then a week later he dropped the price to $200, then $100—then $50 in kit. Finally, he just wanted to get rid of it. I was afraid he might kill it, so I took it.” Like the tale of the Ugly Duckling, ‘Jinx’ grew to be the most handsome and popular cat of the litter. “Even Major Cabanaw loved him. I’d come back to my cell and the guys would tell me,’The Major was here, hanging out in your cell with Jinx.’”

Indeed, Major Cabanaw has a photo of James Stone and Jinx on the bulletin board in his office. “I am 100% in favor of the cat program.” He proclaims proudly. “I don’t know of any other corrections facility that has a program like this—but I would recommend it for all prisons. The bottom line—it gives the offenders a reason to behave. It changes them. I’ve got guys in here who caused all kinds of problems—then they got a cat and thats it—they settle down and haven't caused any trouble since.”

A Major is the highest ranking corrections officer in the system. Indiana State Prison is only supposed to have one major overseeing the internal workings of the prison. My guide for the day, Vince Morton, is also a Major, but he was promoted to an administrative position overseeing prisoner grievances and other special programs (like the cat program.)

I asked if Major Cabanaw had concerns for the safety of the cats. “Of course, we always want to ensure the safety of the cats, and the staff is great about keeping an eye out for them. But mostly, it’s the offenders keeping them safe. I have never once seen an offender kill his own cat. We screen them to be sure they have no history of animal abuse. But I’ll tell you this, there was a guy killed in here because he had spit soda pop onto someone else’s cat.”

Kris St. Martin, a corrections officer, tells me, “There was a guy here whose cat was killed a couple of years ago. The guys on the floor put out a contract on that cat killer. No one was ever able to figure out who had done it, but if they had, well, as I said, there was a contract on him…Mostly these guys are really protective of the cats and they all benefit from their presence. A cat will visit with the offenders in their neighboring cells, and it means a lot to all of them. Occasionally, we get someone who has issues with casts, so we move them out to another building.”

When I visited, James Stone was providing a bit of ‘kitty day-care’ for another offender's cat, while he looked after his own cat. “Yeah, I take care of this guy’s cat while he’s at work.” James smiles proudly. This seems to be a fairly common practice among the cat program participants.

Jinx passed away from natural causes. The local shelter helped James find a cat that look a lot like Jinx. “ ‘Jinxster’ has the white paws, which Jinx didn’t have, and his personality is different, but he is still a great cat.”

Jinxster walked right up to me and offered a friendly overture as James continued to speak. “I have a temper. One time some things happened and I was feeling pretty serious about doing something. I was ready to do something. But Raol put Jinxster in my arms, and I just held him until I didn’t need to do something anymore.”

Slightly sheepish, he claims, “During my first 15 years here, I was trouble. I was out there in the yard, just making trouble.” Vince Morton and Kris St. Martin nod their heads knowingly, they both knew him before his first cat. “But Jinx changed all that. I’m a different person now.”

He shows me the marvelous cat house he built for his cats from scrap lumber and other odds and ends. I am amazed at how intuitively these men have responded to their cats needs. All of them have responded to the cats desire for height by constructing shelves for the cats.

“They certainly are innovative and resourceful.” Vince Morton affirms. Cat toys made from found pigeon feathers, boxes, string,scraps of carpet and fabric retrieved from dumpsters. A faux lambs wool paint roller makes a terrific cat toy.

The Assistant Superindent of the prison tells me, “I know there are people out there who think the offenders shouldn’t have cats. Some people don’t want them to have TV or anything to do. But I would support this cat program at any prison. Those cats humanize the men. The cats give them unconditional love, for many of those guys, that may be the only love they have ever experienced in their lives. And the bottom line for me, is that my staff are safer because of it. Every day that none of my staff gets hurt—that’s a good day. Watching over these guys is a dangerous job. And anything that makes that job safer is good with me.”

The administration and the staff that I spoke with emphatically supported the program. “I’ve been here for over 25 years, and I have seen a lot of offenders transformed by the cats.” Vince Morton is the man who kindly organized my visit and took a morning away from his vacation time to show me around. “This is an important program, I’m glad for an opportunity to tell people about it.”

