Ritzkrieg of Wartime London


"The Savoy of this period, like London's other grand hotels, was a locus of powerful resentment: a building that symbolised the tenacity of privilege during wartime. There was even a word that went with it – Ritzkrieg – the campaign through which rich Londoners protected their perks and pleasures. But it was also possible to see it as the site of a peculiarly British form of resistance – a place in which quickstepping and drinking pink gin became a patriotic activity; where socialites bibbed for England to demonstrate that Hitler was not sufficiently powerful to disrupt the rituals of cocktail hour. The grand hotels were sensible places to make such a stand. The Dorchester reminded wartime guests that it was, at the skeletal level, a mesh of thick metal cables sunk into a raft of reinforced concrete. The Ritz ballyhooed the fact that its Belle Epoch curlicues concealed steel girders worthy of an American skyscraper. (They neglected to mention that the steel was German.) And under this somewhat illusory impression of safety, the statesmen, spooks and five-star refugees checked in. The Savoy, the Dorchester, the Ritz, Claridge's: each one became a kind of Casablanca.

At the Savoy, journalists filed articles from makeshift offices carved from the carcasses of once-expensive suites. Con artists and swindlers, invigorated by the opportunities brought by war, hunted for victims among the potted palms. Illegal abortionists, profiting from the wartime increase in unwanted pregnancies, conducted their business behind locked hotel-room doors. Spies and spymasters made the grand hotels into thriving centres of espionage, using quiet suites for debriefings and interrogations and picking at the plasterwork for hidden microphones. MI5 booked a suspected Nazi double agent called Stella Lonsdale into a room at the Waldorf, and waited for her to crack. Guy Burgess installed a pair of spies at the Dorchester, one a painfully handsome 19-year-old with 10 targets on his watch list – mainly homosexual Magyars (Hungarians) who were charmed by his unfingermarked good looks. "The whole place," shuddered the head of Special Branch, "is crawling with foreigners."

More: http://m.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/oct/30/sex-politics-spying-londons-wartime-hotels?cat=travel&type=article


The Voynich Manuscript dates to the early 15th Century

"University of Arizona researchers have cracked one of the puzzles surrounding what has been called "the world's most mysterious manuscript" -- the Voynich manuscript, a book filled with drawings and writings nobody has been able to make sense of to this day.

Using radiocarbon dating, a team led by Greg Hodgins in the UA's department of physics has found the manuscript's parchment pages date back to the early 15th century, making the book a century older than scholars had previously thought.

Currently owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, the manuscript was discovered in the Villa Mondragone near Rome in 1912 by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich while sifting through a chest of books offered for sale by the Society of Jesus. Voynich dedicated the remainder of his life to unveiling the mystery of the book's origin and deciphering its meanings. He died 18 years later, without having wrestled any its secrets from the book.

"Is it a code, a cipher of some kind? People are doing statistical analysis of letter use and word use -- the tools that have been used for code breaking. But they still haven't figured it out."

More: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210153016.htm

How to foretell a dictator


How to foretell a dictator? By scanning his brain (which, perhaps, should be a pre-requisite for all presidential candidates):

“They are usually charming, charismatic and intelligent,” wrote James Fallon, an American neuroscientist, in Psychology Today.

“They brim with self-confidence and independence, and exude sexual energy. They are also extremely self-absorbed, masterful liars, compassionless, often sadistic and possess a boundless appetite for power.”

Col. Gaddafi was “paranoid, narcissistic, power-hungry and vain,” he said.

After studying the behaviour of dictators, Mr. Fallon determined that genes, upbringing, abnormalities in the brain and a lack of empathy all played a role in forming such a person.

And, he concluded, “It is no coincidence that all dictators are men."

More: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/10/22/peter-goodspeed-abnormal-brains-only-partly-explain-what-makes-someone-a-dictator/


Blooming spring in autumn | LitBash 45

Autumn gets you down? Prefer Spring? Every book is a blooming flower. Enter the garden - start with authors who were...

Born this week:

Armand Lanoux, France

Venedict Yerofeyev, Russia

Ulrich Plenzdorf, Germany

Erasmus, Netherlands

"The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war."

