Friday, April 28, 2006

100th post!

This is my 100th post! I was honestly unsure if I would be able to do a regular blog when I started Designated Import back in September, and here is post number 100. I did a quick check and found that I'm averaging between 12 and 13 posts a month, which I suppose isn't too bad.

For this 100th post, I'd like to invite you to this nifty web page!

I won't tell you what it's for... you'll have to find out for yourself! Don't worry, it's kid and workplace safe.

And, hey, thanks for reading!

Latest Delta Green write-up on HyperBear

I just posted our roleplaying group's latest write-up to HyperBear. The players' characters are Delta Green agents, a shadow conspiracy within the U.S. government who investigate strange happenings related to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The most recent adventure is set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I hope the game has been enjoyable, so far, for the players. I know it's been rather cathartic for me. In another case of syncrhonicity, I've been doing this write-up for several days. I finished it tonight, but a little earlier on I came across a book on Hurricane Katrina in a Walgreen's pharmacy. Just an odd little coincidence that I had never seen that book until today.

If you would like to read the scenario, you can find it by going to and clicking on the Games link, and following the Call of Cthulhu link. Or you can go directly to the write-up by clicking on this link. The available write-ups are found on this page.

Our next game session is tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Follow-up on previous entry

Yesterday I posted about the Wandering Scribe blog. I mentioned that I didn't think the woman who wrote that blog was looking for sympathy. I've changed my mind. I think she truly is looking for sympathy.

She has commented on the comments she's received. She focuses on the negative and not the positive. There's something not quite right. I wrote this on Winter's blog:

... anyone wanting to catch up on the Wandering Scribe blog should read the comments section of the April 25 entry. Someone posted a pretty good summary of the woman's blog entries.

I think she's genuine, in the sense that I think she really is homeless. I think she's well enough known now that if she wasn't homeless someone would have either found out, or will find out pretty soon.

If she's truly homeless, then I think she has some serious psychological problems. I think she's looking for sympathy. She seems self absorbed. I think she has an emotional attachment to being homeless, that living in her car gains her sympathy. I think she needs counseling. I don't think she's trying hard enough to get out of her position, and in fact all the attention is probably going to make it harder for her to get out of her position. If she goes into a hostel, gets a job, and rents a flat she will lose her audience.

That's assuming that my feeling is right and she's not a scam artist.

There is a feeling that there's something "not quite right" there, though. It really wouldn't surprise me if we're posting entries in a few months saying how someone dug into her background and discovered she wasn't who, or what, she said she was.

I was very sympathetic to the woman when I first came across her blog. Now... not so much. I really don't think she's doing enough to get out of her situation, based on what she's written. There are inconsistancies in her story.

I guess we'll see what happens in the next few months...

Monday, April 24, 2006

An interesting homeless blog

I came across an article on the BBC News web site about this blog. The blog is called Wandering Scribe (at The writer is a homeless woman. For several months now she has lived in her car on the outskirts of London, England. She started her blog in February, writing it in libraries. She survived the British winter, surviving sub-freezing temperatures.

What's interesting about her story (she's anonymous) is how she doesn't fit the stereotypical view of homelessness. She's not an addict, she's not mentally disturbed, she's not a runaway. She became homeless after a series of misfortunes. She lost her job. She went into debt while looking for work. She was apparently owed money and went into further debt expecting the money to be paid off. After exhausting her resources and with only enough cash to last a week, she accidentally spent the night in her car. Seeing how easy it was (though she would learn that it wouldn't be that easy), she stayed in it.

The Wandering Scribe is a proud woman. She takes care to wash daily, showering in a public restroom at a hospital. She tries to look "normal". She tries hard not to be a nuisance. She hides in her sleeping bag when people walk past the car, so they won't know she's in there. She's scared, afraid someone might realize a single woman is sleeping in a car and attack her.

What's disturbing about her blog is that she's articulate, intelligent. She could be anyone. She admits that she was in denial before the bottom fell out. She obviously is in need of counseling. Her decline happened after a relationship went sour. She admits that she had a nervous breakdown. After she lost her permanent residence, getting a job became more difficult, a problem that is exasperated by her current situation (we hear that one of the biggest problems about getting out of homelessness is the lack of a permanent address when applying for a job).

There are still some questions that haven't been answered (or that I haven't seen answered; I've only read several posts). Why didn't she declare bankruptcy? Why didn't she go on welfare? Was it pride, a need to make it "on her own", or something else? Are her parents alive? If so, why didn't she contact them?

In spite of the questions, and in spite of the subject matter, her blog is absorbing. She's not looking for sympathy, just human contact and catharsis. One post that's stuck with me was a recent post where she described getting out of her car and lying on the ground, trying to straighten her body after sleeping crouched in the car all night. She worries about whether or not living in a car will leave permanent physical problems.

It really makes you thankful for what you have, particularly if you've ever been on a downward slide in life and wondered how far it could go. This woman shows just how far it can go. Perhaps the most interesting (and sad) aspect was how fortunate she felt compared to some other homeless folk; at least she had a car in which to live and where she could keep her stuff.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tithings of comfort and joy

I was really tired last night, so I found myself channel surfing after supper. I came across one of the channels I don't usually visit. I was pretty sure it was one of the three or four religious channels on our digital cable.

The graphic in the bottom right said, "Power Finances". At first I thought it was some sort of stock tip program, but then I remembered that "power" is a code word used to identify evangelical Christians. A quick check of the yellow pages identified half a dozen companies that have "power" in the name, presumably to show that they are Christian businesses.

Before I could change channels, the guy speaking (middle aged white man with a Southern accent) caught my attention. He was talking about tithing. He said he was astounded at the number of church goers who do not tithe 10% of their wages (he didn't specify gross or net, but apparently it's supposed to be gross) to the church. He went on to chastise these people, not because they were possibly forgetting that such a payment was tax deductible, but because he thought it was near blasphemy.