My last interview was with Michael Overstreet, on death row. The program was only recently opened to Death Row inmates. Mr. Overstreet applied to the program and six weeks later received a darling black kitten, whom his seventeen year old daughter named ‘Athena’.

The cat program is virtually cost free to the prison (and tax-payers!) The program participants are responsible for all the expenses relating to the cat, including food, litter and veterinary bills. They can earn that money through work programs or through financial support from their families. “My grandmother is a real cat person.” Mr. Overstreet explains, “I asked her if she would sponsor my cat and she agreed…This cat has brought me so much happiness and order to my days. I used to sleep all day and be up all night. But now I have responsibilities.” Athena runs around the cell investigating everything, pressing her head through the bars to inquire about me. I was able to enter all of the other prisoner’s cells, but the rules are different on Death Row. No one enters the prisoner’s cells unless the offender is handcuffed, for one thing.

With each interview, I shook hands with the offenders. Vince Morton had advised me, “Most of the staff don’t know the specifics of the crimes these guys have committed. I find that its better not to know. It helps you be fair with them, if you aren’t thinking about what they did—and you absolutely don’t want to bring it up.”

All of our conversations focused on the cats, the logistics of prison litterbox maintenance, the importance of the cat relationship, anecdotes and one cat’s preference for ice water (all the inmates on Milo’s floor keep his water bowl nicely chilled by constantly refreshing his ice—since he has expressed a preference for cold water.)

I hadn’t known what to expect, never having been to a prison before. My entire idea of this world was based on The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Prison Break. I had anticipated mind-games and all sorts of possible unpleasantness. Instead, I found these men to be humble, respectful and profoundly sincere in their humanity and love for their cats.

In spite of the setting and the non-specific knowledge that their presence here was caused by unthinkable actions, I left the prison surprisingly uplifted, being so impressed by the compassion of the staff and the transformational impact of the cats.

When I arrived at my hotel two hours away in Lafayette, Indiana and had unpacked, I sat at my computer to download the photographs I had taken of the prison cats. Curiousity overcame me and I did a google search for ‘Michael Overstreet’.

As soon as I read it, I knew I would not look into the pasts of my other acquaintances.

Mr. Overstreet’s crime is the stuff of every woman’s worst nightmare. 

On a deeply spiritual level, I believe in compassion for all beings. I believe in the right to rehabilitation. I believe that the entire universe benefits every time a heart is opened to true love. I believe these convictions so deeply that I believe that no matter how heinous the crime, that as long as the animal is safe, this cat program is good and right, not just as a reward for present good behavior, but because learning to love selflessly—even when the soul learning that love is about to be extinguished—the ability to experience that kind of love lightens the world. It makes the world a better place for everyone.

No studies have been done examining the impact of prison animal programs on recidivism. But Superintendent Buss assured me that the data for prisoner conduct within the facility is conclusive, the cats make the prison a better environment. The whole program is incredibly inspiring regarding the potential for animals to heal humans.

But Vince Morton was right, there are some things that it is better not to know.

Tonight I sit with great discomfort about Michael Overstreet, who loves his little cat Athena, and his four children and the grandmother that is sponsoring his kitten. Michael Overstreet whose hand I shook and with whom I spoke about the vagaries of love.   (Source)

Nokia Patents Vibrating Tattoos

A magnetic vibrating tattoo has to be one of the strangest patent applications in quite a while, but Finnish phone giant Nokia has filed a U.S. patent for just that.

According to the patent application, Nokia is proposing “a material attachable to skin, the material capable of detecting a magnetic field and transferring a perceivable stimulus to the skin, wherein the perceivable stimulus relates to the magnetic field.”

Or to put it another way, a vibrating tattoo.

That magnetic field would interact with the tattoo, causing it to vibrate in a certain way.

Nokia’s thinking is that in much the same way that you can have different ring tones for different callers, so too a future phone could emit a different magnetic field depending who is calling, or if your battery is running low, or you receive an SMS, for example.