Kare Holt, Norway

Sylvia Plath, USA

"Nothing reaks quite as bad as a pile of unpublished manuscripts."

Evelyn Waugh, UK
"Aesthetic value is often the by-product of the artist striving to do something else."

Otto Flake, Germany

Jean Giraudoux, France

"As soon as war is declared it will be impossible to hold the poets back. Rhyme is still the most effective drum."

Jean Rostand, France
"Kill a man, one is a murderer; kill a million, a conqueror; kill them all, a God."

Carl Erik Soya, Denmark

Died this week:

Mary McCarthy, USA
"We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the hero of our own story."

Gerard Walschap, Belgium

Carlo Collodi, Italy

Arkady Gaidar, Russia

Heinz Piontek, Germany

Willi Bredel, Germany

Walter Raleigh, UK

"Better were it to be unborn than ill-bred."

Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Russia
"History is fond of her grandchildren, for it offers them the marrow of the bones, which the previous generation had hurt its hands in breaking."

Frances Burnett, UK
"And this, my lovely child, is your garden."

William Wharton, USA
"What is love? As far as I can tell, it is passion, admiration, and respect. If you have two, you have enough. If you have all three, you dont have to die to go to heaven."

Pio Baroja, Basque

Copiale Cipher, an 18th century secret code is broken

The "75,000-character Copiale Cipher finally has been broken.

The mysterious cryptogram, bound in gold and green brocade paper, reveals the rituals and political leanings of an 18th-century secret society in Germany. The rituals detailed in the document indicate the society had a fascination with eye surgery and ophthalmology, though it seems members of the society were not eye doctors."

The code was broken by a team led by Kevin Knight.

"To break the cipher, Knight and colleagues Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden tracked down the original manuscript, which was found in the East Berlin Academy after the Cold War and now is in a private collection. They transcribed a machine-readable version of the text, using a computer program created by Knight to help quantify the co-occurrences of certain symbols and other patterns."

Read more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111025102320.htm


The day Nixon wanted to blow up the world

"For two weeks in October 1969, the Nixon Administration secretly placed U.S. nuclear forces on alert.  [...] Still today, no conclusive explanation for the potentially destabilizing alert can be found. 

“There are two main after-the-fact explanations: first, that nuclear brinkmanship was designed to convince the Soviets that President Nixon was prepared to launch a nuclear attack against North Vietnam in order to convince Moscow to put pressure on Hanoi to negotiate an end to the war in Southeast Asia” along the lines that previous historians have suggested.

The second proposed explanation is “that the President ordered the alert as a signal to deter a possible Soviet nuclear strike against China during the escalating Sino-Soviet border dispute.”  Consistent with the second interpretation, the FRUS volume provides new documentation of intelligence reports indicating that Soviet leaders were considering a preemptive strike against Chinese nuclear facilities.

Astonishingly, even the most senior U.S. military leaders were kept in the dark by the White House about the nature of the alert– before, during and after the event."

More: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2011/10/1969_nuclear_alert.html

WikiLeaks is dying. WikiJustice is born.

WikiLeaks may cease to exists because there is no way to support it financially (though not for the lack of will among the 99-percenters).

"The shutting down of the WikiLeaks website due to financial problems is unfortunate, even though it had become almost inevitable that its end was nigh. Organisations such as Mastercard, Visa, Western Union and PayPal, though not directly funding WikiLeaks, were effective channels for those who wanted to donate to it from across the world. Once they withdrew support, the donations dried up and the website ran out of cash, after which staying afloat was a struggle. Though no one will officially admit it, the connection between these organisations’ refusal to allow donations to go through them and the United States government’s displeasure at disclosures made by WikiLeaks is too blatant to be ignored." source

How is it possible that no channel exists in the entire world by which a person could support WikiLeaks? It's because of what you always suspected: a handful of companies control the entire financial / economic system:

"The work, to be published in PLoS One, revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What's more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world's large blue chip and manufacturing firms - the "real" economy - representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.

When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a "super-entity" of 147 even more tightly knit companies - all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity - that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. "In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network," says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions." source

Do not despair! WikiLeaks may suspend its operations, perhaps even cease to exist, but WIKIJUSTICE will set things straight:


What is Fiction?

