5 stories of honey traps - Sex that catches spies

Margaretha Geertruida "Grietje" Zelle, 
stage name Mata Hari, was not a spy.

"After the war, the French admitted that they had no real evidence against her. The conclusion by most modern historians has been that she was shot not because she was running a honey trap operation, but to send a powerful message to any women who might be tempted to follow her example. The lesson here, perhaps, is that resembling a honey trap can be as dangerous as actually being one."

The History of the Honey Trap, from Foreign Policy Magazine>>

"Storybook Wolf" becomes "Loan Wolf" - wildlife photo fraud

"The Natural History Museum's wildlife photographer of the year has been stripped of his £10,000 prize, after judges found he was likely to have hired a tame Iberian wolf to stage the image of a species seen rarely in the wild."

From the Guardian in the UK>>

How I (meaning this guy) would hack your weak password

"Hackers, and I’m not talking about the ethical kind, have developed a whole range of tools to get at your personal data. And the main impediment standing between your information remaining safe, or leaking out, is the password you choose."

From One Man's Blog>>

If you don't want to use a program to store all your different passwords, try this: Use a sentence or song lyric you've memorized. It's better if it's scatological or profane, because you'll remember it better. Here's an example:

"I hate having to remember my friggin password for this piece of sh*t site!" becomes


Then substitute numbers that sound like words in your sentence, in this case using "2" for "to" and "4" for "for":


And then add something like "piece of sh*t" becomes POS, to capitalize more words, so it's now:


And finally, personalize it for each site:


Where POSG means "piece of sh*t Google site"


"Ihh2rmfp4tPOSMs!" means Microsoft site.

"Of course the illusion of art is to make one believe..."

"Of course the illusion of art is to make one believe that great literature is very close to life, but exactly the opposite is true. Life is amorphous, literature is formal." - Francoise Sagan

Actress Jean Seberg (left) and novelist Francoise Sagan (right) on the set of the film Bonjour Tristesse, made from Sagan's successful novel with the same title, published when she was 18 years old.

Francoise Sagan's obituary in The New York Times>>

More about Françoise Sagan's life and career>>

What were the real secrets of Area 51? Can you say CIA?

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (shown here in model kit form) 
was one of the real UFOs at Area 51.

"In the 1960s, Area 51 was the test site for the A-12 and its successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, a secret spy plane that broke records at documented speeds that still have been unmatched...

But after September 2007, when the CIA displayed an A-12 in front of its Langley, Va., headquarters as part of the agency's 60th birthday, much of the secrecy of those days at Area 51 fell away."

Area 51 story in The Seattle Times>>

We remember our future so our brain won't get tired

(Eye mechanism from a Zoltar fortune teller machine)

"Researchers have discovered that the brain saves energy by predicting what it is likely to see. According to scientists... the visual cortex does not simply react to visual stimuli but proactively predicts what it is likely to see in any given context - for example, within familiar environments such as your house or office."

Read article at>>

8 photo realistic optical illusion paintings, in disordered sequence, by Diego Gravinese

These eight photographs document the painting of a painting by photo-realist painter Diego Gravinese. In this out-of-order sequence, he's incorporated his painting "Daydreamer" into a later work.

Can you place these eight images in the order in which they were created?

And can you find the realistic baby face?

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Gravinese was born in La Plata, Argentina in 1971. The photographs are from his Flicker stream>>

The human petrifaction of Ernest Flucterspiegel

 Plasticized human head from the Body Worlds exhibit

The following story is from an Australian newspaper, The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News, Friday, December 10, 1858.

HUMAN PETRIFACTION. The 'Alta California' contains a strange, if true, story, in a letter from a German physician, Dr. Lichterberger, at Fort Langley, Fraser River, giving an account of the death of a miner by petrifaction, consequent upon drinking a mineral fluid known as water of crystallisation - a solution of silica found in a geode or rounded mass of quartz containing cavities lined with crystals, and varying in size from a few inches to some- times a couple of feet in diameter. The quantity of this liquid is usually so small that it has never attracted attention, but Ernest Flucterspiegel in striking the geode broke off a piece, leaving a cup, which, according to the statement of his companion, contained half a pint of water, The unfortunate man swallowed it at a draught. In fifteen minutes he expired. Upon removing the body, and attempting properly to dispose the limbs, an unusual rigidity was observed. In the course of two hours and a half the whole body became as stiff and inflexible as a board. The muscles affording a crackling sensation on being pressed, as if the minute capillaries were in a state of ossification. A post-mortem examination the next day presented the following results: The smaller blood vessels were solid and apparently ossified. In the stomach and duodenum were several hard masses of the size of a hazel nut, evidently composed of biliary matter, but as hard as the hardest quartz. Evidences of food also existed, and a large mass containing fibres of muscle and lumps of undigested potatoes, moulded to the form of the antrum pylori, were taken out, of the like solidity. The solidification of the contents of the stomach, of the food and the bile-their conversion in fret, into stone-was complete but the coats of the stomach appeared nearly normal. The heart was as hard as a piece of red jasper, exhibiting here and there those varied colours which give such beauty to that mineral. By means of a small hatchet it was separated from its connections with the aorta, pulmonary artery, and vena cava, and with some difficulty was broken into pieces. The larger blood-vessels were all as rigid as pipe stems, and in some cases the petrified blood could be cracked out from the veins, exhibiting a beautiful moulding upon the valves of the latter. The lungs were not collapsed at all. The brain exhibited nothing extraordinary, except the petrifaction of the blood vessels. The contents of the lower intestines were not solidified.