It doesn’t have to be a tattoo; the application does talk about just a badge, but it is clear that some thought has been given to actually embedding this thing. There is a lot of talk about using “ink enriched by ferromagnetic or paramagnetic compounds” and how these would be applied.

Why? The application doesn’t specify, but you could imagine situations were it is either very quiet, or conversely very noisy, so some alternative form of altering system could be used, although quite why just vibrating the phone itself isn’t enough…

Hat tip to Unwired View for spotting this.  (Source)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mount Rushmore was built on land that the US gave to Native Americans, then stole back!

The creation of Mount Rushmore is a story of struggle -- and to some, desecration. The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota Sioux, the original occupants of the area when white settlers arrived. For some, the four presidents carved in the hill are not without negative symbolism. The Sioux have never had much luck dealing with white men.

In the Treaty of 1868, the U.S. government promised the Sioux territory that included the Black Hills in perpetuity. Perpetuity lasted only until gold was found in the mountains and prospectors migrated there in the 1870s. The federal government then forced the Sioux to relinquish the Black Hills portion of their reservation.

These events fit the pattern of the late nineteenth century, a time of nearly constant conflict between the American government and Plains Indians. At his second presidential inauguration in 1873, Ulysses S. Grant reflected the attitudes of many whites when he said he favored a humane course to bring Native Americans "under the benign influences of education and civilization. It is either this or war of extermination." Many of the land's original occupants did not choose to assimilate; for them war, was the only option.

In South Dakota, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led various Sioux tribes against the U.S. Army. They had a notable success against General George Armstrong Custer and his troops, but the army's defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn in America's centennial year, 1876, would cause the federal government to redouble its efforts. (Some of the area in which Rushmore stands was eventually purchased by the state of South Dakota and developed as Custer State Park; the rest was part of the Black Hills National Forest.) South Dakota was also the site of the last major defeat of Native Americans at the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890.

In his bestselling 1970 history of Native Americans' experiences in the West, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown explains that the "battle" was actually a massacre where hundreds of unarmed Sioux women, children, and men were shot and killed by U.S. troops. The history of Wounded Knee would spur American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) activists to occupy the site in 1973. They demanded the federal government honor the treaties made with various tribes. The FBI became involved in what became known as the Second Siege at Wounded Knee, and a tense standoff resulted in the death of two Native Americans and injury to others on both sides. Violence continued to erupt for several years, including a June 26, 1975 firefight on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota that ended with the death of two FBI agents and one Native American. In a case that continues to spur controversy, A.I.M. member Leonard Peltier was convicted of killing the FBI agents, and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison.

In 1927, with a history of turmoil as a background, a white man living in Connecticut came into the Black Hills and dynamited and drilled the faces of four white men onto Mount Rushmore. At the outset of the project, Gutzon Borglum had persuaded South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson the presidents would give the work national significance, rejecting Robinson's initial suggestion that the sculpture honor the West's greatest heroes, both Native Americans and pioneers.

The insult of Rushmore to some Sioux is at least three-fold:
1. It was built on land the government took from them.
2. The Black Hills in particular are considered sacred ground.
3. The monument celebrates the European settlers who killed so many Native Americans and appropriated their land.

To counter the white faces of Rushmore, in 1939 Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked briefly at Rushmore, to carve a memorial to the Sioux nation in the Black Hills. Perhaps wary of Borglum's troubles with financial administrators, Ziolkowski personally bought a mountain top with a granite ridge and financed the entire project privately. The statue, envisioned as a freestanding sculpture of the great Sioux chief Crazy Horse, will be much larger than any of the Rushmore figures. Korczak Ziolkowski died in 1982, but his family continues to work on this awesome undertaking; Crazy Horse's face was completed and dedicated in 1998. Although the subject of this work addresses one aspect of Rushmore's offenses, the land is still considered Sioux property, and the mountain that the Ziolkowskis are carving is still sacred. The Crazy Horse monument is not without its own dissenters and critics.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The first Earth song that Aliens will hear will be 'Across the Universe' by The Beatles

For the first time ever, NASA beamed a song -- The Beatles' "Across the Universe" -- directly into deep space at 7 p.m. EST on Feb. 4.