"What is fiction? And how does reading fiction affect how we experience the world?

The literary historian Luiz Costa Lima has argued that prior to the invention of fiction, narratives were largely measured against one overriding standard: the perceived truthfulness of their relation to the world. That truth was often a moral or theological one, and to the extent that narratives related the deeds of men, proximity to an image of virtue or holiness would be considered worthy of imitation, and distance from it worthy of opprobrium.

Fiction is different.

For a prose narrative to be fictional it must be written for a reader who knows it is untrue and yet treats it for a time as if it were true. The reader knows, in other words, not to apply the traditional measure of truthfulness for judging a narrative; he or she suspends that judgment for a time, in a move that Samuel Taylor Coleridge popularized as “the willing suspension of disbelief,” or “poetic faith.” Another way of putting this is to say that a reader must be able to occupy two opposed identities simultaneously: a naïve reader who believes what he is being told, and a savvy one who knows it is untrue. [...]

The fictional worldview, then, is one in which we are able to divide our selves to assume simultaneously opposing consciousnesses, and to enter and leave different realities at will, all the while voluntarily suspending judgments concerning their relation to an ultimate reality. This worldview has had an extraordinarily powerful impact on the modern world; in some interpretations it is the very epistemological signature of modernity, affecting equally our thought and politics as thoroughly as it does our art and literature. [...]

As Cervantes realized in the context of the newly born mass culture of the Catholic, imperial, Spanish state, irony expertly wielded is the best defense against the manipulation of truth by the media. Its effect was and still is to remind its audience that we are all active participants in the creation and support of a fictional world that is always in danger of being sold to us as reality."

Continue: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/quixote-colbert-and-the-reality-of-fiction/

5 years of WikiLeaks revelations


Kidnap-murder mystery of the "unbalanced" scientist

"On Nov. 15, 1992, a terrified scientist -- trapped inside a white bungalow in the Uruguayan beach town of Parque del Plata -- broke a window to escape. Chubby, in his mid-40s, the man struggled through the opening.

Once outside, furtively and slowly, he picked his way through the town's streets to the local police station.

"I am a Chilean citizen," the scientist told the police. He pulled a folded photostatic copy of his identification papers concealed in his right shoe. "I have been abducted by the armies of Uruguay and my country," he claimed.

The scientist, rumpled with a graying beard, said he feared for his life. He insisted that his murder had been ordered by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, then the chief of Chile's army who had ruled as a dictator from 1973 to 1990.

The motive for the execution order was the man's anticipated testimony at a politically sensitive trial in Chile, a case that could have sent reverberations all the way to Washington, D.C., potentially embarrassing the man who in November 1992 still sat in the White House, President George H.W. Bush.

[...] the scientist's fate became a complex kidnap-murder mystery, with improbable twists and turns, an apparent disinformation trick, raw political power, a grisly discovery and, finally, forensic science."

Read more: http://consortiumnews.com/2006/071206a.html


I don't want to be an emperor

"I'm sorry but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others' happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men's souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say "Do not despair." The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness."

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator


The Dark Arts


"Most business schools offer a variety of specialities, from marketing and accounting to corporate finance. But there is a school in Europe with an MBA program in what faculty members call “defence against the dark arts.”

Students are taught everything from the power of influence and lobbying tactics to reputation management and crisis communications. But the focus is on how to produce, protect and gain information, using what Bianchi calls “a mix-up of civilian and military exercises in the field of information and of opposition management.” Every student, he adds, must complete 12 to 18 exercises based on using military tactics to fight “the info war."

When most people talk about industrial espionage in the West, the finger wagging is typically aimed at China and Russia. In emerging markets, more than a few people insist that Uncle Sam somehow manages aggressively to deploy the CIA to steal trade secrets for select U.S. corporations without raising a legal peep from other American companies. But what those concerned talk about when not tossing accusations at China or the United States is France—an aggressive collector of industrial intelligence since the mid-1700s, when the British naively invited French operatives to inspect their mines, smelters and foundries. The British Board of Longitude even foolishly let French operatives examine John Harrison’s revolutionary marine clocks."

