Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Interesting pics

Stone Age Settlement Found Under English Channel

Erosion on the floor of the English Channel is revealing the remains of a busy Stone Age settlement, from a time when Europe and Britain were still linked by land, a team of archaeologists says.

The site, just off the Isle of Wight, dates back 8,000 years, not long before melting glaciers filled in the Channel and likely drove the settlement's last occupants north to higher ground.

"This is the only site of its kind in the United Kingdom," said Garry Momber, director of the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, which led the recent excavations. "It is important because this is the period when modern people were blossoming, just coming out of the end of the Ice Age, living more like we do today in the valleys and lowlands."

End of Ice Age caused channel flood

Lobsters mucking around the seabed at the site about 10 years ago revealed a cache of Mesolithic flints, prompting further excavations that uncovered two hearths (ancient ovens) dangling precariously from the edge of an underwater cliff.

Burnt wood fragments gouged with cut marks and a layer of wood chippings were found lying under 35 feet of water during the latest dig. Divers brought the material to the surface still embedded in slabs of the sea floor that were carried up in specially-designed boxes, which were then pieced back together and examined and dated in the lab.

"We now have unequivocal evidence of human activity at the site," Momber told LiveScience. "There were people here actively making stuff and being quite industrious."

At 8,000-years-old, the settlement is the only underwater Mesolithic site in Britain, though it is probably part of a much larger area of occupation yet to be uncovered, Momber said.

As the climate began to warm up near the end of the Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, people were moving into Northern Europe and settling down in the many river valleys left behind by melting glaciers, Momber explained. Many of the valleys, such as the ones now beneath the English Channel, were eventually inundated completely when temperatures returned to normal.

"A good chunk of the material left behind from this cultural period is eventually going to be found underwater," Momber said.

Underwater sites better preserved

Despite the logistical problems of underwater archaeology, the Isle of Wight site and others like it are usually better preserved than their counterparts on land, Momber said.

When the floodwater rose slowly in the English Channel, it deposited layers of silt atop the settlement, encasing it in an oxygen-free environment that preserves even organic materials such as wood and food.

"With underwater sites, all the trappings of a society are going to remain, not just the stone," Momber said. The trade-off is an environment that can carry away the precious remains at any time—a real concern at the Isle of Wight settlement.

"The erosion of this site would be a loss of information to humanity, not just the washing away of a bit of material," he said. "There is the potential to find so much more there; there is so much to learn."

Greetings From Idiot America

There is some undeniable art--you might even say design--in the way southern Ohio rolls itself into northern Kentucky. The hills build gently under you as you leave the interstate. The roads narrow beneath a cool and thickening canopy as they wind through the leafy outer precincts of Hebron--a small Kentucky town named, as it happens, for the place near Jerusalem where the Bible tells us that David was anointed the king of the Israelites. This resulted in great literature and no little bloodshed, which is the case with a great deal of Scripture.

At the top of the hill, just past the Idlewild Concrete plant, there is an unfinished wall with an unfinished gate in the middle of it. Happy, smiling people are trickling in through the gate this fine morning, one minivan at a time. They park in whatever shade they can find, which is not much. It's hot as hell this morning.

They are almost uniformly white and almost uniformly bubbly. Their cars come from Kentucky and Tennessee and Ohio and Illinois and as far away as New Brunswick, Canada. There are elderly couples in shorts, suburban families piling out of the minivans, the children all Wrinkle-Resistant and Stain-Released. There is a clutch of Mennonite women in traditional dress--small bonnets and long skirts. All of them wander off, chattering and waving and stopping every few steps for pictures, toward a low-slung building that seems from the outside to be the most finished part of the complex.

Outside, several of them stop to be interviewed by a video crew. They have come from Indiana, one woman says, two toddlers toddling at her feet, because they have been home-schooling their children and they have given them this adventure as a kind of field trip. The whole group then bustles into the lobby of the building, where they are greeted by the long neck of a huge, herbivorous dinosaur. The kids run past that and around a corner, where stands another, smaller dinosaur.

Which is wearing a saddle.

It is an English saddle, hornless and battered. Apparently, this was a dinosaur used for dressage competitions and stakes races. Any working dinosaur accustomed to the rigors of ranch work and herding other dinosaurs along the dusty trail almost certainly would wear a sturdy western saddle.

This is very much a show dinosaur.

The dinosaurs are the first things you see when you enter the Creation Museum, which is very much a work in progress and the dream child of an Australian named Ken Ham. Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, an organization of which the museum one day will be the headquarters. The people here today are on a special tour. They have paid $149 to become "charter members" of the museum.

"Dinosaurs," Ham laughs as he poses for pictures with his visitors, "always get the kids interested."

AIG is dedicated to the proposition that the biblical story of the creation of the world is inerrant in every word. Which means, in this interpretation and among other things, that dinosaurs coexisted with man (hence the saddles), that there were dinosaurs in Eden, and that Noah, who certainly had enough on his hands, had to load two brachiosaurs onto the Ark along with his wife, his sons, and their wives, to say nothing of green ally-gators and long-necked geese and humpty-backed camels and all the rest.

(Faced with the obvious question of how to keep a three-hundred-by-thirty-by-fifty-cubit ark from sinking under the weight of dinosaur couples, Ham's literature argues that the dinosaurs on the Ark were young ones, and thus did not weigh as much as they might have.)

"We," Ham exclaims to the assembled, "are taking the dinosaurs back from the evolutionists!" And everybody cheers.

Ham then goes on to celebrate the great victory won in Oklahoma, where, in the first week of June, Tulsa park officials announced a decision (later reversed) to put up a display at the city zoo based on Genesis so as to eliminate the "discrimination" long inflicted upon sensitive Christians by a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh that decorated the elephant exhibit.

This is a serious crowd. They gather in the auditorium and they listen intently, and they take copious notes as Ham draws a straight line from Adam's fall to our godless public schools, from Darwin to gay marriage. He talks about the triumph over Ganesh, and everybody cheers again.

Ultimately, the heart of the museum will be a long walkway down which patrons will be able to journey through the entire creation story. This, too, is still in the earliest stages of construction. Today, for example, one young artist is working on a scale model of the moment when Adam names all the creatures. Adam is in the delicate process of naming the saber-toothed tiger while, behind him, already named, a woolly mammoth seems to be on the verge of taking a nap.

Elsewhere in the museum, another Adam figure is full-size, if unpainted, and waiting to be installed. This Adam is reclining peacefully; eventually, if the plans stay true, he will be placed in a pool under a waterfall. As the figure depicts a prelapsarian Adam, he is completely naked. He also has no penis.

This would seem to be a departure from Scripture inconsistent with the biblical literalism of the rest of the museum. If you're willing to stretch Job's description of a "behemoth" to include baby brachiosaurs on Noah's Ark, as Ham does in his lectures, then surely, since we are depicting him before the fall, Adam should be out there waving unashamedly in the paradisaical breezes. For that matter, what is Eve doing there, across the room, with her hair falling just so to cover her breasts and midsection, as though she's doing a nude scene from some 1950s Swedish art-house film?

After all, Genesis 2:25 clearly says that at this point in their lives, "And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed." If Adam courageously sat there unencumbered while he was naming saber-toothed tigers, then why, six thousand years later, should he be depicted as a eunuch in some family-values Eden? And if these people can take away what Scripture says was rightfully his, then why can't Charles Darwin and the accumulated science of the past 150-odd years take away all the rest of it?

These are impolite questions. Nobody asks them here by the cool pond tucked into a gentle hillside. Increasingly, nobody asks them outside the gates, either. It is impolite to wonder why our parents sent us all to college, and why generations of immigrants sweated and bled so their children could be educated, if it wasn't so that we would all one day feel confident enough to look at a museum filled with dinosaurs rigged to run six furlongs at Belmont and make the not unreasonable point that it is all batshit crazy and that anyone who believes this righteous hooey should be kept away from sharp objects and his own money.