Most churches down here, from what Alana's told me, tithe. It's not required that you give 10% of your wages to your church, but it is very, very much encouraged. They can't force you, for that goes against a whole bunch of stuff in the bible. The amount you give is supposed to be up to you. If you are poor it's not expected (though still encouraged) that you tithe 10%. When I grew up, I remember that we put money in the collection plate (usually in little cream-coloured envelopes supplied by the church). I don't know how much we put in each week (and it's none of your business, either!) but I'm pretty sure it was nowhere near 10% of my Dad's wages! Maybe that's why the old Albert Street United Church in Oshawa had to shut its doors. Anyway, tithing wasn't a United Church of Canada thing, probably due to that church's Presbyterian roots. (Don't even think of posting a comment about cheap Scots!)

The guy on tv continued, in stern, disappointed tones, by saying that he knew that people weren't tithing enough. He did taxes for people and saw exactly who didn't contribute their voluntary but heavily encouraged 10%. Gee, that's what I want in a guy who I pay to fill out my taxes: contempt for not living up to his ideals. I'm sure his church pastor probably says something like, "Remember, Brother Dipstick is available to help you with your taxes," each year around tax time. I wonder how they'd feel if they knew he was keeping a Santa-esque "naughty and nice" list.

This is when things got really interesting. He said that every single one of these people who don't tithe, or don't tithe enough (which was just as bad) had problems in their lives. Each of them had marital problems, or problems at work, or — and this is a key one — financial problems.

The solution to this? Tithing! Yes, if they only gave money to their church, their lives would be much better. I guess in spite of everything said about God helping you if you pray or if you believe in him (or in Jesus; a lot of churches down here seem to worship Jesus more than God), it turns out that God really only goes that extra mile for those who tithe. I guess if you tithe and pray, that ovarian tumor will mysteriously vanish, but if you don't tithe (enough) and still pray the tumor will turn out to be benign, but you'll still have that ugly scar, you cheap bitch!

This is all according to the Power Finances guy, and he must be right, he had a bible and everything. He even quoted the bible to prove it. Well, he quoted Leviticus and a couple of other chapters from the bastardized Torah known as the "Old Testament". Whenever a preacher is about to chew your arse out for something, he quotes the Old Testament or Revelations. The Old Testament is the "bad cop" to the New Testament's "good cop".

I started laughing, of course. I mean, the solution to finding happiness for someone who has financial problems is to... give away 10% of their income? Oh, but to the church, though, not to, say, Wal-Mart or Citicorp. For only by tithing will you find true happiness and peace.

I did a quick Google and found that tithing isn't exactly universal among evangelicals. There is a whole sect (or several sects) following the New Covenant who find tithing to be the next best thing to actual sinning. I get the impression reading some of the New Covenant folk that you'd have a better chance of going to heaven by spending 10% of your wages in a Las Vegas casino (especially if you give some of the proceeds to charity) than you would if you tithed to a church. Tithing is borderline heretical to these folk. Here's a web site talking about it (it quotes the "good cop" part of the bible, so it must be right):

Finally, here is a story from This is to The Christian Science Monitor what The Onion is to The New York Times. I came across it this weekend after Alana and I bought A Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat by Joel Kilpatrick. The book quotes extensively from, which is run by the author.

Here's one of the stories, which is also found in the book (which is very, very funny!):
HOBOKEN — Martha Givens, a faithful member of Walnut Methodist Church, won the $89 million New Jersey state lottery Tuesday, then left town, surprising her longtime pastor, Duane Marshall.

"I guess the right words would be 'deeply disappointed,'" Marshall said. Immediately after the news of Givens' winning broke, he and the board had hired an architectural firm to build a new, multi-million dollar youth center. As a church of 124, the youth center couldn't be built without Givens' tithe from the lottery winnings.

"They were rubbing their hands together with glee in that room," said a dissenting board member. "Martha's been so consistent through the years, they felt this was money in the bank. I warned them she might turn tail. Eighty-nine million is a lot of money."

Family members were keeping mum about Givens' whereabouts, though one self-described "black sheep" cousin said the grandmother of two was "somewhere in the Caribbean, dancing, hitting the senior singles bars and doing all sorts of things Methodists don't normally do." She was uncertain if and when Givens would return. A sign in Givens' lawn indicated the house is for sale, and her front door was covered with "please call me" notes from old friends and acquaintances.

But Marshall hasn't given up hope.

"Martha, if you read this, we'll take five percent, one percent, whatever you'll give," he said. "The Martha Givens Youth Center won't be a reality without you."

Monday, April 17, 2006

eBay tricks Louisiana sellers

(Wow! Three posts in one day!)

Earlier today I discovered I had a message waiting for me on my eBay account. Here's the message:
Louisiana sellers - Protect your right to sell items on eBay

Dear Community Member,

If you sell more than two items a year on eBay, the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board wants to force you to be licensed as auctioneers or auction businesses. You may have to pay a licensing fee, obtaining surety bonds, and submit a notarized copy of your voter registration card. All this just to sell a few items on eBay!

Nearly every eBay seller in Louisiana is at risk. One Louisiana seller already shut down his eBay business. Unless we act quickly, thousands more Louisiana businesses may be at risk.

Protect your right to sell items on eBay. Make your voice heard! Write your elected representatives today!


eBay's Government Relations team

I was immediately suspicious of the post because there was a link on the "Write your elected representatives" part that led to a site that wasn't simply After Googling I found that the post was legitimate. It was the content that was... well, a little exaggerated.

Since last September, Louisiana's Auctioneers Licensing Board has been visiting businesses in Louisiana set up as an "eBay trade associate". These are businesses that sell items on eBay for other people for a fee. There's such a business in West Monroe called Webayit. They have been telling these businesses that they are in violation of Louisiana's auction laws. Apparently the law is loosely enough written that selling an eBay item online is the same as an auction, as defined by the law.

The law requires that auctioneers be licensed. Right now businesses that sell on eBay are not licensed. The fear is that these sites are perfect places for fencing stolen goods. There has been a big increase in stolen goods and counterfeit goods showing up on eBay, and these trade associates are perfect "laundering" companies.

I did some digging online. According to the Shreveport Times, the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board is asking that eBay trade associates be licensed at a cost of $300 (not sure if that's a year; probably). They would also have to put up a "surety bond", which would require an additional $50 to $100. eBay doesn't want this. They have a large number of people who use their site as a secondary business, a cottage industry. They fear that people using eBay as a side line will simply quit, especially if their business doesn't bring in much money. The Shreveport Times article has two examples of people who got out of the eBay business out of fear of the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board.

