Saturday, January 19, 2008

Define "fake"

I am as amused as anyone by Stephen Colbert's latest stunt -- talking the National Portrait Gallery into temporarily hanging his portrait, over the water fountain between the bathrooms -- but after reading the lead of this Associated Press article, I wonder: In what sense is Colbert a "fake TV pundit"? Put another way: Are any TV pundits less fake than Colbert? Or are the others more fake, because they expect to be taken seriously, even if their shtick is as fact-free as Colbert's?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Submitted for your Nobel consideration

Pennsylvania cancer patient John Kanzius, whose field is not medicine but electronics, wondered whether radio waves might kill cancer cells. The answer, says the journal Cancer, is: Yes, they do. John Kanzius may have tinkered his way into a cure for cancer.

It came out of the sky

What was the 16-inch piece of burning-hot metal that fell from the sky and through the roof of Susan Wilson's SUV outside Happy Harry's drugstore in Stanton, Del.? The Federal Aviation Administration says that whatever it is, it didn't come from a plane.

We just don't know

We just don't know why 5-year-old Chucky Beutel of Sellersburg, Ind., spontaneously combusted in the bathroom.

"The knickers saved the day"

A kitchen fire in Hartlepool was put out by a pair of extra-large knickers. For further local color, note that the fire broke out while the two blokes were frying bread. There'll always be an England.

Possibly the ultimate church-and-state news story

Whereas an Italian court apparently summoned Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse and Donald and Daisy Duck to appear as witnesses in a counterfeiting trial through a clerical error, an Indian judge intentionally summoned the Hindu gods Ram and Hanuman to appear as witnesses in a property dispute. Suppose they showed up? I'd like to see the courtroom climax of Oh, God! remade as a Bollywood musical.

Suppose they answer?

"Who Speaks for Earth?" is a fascinating Seed magazine article that asks whether "active SETI" -- broadcasting our existence to the theoretical extraterrestrial intelligences that theoretically could be listening -- is a good idea.

Serious scientists are beginning to sound like the narrators of Lovecraft stories, speaking openly about "the potential for alerting dangerous or malevolent entities to our presence."

My favorite quote, from a former U.S. State Department officer: "Active SETI is not science; it's diplomacy."

Hola, amigos

Sydney says my stocking cap looks like Jim Anchower's. This stops short of saying that in my stocking cap I look like Jim Anchower, but it's mighty close.

How innocent was Dr. Crippen?

The Guardian reports that the dismembered body found in Dr. Hawley Crippen's coal cellar in 1910 was not that of his wife, Cora; so saith the DNA evidence. Here's the BBC account.

Was Crippen hanged, then, for murdering someone who wasn't even dead? Whose body was it? Who dismembered it and buried it in Crippen's cellar? What prompted Crippen and his mistress to flee England in disguise? And will the next edition of Erik Larson's fascinating best seller Thunderstruck, about Crippen and Marconi, include a new epilogue addressing the DNA claim?

One theory: Crippen was an abortionist, and the body was a customer whose procedure had gone horribly wrong.

Preliminary Nebula ballot

My story "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse," from Jonathan Strahan's Night Shade anthology Eclipse One, has made the preliminary Nebula Awards ballot.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The starving of Shallmar

The national effort to save the inhabitants of the mining town of Shallmar, Md., from starvation in December 1949 is the subject of an interesting two-part feature by James A. Rada Jr. in the Dec. 27-28 Cumberland Times-News. Here's the first part, and here's the second. I marveled that things in Shallmar could have gotten so bad without the neighbors noticing, but then I found the now-defunct town on Google Maps. As you can see, Shallmar was terribly isolated, between the river and the end of the road, just like the better known hamlet of Gee's Bend, Ala.

The Wilson Parrot Foundation

Here's a wire story about parrot rescuer Brian Wilson of Damascus, Md., and here's the website of his non-profit Wilson Parrot Foundation.