Dinosaurs with saddles?

Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?

Welcome to your new Eden.

Welcome to Idiot America.

Let's take a tour, shall we? For the sake of time, we'll just cover the last year or so.

A federally funded abstinence program suggests that HIV can be transmitted through tears. An Alabama legislator proposes a bill to ban all books by gay authors. The Texas House passes a bill banning suggestive cheerleading. And nobody laughs at any of it, or even points out that, in the latter case, having Texas ban suggestive cheerleading is like having Nebraska ban corn.

James Dobson, a prominent conservative Christian spokesman, compares the Supreme Court to the Ku Klux Klan. Pat Robertson, another prominent conservative preacher, says that federal judges are a more serious threat to the country than is Al Qaeda and, apparently taking his text from the Book of Gambino, later sermonizes that the United States should get with it and snuff the democratically elected president of Venezuela.

The Congress of the United States intervenes to extend into a televised spectacle the prolonged death of a woman in Florida. The majority leader of the Senate, a physician, pronounces a diagnosis based on heavily edited videotape. The majority leader of the House of Representatives argues against cutting-edge research into the use of human stem cells by saying that "an embryo is a person. . . . We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth." Nobody laughs at him or points out that the same could be said of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or whoever invented the baby-back rib.

And, finally, in August, the cover of Time--for almost a century the dyspeptic voice of the American establishment--clears its throat, hems and haws and hacks like a headmaster gagging on his sherry, and asks, quite seriously: "Does God have a place in science class?"

Fights over evolution--and its faddish new camouflage, intelligent design, a pseudoscience that posits without proof or method that science is inadequate to explain existence and that supernatural causes must be considered--roil up school districts across the country. The president of the United States announces that he believes ID ought to be taught in the public schools on an equal footing with the theory of evolution. And in Dover, Pennsylvania, during one of these many controversies, a pastor named Ray Mummert delivers the line that both ends our tour and, in every real sense, sums it up:

"We've been attacked," he says, "by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

And there it is.

Idiot America is not the place where people say silly things. It's not the place where people believe in silly things. It is not the place where people go to profit from the fact that people believe in silly things. Idiot America is not even those people who believe that Adam named the dinosaurs. Those people pay attention. They take notes. They take the time and the considerable mental effort to construct a worldview that is round and complete.

The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents--for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power--the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

In the place of expertise, we have elevated the Gut, and the Gut is a moron, as anyone who has ever tossed a golf club, punched a wall, or kicked an errant lawn mower knows. We occasionally dress up the Gut by calling it "common sense." The president's former advisor on medical ethics regularly refers to the "yuck factor." The Gut is common. It is democratic. It is the roiling repository of dark and ancient fears. Worst of all, the Gut is faith-based.

It's a dishonest phrase for a dishonest time, "faith-based," a cheap huckster's phony term of art. It sounds like an additive, an artificial flavoring to make crude biases taste of bread and wine. It's a word for people without the courage to say they are religious, and it is beloved not only by politicians too cowardly to debate something as substantial as faith but also by Idiot America, which is too lazy to do it.

After all, faith is about the heart and soul and about transcendence. Anything calling itself faith-based is admitting that it is secular and profane. In the way that it relies on the Gut to determine its science, its politics, and even the way it sends its people to war, Idiot America is not a country of faith; it's a faith-based country, fashioning itself in the world, which is not the place where faith is best fashioned.

Hofstadter saw this one coming. "Intellect is pitted against feeling," he wrote, "on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or the diabolical."

The Gut is the basis for the Great Premises of Idiot America. We hold these truths to be self-evident:
1) Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
2) Anything can be true if somebody says it on television.
3) Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

How does it work? This is how it works. On August 21, a newspaper account of the "intelligent design" movement contained this remarkable sentence: "They have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive."

A "politically savvy challenge to evolution" is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be. It makes as much sense as conducting a Gallup poll on gravity or running someone for president on the Alchemy Party ticket. It doesn't matter what percentage of people believe they ought to be able to flap their arms and fly, none of them can. It doesn't matter how many votes your candidate got, he's not going to turn lead into gold. The sentence is so arrantly foolish that the only real news in it is where it appeared.

On the front page.

Of The New York Times.

Within three days, there was a panel on the subject on Larry King Live, in which Larry asked the following question:

"All right, hold on. Dr. Forrest, your concept of how can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?"

And why do so many of them host television programs, Larry?

This is how Idiot America engages the great issues of the day. It decides, en masse, with a thousand keystrokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the poor biologist's words carry no more weight than the thunderations of some turkey-neck preacher out of the Church of Christ's Own Parking Facility in DeLand, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an "expert" and, therefore, an "elitist." Nobody buys his books. Nobody puts him on cable. He's brilliant, surely, but his Gut's the same as ours. He just ignores it, poor fool.

This is a great country, in no small part because it is the best country ever devised in which to be a public crank. Never has a nation so dedicated itself to the proposition that not only should its people hold nutty ideas but they should cultivate them, treasure them, shine them up, and put them right there on the mantelpiece. This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy. The right to do so is there in our founding documents.

After all, the Founders were men of the Enlightenment, fashioning a country out of new ideas--or out of old ones that they excavated from centuries of religious internment. Historian Charles Freeman points out that in Europe, "Christian thought . . . often gave irrationality the status of a universal 'truth' to the exclusion of those truths to be found through reason. So the uneducated was preferred to the educated, and the miracle to the operation of natural laws."

In America, the Founders were trying to get away from all that, to raise a nation of educated people. In pledging their faith to intellectual experimentation, however, the Founders set freedom free. They devised the best country ever in which to be completely around the bend. It's just that making a respectable living out of it used to be harder work.

They call it the Infinite Corridor, which is the kind of joke you tell when your day job is to throw science as far ahead as you can and hope that the rest of us can move fast enough to catch up. It is a series of connecting hallways that run north through the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The hallways are lined with cramped offices, their doors mottled thickly with old tape and yellowing handbills. The Infinite Corridor is not a straight line. It has branches and tributaries. It has backwaters and eddies. You can get lost there.

One of the offices belongs to Professor Kip Hodges, a young and energetic North Carolinian who studies how mountain ranges develop and grow. Suffice it to say that Hodges's data do not correspond to the six-thousand-year-old earth of the creationists, whereupon dinosaurs and naked folks doth gambol together.

Hodges is recently returned from Nepal, where he rescued his research from encroaching Maoist rebels, who were not interested in the least in how the Himalayas became the Himalayas. They were interested in land, in guns, in power, and in other things of the Gut. Moreover, part of Hodges's duties at MIT has been to mentor incoming freshmen about making careers in science for themselves.

"Scientists are always portrayed in the literature as being above the fray intellectually," Hodges says. "I guess to a certain extent that's our fault, because scientists don't do a good enough job communicating with people who are nonscientists--that it's not a matter of brainiacs doing one thing and nonbrainiacs doing another."

Americans of a certain age grew up with science the way an earlier generation grew up with baseball and even earlier ones grew up with politics and religion. America cured diseases. It put men on the moon. It thought its way ahead in the cold war and stayed there.

"My earliest memory," Hodges recalls, "is watching John Glenn go up. It was a time that, if you were involved in science or engineering--particularly science, at that time--people greatly respected you if you said you were going into those fields. And nowadays, it's like there's no value placed by society on a lot of the observations that are made by people in science.

"It's more than a general dumbing down of America--the lack of self-motivated thinking: clear, creative thinking. It's like you're happy for other people to think for you. If you should be worried about, say, global warming, well, somebody in Washington will tell me whether or not I should be worried about global warming. So it's like this abdication of intellectual responsibility--that America now is getting to the point that more and more people would just love to let somebody else think for them."