Personally, I can't understand why a potential $400 fee per year — which is tax deductible — would be enough to drive people out of business. I suppose if you are only making $1000 a year it's not going to be worth your while.

What really bugs me is the fear tactics used by eBay. They suggest that anyone selling more than two items per year would be susceptible to this law. That's not the case. The Licensing Board even had an eBay representative present when they discussed this issue last year, and they made it very clear that they are only going after the 460 trade associates in Louisiana, not the rest of us who sell a few items a year, especially if those items are things we own or make ourselves.

eBay hired a Louisiana lobbyist, and they have a state senator on their side (a Democrat, funny enough, not a Republican; Sen. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro). With the help of eBay members they were able to get legislation passed in Ohio that exempts eBay members from auction laws. Louisiana is the latest battleground. It is likely to be the template for other states. Ellington is looking for a compromise, exempting eBay trade associates from the auction laws but perhaps still licensing them as a regular business.

I don't think these trade associates need to be licensed as auctioneers. They aren't auctioneers; they aren't coercing people to pay additional money for an item. On the other hand, something has to be done to stop fencing through eBay. I'm particularly peeved at eBay for their distorted e-mail. I'm half thinking I should write our local representatives and tell them that I'm in favour of them licensing these guys, just to spite eBay!

Oh, right... I'm not a U.S. citizen and can't vote...

Flashback to my occult roots - part 2

A week ago I mentioned the occult books I read as a child. I promised to write a post debunking some of the things I mentioned in the previous entry. You may want to check out the previous entry, here.

The Bermuda Triangle – This was actually the last of the things I read about that was debunked in my mind (though it had been debunked years before). I had assumed, as a child, that there must have been something weird happening in area known as the Bermuda Triangle, otherwise why would anyone write a book about it?

Charles Berlitz, linguist and grandson of Maximilien Berlitz (Maximilian) who founded the Berlitz Language Schools, is responsible for the popularity of the Bermuda Triangle. The Devil's Triangle was first mentioned in 1950 by E.V.W. Jones in an article about "mysterious disappearances" of ships, airplanes and small boats in the area. George X. Stand wrote of several "strange disappearances" in the area in a 1952 article of Fate Magazine. The next appearance of the Devil's Triangle was in a 1962 edition of the Argosy science fiction magazine. Berlitz was next to mention it, giving it the Bermuda Triangle name.

Central to Berlitz's book was the disappearance of Flight 19. This was a flight of Avenger torpedo bombers that left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on December 5, 1945. They flew a triangular path. The first leg took them to a bombing area and beyond. The second leg took them slightly north of northwest, and the final leg was to bring them home to Fort Lauderdale. The weather was clear but the seas were rough. The members of the flight were all trainees with little experience in the aircraft, except for an experienced trainer. On the second leg the aircraft became lost, with the trainer taking over the flight. He reported that his compass wasn't working properly. He thought he was over the Florida Keys, but later triangulation put him east of the Florida. The flight had gotten lost, and was running out of fuel. Aircraft were sent up to find the flight. A final radio message had the trainer bring the flight closer together. The aircraft disappeared. A Martin Mariner bomber was one of the airplanes sent to search for Flight 19. It, too, disappeared.

According to Berlitz, the sky was clear, the pilots were experienced, that the pilots reported seeing strange visual effects, the water was calm and that the Avenger was made to float for long periods of time. None of this was true. Berlitz wasn't one to let facts get in the way of the truth. It is pretty clear that the flight got lost, probably due to problems with a compass. They thought they were further south than they were and became confused when the ground looked different from what they expected. Berlitz used this to suggest the flight had slipped through some sort of time/space portal, but it's most likely that they were just in a different position from where they thought they were.

The Avenger torpedo bombers probably ran out of fuel and ditched at sea. The sea was rough, and so the aircraft would have sunk quickly. A recent show on the Discovery Channel (or maybe it was the History Channel) showed how this could have all happened. No one ever found the wreckage. An unidentifiable Avenger was found in 1986 during the search for shuttle Challenger debris.

What about the Martin Mariner? It didn't exactly disappear as Berlitz suggested. It exploded shortly after takeoff, probably due to a problem with fuel vapors. The explosion was seen by another aircraft, and heard from the U.S.S. Solomons, which was operating in the area. All told 14 men disappeared with Flight 19, and 13 men died in the explosion of the Martin Mariner.

In the early 90s I belonged to an Amateur Press Association, sort of the print version of a mailing list (the APA that I belonged to was TAPA, the Toronto Amateur Press Association, the precursor, really, to this blog). I posted an article from the Toronto Star newspaper that suggested methane clouds from the sea floor accounted for the missing ships and aircraft. Up until then I assumed that there were more than the usual number of disappearances in the area. Again, why would someone write about it if there were not. It turns out not to be the case. The Triangle area has busy sea lanes. A lot of ships go through that area every day. There aren't any more disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other area with similar naval traffic and similar weather patterns. The folks in TAPA pointed this out to me, destroying the first occult "phenomenon" I'd read about.

As an aside, Berlitz, it turns out, lied about some of the ships that disappeared in the Triangle. Some of the ships sank in other areas, while other ships he mentioned simply didn't exist.

The Mary Celeste – The crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared, leaving the ship floating along as a ghost ship. Berlitz put it in the Bermuda Triangle even though the occurrence happened near the Azores. He described the ship as being devoid of humans, and that when the crew of the ship that found the Mary Celeste boarded her they found food on the table, and that the food was still warm.

That account of the Mary Celeste came from a fictional story by Sherlock Holmes writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which he based on newspaper accounts of the ship. He did change the name to Marie Céleste, which is a spelling that still exists to this day.

Berlitz wanted to suggest that the crew was taken in some sort of paranormal phenomenon. The truth is (probably) a lot less mysterious, but no less tragic. The ship was built in Nova Scotia and changed hands several times due to several bad luck incidents. At the time of the crew's disappearance it was owned by an American company and was carrying a load of 1700 barrels of alcohol. The ship had a crew of seven as well as the captain's wife and daughter.