More: http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/51240--spies-like-them


Pentagon to use stories in propaganda wars

"Stories “change the course of insurgencies, frame negotiations, play a role in political radicalization, influence the methods and goals of violent social movements.”

[...] the Pentagon wants researchers to study how stories infiltrate social networks and alter our brain circuits. One of the stipulated research goals: to “explore the function narratives serve in the process of political radicalization and how they can influence a person or group’s choice of means (such as indiscriminant violence) to achieve political ends.”

Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to “detect narrative influence.” These tools will enable “prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.” In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side." From: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/10/darpa-science-propaganda/

Meanwhile, you do not have to wait to find out how state "wins people onto their side" by use of  propaganda - read all about it in this chilling book.


Burn these books | LitBash 44

If books entertain you - burn them! Start with authors who were...

Born this week:

Simon Vestdijk, Netherlands
"If it were to be claimed that intentional verse is not yet poetry, then I would equally have the right to claim that the most consummate, most differentiated sound poems are no longer poetry but a singular imitation of another art: music or declamation."

Arthur Miller, USA
"I cannot write anything that I understand too well. If I know what something means to me, if I have already come to the end of it as an experience, I can't write it because it seems a twice-told tale. I have to astonish myself, and that of course is a very costly way of going about things, because you can go up a dead end and discover that it's beyond your capacity to discover some organism underneath your feeling, and you're left simply with a formless feeling which is not itself art. It's inexpressible and one must leave it until it is hardened and becomes something that has form and has some possibility of being communicated. It might take a year or two or three or four to emerge."

Pierre de Laclos, France

"I was astonished at the pleasure to be derived from doing good."

Ernst Didring, Sweden

Mikhail Kuzmin, Russia

Tibor Dery, Hungary

Kir Bulychev, Russia

Niels Albert Dam, Denmark

Miguel Angel Asturias, Guatemala

"If you write novels merely to entertain - then burn them! This might be the message delivered with evangelical fervour since if you do not burn them they will anyway be erased from the memory of the people where a poet or novelist should aspire to remain. Just consider how many writers there have been who - down the ages - have written novels to entertain! And who remembers them now?"

Elfriede Jelinek, Austria
"Very few women wait for Mr. Right. Most women take the first and worst Mr. Wrong."

Ursula K. Le Guin, USA
"To leave the reader free to decide what your work means, that’s the real art; it makes the work inexhaustible."

Gianni Rodari, Italy

Died this week:

Karl Kautsky, Germany
"The capitalist class rules but does not govern: it contents itself with ruling the government."

Jean Amery, Austria

Jonathan Swift, UK / Ireland

"Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style."

Jack Reed, USA
"War means an ugly mob-madness, crucifying the truth tellers, choking the artists, sidetracking reforms, revolutions, and the working of social forces."

Jack Kerouac, USA
"All our best men are laughed at in this nightmare land."

Charles Bertin, Belgium

Jose Andrade, Brasil


The Future, according to Arthur Conan Doyle

"What is to be the end of it all? Since first a man scratched hieroglyphics on an ostracon, or scribbled with sepia upon a fragment of papyrus, the human race has been puzzling itself over that question... We may safely suppose that man will win fresh victories over mechanical and natural difficulties. That he will navigate the air with the same ease and certainty with which he now does the water, and that his ships will travel under the waves as well as over them. That life will be rendered more refined and more pleasant by countless inventions, and that preventative medicine and sanitary science will work such wonders that accident and old age will be the only causes of death. That the common sense of nations will abolish war, and the education and improved social condition of communities will effect a marvellous diminution in crime. That the forms of religion will be abandoned but the essence maintained, so that one universal creed will embrace the whole earth, which shall preach reverence to the great Creator and the pursuit of virtue, not from any hope of reward or fear of punishment, but from a high and noble love of the right and hatred of the wrong.

These are some of the changes which may be looked for. And then? Why, by that time, perhaps the solar system will be ripe for picking."

From: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/sherlock-holmess-origins-revealed-2360513.html

How do you discover ebooks?