The country was founded by people who were fundamentally curious; Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, to name only the most obvious examples, were inveterate tinkerers. (Before dispatching Lewis and Clark into the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson insisted that the pair categorize as many new plant and animal species as they found. Considering they were also mapping everything from Missouri to Oregon, this must have been a considerable pain in the canoe.) Further, they assumed that their posterity would feel much the same as they did; in 1815, appealing to Congress to fund the building of a national university, James Madison called for the development of "a nursery of enlightened preceptors."

It is a long way from that to the moment on February 18, 2004, when sixty-two scientists, including a clutch of Nobel laureates, released a report accusing the incumbent administration of manipulating science for political ends. It is a long way from Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush, in an interview in 2005, suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's science classes. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," said the president, "so people can understand what the debate is about."

The "debate," of course, is nothing of the sort, because two sides are required for a debate. Nevertheless, the very notion of it is a measure of how scientific discourse, and the way the country educates itself, has slipped through lassitude and inattention across the border into Idiot America--where fact is merely that which enough people believe, and truth is measured only by how fervently they believe it.

If we have abdicated our birthright to scientific progress, we have done so by moving the debate into the realm of political and cultural argument, where we all feel more confident, because it is there that the Gut rules. Held to this standard, any scientific theory is rendered mere opinion. Scientific fact is no more immutable than a polling sample. This is how there's a "debate" over the very existence of global warming, even though the preponderance of fact among those who actually have studied the phenomenon renders the "debate" quite silly. The debate is about making people feel better about driving SUVs. The debate is less about climatology than it is about guiltlessly topping off your tank and voting in tax incentives for oil companies.

The rest of the world looks on in cockeyed wonder. The America of Franklin and Edison, of Fulton and Ford, of the Manhattan project and the Apollo program, the America of which Einstein wanted to be a part, seems to be enveloping itself in a curious fog behind which it's tying itself in knots over evolution, for pity's sake, and over the relative humanity of blastocysts versus the victims of Parkinson's disease.

"Even in the developing world, where I spend lots of time doing my work," Hodges says, "if you tell them that you're from MIT and you tell them that you do science, it's a big deal. If I go to India and tell them I'm from MIT, it's a big deal. In Thailand, it's a big deal. If I go to Iowa, they could give a rat's ass. And that's a weird thing, that we're moving in that direction as a nation."

Hence, Bush was not talking about science--not in any real sense, anyway. Intelligent design is a theological construct, a faith-based attempt to gussy up creationism in a lab coat. Its fundamental tenets cannot be experimentally verified--or, most important, falsified. That it enjoys a certain public cachet is irrelevant; a higher percentage of Americans believes that a government conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy than believes in intelligent design, but there is no great effort abroad in the land to include that conspiracy theory in sixth-grade history texts. Bush wasn't talking about science. He was talking about the political utility of putting saddles on the dinosaurs and breaking Ganesh's theological monopoly over the elephant paddock.

"The reason the creationists have been so effective is that they have put a premium on communication skills," explains Hodges. "It matters to them that they can talk to the guy in the bar, and it's important to them, and they are hugely effective at it."

It is the ultimate standard of Idiot America. How does it play to Joe Six-Pack in the bar? At the end of August 2004, the Zogby people discovered that 57 percent of undecided voters would rather have a beer with George Bush than with John Kerry. Now, how many people with whom you've spent time drinking beer would you trust with the nuclear launch codes? Not only is this not a question for a nation of serious citizens, it's not even a question for a nation of serious drunkards.

If even scientific discussion is going to be dragged into politics, then the discussion there at least ought to exist on a fairly sophisticated level. Again, the Founders thought it should. They considered self-government a science that required an informed and educated and enlightened populace to make all the delicate mechanisms run. Instead, today we have the Kabuki politics and marionette debates best exemplified by cable television. Instead, the discussion of everything ends up in the bar.

(It wasn't always this way. Theodore Roosevelt is reckoned to be the manliest of our manly-man presidents. He also was a lifelong science dweeb, cataloging songbirds, of all things. Of course, he shot them first, so maybe that makes all the difference.)

It is, of course, television that has allowed Idiot America to run riot within the modern politics and all forms of public discourse. It is not that there is less information on television than there once was. (That there is less news is another question entirely.) In fact, there is so much information that fact is now defined as something that so many people believe that television notices it, and truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

"You don't need to be credible on television," explains Keith Olbermann, the erudite host of his own show on MSNBC. "You don't need to be authoritative. You don't need to be informed. You don't need to be honest. All these things that we used to associate with what we do are no longer factors.

"There is an entire network [the Fox News Channel] that bills itself as news that is devoted to reinforcing people's fears and saying to them, 'This is what you should be scared of, and here's whose fault it is,' " Olbermann says. "And that's what they get--two or three million frustrated paranoids who sit in front of the TV and go, 'Damn right, it's those liberals' fault.' Or, 'It's those--what's the word for it?--college graduates' fault.' "

The reply, of course, is that Fox regularly buries Olbermann and the rest of the MSNBC lineup in breaking off a segment of a smidgen of a piece of the television audience. Truth is what moves the needle. Fact is what sells.

Idiot America is a bad place for crazy notions. Its indolent tolerance of them causes the classic American crank to drift slowly and dangerously into the mainstream, wherein the crank loses all of his charm and the country loses another piece of its mind. The best thing about American crackpots used to be that they would stand proudly aloof from a country that, by their peculiar lights, had gone mad. Not today. Today, they all have book deals, TV shows, and cases pending in federal court.

Once, it was very hard to get into the public square and very easy to fall out of it. One ill-timed word, even a whiff of public scandal, and all the hard work you did in the grange hall on all those winter nights was for nothing. No longer. You can be Bill Bennett, gambling with both fists, but if your books still sell, you can continue to scold the nation about its sins. You can be Bill O'Reilly, calling up subordinates to proposition them both luridly and comically--loofahs? falafels?--and if more people tune in to watch you than tune in to watch some other blowhard, you can keep your job lecturing America about the dangers of its secular culture. Just don't be boring. And keep the ratings up. Idiot America wants to be entertained.

Because scientific expertise was dragged into political discussion, and because political discussion is hopelessly corrupt, the distrust of scientific expertise is now as general as the dis-trust of politicians is. Everyone is an expert, so nobody is. For example, Sean Hannity's knowledge of, say, stem-cell research is measured precisely by his ratings book. His views on the subject are more well known than those of the people doing the actual research.

The credibility of Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania on the subject of the cultural anthropology of the American family ought to be, well, minimal. He spent the summer promoting a book in which he propounded theories on the subject that were progressively loopier. "For some parents," he writes, "the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home." He goes on later to compare a woman's right to choose an abortion unfavorably with the institution of slavery. Nevertheless, he's welcome in the mainstream, at least until either he's defeated for reelection or his book doesn't sell.

"Somewhere along the line, we stopped rewarding intelligence with success and stopped equating intelligence with success," Olbermann says. We're all in the bar now, where everybody's an expert, where the Gut makes everyone so very sure. All opinions are of equal worth. No voice is more authoritative than any others; some are just louder. Of course, the problem in the bar is that sooner or later, for reasons that nobody will remember in the clear light of the next morning, some noisy asshole picks a fight. And it becomes clear that the rise of Idiot America has consequences.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nobody in the American government knew more than Richard Clarke did on the subject of a shadowy terrorist network called Al Qaeda. He had watched it grow. He had watched it strike--in New York and in Africa and in the harbor in Yemen. That morning, in the Situation Room in the White House, Clarke watched the buildings burn and fall, and he recognized the organization's signature as well as he'd recognize his own. Instead, in the ensuing days a lot of people around him--people who didn't know enough about Al Qaeda to throw to a cat--wanted to talk about Iraq. What they believed trumped what Clarke knew, over and over again. He left the government.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, when the key issue became arms control, the traditional diplomats couldn't do the negotiating because that negotiating involved science and engineering," Clarke recalls. "Interagency decision papers were models of analysis, where assumptions were laid out and tested.