The crew of the Dei Gratia sighted the ship on December 4, 1872. It had sails unfurled, but it appeared to be drifting. None of the crew was onboard. The ship's papers were gone except for the log book. The compass was destroyed. The sextant and chronometer were missing. There was a lot of water on board and a hatch was open. The lifeboat was missing, but it had not been ripped from the ship. When the ship was finally taken to Genoa, where its cargo was bound, they discovered that nine of the alcohol barrels were missing.

There have been lots of theories about the Mary Celeste. The most likely is that the captain had ordered the hatch open at a moment when the ship was becalmed. The empty barrels had leaked alcohol. Opening the hatch caused a rush of fumes and steam. The captain, who was inexperienced at shipping alcohol, panicked, thinking that the ship was about to explode. He probably ordered everyone off the ship quickly. In his haste he failed to have the lifeboat secured to the ship with a stout line. They pushed off from the ship. At some point a breeze came up pushed the ship away. The crew couldn't keep up, and the ship sailed off without them. Eventually the crew died of dehydration and/or exposure. In 1873 two lifeboats washed up on the Spanish shore. One had a single body and an American flag. Another lifeboat had five bodies in it. No one ever identified the dead.

The Oak Island Money Pit – The Oak Island Money Pit captured the imagination of many people over the years, including FDR. The problem with it is that while the story of the money pit has it discovered by a boy in 1795 and investigated by several companies up until 1849, there is no written account of the money pit before 1857. It has all the hallmarks of folklore.

Why would someone bother to protect their buried treasure with a water-filling trap only to leave a block and tackle over it? For that matter, why would someone set up a water filling trap for their treasure such that there didn't seem to be a way to get past the water? I mean, what would happen if the pirates (or Knights Templar, or Freemasons, as some have suggested!) came back and found their hole filled with water? What would they do?

So many holes now dot the area of the money pit that no one can find the original shaft. There are a lot of sink holes on the island. Folks have dug into other areas of the island only to have it fill with water. There's a honeycomb structure beneath the upper soil layers, forming natural sinkholes that are linked to the sea. It's very likely that the holes that were dug filled with water naturally.

What about the artifacts pulled out of the hole? The cryptic stone with strange writing is nowhere to be found. In fact, it seems to pop in and out of history: it disappeared soon after it was found, only to pop up again in the early 20th century at the same time as a new team was looking for funding for more digging. The auger team in the 19th century were able to tell what they were augering through based on "feel", so the only proof that they were digging through a treasure chest was how the auger "felt" and the small piece of gold chain that somehow managed to get stuck to the auger's bit. This, too, showed up when a team was looking for funding.

The coconut matting that was supposedly used as a wick to draw up water? Well, there's no doubting the fact that coconuts are not indigenous to Nova Scotia. In the 19th century coconut matting was commonly used as dunnage, basically the equivalent of bubble wrapping to protect cargo. It's not a stretch to speculate that ships threw this stuff overboard prior to arriving at port and that it made its way into the honeycomb channels under the island.

A team sent a camera into one of the holes in the 1970s. They reported capturing images of treasure chests and a severed human hand. Experts have looked at the footage and have not been impressed. There's no sense of scale. The lighting is so bad that you can't easily make out what you are seeing. The "hand" is likely a rock formation. People have died searching for the treasure, but everyone who died in the process in the last 150 years was recovered. It's impossible for a severed hand to have lasted even 150 years in salt water.

The money pit is most likely a piece of folklore that caught the attention of treasure hunters. The story grew each time a new company needed to raise funds to dig for the treasure. The stories took a life of their own, to the point where people assumed there was a treasure.

Here are two links to some good skeptical sites dealing with the money pit:

Kaspar Hauser – The tricky part about the Kaspar Hauser mystery is that he did exist and that the things that happened to him after he appeared in Nurnberg, Germany in 1828 did happen. The questions still remain: who was Kaspar Hauser, and why was he killed?

A number of theories popped up during his life, including the possibility that he was related to the House of Baden. Due to some facial resemblances some thought his parents were Karl Ludwig Friedrich, Grand Duke of Baden and Stephanie de Beauharnais, adopted daughter of Napoleon I of France. Because Karl Friedrich had no male heirs, his successor was his uncle Leopold I of Baden. Leopold's mother was believed to have been involved in Hauser's captivity.

Others believe that Kaspar Hauser was nothing more than a con artist. He claimed to have eaten nothing but bread and water, but he could not have survived into his pre-teens on such a diet. He presumably knew only a few words, but learned to speak fairly quickly. He was attacked in 1829 by a hooded man with a mask, but apparently only Hauser saw his assailant.

No one knows why he was killed. He was stabbed in the lung, but could have survived it if the doctor who inspected him hadn't stuck a finger into the wound to see how deep it is. Still, it's not likely that his attack was faked due to its severity.

In November 1996 the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that an attempt to match Hauser's blood genetically with the House of Baden failed. The blood came from Hauser's pants. Those pants were probably not Hauser's but from an exhibition in Berlin in 1905. (The photos in This Baffling World were probably from this exhibition.) However, in 2002 the Institute for Forensic Medicine of the University of Munster analyzed hair and body cells that were also alleged to belong to Hauser. The university determined that the six samples had a 95% match to the genes of Astrid von Medinger, a descendant of Stephanie de Beauharnais. This strongly suggests that Kaspar Hauser was the legitimate heir of the House of Baden, and thus was likely killed to stop him from claiming his birthright. We will probably never know for sure who Kaspar Hauser was and what his motives were.

Digging up the truths behind these legends is fun, but I have to admit that it's not as much fun as believing these legends are real. As complicated as modern life is, there's something appealing about the world being just a little more complex, just a little bit stranger. Debunking these legends speaks volumes about humanity, though. If we can't have strange vortices eating ships and aircraft, it's perhaps a good thing that some people still believe that those vortices exist. Life would be a little more boring if those legends did not exist.

(I do wish the world was a little less interesting with regard to the Judeo-Christian creation myth and the organized opposition to evolution, but that's an argument for another post...)

Disturbing blog

This is disturbing.

