Friday 25 August 2023

the secret of the selenites (10. 964)

The first of a series of six articles published on this day in 1835 by the New York newspaper The Sun, blatantly plagiarised from a short story from Edgar Allen Poe began just a month prior in a literary journal though further instalments were pre-empted by the appearance of this series about a voyage to the lunar surface in a balloon, The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (lifting some of the tropes in turn from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), what became subsequently known as “The Great Moon Hoax,” rather libellously attributed to Sir Jon Herschel, one the great astronomers of the day, caused a not insignificant bump in circulation with its account on observations that revealed various selenographic features with terrestrial analogues and the existence of flora and fauna and lunarians—bat-winged humanoids described as “Vespertilio-homo.” Further studies were called off when the magnifying power of the telescope caught a glimpse of the sun’s rays and burned down the observatory. Herschel found the stories exciting and aspiration at first but became annoyed with the press coverage once people started to take it seriously.

Thursday 12 January 2023

7x7 (10. 410)

salt of the earth: a tour of Ukraine’s Soledar salt mines—presently under siege 

black mass: Boston is hosting the Satanic Temple’s SatanCon—see previously

verpertilio-homo: what the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 reveals about contemporary misinformation  

lhs 475ฮฒ: JWST discovers its first exoplanet—via Damn Interesting’s Curated Links  

discretionary time off: salaried Microsoft employees given unlimited vacation leave  

jot and tittle: an unorthodox scholar ferrets out biblical forgeries  

russie d’aujourd’hui: a look back at Soviet boosterism and propaganda publications

Sunday 2 October 2022

turn around, bright eyes (10. 188)

The first and only thus far Welsh solo act to top the singles charts in the US, Bonnie Tyler with her signature song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (previously) from her fifth studio album Faster than the Speed of Night was at Number One beginning on this day in 1983 and remains an enduring, international hit. Written and produced by Jim Steinman, originally it was to be called “Vampires in Love” building off of an abandoned effort to make a musical version of Nosferatu. The below music video was directed by Russell Mulcahy (“Turning Japanese,” “Video Killed the Radio Star,” “Hungry Like the Wolf”) and was shot at the Holloway Sanatorium, a Gothic hospital in Surrey.

Thursday 22 September 2022

emc/2012 (10. 156)

On this day a decade ago, public health authorities in the United Kingdom alerted the WHO about a novel coronavirus discovered in Saudi Arabia. Known either by its Erasmus Medical Centre designation above or more broadly as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV), it was a strain of virus infecting bats, camels and humans, it first presented as isolated outbreaks of flu-like illnesses before being recorded in Europe, North America and Asia by 2015, despite low person-to-person transmission rates. The virus is still endemic and is a potential source for a future pandemic, should it mutate into a variant more compatible with human anatomy and social-structures, and diagnostic and preventative strategies continue to be explored for this species.

Friday 24 December 2021

als ich vom himmel fiel

Miraculously on this day in 1971, en route from Lima to home in-land in Iquitos after graduation ceremonies, seventeen-year-old Juliane (nรฉe Koepcke) Diller not only lived through a catastrophic airplane crash, the cabin broken up by a lightening strike at altitude and tumbling three-thousand metres from the sky still belted into her seat, which took the lives of ninety-one others (her mother included), as sole survivor, she wandered through the rainforests of Peru alone for eleven days before finding civilisation and medical care for her injuries though wholly ambulatory and only sustaining a broken collar bone and a gash to her arm prone to infection. Somewhat of a wild-child, daughter to a pair of biologists, Koepcke was raised in the jungle and had acquired the skills that helped her to persevere. Scouting for filming locations for Aquirre—the Wrath of God, the 1972 historical epic with Klaus Kinski leading a retinue of conquistadores down the Amazon in search of the legendary seven cities of gold, director Werner Herzog would have also taken that flight, had it not been for a change in his itinerary. Subject of a 1988 documentary, Herzog and Koepcke toured the crash site together. Like her parents, Koepcke also studied biology and continued their research in Peru, specialising ultimately in chiroptology, and presently is the chief library for the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich.

Sunday 30 May 2021

sunday drive: wasserschloss roรŸrieth and walldorfer-kirchenburg

For what was the first time in a long time, H and I took advantage of the fine and sunny weather and visited a few sights from outdoors on either side of Mellrichtstadt and Meiningen first with the moated castle located within a small farming village of the same name. Existing as the seat of a lordship since the twelfth century before being destroyed for harbouring highwaymen in 1401, the rebuilt sixteenth century compound was in the ownership of the rulers of Ost- and Nordheim until the mediatisation of imperial immediacy at the beginning of the nineteenth century (die Reichsdeputationhauptschluss von 1803) when transferred to the Free State of Bavaria. 