"That's the world I grew up in. [The approach] still applied to issues, even terrorism. Then these people come in, and they already have the answers, how to spin it, how to get the rest of the world on board. I thought, Wait a minute. That isn't analysis. It's the important issues where we really need analysis.

"In the area of terrorism, there is a huge potential for emotional reaction. The one thing I told my team [on September 11]--they were mad and they were crying, the whole range of emotions--was that we didn't have time for emotion that day."

Nothing that the administration of George W. Bush has done has been inconsistent with the forces that twice elected it. The subtle, humming engine of its success--against John Kerry, surely, but most vividly against poor, cerebral Al Gore--was a celebration of instinct over intellect, a triumph of the Gut. No campaigns in history employed the saloon question with such devastating success or saw so clearly the path through the deliberate inexpertise of the national debate. No politician in recent times has played to the Gut so deftly.

So it ought not shock anyone when the government suddenly found itself at odds with empirical science. It ought not shock anyone in the manner in which it would go to war. Remember the beginning, when it was purely the Gut--a bone-deep call for righteous revenge for which Afghanistan was not sufficient response. In Iraq, there would be towering stacks of chemical bombs, a limitless smorgasbord of deadly bacteria, vast lagoons of exotic poisons. There would be candy and flowers greeting our troops. The war would take six months, a year, tops. Mission Accomplished. Major combat operations are over.

"Part of the problem was that people didn't want the analytic process because they'd be shown up," Richard Clarke says. "Their assumptions would be counterfactual. One of the real areas of expertise, for example, was failed-state reconstruction. How to go into failed states and maintain security and get the economy going and defang ethnic hatred. They threw it all out.

"They ignored the experts on the Middle East. They ignored the experts who said it was the wrong target. So you ignore the experts and you go in anyway, and then you ignore all the experts on how to handle the postconflict."

One of those experts was David Phillips, a senior advisor on what was called the Future of Iraq program for the State Department. Phillips was ignored. His program was ignored. Earlier, Phillips had helped reconstruct the Balkans after the region spent a decade tearing itself apart with genocidal lunacy. Phillips knew what he knew. He just didn't believe what they believed.

"You can just as easily have a faith-based, or ideologically driven, policy," he says today. "You start with the presumption that you already know the conclusion prior to asking the question. When information surfaces that contradicts your firmly entrenched views, you dismantle the institution that brought you the information."

There was going to be candy and flowers, remember? The war was going to pay for itself. Believe.

"We went in blindfolded, and we believed our own propaganda," Phillips says. "We were going to get out in ninety days, spend $1.9 billion in the short term, and Iraqi oil would pay for the rest. Now we're deep in the hole, and people are asking questions about how we got there.

"It's delusional, allowing delusion to be the basis of policy making. Once you've told the big lie, you have to substantiate it with a sequence of lies that's repeated. You can't fix a policy if you don't admit it's broken."

Two thousand American lives later, remember the beginning. One commentator quite plainly made the case that every few years or so, the United States should "throw a small nation up against the wall" to prove that it means business. And Idiot America, which is all of us, cheered.

Goddamn right. Gimme another. And see what the superpowers in the back room will have.

August 19, 2005, was a beautiful day in Idiot America.

In Washington, William Frist, a Harvard-trained physician and the majority leader of the United States Senate, endorsed the teaching of intelligent design in the country's public schools. "I think today a pluralistic society," Frist explained, "should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith."

That faith is not fact, nor should it be, and that faith is not science, nor should it be, seems to have eluded Doctor Senator Frist. It doesn't matter. He was talking to the people who believe that faith is both those things, because Bill Frist wants to be president of the United States, and because he believes those people will vote for him specifically because he talks this rot, and Idiot America will take it as an actor merely reciting his lines and let it go at that. Nonsense is a no-lose proposition.

On the same day, across town, a top aide to former secretary of state Colin Powell told CNN that Powell's pivotal presentation to the United Nations in which he described Iraq's vast array of deadly weapons was a farrago of stovepiped intelligence, wishful thinking, and utter bullshit.

"It was the lowest point in my life," the aide said.

That it has proven to be an even lower point for almost two thousand American families, and God alone knows how many Iraqis, seems to have eluded this fellow. It doesn't matter. Neither Frist with his pandering nor this apparatchik with the tender conscience--nor Colin Powell, for all that--will pay a substantial price for any of it because the two stories lasted one day, and, after all, it was a beautiful day in Idiot America.

Idiot America is a collaborative effort, the result of millions of decisions made and not made. It's the development of a collective Gut at the expense of a collective mind. It's what results when politicians make ridiculous statements and not merely do we abandon the right to punish them for it at the polls, but we also become too timid to punish them with ridicule on a daily basis, because the polls say they're popular anyway. It's what results when leaders are not held to account for mistakes that end up killing people.

And that's why August became a seminal month in Idiot America.

In its final week, a great American city drowned and then turned irrevocably into a Hieronymus Bosch painting in real time and on television, and with complete impunity, the president of the United States wandered the landscape and talked like a blithering nitwit.

First, he compared the violence surrounding the writing of an impromptu theocratic constitution in Baghdad to the events surrounding the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Undaunted, he later compared the war he'd launched in Iraq to World War II. And then he compared himself to Franklin Roosevelt. One more public appearance and we might have learned that Custer was killed by Hezbollah.

Finally, we saw the apotheosis of the end of expertise, when New Orleans was virtually obliterated as a functional habitat for human beings, and the country discovered that the primary responsibility for dealing with the calamity lay with a man who'd been dismissed as an incompetent from his previous job as the director of a luxury-show-horse organization.

And the president went on television and said that nobody could have anticipated the collapse of the unfortunate city's levees. In God's sweet name, engineers anticipated it. Politicians anticipated it. The poor bastards in the Ninth Ward certainly anticipated it. Hell, four generations of folksingers anticipated it.

And the people who hated him went crazy and the people who loved him defended him. But where were the people who heard this incredible, staggeringly stupid bafflegab, uttered with conscious forethought, and realized that whatever they thought of the man, the president had gotten behind a series of podiums and done everything but drop his drawers and dance the hootchie-koo? They were out there, lost in Idiot America, where it was still a beautiful day.

Idiot America took it as a bad actor merely bungling his lines. Nonsense is a no-lose proposition. For Idiot America is a place where people choose to live. It is a place that is built consciously and deliberately, one choice at a time, made or (most often) unmade. A place where we're all like that statue of Adam now, reclining in a peaceful garden of our own creation, brainless and dickless, and falling down on the job of naming the monsters for what they are, dozing away in an Eden that, every day, looks less and less like paradise.

In Iraq, sex is traded for survival

When Rana Jalil, 38, lost her husband in an explosion in Baghdad last year, she could never have imagined becoming a prostitute in order to feed her children.

A mother of four, Jalil sought out employment, but job opportunities for women had decreased since the US invasion.

She begged shop owners, office workers and companies to hire her but was treated with what she calls chauvinistic discrimination.

Within weeks of her husband's death, a doctor diagnosed her children with malnutrition.

Fighting tears, she recalled the desperation which led her to the oldest profession: "In the beginning these were the worst days in my life. My husband was the first man I met and slept with, but I didn't have another option … my children were starving."

She left the house in a daze, she recalled, and walked to the nearest market to find someone who would pay her for sex.

She said: "I'm a nice-looking woman and it wasn't difficult to find a client. When we got to the bed I tried to run away … I just couldn't do it, but he hit and raped me. When he paid me afterwards, it was finished for me.

"When I came home with some food I had bought from that money and saw my children screaming of happiness, I discovered that honour is insignificant compared to the hunger of my children."

Iraqi widows desperate

Prior to the US invasion, Iraqi widows, particularly those who lost husbands during the Iran-Iraq war, were provided with compensation and free education for their children. In some cases, they were provided with free homes.

However, no such safety nets currently exist and widows have few resources at their disposal.

According to the non-governmental organisation Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), 15 per cent of Iraqi women widowed by the war have been desperately searching for temporary marriages or prostitution, either for financial support or protection in the midst of sectarian war.