A young girl was found dead in Oklahoma in a plastic tub in the apartment of Kevin Ray Underwood, a neighbor in her apartment building. He apparently admitted to killing the girl. The news says he intended to carve up her body and eat her.

If that's not disturbing enough, here is his blog:

She disappeared on Wednesday, April 12. Underwood made a blog entry, the first in about 3 weeks, on the 13th, a day after he killed her.

In the blog he talks about depression. Apparently an entry states how his fantasies were getting weirder, and that he was talking about cannibalism.

I didn't read much of the blog, though a few things struck me. He was a loner with social problems. To do what he did, he obviously had mental problems. One of his posts alludes to being abused as a child.

What was really scary is his list of interests. These are scary because they are pretty common among science fiction fans and gamers. One of his favourite groups was Pink Floyd. In an early blog he says he wished he knew people so that he could play a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Among his favourite movies were some of my favourite movies or movies I own: Fight Club, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Full Metal Jacket, Airplane, The Nightmare Before Christmas. He liked reading about history, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Microserfs.

In an entry in June, 2003, he wrote of a particularly vivid nightmare with a connection to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. As anyone who reads this blog knows, our roelplaying group regularly plays games set in Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.

Except for the horrible act he committed and his inability to control his dark fantasies, he was a fairly typical science fiction geek, outwardly like hundreds of people I've met at game and science fiction conventions.

I truly hope that someone with an agenda doesn't go combing through his blog for things to pin his mental state on. It wouldn't surprise me if we see new screeds against roleplaying games and science fiction fandom as a result. There are lots of comments on the blog, almost all of them entered in the last few hours. You can already see some nutcases blaming everyone from feminists to a lack of religion in society for this guy's monstrous personality.

I wonder what some people might think about the things I post on this blog...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Anniversary of the Battle of Culloden

Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden. The battle took place on Culloden Moor, east of Inverness in Scotland. It was the final battle of the "'45", the 1745–1746 Jacobite Rebellion. It marked the final battle fought on the British mainland.

The '45 Jacobite Rebellion was an attempt to put Prince Charles Edward Stuart — Bonnie Price Charlie — on the British throne. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the son of James Francis Edward Stuart and thus grandson son of King James II of England and Ireland, James VII of Scotland. The reason James Francis Edward Stuart wasn't king is a bit complicated.

James II/VII was a Roman Catholic. At the time, the majority of Scots and English were protestants at this time (Calvinists in Scotland, Anglicans in England). Charles II, James II's older brother, died without an heir, putting James on the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1685. Soon after he took the throne the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son, declared himself king. The Monmouth Rebellion was put down, and the rebels were ruthlessly punished, leading James' subjects to see him as brutal and cruel. James started to change various laws that had been put in place over the years to limit the power of Roman Catholics in English and Scottish government and the aristocracy (it's unclear if this was to promote Roman Catholicism or religious freedom). As more and more Catholics assumed high positions in government, religious tension intensified. In 1688 James had a Catholic son. Fearful of a new Catholic dynasty, a group of Protestant nobles invited the Dutch William, Prince of Orange, to invade with an army. James' daughter was married to William, who was also James' nephew. William invaded in late 1688, and James escaped to France (William allowed him to escape, as he didn't want James to become a martyr). William became William the III of England and William II of Scotland in 1689. While William was fighting in wars, England and Scotland were ruled by Mary. (Americans best know of William and Mary because of the college in Williamsburg, Virginia named after them.)

William outlived Mary (she died of smallpox in 1694) and had no heirs. Mary's sister Anne had numerous children, all of whom died in childhood. Not wanting a return of Catholics to the thrown, English parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which limited the powers of the monarch and established the line of succession: if Anne didn't have an heir the throne would pass to the protestant Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and her heirs. William died in 1702 from pneumonia contracted after breaking his collarbone in a riding accident. Anne became Queen Anne of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, even though Scottish nobles and the Scottish parliament had not accepted the Act of Settlement. England crippled Scotland's economy through a series of trade measures, forcing the Scots to negotiate. The result of the negotiations was the Act of Union in 1707 that combined the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland into one united kingdom of Great Britain. (Scotland agreed to the Union in order to remove trade sanctions; England agreed as they felt an independent Scottish king and parliament would negotiate with other powers — in particular, France — against England.)

Scotland lost its parliament, though not its laws. Dissent grew, particularly in the poor and largely Catholic Scottish highlands. A number of attempts were made to put James VII back on the Scottish — and English — throne.

James VII landed in Ireland in 1689 and fought William until he was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 (the commemoration of the battle each July by protestants in Northern Ireland is perennially reported in the media because it intensifies protestant and Catholic animosity). James ran off to France, forcing his army to surrender the following year. Meanwhile in Scotland, John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (to whom I'm apparently related on my mother's side) moved against William's forces. His side, known as the Jacobites (Jacobus being Latin for James), won the Battle of Killiecrankie on July 27, 1689, but Dundee was was killed in the fighting. Several expeditions into Scotland subdued the highlanders. Some highlanders refused to sign an oath of loyalty to William, which precipitated the massacre of Glencoe.

Queen Anne died in 1714. She was replaced by George I. His mother was Sophia, who died a few weeks before Anne. His grandfather was James I of England/James VI of Scotland (the "King James" of bible fame). He was a Germanic foreigner and not very popular. In response to his unpopularity and years of famine in the Scottish Highlands, another Jacobite Rising occurred in 1715. This corresponded to an abortive rebellion in England. The Jacobites were joined by James VIII, but he was too ill to lead properly and fled back to France in 1716. Attempts were made to end the use of Gaelic ("the Irish language") in Scotland, and militia units — such as the famous Black Watch — were raised, but Jacobitism continued in the destitute Highlands.

Relations between England and France deteriorated in the first half of the 18th century. France decided to invade England in 1744, and they invited James Francis Edward Stuart (son of James VII, who died in 1701) and his son, Prince Charles, to join them. The prince, who was born in Rome and had never set foot in Scotland, was made Prince Regent by his father in December 1743, allowing him to act with the authority of his father. A storm wrecked the attempted invasion. Highland clan leaders did get word to Bonnie Prince Charlie that if he landed with as few as 3,000 French troops, they would join him. Charles borrowed money and set out with a small force on June 22, 1745. He made for Scotland, but one of his two ships — with 700 volunteers — was forced back.