Survey from: http://www.teleread.com/paul-biba/how-ebook-buyers-discover-ebooks/


Cyber espionage, made in USA

"Members of the Berlin-based Chaos Computer Club, however, examined the so-called R2D2 keylogging Trojan after getting hold of a copy of it, and discovered that it was doing much more than it was legally supposed to do. In addition to monitoring Skype calls and recording keystrokes to capture e-mail and instant messaging communications, the Trojan had the ability to take screenshots and activate a computer’s microphone and webcam to allow someone to remotely spy on activities in a room. Furthermore, the program includes a backdoor that would allow authorities to remotely update the program with additional functionality.

The backdoor, CCC found, also contains several security vulnerabilities that makes any system on which the spyware is installed potentially vulnerable to takeover by other parties who could commandeer the spyware for their own purposes. Commands sent to the Trojan are not encrypted, and the spyware requires no authentication between the Trojan and the system communicating with it, meaning that anyone could take remote control of the spyware to spy on a user, plant evidence on his machine or even impersonate a law enforcement Trojan to communicate with law enforcement systems."

This spyware does not come from China, it's proudly made in the USA.

More: http://m.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/10/germany-fbi-spy-tool/

Public bookshelves


"COLOGNE, Germany — Take a book, leave a book. In the birthplace of the printing press, public bookshelves are popping up across the nation on street corners, city squares and suburban supermarkets.

In these free-for-all libraries, people can grab whatever they want to read, and leave behind anything they want for others. There’s no need to register, no due date, and you can take or give as many as you want."

More: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/public-bookshelves-spread-across-germany-allowing-free-access-to-literature/2011/10/14/gIQA4niBjL_story.html


UFO and psychological warfare


"Recent information has surfaced that both the U.S. and Soviet governments fancied an interest in faking an alien invasion as a means to induce mass-hysteria in the enemy à la Orson Welles' chaotic War of the Worlds broadcast from 1938.

At least one inter-agency communication from the early 1950s acknowledges the potential disruptive power of a faked alien invasion in both "offensive and defensive" contexts (keeping in mind, the Roswell UFO incident occurred only a few years prior and was followed by a flurry of "flying saucer" sightings around the world).

The following memo was sent from then-director of the CIA, Walter Bedell Smith to the unnamed director of the "Psychological Strategy Board."

I am today transmitting to the National Security Council a proposal… in which it is concluded that the problems connected with unidentified flying objects appear to have implications for psychological warfare as well as for intelligence and operations…

I suggest that we discuss at an early board meeting the possible offensive or defensive utilization of these phenomena for psychological warfare purposes."

More: http://dvice.com/archives/2011/09/investigating-t-1.php


Good, or bad, they're sacred | LitBash 43

Books from writers who were...
Born this week:

Claude Simon, France
"To begin with, our perception of the world is deformed, incomplete. Then our memory is selective. Finally, writing transforms."

Harold Pinter, UK
"There can be no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."

Gertrud von Le Fort, Germany

Francois Mauriac, France

"Most men resemble great deserted palaces: the owner occupies only a few rooms and has closed off wings where he never ventures."

Takiji Kobayashi, Japan

Mikhail Lermontov, Russia

"Happy people are ignoramuses and glory is nothing else but success, and to achieve it one only has to be cunning."

Alfred Neumann, Germany

Bernard von Brentano, Germany

Manuel de Fonseca, Portugal

Italo Calvino, Italy

"In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of the written language."

Oscar Wilde, UK
"I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works."

Dino Buzzati Traverso, Italy

Jose Saramago, Portugal

"Human nature is, by definition, a talkative one, imprudent, indiscreet, gossipy, incapable of closing its mouth and keeping it closed."

Gunter Grass, Germany
"Even bad books are books, and therefore sacred."

Died this week:

Alexy K. Tolstoy, Russia

Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Denmark

Anatole France, France

"Innocence most often is a good fortune and not a virtue."

Ernst Didring, Sweden

Hjalmar Soderberg, Sweden

Marcel Ayme, France

Louis Guilloux, France

Danilo Kis, Serbia

"Do not get involved with anyone, a writer is alone."