The transmission over NASA's Deep Space Network commemorated the 40th anniversary of the day The Beatles recorded the song, as well as the 50th anniversary of NASA's founding and the group's beginnings. Two other anniversaries also are being honored: The launch 50 years ago this week of Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite, and the founding 45 years ago of the Deep Space Network, an international network of antennas that supports missions to explore the universe.

The transmission was aimed at the North Star, Polaris, which is located 431 light years away from Earth. The song will travel across the universe at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney expressed excitement that the tune, which was principally written by fellow Beatle John Lennon, was being beamed into the cosmos.

"Amazing! Well done, NASA!" McCartney said in a message to the space agency. "Send my love to the aliens. All the best, Paul."

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, characterized the song's transmission as a significant event.

"I see that this is the beginning of the new age in which we will communicate with billions of planets across the universe,"

she said.

"Amazing! Well done, NASA! Send my love to the aliens."-- Sir Paul McCartneyIt is not the first time Beatles music has been used by NASA; in November 2005, McCartney performed the song "Good Day Sunshine" during a concert that was transmitted to the International Space Station (› Related Story). "Here Comes the Sun," "Ticket to Ride" and "A Hard Day's Night" are among other Beatles' songs that have been played to wake astronaut crews in orbit.

Feb. 4 has been declared "Across The Universe Day" by Beatles fans to commemorate the anniversaries. As part of the celebration, the public around the world has been invited to participate in the event by simultaneously playing the song at the same time it is transmitted by NASA. Many of the senior NASA scientists and engineers involved in the effort are among the group's biggest fans.

"I've been a Beatles fan for 45 years – as long as the Deep Space Network has been around," said Dr. Barry Geldzahler, the network's program executive at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "What a joy, especially considering that 'Across the Universe' is my personal favorite Beatles song."   (Source)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is the Image of Jesus actually the image of Cesare Borgia

Cesare Borgia Jesus?

Cesare Borgia jesus
This is a painting of Cesare Borgia, the man who influenced all European paintings, sculptures and carvings of Jesus.
Many scholars believe the image of Jesus has been manipulated, skewed and outright fabricated. This article will address such an issue.

Cesare Borgia was the Son of Pope Alexander VI. In fact, he was the popes most loved and illegitimate son. (at one time papacy members were allowed to marry.) Pope Alexander VI was known for having multiple mistresses and in 1476 bore a son named Cesare Borgia. Cesare was Alexanders favored son and by the age of 15 had already become the Bishop of Pamplona. By his 18th birthday he was a Cardinal. Borgia also had an older brother named Giovanni who was Captain General of the Papacy Military forces.

Cesare envied his brothers position and many scholars believe he envied it so much that he had his own brother assassinated in order to obtain the office. Other records show the brothers slept with the same mistress, the wife of their younger brother Goffredo. Many believe the inflamed love triangle between the brothers and their so-called mistresses is what led to young Giovanni’s demise. Following Giovanni’s assassination, Cesare Borgia resigned his position as Cardinal and became Captain General of the Papacy Military. During this time, the Catholic Church was waging war on Islam and Cesare was about to play a vital role in the history of the Church.

At the time, the Muslims had successfully made their way to Germany and taken control of Turkey. This threatened the Churches stronghold over the empire. During the same period, the image of Jesus was that of a Muslim and the church was having a hard time selling its ideologies in the region. Some say they devised a plan to correct this issue and used Cesare Borgia as its tool. Consequently, some historians say the pope came up with a plan to have every painting of the original messiah destroyed. Next, Alexander VI commissioned Leonardo Di Vinci to reinvent Jesus in the image of his own beloved son, Cesare Borgia.

Cesare Borgia Jesus
This completely disassociated the whites of the empire from the Muslims they had to fight, making it easier to kill their enemies in good conscious. So, there you have it. Do you think our modern image of Jesus is actually Cesare Borgia?  IsJesus Cesare Borgia? (In reference to the images of Jesus)
Interesting fact: Many people believe there are armed guards stationed at the Catacombs of Rome to keep people from viewing  wall carvings of the original Messiah in his legitimate ethnic representation. (Source)

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