Charles landed at Eriskay, in the Outer Hebrides, on July 23, 1745. At first Charles' landing was met with little enthusiasm. However, when it was clear that he intended to take the throne in his father's name, Highlanders joined him in numbers. They took the Scottish cities of Perth and Edinburgh virtually unopposed. The government army, which included lowland Scots regiments, chased the Jacobites but the government force was defeated near Edinburgh at the Battle of Prestonpans.

The Prince stayed at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh for five weeks, as he tried to convince Lord George Murray to move with him against England. He lied to Murray, saying that a large Jacobite force was waiting to rise in England. Murray finally relented and the Scots army marched into England. They got as far south as Derby in early December, about 125 miles from London. Although few Englishmen joined them, there was little to oppose them. Such was the panic caused by Charles' army that George II (son of George I) made plans to run to Hanover.

At Derby the Jacobite force learned that the French invasion fleet was still being assembled. Two armies, one under General George Wade and another under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland were approaching and a militia was forming in London. Finally, they received fictitious reports of a third army closing on them. Murray and the Council of War insisted on returning to join their growing force in Scotland and on 6 December 1745 they withdrew. The petulant prince left the command to Murray.

They made it back to Glasgow on Christmas Day, 1745. The government army under General Henry Hawley was defeated in a battle near Falkirk. The Duke of Cumberland took over from Hawley in January, 1746 and pressed the Jacobites. They retreated northward, with Charles once again taking charge.

Charles would have been better leaving the fighting to Murray, for he was not much of a tactician. He insisted on fighting a defensive battle at Drummossie Moor, three miles south of the village of Culloden (which is five miles east of Inverness). The moor land was uneven and flanked by swamp. Only about a quarter of the Highlanders had swords, the rest were armed with axes, makeshift weapons, and captured weapons. Very few of the Highlanders had firearms. Their success relied on the Highland Charge. Unfortunately the land Charles chose was terrible for an army relying on a charge into melee. Even after this was pointed out to him, he insisted on fighting on this ground.

The government army camped at Nairn. On April 15, Murray tried to launch a night attack (as was done at Prestonpans) but the half-starved highlanders took until dawn to get into position and then had to retreat. Many lay hungry and exhausted near Culloden House during the battle that followed.

The next morning, April 16, the government force marched from Nairn. The Jacobite artillery sounded to form the troops into two lines, but not all the Highlanders heard the guns. The Jacobites had about 5,400 men, while the government force numbered around 8,000. The Jacobites set up with a wall to their right and in front of them. Cumberland put some of his men there. Charles' artillery was outnumbered 3:1, and inexperienced gunners meant that it did little to the government forces. The marshy land kept Jacobite casualties down, too, but as Charles had them stand there for some 30 minutes the Jacobites' morale started to suffer. Finally he ordered the charge. The Macdonalds on the left refused, insulted because they were not given their traditional spot on the right flank. The left flank regiments struck swampy ground, slowing them down and veering them to the right. The result was a charge that hit the government line piecemeal. Some of the highlanders on the right managed to break through, but most of them simply broke against the government line, or fell to artillery and flanking fire. After 60 minutes, the battle was over. About 1,250 Jacobites were killed, a similar number were wounded, and 558 were taken prisoner.

After the victory, Cumberland ordered the captured and wounded Jacobites to be executed. This earned Cumberland the sobriquet "Butcher". Some Jacobite leaders were captured and executed in Inverness. Bonnie Prince Charlie evaded capture for several months before escaping to France disguised as a "lady's maid" to Flora Macdonald, a Jacobite heroine. A series of brutal laws made it illegal to speak or teach Gaelic, and to wear the tartan. Clan chieftains lost power due to legislation, which set up the lord system that resulted later in the Highland Clearances (a form of ethnic cleansing that saw many Scots emigrate to the U.S. and Canada). Bonnie Prince Charlie died in 1788. His son Henry became a Roman Catholic Cardinal and called himself Henry IX. (The current Jacobite heir is Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern, the 72 year old Duke of Bavaria.)

A romantic Jacobite revival came about due to the works of the poet Robert Burns and the author Sir Walter Scott. Scott arranged for a pageantry of re-invented Scots tartans in 1822 for George IV's visit to Edinburgh. This resulted in the clan tartans you see in books today (which are mostly 19th century inventions) and an appreciation of Scotland among the English aristocracy that exploded with Queen Victoria's love affair with the highlands.

I visited Culloden in late September, 1992. I have photographs from the battlefield which I will, some day, post to my HyperBear site.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Requiem for Freddy

(Edit: I tried to post this last night, but our Internet connection crashed. I'm posting it on the 13th but I'm back dating it to the 12th.)

I was going to do the second part of my occult reading post, but our web connection is a little flakey tonight so I thought I'd do a short post in case I lose connection again.

I watched American Idol last night for only one reason: the contestants were singing songs by the rock group Queen. This is the first Idol episode I've seen this season. Last season I watched the first couple of episodes (the ones with the bad singers) then stopped. It's an understatement to say that I'm not a huge fan of "pop" music.

However, I was a huge fan of Queen back in the 70s and early 80s. The very early 80s. I saw Queen live in Toronto in 1980. Okay, I saw 3/4 of Queen; our seats were so bad we only saw the stage obliquely. I could see Freddy Mercury, Brian May and Richard Deacon okay, but I only ever saw Roger Taylor (the drummer) at the beginning and end of the concert. Even still, it was one of the best concerts I ever attended. They put on an awesome show, part of their The Game tour.

I pretty much stopped listening to Queen after that. I didn't like the pseudo-disco "Body Language", and I absolutely detested "Radio Ga-Ga". The stuff they released in the 70s, though, is still excellent. Last night, after Idol, I created a Queen mix CD. Their music holds up very well.

Which brings us to the Idol episode. The singers were okay. A couple of the song selections were... questionable. The guy who did, "We Will Rock You" was all over the map, though the guy who sang, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was awful. You could tell that most of the singers weren't long out of diapers when Freddy Mercury died. One contestant did pick an obscure song (too obscure, in my opinion) and another picked "Bicycle Race", but other than that the songs were well known, leaving out a lot of the older — and better — classics.