Nuha Salim, the spokesperson for OWFI, told Al Jazeera: "Widows are one of our priorities but their situation is worsening and we are feeling ineffective to cope with this significant problem. Hundreds of women are searching for an easy way to support their loved ones as employers refuse to hire them for fear of extremists' reprisals."

She said the NGO has documented the disappearance of some 4000 women, 20 per cent of whom are under 18, since the March 2003 invasion.

OWFI believes most of the missing women were kidnapped and sold into prostitution outside Iraq.

Although few reliable statistics are available on the total number of widows in Iraq, the ministry of women's affairs says that there are at least 350,000 in Baghdad alone, with more than eight million throughout the country.

Bitter trade

As Iraqi families continue to fall on hard times, some have been forced to make the most painful of decisions – selling their daughters.

Abu Ahmed, a handicapped father of five who is himself a widower, sold his daughter Lina to an Iraqi man who came to Iraq to "shop" for sex workers. Abu Ahmed said he could not afford to buy food for his other children.

He told Al Jazeera: "I'm sure that whatever she is, at least she is having food to eat. I have three other girls and a son and what they paid me for Lina is enough to raise the remaining ones."

Abu Ahmed had been initially approached by Shada, the alias of a woman living in Baghdad, who sought young women for Iraqi gangs running prostitution rackets in neighbouring Arab countries.

She told Al Jazeera that her role was to convince young women from impoverished families that a better life awaited them beyond the country's borders.

She said: "Families don't want them and we are helping the girls to survive. We offer them food and housing and about $10 a day if they have had at least two clients."

"Our priority is virgin girls; they can be sold at very expensive prices to Arab millionaires."

Shada said she sleeps in a different house every few nights as armed groups have marked her for trial and assassination.

Escape from Jordan

OWFI's Salim says cases like Lina's have become very common as poverty is increasing in Iraq and desperate families sometimes sell their daughters for less than $500 to traffickers.

But increasingly, young Iraqi women arrive in neighbouring capitals to find that prostitution carries a heavy and dangerous price.

Suha Muhammad, 17, was sold to an Iraqi gang by her mother, herself a prostitute, after her father was killed.

When she arrived in Jordan, she was gang-raped by four men who told her they were teaching her the tricks of the trade.

She told Al Jazeera she had been sold to a gang that caters to VIPs in Syria and was often shuttled to Amman, the Jordanian capital, for high-profile clients.

After six months, she escaped: "I ran away and an Iraqi family helped me by driving me to the immigration department where they helped me get a passport to return to Iraq.

"My aunt is now taking care of me in Baghdad. She never imagined that my mother could sell me, but unfortunately women in Iraq are not important and respected."


Mayada Zuhair, a spokesperson for the Baghdad-based Women's Rights Association (WRA), said Iraqi and Arab NGOs are trying to monitor the trafficking of young women from the war-ravaged country to neighbouring destinations.

She told Al Jazeera: "We are trying to find out the fate of many widows and teenager girls who were trafficked. Unfortunately it is not an easy process and without international support, funding, and resources, we fear more young Iraqi women will be taken abroad to work in the sex trade."

In the meantime, however, prostitution remains the only option for Nirmeen Lattif, a 27-year-old widow who lost her husband in an attack on Shia pilgrims south of Baghdad.

When she turned to her husband's relatives for financial support, they could not afford to help her.

She says she tries not to think of the gravity of what she does or the dishonour it carries in conservative Muslim society.

"I think of my children, only my children; without money we starve in the streets."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

GUCA-The World's Biggest Brass Bands Music Festival

The traditional Dragacevo trumpet - its cult kept alive for nearly two centuries regardless of political and social considerations - has with time become world-renowned. It is owing to the trumpet that the name of Serbia has resounded worldwide, in all the continents. Some orchestras, when they appear on stage, whether for official competition national dress, the authentic and indigenous dances and other folkinspired elements, coupled with music, have become an integral part of national gathering.

The virtuoso music performers, the trumpet players to the paradox and make the story more authentic - are for the most part fully self-taught. They play by ear and quite spontaneously, relying on their musical memory; they play from the heart and soul, and their music reaches out to listeners precisely for this quality. The Gucha Assembly of Trumpet Players continues to grow year after year: today, this musical feast of recognizable national skills is more popular, more diverse and bigger than ever before.

The first Dragacevo Assembly of Trumpet Players was held on October 16, 1961 in the yard of the Church of Sts. Michael and Gabriel in Gucha. Initially, it was a very modest Assembly - almost subversive for the prevailing political circumstances of that time. However, the Assembly gradually grew and expandedits, one might say, magical influence, and over the past ten or so years has become the folk remained its key symbol and raison detre, it is no longer held solely for the trumpet players. It grew into an Assembly of toastmasters, painters, song "Sa Ovcara I Kablara", marks the beginning of the festival each year. Some church music festivals notwithstanding, the Assembly of Trumpet Players is the best know event of this kind extending uninterruptedly for 43 years and attra cting guests and musicians alike from every continent. Trumpet players and folk song and dance groups from around the world deem it a great honor to be invited to the Assembly, and the number of v visitors increases with each coming year. The record was set in 2002, when Gucha hosted in excess of 300.000 visitors.

With considerable experience in organizing Assemblies, today the traditionally hospitable Gucha has earned its place on the map of world music festivals, inviting high interest from ethno music lovers, and deservedly so. As an internationally recognized trumpet capital, and a singular corner of positive energy, a place with accumulated joy, gaiety and spontaneity, coupled with the piercing yet gentle sound of the trumpet, Gucha is a place of catharsis of the heart and soul while the festival lasts. All this is more than enough to attract visitors to Gucha each Mexico , Spain , Greece , Denmark , China and many other close or distant countries. The names of Boban Markovic, Milan Mladenovic, Ekrem Sajdic, Elvis Ajdinovic, Fejat and Zoran Sejdic have carried the glory of the Serbian trumpet across the world. Some 1000,000 visitors are expected at the next, and 48 th Assembly. That would be very impressive indeed, would it not?

Welcome to Gucha!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Amazing Melting Building

So, this is not Photoshopped. This building mural, a trompe-l’oeil, is located in Georges V Ave. in Paris, France. Trompe-l’oeil is an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects really exist, instead of being just two-dimensional paintings. The name is derived from French for “trick the eye”, from tromper - to deceive and l’oeil - the eye.

Biker Escapes From The Police

Biker Escapes From The Police - The best video clips are here

Sunday, June 10, 2007

10 Strangest Weapons in History

1. The Urumi
Also known as "chuttuval," which means "coiled sword," this flexible weapon is used in the South Indian Martial Art of Kalaripayatt.

The blade (or multiple blades, as in the urumi pictured here) is flexible enough to be rolled up and stored when not used, or even worn as a belt and whipped out on demand.

The blade or blades are typically razor-sharp and bad news for anyone standing in the vicinity of the person wielding the urumi.

2. The Tekko-kagi ("hand claws")
Predating X-Men's Wolverine by hundreds of years, ninjas would use the tekko-kagi claws to guard against sword attacks, allowing them to swipe and potentially knock the sword from an assailant's hands.

Or, ninjas could use claws the claws offensively against their opponents with devastating results.

Typically made from aluminum, steel, iron or wood, tekko weapons are believed by martial arts historians to have originated when the Bushi in Okinawa, Japan began weilding the steel shoes of their horses as a means of self-defense against assailants.

3. The Kusari-gama
A combination sickle and mace, the Kusari-gama was used by traditional Japanese warriors, swinging the sickle at opponents to either slice them with the sharp blade or bludgeon them with the heavy iron weight attached by chain.

The Kusarigama was popular in fuedal Japan from around the 12th through the 17th centuries, and was taught in martial arts schools with its own form of fighting style, known as Kusarigamajutsu.