Universal translator for battlefield

"It’s been almost a decade since the United States began its wars in countries that most Americans can’t find on a map, let alone understand the native language. The military’s tried nearly everything to get around its language barriers, from spending big bucks trying to ape Star Trek’s Universal Translator to hiring expensive contractors who speak Arabic, Pashto and Dari. One defense giant thinks it’s got a better idea: war-zone conference calling.

Lockheed Martin is rolling out a Dial-a-Translator system it calls LinGO Link. The gist of it is that troops needing to talk to locals in real time can call into a “bank of interpreters” that the company will maintain somewhere near the front lines. Using a specialized smartphone operating on a proprietary data network, a soldier using LinGO Link would dial himself and his local interlocutor into the call center so a native speaker can translate.

Face to face, in-person translation doesn’t come cheap. Last year, the Army gave an Ohio-based company a whopping $679 million, no-bid contract to provide it with translators in Afghanistan. But it’s not clear how Lockheed’s system will be any cheaper, especially if the government has to pony up for call centers. Those call centers would be “within the area of operations” of the troops themselves — meaning they’d be in war zones, not comfortably back in the States. That’s not gonna come cheap."

More: http://m.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/08/dial-a-translator/

Has anyone considered NOT invading other places?

Frankenstein background confirmed

Mary "Shelley was staying with her future husband, Percy Shelley, at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland in June of 1816. Also present were Lord Byron and friends Claire Clairmont and John Polidori. Byron challenged all of them to try their hand at writing a ghost story.

Shelley saw the "bright and shining moon" through her window that night and wrote the story while she was in what she called "a waking dream.""

But "Shelley has long been doubted for her version of events that led to the writing of one of the most beloved Gothic tales in the English language."

Now "Donald Olson, an astronomy professor at Texas State University in San Marcos, told Reuters on Monday that the night sky would argue that she was telling the truth.

On that night, however, "we determined that a bright, gibbous moon would have cleared the hillside to shine right into Shelley's bedroom window just before 2 a.m. on June 16," Olson said."

More: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/26/us-frankenstein-astronomer-texas-idUSTRE78P69220110926


The books we lie about


"Do your bookshelves show that you are a widely read and intelligent individual? Or is the story somewhat different?

A survey suggests the average Briton owns 80 books which they haven’t read but are there only to make them look more intellectual.

The research found that 70 per cent of books in the average bookcase remain unopened, and four in ten of those questioned confessed that their works of literature were purely there for display purposes."

see results: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2046012/How-average-bookshelf-packed-80-books-havent-read-bid-look-clever.html


Pentagon in your home and everyday life


"Armchair sociologists like to ponder the distance between military and civilian life. In the tech world, at least, they're not so far apart. Innovations that began with the U.S.' well-funded defense establishment almost always filter down into commercial, mundane usage. Sometimes in unexpected ways. Here are some of our favorite examples:

Microwave Oven. The origins of the microwave are even freakier than this '60s-era mockup of a hanging heat lamp that fried your bacon. Percy Spencer, an engineer with the defense giant Raytheon, thought he was building magnetron for radar sets. Suddenly he discovered his pants were a sticky mess. A Mr. Goodbar he kept in his pocket had melted from the heat emitted from his active radar set. From that embarrassing accident came a multimillion dollar industry — and one of the great twin blessings and curses of the American kitchen."

More: http://m.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/10/gadgets-the-pentagon-made/

Working for the MI5

"I’m assured that many things people believe about MI5’s recruitment processes are myths. It is not true that it doesn’t recruit tall people, for instance. There is a height restriction for those who want to work in its mobile surveillance teams, but that is quite different to the digital stuff. It doesn’t kill anyone either. “The Security Service is subject to the rule of law in the same way as any other public body.”

That said, you do have to be very secretive. I am told: “You must not discuss your application, other than with your partner or close family.” MI5 does not disclose the names of any of its staff – the sole exception being the director general. If you’re interested, you do have to ask yourself seriously if you’re discreet enough. You must be the sort of person who does not need to discuss work with friends and family.

Put bluntly: “If publicly celebrating your career successes is important to you, you should reconsider your suitability.”