Listening to Queen after hearing the Idol contestants only reinforced the fact that the contestants are over rated. Not one of them could hold a candle to Freddy Mercury.

(Well, so much for posting a short message before we lost our Internet connection. It died about five minutes ago...)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Flashback to my occult roots - part 1

I'm in the middle of a nostalgia kick. If you've been reading since December you probably noticed my comment about Panzer Leader. This was the start of my nostalgia exploration. I recently purchased a copy of October War on eBay. This was the first wargame I ever bought back in 1975 (and which I somehow lost in the last few years). Last week I searched online for a set of three occult books I owned around 30 years ago. Surprisingly, they are fairly easy to obtain (though I haven't tried to buy them yet).

They say that there are none so devout as the converted. Alana thinks of me as her geeky skeptic. Most who know me today would be surprised to hear that I was once really into occult books.

The first occult book I read The Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz. I bought it in the first week of summer vacation. I think it was in 1975, but it might have been 1974. It was published in 1974 and became a bestseller so either year is possible. I have some very strong memories associated with this book. One of the chapters talked of the Mary Celeste, which was found drifting and abandoned near the Azores (which is actually outside the Bermuda Triangle, not that Berlitz was all that worried about accuracy) in 1873. One of the pictures in the centre of the book showed a couple of nasty looking pirates boarding a ship containing — among other passengers — a terrified woman. I distinctly remember the picture of a collier that disappeared in the Triangle in the early 20th century. This stuck with me because I had no idea what a "collier" was. And, of course, there was the obligatory picture of Avenger torpedo bombers, which represented the lost and famous Flight 19.

The series of three paperback books I mentioned above were volumes 1, 2, and 3 of This Baffling World, by John Godwin. Volume 1 had a purple cover with a picture of a UFO and a sasquatch on it. I believe book 2 was orange, though it may have been red. On the cover was a ship I believe was the Mary Celeste and a bunch of coffins. Book 3 was green, and had on it Harry Hoodini hung upside down, and a flight of Avenger torpedo bombers. These books came out in 1973, but they were originally published in a single volume hardcover edition in 1968. I can even remember the store where I bought them (Classic Books in the east end of the Oshawa Centre mall).

This Baffling World was little more than short essays on a bunch of occult subjects. It was easy to get into, but offered little analysis. It was more of an encyclopedia of the occult than an in depth discussion. There were the usual stories about UFOs, bigfoot (bigfoots? bigfeet?), ghosts, and psychic phenomenon. There were three chapters that stuck with me.

One was about Kaspar Hauser, a teenager who appeared in the streets of Nurnberg, Germany in 1828. He could barely communicate, though he had with him papers asking that he be admitted into the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, located in town. The boy was taken in by locals. He eventually told of being locked in a cell until shortly before being released and escorted to the town. He claimed to have lived only on bread and water, and had only a wooden horse (or a wooden horse and a wooden dog, in some accounts) for toys. One day someone began teaching him to speak and to learn how to spell his name, then he was released. He was taken in by the locals, some of whom began to suspect he was the illegitimate offspring of a nobleman. An unknown assailant attacked Kaspar in 1829, apparently cutting his head with an axe. In December, 1833, someone apparently lured him into a park and stabbed him in the chest. He died three days later. The photo section of the book contained pictures of the boy's blood-stained clothing.

The second item I remember was a mausoleum, the Chase vault, on the island of Barbados where it is reported that a mysterious force or presence threw around the heavy caskets. The first two caskets were placed in an orderly manner side by side between February, 1808 and July, 1812. A month later another coffin was added. When they opened the crypt they found that the first two coffins were not where they were originally placed. A total of six coffins — most made or lined with lead — were placed in the crypt, and each time the crypt was opened the caskets were found in disarray. Noises were supposedly heard emanating from the mausoleum one night. The last coffin was added in April, 1819, and once again the contents were thrown about. In July, 1820 Viscount Combermere decided to put the matter to rest. He had the vault opened, after first determining that the seals were intact. Inside the coffins were thrown about more violently than ever before. The coffins were removed, and to this day the vault remains empty.

The third item is a piece of Canadian folklore: the Oak Island Money Pit. In 1795 a young boy supposedly discovered a block and tackle on a tree and circular depression underneath it on Oak Island just off the Nova Scotia mainland. He and his friends found a layer of flagstones. When they dug up the flagstones they found a pit with a layer of logs every 10 feet. About 8 years later The Onslow Company dug down to about the 80 or 90 foot mark, where they found a stone tablet with curious markings on it. The next morning the pit was filled with water. An investigation of the beach uncovered coconut matting — not exactly indigenous to Nova Scotia — that the company surmised was used as a wick to draw water. The predominant theory was that pirates had developed a complex pit in which to hide their treasure, including a complicated system for maintaining a vacuum and a tunnel that would flood the pit if the diggers did not first deal with it before breaking the vacuum. A team dug into the pit in 1849. They used an auger to discover what was in the bottom of the pit. The auger "passed through a spruce platform at 98 feet, a 12 inch head space, 22 inches of what was described as 'metal in pieces', 8 inches of oak, another 22 inches of metal, 4 inches of oak, another spruce layer, and finally into clay for 7 feet without striking anything else." Small links of gold chain were supposedly stuck to the mud on the auger, suggesting that the metal was gold coins and jewelry, possibly captured by pirates. A series of teams tried to excavate the pit from 1866 to 1965, including a team in 1909 that included future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. None were successful. The Money Pit often shows up in occult books, partly due to outlandish claims that suggest the pit may have been created by the Knights Templar and other 15th century diggers, and partly due to stores of mysterious lights on the island. Some have claimed the island is haunted.

In 1975 I bought a book about the Oak Island mystery. After some Googling I believe the book was Money Pit: the Mystery of Oak Island by Rupert Furneaux. I remember it because a girl in my grade 8 class and I discussed going to the island someday and digging up the treasure. We even came up with an ingenious scheme involving deep sea diving suits. I seem to remember getting the book on Oak Island after reading the account in This Baffling World. I'm almost certain that I read the Berlitz Bermuda Triangle book before This Baffling World. Furneaux's book came out in 1976, which fits as I graduated from Grade 8 in June of that year.