4. The Trebuchet
A much more powerful and accurate evolution of the medieval catapult, the trebuchet used counterweights to increase the velocity of the objects it hurled. It was used primarily by Christian and Muslim forces throughout the Mediterranean region during the 12th century.

The trebuchet is also believed to be an early biological weapon, as armies would load the trebuchet with corpses riddled with diseases like the Black Plague and hurl them into areas under seige in the hopes of infecting large numbers of their enemies.

5. The Paris Gun
The German military used its mammoth Paris Gun (also known as the Emperor William Gun) in 1918 to terrorize the French public during World War I.

The Paris Gun had an approximately 92-foot-long barrel that could fire 210-pound shells and reach distances up to 75 miles away. Since it could fire great distances, the residents of Paris heard and saw no warning of incoming blasts, and while the potential physical damage from the weapon wasn't catastrophic, the uncertainty of when and where attacks would come struck fear into the heart of all of Paris.

The German military is believed to have destroyed the Paris Gun as the Allied offensive began.

6. The Goliath
You already know that our military and others around the world are working feverishly to develop robot warriors to fight battles for us, but did you know that the Nazis took a first step in this area back in WWII?

The Goliath was essentially a mobile tank or mine that could be remote-controled from a safe distance from enemy lines to deliver explosives.

German automaker Borgward produced more than 7,500 of the Goliaths, but the weapons were ultimately deemed ineffective due to their slow speed (6 mph) and the fact that their control wires would often be cut by enemy soldiers or severed in explosions.

7. The FP-45 Liberator
Manufactured by General Motors (yes, that General Motors) The FP-45 Liberator was a pistol manufactured for the United States military during World War II.

The name stood for Flare Projector Caliber .45, which was meant to disguise the gun's mass production. GM's Inland Guide Lamp Manufacturing Division in Dayton, Ohio produced a million of the FP-45s, with a design-to-production window of just six months.

Whether it was this rushed prodcution schedule or GM's inexperience in crafting weapons, the FP-45 was an unreliable weapon and were often unusable after the first firing.

8. Japanese Balloon Bombs
In late 1944, Japan sought to wreak devastation on American cities, but had no way to reach America via plane or boat without being shot down. So, it devised one of the strangest weapons to be deployed during World War II: the balloon bomb.

Japan sent 9,000+ balloon bombs across the Pacific Ocean with the hopes of causing large numbers of US casualties. Approximately 1,000 made it to the US but caused only six known deaths. The balloons were found in areas as widespread as Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan and Iowa, as well as Mexico and Canada.

The press cooperated with the US government by not reporting on the balloon bombs in the hopes of not panicking the American people, as well as not letting the Japanese know that any of the balloons landed on US shores. With little to no proof of their effectiveness, Japan ceased launching the balloon bombs after just six months.

9. Dolphins as Weapons?
Dolphins have been used by the US military in various capacities for the past several decades, but the Navy has repeatedly denied rumors that it has trained dolphins to run kamikaze bomb missions into enemy boats or submarines or perform other deadly acts.

Still, there have been reports over the years of other military uses of dolphins. A 60 Minutes report featured dolphin trainers who claimed they personally taught dolphins to intercept enemy divers of the coast of Vietnam. The dolphins were able to corral divers, tearing off their face masks and regulators.

In addition, the BBC reported that Russia sold its military dolphins to Iran for use in the Persian Gulf. Little is known as to how Iran deployed the dolphins.

10. Zip Guns
These are small guns, sometimes commercially made but often crafted by individuals, that are usually disguised as other items.

Popular versions include the flashlight pictured here, as well as cellphones that can hold multiple bullets, firing individual barrels when certain numbers are entered on the keypad.

Often zip guns are crude, and can't be used multiple times as the force of firing the bullet may render the weapon inoperable the weapon, but their impact can still be deadly.

AFI 100 greatest movie quotes (montage)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A List of Unusual Deaths


* 586 BC: Zedekiah, king of Jehudia, was punished for his attempt at mutiny by having his whole family brought before him and executed, his eyes then immediately punctured, his palms amputated and his mutilated body sent to rot in the dungeons.
* 458 BC: The Greek playwright Aeschylus was killed when an eagle dropped a live tortoise on him, mistaking his bald head for a stone.
* 270 BC: The poet and grammarian Philetas of Cos reportedly wasted away and died of insomnia while brooding about the Liar paradox.
* 207 BC: Chrysippus, a Greek stoic philosopher, is believed to have died of laughter after watching his drunken donkey attempt to eat figs.
* 53 BC: Following his defeat at Carrhae at the hands of the Parthians under Spahbod Surena, Marcus Licinius Crassus was executed by having molten gold poured down his throat. Some accounts claim that his head was then cut off and used as a stage prop in a play performed for the Parthian king Orodes II.
* 48 BC: The Roman general Pompey, fleeing to Egypt after being defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus by his rival Julius Caesar, was stabbed, killed, and decapitated: his head was then preserved in a jar by the young king Ptolemy XIII and presented to Caesar, with whom he intended to ingratiate himself. Caesar was not pleased.
* 43 BC: Cicero, the great Roman statesman, was labelled an enemy of the state by the Second Triumvirate. Like all those proscribed by the Triumvirate, he was hunted down and killed; his severed hands and head were then displayed on the Rostra in the Forum for several days, during which time Fulvia, wife of Mark Antony, is supposed to have stabbed his once-skilled tongue several times with a hairpin.
* 42 BC: Porcia Catonis, wife of Marcus Junius Brutus, killed herself by supposedly swallowing hot coals after hearing of her husband's death; however, modern historians claim that it is more likely that she poisoned herself with carbon monoxide, by burning coals in an unventilated room.
* 4 BC: Herod the Great suffered from fever, intense rashes, colon pains, foot drop, inflammation of the abdomen, a putrefaction of his genitals that produced worms, convulsions, and difficulty breathing before he finally gave up. Similar symptoms-- abdominal pains and worms-- accompanied the death of his grandson Herod Agrippa in 44 AD, after he had imprisoned St Peter. At various times each of these deaths has been considered divine retribution.
* 64 - 67: St Peter was executed by the Romans. According to many sources, he asked not to be crucified in the normal way, but was instead executed on an inverted cross. This is the only recorded instance of this type of crucifixion.
* 69: The short-time Roman emperor Galba was killed after becoming extremely unpopular with both the Roman people and the Praetorian guard-- however, 120 different people claimed credit for having killed him. All of these names were recorded in a list and they all were later themselves executed by the emperor Vitellius.
* 258: St Lawrence was martyred by being burned or 'grilled' on a large metal gridiron at Rome. Images of him often show him holding the instrument of his martyrdom. Legend says that he was so strong-willed that instead of giving in to the Romans and releasing information about the Church, at the point of death he exclaimed "I am done on this side! Turn me over and eat."
* 260: According to some accounts, Roman emperor Valerian, after being defeated in battle and captured by the Persians, was used as a footstool by their king Shapur I. After a long period of mistreatment and humiliation, he offered Shapur a huge ransom for his release. In reply, Shapur had molten gold poured down Valerian's throat. He then had the unfortunate emperor skinned and his skin stuffed with straw or dung and preserved as a trophy in the main Persian temple. Only after Persia's defeat in their last war with Rome three and a half centuries later was his skin given a cremation and burial. (Interestingly, a recent report from Iran mentions the restoration of a bridge supposed to have been built by Valerian and his soldiers for Shapur in return for their freedom).

* 415: The Greek mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria was murdered by a mob by having her skin ripped off with sharp oyster-shells and what remained of her being burned

Middle Ages

# 1016: Edmund II of England was rumoured to have been stabbed in the gut or bowels while he was performing his ablutions.
# 1277: Pope John XXI was killed in the collapse of his scientific laboratory.]
# 1305: Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace was stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse. He was hanged, drawn and quartered — strangled by hanging but released while still alive, emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts.
# 1327: Edward II of England, after being deposed and imprisoned by his Queen consort Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, was rumored to have been murdered by having a red-hot iron inserted into his anus.
# 1478: George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence reportedly was executed by drowning in a barrel of Malmsey wine at his own request.