More: http://www.cityam.com/business-features/not-spooks-still-exciting


Watching and listening to books

From embedded video, to sound effects, the future of the book has less and less to do with reading:

"[...] publishers are now producing the first “enhanced e-books”, where soundtracks are provided along with the text. The first one, The Adventures of the Speckled Band, a Sherlock Holmes story, came out last week, complete with driving rain, thunderclaps and blood-curdling screams.

Perhaps the most powerful advantage a book has over any other medium is in sparking and expanding the imagination. When you read, you fill in the gaps – your own internal soundtrack, how things look, how the emotions feel. Soundtracks are that much more prescriptive and precise, with little room left for your brain to improvise. Your own inner version of a scream may be that much more blood-curdling than the one laid down in the sound studio."

From: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harrymount/100055724/god-save-us-from-books-with-soundtracks/

Makes me glad that my ereader has volume control that goes all the way down to 0.

Invisibility cloak no longer a mirage

"Scientists have created a working cloaking device that not only takes advantage of one of nature’s most bizarre phenomenon, but also boasts unique features; it has an ‘on and off’ switch and is best used underwater.

This novel design, makes use of sheets of carbon nanotubes (CNT) – one-molecule-thick sheets of carbon wrapped up into cylindrical tubes.

CNTs have such unique properties, such as having the density of air but the strength of steel, that they have been extensively studied and put forward for numerous applications; however it is their exceptional ability to conduct heat and transfer it to surrounding areas that makes them an ideal material to exploit the so-called “mirage effect”.

The mirage effect, frequently observed in deserts or on long roads in the summer, is an optical phenomenon in which light rays are bent to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky.

The most common example of a mirage is when an observer appears to see pools of water on the ground. This occurs because the air near the ground is a lot warmer than the air higher up, causing lights rays to bend upward towards the viewer’s eye rather than bounce off the surface.

This results in an image of the sky appearing on the ground which the viewer perceives as water actually reflecting the sky; the brain sees this as a more likely occurrence."

From: http://www.iopblog.org/mirageeffect-helps-researchers-hide-objects/


Cure for autumn blues | LitBash 42

Days are getting shorter? Nights are getting longer? Nothing on TV? A great opportunity to pick up a book! Start with writers who were...

Born this week:

Louis Aragon, France
"Of all possible sexual perversions, religion is the only one to have ever been scientifically systematized."

James Alfred Wight, UK
"For years I used to bore my wife over lunch with stories about funny incidents. The words 'My book,' as in 'I'll put that in it one day,' became a sort of running joke. Eventually she said, 'Look, I don't want to offend you, but you've been saying that for 25 years. If you were going to write a book, you'd have done it. You're never going to do it now. Old vets of 50 don't write books.' So I purchased a lot of paper right then and started to write."

Gore Vidal, USA
"Envy is the central fact of American life."

Denis Diderot, France
"It has been said that love robs those who have it of their wit, and gives it to those who have none."

Teresa de la Parra, Venezuela

Flann O'Brien, Ireland

Charles Bertin, Belgium

Sig Halvard Dagerman, Sweden

Jose Donoso, Chile

Vaclav Havel, Czech
"Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy."

Frank Herbert, USA

Died this week:

Ivan Yefremov, Russia

Henry Fielding, UK
"Love and scandal are the best sweeteneers of tea."

Felix Salten, Austria
Author of Bambi

Jean Giono, France

Andre Maurois, France
"It is easy to be admired when one remains inaccessible."


How to spot an American [spy] overseas

By their backside in their hosts' faces, apparently:

"As the agency’s leading disguise specialists, the Mendezes spent decades creating false identities for American spies

Often, the biggest challenge facing the Mendezes wasn’t coming up with fake mustaches and plausible covers — it was teaching agents to act less, well, American.

To wit: Europeans stand up straight in elevators, with their weight on both feet. Americans slouch, leaning against walls and railings. In movie theaters, Americans walk though crowded rows facing the screen; by contrast, Europeans face the audience, because they consider sticking their backsides in their fellow patrons’ faces to be rude.

Mrs. Mendez said contemporary American agents have to be taught to smoke. Mr. Mendez added that even the American habit of daily showering can be a giveaway.