(By the way, this infuriating inability to remember the precise dating of this kind of thing is what drove me to start a blog in the first place. I tried writing a journal but I found that without some outside influence and purpose — i.e. readers — I never got into the habit of regular entries. At least with a blog I can go back and have an idea of what I was doing at a specific point in time.)

The next book was From the Devil's Triangle to the Devil's Jaw by Richard Winer (I recognized it thanks to Google). It came out in 1977. Winer's big premise was that there were at least 7 "triangle" areas around the world where ships and planes disappeared mysteriously. He duplicated some of the information in Berlitz's book (he had the same picture of a collier) but he went further, describing mysterious disappearances and events around the world. As much as I ate this stuff up as a young teenager, a part of me was skeptical. I mean, seven triangles (he may have even listed as many as 13; I can't remember for sure)? It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you start showing every major body of water as "mysterious" maybe there was no mystery. I found Winer less convincing than Berlitz, but I still remember enjoying the book.

One chapter was dedicated to the ship the SS Great Eastern, the largest ship built at the time of its 1858 launch. The ship, originally named Leviathan (the book explained how renaming a ship was supposed to be bad luck) was so costly that it bankrupted the company it was built for and sold to the Great Eastern Ship Company. The author repeated the assertion that a worker had been accidentally sealed into her double hull. The ship was a monster, propelled by paddle wheels, screws, and sails. Unfortunately, heat from the exhaust could ignite the sails, so she was never able to use the sails while the steam engines were going. She made only 13 knots. After a few passages and several accidents she was sold to another company which used her to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable. The book portrayed her as jinxed, even though technically she never sailed in the Bermuda Triangle (though she may have sailed in one of Winer's other "triangles") or disappeared, and as such inclusion in the book was somewhat dubious.

I read several other occult books in the following years. The last one involved nothing but UFOs and "men in black". I can't remember the name of the book, and I can't find it on Google (which is probably just as well...) The final chapter involved something about a weird guy claiming to be hunted by "men in black". The book talked about how the guy was constantly masturbating (I kid you not!). Eventually he disappeared, or died, I can't remember which. The whole thing just got very surreal.

This last book was weird enough that it started to provoke the skeptic in me. There's an ironic little tale from my childhood. I was reading that book at the same time as I was reading, The Making of Star Trek, a behind-the-scenes story about the making of the television series. My mother once warned me not to believe everything in The Making of Star Trek, apparently worried that I would believe the science fiction parts were real. She hadn't read the book, though, so she didn't know that it was real. There were some parts about the names of the other Constitution class starships and what not, but for the most part it told you exactly what was happening on the set of a television series. In other words, it was non-fiction. At the same time I was reading this surreal UFO book, but she didn't warn me about that.

I believed these books because I was young. I couldn't believe that people could get away with making things up. I assumed that someone — an editor or somebody — would have checked the veracity of the books. It said "non fiction". It was when I got to university that I discovered that people could write pretty much anything, that freedom of speech was double-edged sword. One of the best courses I took was Logic and Critical Thinking. I began to see fallacies in standard occult arguments, and I started to look at these things more critically.

I miss those days when the world was more mysterious than it really is. While the world is undoubtedly safer if there isn't some sort of vortex scooping up planes and ships just east of the Caribbean, it's also a lot less interesting. For years (while a young teenager) the idea of "things that go bump in the night" caused me to turn on my bedroom light before I walked into the room. I miss the fact that I can walk into a dark room or along a dark corridor without the hairs on my neck standing up.

In the second part I will debunk some of the things that I mentioned above.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Louisiana has its priorities straight

The city of New Orleans is running a free wireless network. They have been running it since the immediate aftermath of Katrina. The network is based on hardware mounted on street lights. The wireless signal passes from street light to street light without a need for wires. It's just the thing for a city where the infrastructure was ripped apart. The city says it is necessary for the return of business.

So, of course there are people who want to shut it down. In particular, the telecommunications companies want it shut down. There is a state law — similar to laws in other states — that prevent government bodies from setting up competing networks. They are allowed to set up a 512 kilobit per second network in the case of a state of emergency. However, once the emergency is over the network has to be downgraded to 128 kps. Dial-up is at most 56 kps, though in Monroe Bellsouth was in no hurry to upgrade their voice lines, so we were lucky if we got 24000 bits per second. Note that 512 kilobits per second is still slower than DSL or cable.

Laws have been introduced into the state legislature in order to allow New Orleans' network to stay around, but legislators have said that they will be killed. Apparently this is due to the power of the telecomm lobby.

Here's the story on Wired News:,70580-0.html?tw=rss.index

On the other hand, while the legislature can't give the damaged city of New Orleans free wi-fi internet access, they hope to make Louisiana the only state in the Union to have Daylight Savings Time all year round. Legislators say it will save energy and make the state more competitive. How they figure this is beyond me. Apparently being in the Eastern time zone in the winter will give us an edge, even though every state around us will be an hour behind. The sun doesn't come up until after 7 a.m. in December. That means kids will be going to school in the dark (not that it will be a hardship for most kids, as almost every child in the state is driven to school).

So, no free wi-fi in New Orleans, but a good chance we will be thrown out of step with the rest of the nation. Glad to see that the representatives of the state of Louisiana have their priorities straight...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Synchronicity 2

You were warned that I'd be posting items of synchronicity on my blog...

This morning, driving in to work (late) I heard NPR's World Cafe on 91.1 KXUL, ULM's college station (and probably the best radio station in Louisiana). The featured guest was Eric Burdon of The Animals, who had just released a Blues album. Burdon mentioned the time he first met Jimi Hendrix (Hendrix was a guitarist for Little Richard at the time).

This evening on Antique Roadshow on PBS someone's antique was a photograph, an autograph, and a master album from — you guessed it — Jimi Hendrix.

So on the same day I heard one anecdote about Jimi Hendrix on a National Public Radio program, and later on I heard another anecdote about Jimi Hendrix on the Public Broadcasting System.

Another one of those weird coincidences...