Early Modern Times

# 1559: King Henry II of France was killed during a stunt knight's jousting match, when his helmet's soft golden grille gave way to a broken lancetip which pierced his eye and entered his brain.
# 1601: Tycho Brahe, according to legend, died of complications resulting from a strained bladder at a banquet. It would have been extremely bad etiquette to leave the table before the meal was finished, so he stayed until he became fatally ill. This version of events has since been brought into question as other causes of death (murder by Johannes Kepler, suicide, and lead poisoning among others) have come to the fore.
# 1671: François Vatel, chef to Louis XIV, committed suicide because his seafood order was late and he couldn't stand the shame of a postponed meal. His body was discovered by an aide, sent to tell him of the arrival of the fish.
# 1687: Jean-Baptiste Lully, composer, died of a gangrenous abscess after piercing his foot with a staff while he was vigorously conducting a Te Deum. The performance was to celebrate the king's recovery from an illness.
# 1753: Professor Georg Wilhelm Richmann, of Saint Petersburg, Russia, was struck and killed by a globe of ball lightning while observing a storm.
# 1771: King of Sweden, Adolf Frederick, died of digestion problems on February 12, 1771 after having consumed a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring and champagne, which was topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla served in a bowl of hot milk. He is thus remembered by Swedish schoolchildren as "the king who ate himself to death."

Modern Age

19th century

* 1830: William Huskisson, statesman and financier, was crushed to death by the world's first passenger train (Stephenson's Rocket), at its public opening.
* 1834: David Douglas, Scottish botanist, fell into a pit trap accompanied by a bull. He was mauled and possibly crushed.
* 1841: William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, died of pneumonia one month after delivering his two-hour inauguration speech in cold weather without an overcoat.
* 1868: Matthew Vassar, brewer and founder of Vassar College, died in mid-speech while delivering his farewell address to the College Board of Trustees.
* 1884: Allan Pinkerton, detective, died of gangrene resulting from having bitten his tongue after stumbling on the sidewalk.
* 1899: French president Félix Faure died of a stroke while receiving oral sex in his office.

20th century

* A number of performers have died of natural causes during public performances, including:
o 1943: Critic Alexander Woollcott suffered a fatal heart attack during an on-air discussion about Adolf Hitler.
o 1958: Gareth Jones, actor, collapsed and died while in make-up between scenes of a live television play, Underground, at the studios of Associated British Corporation in Manchester. Director Ted Kotcheff continued the play to its conclusion, improvising around Jones's absence.
o 1960: Baritone Leonard Warren collapsed on the stage of the New York Metropolitan Opera of a major stroke during a performance of La forza del destino. According to legend, the last line he sang was "Morir? Tremenda cosa." ("To die? A tremendous thing.") However, witnesses say he was just past that aria and his actual last line was "Gioia, o gioia!" (Joy, oh joy!)
o 1971: Jerome Irving Rodale, an American pioneer of organic farming, died of a heart attack while being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show. According to urban legend, when he appeared to fall asleep, Cavett quipped "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?", which Cavett has recently stated in a May 2007 New York Times article was incorrect - the initial reaction to Rodale was fellow guest Pete Hamill noticing something was wrong, and saying in a low voice to Cavett, "This looks bad." The show was never broadcast.
o 1984: Tommy Cooper collapsed from a massive heart attack in front of millions of television viewers, midway through his act, on the popular ITV variety show, Live from Her Majesty's. At first the audience assumed he was joking.
o 1987: Dick Shawn, a comedian who starred in the 1968 movie The Producers, died of a heart attack while portraying a politician. Just before he died, he announced, "if elected, I will not lay down on the job,".

* A number of performers have died from unnatural causes during a practice or public performance, including:
o 1925: Zishe (Siegmund) Breitbart, a circus strongman and Jewish folklore hero died during a demonstration in which he drove a spike through five one-inch thick oak boards using only his bare hands when his knee was accidentally pierced. The spike was rusted and caused an infection which led to fatal blood poisoning. He was the subject of the Werner Herzog film, Invincible.
o 1972: Leslie Harvey, guitarist of Stone the Crows was electrocuted on stage by a live microphone.
o 1976: Keith Relf, former singer for British rhythm and blues band The Yardbirds, died while practicing his electric guitar, electrocuted because the guitar was not properly grounded.
o 1999: Owen Hart, a professional wrestler for WWE died during a Pay-Per-View event when performing a stunt. It was planned to have Owen come down from the rafters of the Kemper Arena on a safety harness tied to a rope to make his ring entrance. The safety latch was released and Owen dropped 78 feet into the wrestling ring. The PPV continued even after he was pronounced dead.