The castle is in private hands and cannot be visited by the surround grounds and agricultural outbuildings were nice to explore. Next we came to the fortified church (see links above) of the town of Walldorf, now a suburb of Meiningen. Originally a medieval defensive Hรถhenberg (a hill castle) along the old trade route from Frankfurt to Erfurt—a good vantage point to monitor for smugglers and other potential disruptions, the complex on the promontory has been an episcopal fort since 1008 when the archbishopric of Wรผrzburg took over the area. 

The high keep with residential structures and a garden was used as a protected farmyard through the ages as it is today, restored after reunification and a fire in 2012 that caused extensive damage. Beyond its historical value as a monument, designs for restoration undertaken and achieved have made it moreover a “biotope church” with a replacement roof optimised for nesting kestrels, a colony of jackdaws (Dohlen), bats, bees that visit the old cottage gardens plus a nesting stork with a young brood.

Sunday 15 March 2020

zoonosis or jumping the shark

Though we would be wrong to blame bats or any other wildlife for bringing illness where it is our behaviours that invite in and exacerbate the spread of new disease, it is worth considering how our chiroptera friends have evolved an immune system parallel and attendant to the corona viruses that have accompanied them for countless generations.
As flying mammals, a lot of their metabolic processes are given over to keeping them aloft and because of the stress, wear and tear that come with it, their immune system is more tolerant of infections and endures them rather than reacting in a violent, exclusionary manner. Humans, on the other hand, with little exposure to such pathogens—bats being themselves nearly as mobile and wide-ranging as people—have a hyper-vigilant approach to combating contagion which has normally served us well but can result in a life-threating condition called sepsis when the immune response is pushed into overdrive and harms the internal organs and tissues. There isn’t much that one can do to alter those sorts of responses but there are a host of pre-emptive measures that are even more effective—like maintaining one’s distance and proper hand-washing that’s not a duck-and-cover exercise as a little soap and elbow grease and discipline out of the consideration of the wellbeing of others, especially for the vulnerable among us does chemically wreck the virus and commute it towards something harmless, keeping healthy in general and getting vaccinations and immunizations as prescribed even if the glamourous cure we are waiting for does not seem so commiserate with the chore of prevention. The inflammatory reaction that follow the onset of infection can result in pneumonia and low blood flow and proves fatal—from all causes of septic shock, for about ten million worldwide per year. A number far greater, like the pathology of season influenza often cited, than the number of case of the corona virus likely to prove deadly but maybe that signals that it is time that we find all these numbers unacceptable and work towards societal and medical interventions to reduce its occurrence.

Thursday 23 February 2017

bale and bellwether

Confirming that the world is an inexhaustible fount of delights to behold, Messy Nessy Chic invites us to explore the abandoned “Colin’s Barn” outside in Crudwell parish, near Malmesbury. In the 1980s, a shepherd named Colin Stokes built this sprawling fortress for his flock but choose to move to greener pastures in Scotland once a quarry was slated to open in the area and left his elaborate castle to the elements. The ensemble of buildings, designed for a sheep-sized court, have weathered the years quite well, having become a sanctuary for birds and bats and definitely a place to seek out next time we’re in England.

Friday 13 January 2017


Bat-friendly tequila wrests one species from the brink of extinction.
The blue agave plant is exclusively pollinated by the lesser long nosed bat but as the nectar (the key ingredient in tequila) content is at its highest just before blossoming, farmers tended to harvest the plants before they flowered and relied on cloning to restock their fields. A joint US-Mexican initiative persuaded producers (jimadores) to set aside parts of their fields all allow some of the agave to reach maturity and bloom, thus feeding the bats, whose numbers are very robust after three decades of conservation, and reaping the benefits of cross-pollination for the long-term resilience of their crops.

Thursday 6 March 2014


Beyond mermaids and unicorns—and even enjoying less widespread popularity than rarer chimeras like griffins, harpies or the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (cotton, not so much a monster), there is a neglected bestiary, which the marvelous Atlas Obscura pays tribute to. My favourite creature enrolled here is the odd Lidรฉrc from Hungarian folklore—a sort of familiar, hatched as the first of a brood from a black hen, after being incubated in a human armpit—according to some traditions.
This newly-hatched imp, industrious and loyal, eventually becomes also a curse and a liability. Though always at their master's disposal, such congress becomes a dangerous thing, but can be gotten rid of through a variety of equally specific rituals, like giving one's Lidรฉrc an impossible task, like a logical feed-back loop that will eventually cause a fatal-error. It reminds me of the notion that vampires exhibit arithmomania and are compelled to count whatever is cast out in front of them, like grains of rice, or the Greek custom of setting out a colander during the Christmas season to trip up evil spirits, since they are obsessed with numbers and will try to count all the holes. They only make it as far as two, however, since three, the Holy Trinity, makes them disappear and start all over. It's interesting that monsters are framed with compulsions and I wonder what that means.