“In Moscow, we made sure agents had the right amount of garlic, vodka and plain old B.O."

More: http://m.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/sep/27/behind-the-mask/?page=all


A right and a duty

Just read Soldiers' Revolt, by Hans Hellmut Kirst, a fictionalised account of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, and the implementation of Operation Valkyrie (popularised by a movie with Tom Cruise), starring authentic members of the resistance: Claus von Stauffenberg, Friedrich Olbricht, Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg-Tressow (depicted in the novel as Count von Brackwede), and others.

Kirst used well-researched data to construct the novel, including historical documentation, and interviews with von der Schulenburg's family.

The novel is best summed up by the following quotations:

"If a nation falls as a result of abuse of power, then the rebellion of each member of this nation is not only a right but a duty." Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf


"We took upon ourselves this deed to protect Germany from a nameless misery. It is clear to me that I shall be hanged for it, but I do not rue my deed and hope that another, in a luckier moment, will undertake it." Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg at his mock trial.

Platform vs Reputation


Readers might not be aware of the crude reality faced by writers: To succeed in the publishing world, or even to score a chance at publishing a book, a writer had to build a "platform" (in short: build a following and become an expert in his / her field). Now it's all about "Reputation" (which, in the older days, would, basically, eliminate the chance of becoming published by the likes of Louis-Ferdinand Celine or William Burroughs: some publishers include a clause in contracts, whereby a publishing agreement may be cancelled if a writer is found to behave "disreputably"). Apparently "reputation" is important even if a writer forgoes the old publishing model, and skips publishers by releasing his / her books directly to readers:

"As the growing eBook market for fiction overtakes the print sector, traditionally-published and self-published authors face a new marketing issue: reputation.

Not just a specific book's reputation, which historically was set by book reviewers, readers and librarians, but also the author's individual reputation. From authors who go on the attack to dispute negative reviews to a single, wildly-popular book reviewer's thrashing of a self-published novel that triggered readers to give it one-star reviews on Amazon while openly admitting they had not read the novel, all it takes is one bad comment to go viral and in an instant, years of work goes down the Internet rabbit hole.

For publishers (self and corporate) bemoaning a lack of time, effort, or interest in reputation management, you can choose to disengage. Just keep in mind that readers, and bloggers, won't. Once you put that book out there, you have exercised your freedom of expression. Be prepared for others to do the same."

More: http://technorati.com/business/advertising/article/authors-and-publishers-ignore-online-reputation/

Oops! I better go back to Facebook, and be nice and charming to all my friends...

Royal secret agent

Margaret Rhodes, the first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, was employed as a secretary to the head of MI6.

"The daughter of the 16th Lord Elphinstone, who was a bridesmaid at the Queen's wedding and still regularly receives visits from Her Majesty, was tasked with reading messages sent from British spies across the globe, narrowly avoided being killed by a V1 rocket, and had her London landlord arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi spy.

She recalled: "I wanted do my bit and went to join the Women's Royal Naval Service, but found myself in MI6. It was dreadfully hush-hush and, for an impressionable 18-year-old, terribly mysterious.

"I reported each day to a disguised office near St James's Park underground station. It was 'Passport Control' on the ground floor, but upstairs we were MI6."

The teenager, who had spent her childhood summers playing with Princess Elizabeth at Balmoral, said the structure of the secret department closely mirrored that of the fictional Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) created by Ian Fleming.

She said: "The big chief, 'M' to James Bond fans, hid behind the letter 'C'.

"He wrote in green ink and God-like powers were attributed to him by us underlings.

"One of my daily tasks was to read every single message transmitted by our spies all over the world.

It was fascinating, but frightening too."

From: http://news.scotsman.com/scotland/Royal-secret-agent-breaks-her.6846175.jp


Reading affects your personality

"Burying your head in a novel isn't just a way to escape the world: psychologists are increasingly finding that reading can affect our personalities.

The current research suggests that books give readers more than an opportunity to tune out and submerge themselves in fantasy worlds. Books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment."

The "study definitely points to reading fulfilling a fundamental need – the need for social connection."

More: http://m.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/07/reading-fiction-empathy-study?cat=books&type=article