* 1911: Jack Daniel, founder of the Tennessee whiskey distillery, died of blood poisoning six years after receiving a toe injury when he kicked his safe in anger at being unable to remember its combination code.
* 1912: Tailor Franz Reichelt fell to his death off the first deck of the Eiffel Tower while testing his invention, the coat parachute. It was his first ever attempt with the parachute and he'd told the authorities in advance he would test it first with a dummy.
* 1916: Grigori Rasputin, Russian mystic, died of drowning while trapped under ice. Although the details of his murder are disputed, he was allegedly placed in the water through a hole in the winter ice when he stubbornly refused to die after having been poisoned, bludgeoned, castrated, and shot multiple times in the head, lung, and liver.
* 1920: Baseball player Ray Chapman was killed when he was hit in the head by a pitch.
* 1923: George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon allegedly becomes the first to die from King Tut's Curse after a mosquito bite on his face becomes seriously infected.
* 1923: Frank Hayes, jockey, suffered a heart attack during a horse race. The horse, Sweet Kiss, went on to finish first, making Hayes the only deceased jockey to win a race.
* 1927: J.G. Parry-Thomas, a British racing driver, was decapitated by his car's drive chain which, under stress, snapped and whipped into the cockpit. He was attempting to break his own Land speed record which he had set the previous year. Despite being killed in the attempt, he succeeded in setting a new record of 171 mph.
* 1927: Isadora Duncan, dancer, died of accidental strangulation and broken neck when her scarf caught on the wheel of a car in which she was a passenger.
* 1928: Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian physician, died following one of his experiments, in which the blood of a student suffering from malaria and tuberculosis, L. I. Koldomasov, was given to him in a transfusion.
* 1933: Michael Malloy, a homeless man, was murdered by gassing after surviving multiple poisonings, intentional exposure and being struck by a car. Malloy was murdered by five men in a plot to collect on life insurance policies they had purchased.
* 1935: Baseball player Len Koenecke was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher by the crew of an aircraft he had chartered, after provoking a fight with the pilot while the plane was in the air.
* 1941: Sherwood Anderson, writer, swallowed a toothpick at a party and then died of peritonitis.
* 1943: Lady be Good, a USAAF B-24 bomber lost its way and crash landed in the Libyan Desert. Mummified remains of its crew, who struggled for a week without water, were not found until 1960.
* 1944: Inventor and chemist Thomas Midgley, Jr., accidentally strangled himself with the cord of a pulley-operated mechanical bed of his own design.
* 1947: The Collyer brothers, extreme cases of compulsive hoarders were found dead in their home in New York. The younger brother, Langley, died by falling victim to a booby trap he had set up, causing a mountain of objects, books, and newspapers to fall on him crushing him to death. His blind brother, Homer, who had depended on Langley for care, died of starvation some days later. Their bodies were recovered after massive efforts in removing many tons of debris from their home.
* 1960: In the Nedelin disaster, over 100 Soviet missile technicians and officials died when a switch was turned on unintentionally igniting the rocket, including Red Army Marshal Nedelin who was seated in a deck chair just 40 meters away overseeing launch preparations. The events were filmed by automatic cameras.
* 1967: A flash fire began in the pure oxygen atmosphere during a training exercise inside the unlaunched Apollo 1 spacecraft, killing Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee. The door to the capsule was unable to be opened during the fire because of its specific design.
* 1967: Vladimir Komarov became the first person to die during a space mission after the parachute of his capsule failed to deploy.
* 1973: Péter Vályi, finance minister of Hungary fell into a blast furnace (some sources say a pit of molten iron) on a visit to a steelworks factory at Miskolc.
* 1974: Christine Chubbuck, an American television news reporter, committed suicide during a live broadcast on July 15. At 9:38 AM, 8 minutes into her talk show, on WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, she drew out a revolver and shot herself in the head.
* 1975: On 24 March 1975 Alex Mitchell, a 50-year-old bricklayer from King's Lynn literally died laughing whilst watching an episode of The Goodies. According to his wife, who was a witness, Mitchell was unable to stop laughing whilst watching a sketch in the episode "Kung Fu Kapers" in which Tim Brooke-Taylor, dressed as a kilted Scotsman, used a set of bagpipes to defend himself from a psychopathic black pudding in a demonstration of the Scottish martial art of "Hoots-Toot-ochaye." After twenty-five minutes of continuous laughter Mitchell finally slumped on the sofa and expired from heart failure.
* 1977: Tom Pryce, a Formula One driver, and a 19-year-old track marshal Jansen Van Vuuren both died at the 1977 South African Grand Prix after Van Vuuren ran across the track beyond a blind brow to attend to another car which had caught fire and was struck by Pryce's car at approximately 170mph. Pryce was struck in the face by the marshal's fire extinguisher and was killed instantly.
* 1978: Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was assassinated by poisoning in London by an unknown assailant who jabbed him in the calf with a specially modified umbrella that fired a metal pellet with a small cavity full of ricin poison.
* 1978: Janet Parker, a British medical photographer, died of smallpox in 1978, ten months after the disease was eradicated in the wild, when a researcher at the laboratory Parker worked at accidentally released some virus into the air of the building. She is believed to be the last smallpox fatality in history.
* 1981: A 25-year-old Dutch woman studying in Paris, Renée Hartevelt, was killed and eaten by a classmate, Issei Sagawa, when he invited her to dinner for a literary conversation. The killer was declared unfit to stand trial and extradited back to Japan, where he was released from custody within fifteen months.
* 1981: Boris Sagal, a motion picture-director, died while shooting the TV miniseries World War III when he walked into the tail-rotor blade of a helicopter and was decapitated.
* 1982: Vic Morrow, actor, was decapitated by a helicopter blade during filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie, along with two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.
* 1982: Vladimir Smirnov, an Olympic champion fencer, died of brain damage nine days after his opponent's foil snapped during a match, pierced his eyeball and entered his brain.
* 1983: A diver on the Byford Dolphin oil exploration rig was violently dismembered and pulled through a narrowly opened hatch when the decompression chamber was accidentally opened, causing explosive decompression.
* 1983: Tennessee Williams, American playwright, died choking on a bottle cap. He was in a hotel but was too drunk to leave his room or make sufficient noise to attract attention.
* 1983: Sergei Chalibashvili, a professional diver, died after a diving accident during World University Games. When he attempted a three-and-a-half reverse somersault in the tuck position, he smashed his head on the board and was knocked unconscious. He died after being in a coma for a week.
* 1984: Jon-Erik Hexum, an American television actor, died after he shot himself in the head with a prop gun during a break in filming. Hexum apparently did not realize that blanks use paper or plastic wadding to seal gun powder into the shell, and that this wadding is propelled out of the barrel of the gun with enough force to cause severe injury or death if the weapon is fired at point-blank range.
* 1986: While on the air giving a traffic report, the helicopter that Jane Dornacker was riding in stalled and crashed into the Hudson River, killing her. This was the second helicopter crash she had been in that year.
* 1987: R. Budd Dwyer, a Republican politician, committed suicide during a televised press conference. Facing a potential 55-year jail sentence for alleged involvement in a conspiracy, Dwyer shot himself in the mouth with a revolver.
* 1990: Joseph W. Burrus, aged 32, an aspiring magician, decided to perform the "buried alive" illusion in a plastic box covered with cement. The cement crushed the box and he died of asphyxia.
* 1990: George Allen, an American football coach, died a month after some of his players gave him a Gatorade Shower following a victory (as it is tradition in American Football). Some argue this resulted in pneumonia.
* 1993: Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, was shot and killed by a prop .44 Magnum gun while filming the movie The Crow. The gun was pre-loaded by the Weapons Master for the set, but the casing for the blank shattered upon firing and the fragments became instant projectiles. They pierced Brandon's chest in five places, some in the heart. It was not instantly recognized by the crew or other actors; they believed he was still acting.
* 1993: Garry Hoy, a Toronto lawyer, fell to his death after he threw himself through the glass wall on the 24th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Centre in order to prove the glass was "unbreakable".
* 1996: Sharon Lopatka, an internet entrepreneur from Maryland who allegedly solicited a man via the Internet to torture and kill her for the purpose of sexual gratification. Her killer, Robert Fredrick Glass, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the homicide.
* 1998: Tom and Eileen Lonergan were stranded while scuba diving with a group of divers off Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The group's boat accidentally abandoned them due to an incorrect head count taken by the dive boat crew. The couple was left to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters. Their bodies were never recovered. The incident is depicted in the film Open Water.

21st century

* 2001: Bernd-Jürgen Brandes was stabbed repeatedly in the neck and then eaten by Armin Meiwes. Before the killing, both men dined on Brandes' severed penis. Brandes had answered an internet advertisement by Meiwes looking for someone for this purpose. Brandes explicitly stated in his will that he wished to be killed and eaten. This is referred to in the song "Mein Teil" by German NDH band Rammstein.
* 2003: Brian Wells, a pizza delivery man, was killed by a time bomb which was fastened around his neck. He was apprehended by the police after robbing a bank, and claimed he had been forced to do it by three people who had put the bomb around his neck and would kill him if he refused. The bomb later exploded, killing him.
* 2003: Brandon Vedas died of a drug overdose while engaged in an Internet chat, as shown on his webcam.
* 2003: Timothy Treadwell, an American environmentalist who had lived in the wilderness among bears for thirteen summers in a remote region in Alaska, was killed and partially consumed by bears, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard. The incident is described in Werner Herzog's documentary film Grizzly Man.
* 2005: Kenneth Pinyan of Seattle died of acute peritonitis after submitting to anal intercourse with a stallion in the town of Enumclaw, Washington. Pinyan had done this before, and he delayed his visit to the hospital for several hours out of reluctance for official cognizance. The case led to the criminalization of bestiality in Washington. His story was recounted in the 2007 documentary film Zoo.
* 2005: 28-year-old Korean video game addict Lee Seung Seop collapsed and died of fatigue in an Internet cafe after playing World of Warcraft for almost 50 consecutive hours.
* 2006: Steve Irwin, a television personality and naturalist known as The Crocodile Hunter, died when his heart was impaled by a short-tail stingray barb while filming a documentary entitled "Ocean's Deadliest" in Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.
* 2006: Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB operative and Russian expatriate who had been investigating the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was poisoned by polonium-210, an extremely rare radioactive metalloid.
* 2006: Mariesa Weber, a 5'3" Florida woman, fell behind a 6' tall bookcase in her family's home and suffocated. She was not discovered for 11 days; her family thought she had been kidnapped.
* 2007: Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old woman from Sacramento, died of water intoxication while trying to win a Wii console in a KDND 107.9 "The End" radio station's "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest, which involved drinking large quantities of water without urinating.
* 2007: Kevin Whitrick, a 42-year-old man committed suicide live on a webcam during an internet chat session.
* 2007: Martin Harris, a Danish train surfer, who published several video clips on the internet and was featured on regional TV for his sport, was killed during train surfing while passing under a low bridge.