Triturating some petrified blood with four parts of carbonate of potassa, the whole was melted in a platinum crucible, with water at a high temperature, until a solution was formed, and by pouring a small quantity of this into a test-glass, containing a few drops of hydro-chloric acid, a beautiful and transparent jelly was precipitated which was recognized as silica acid or silica. It is supposed that the water of the geode contained an immense quantity of silica acid in a nascent and soluble condition, that on being swallowed it had entered into an unusual combination with the conjugated acids of the bile (acting as an alkali), and with the albuminose of the ingesta ; that it had also been absorbed by the blood, and formed, perhaps, a silicate of albumen with that fluid (acting in this case as a feeble acid), and that the result had been a silicification or petrifaction of those substances for which it had most affinity!

(Thanks to the National Library of Australia)

Prankster, Frenchman, Imposter, Pain-in-the-Ass...

Rémi Gaillard is the one on the right.

Rémi Gaillard is a French prankster who's been pissing people off for over 19 years. He's very funny to watch, though decidedly less funny if you're a victim. He's one of a long line of transgressive tricksters who just... mess with people. His motto is "C'est en faisant n'importe quoi qu'on devient n'importe qui" ("It's by doing whatever that you become whoever.") Watch a compilation video below.

Watch more of his videos at nimportequi>>

(Oh, and "...been pissing people off for over 19 years." Made that part up.)

The theory of practical joking - its relevance to physics

A countermeasure system of chaff cartridges and infrared flares  
is used by a C-130J Hercules Tactical Transport Aircraft

The Theory of Practical Joking - its Relevance to Physics was written by R.V. Jones, as part of a lecture published in Bulletin of the Institute of Physics, June 1957.

Reginald Victor Jones  (1911 - 1997) was an English physicist who defended Britain with science during World War II. He helped deploy what's now known as "chaf" to fool enemy radar, and was celebrated as a founder of electronic warfare. An award in his name, the R. V. Jones Intelligence Award, was created by the CIA in 1993 to honor those who have "Scientific acumen applied with art in the cause of freedom."
Jones obituary in The New York Times>>

More on chaff and current missile countermeasures, from Aerospaceweb>>

At first sight there may seem little relation between physics and practical joking. Indeed, I might never have observed their connection but for an incidental study of the life of James Clerk Maxwell. Two things, among many others, struck me. The first was the growth of his sense of fun from the primitive joke of the boy of six tripping up the maid with the tea tray to the refined, almost theoretical, jokes of his later life. The second was his mastery of analogy in physical thinking: already, at the age of twenty-four he had written a part playful, part serious essay on the theory of analogy which showed two of the main features of his mind. On the lighter side, he pointed out the relation between an analogy and a pun: in the former one truth lies under two expressions, and in the latter two truths lie under one expression. Hence from the theory of analogy one can by reciprocation deduce the theory of puns. To the more serious side of Maxwell's understanding of analogy I shall return later, but all this set me thinking about the possible connection between the theory of practical joking and physics. One factor which encouraged me was the high incidence of mischievous humor among physicists. Even Newton, it is recorded, caused trouble in his Lincolnshire village as a boy by flying at night a kite carrying a small lantern; and in this century the spritely skill of the late Professor R W Wood and Professor G Gamow is already legendary. While I hope to illustrate this paper with examples, I propose first to analyze (if this is not altogether too brutal a process) the essentials of a joke.


The crux of the simplest form of joke seems to be the production of an incongruity in the normal order of events. We hear the story, for example, of Maxwell showing Kelvin some optical experiment, and inviting Kelvin to look through the eyepiece. Kelvin was surprised to find that, while the phenomenon described by Maxwell was undoubtedly there, so was a little human figure, the incongruity, dancing about. Kelvin could not help asking 'Maxwell— but what is the little man there for?' 'Have another look, Thomson,' said Maxwell, 'and you should see.' Kelvin had another look, but was no wiser. 'Tell me, Maxwell,' he said impatiently, 'What is he there for?' . . . 'Just for fun, Thomson,' replied Maxwell. When we consider a simple incongruity of this type, we can see why this form of humor is sometimes described as 'nonsense'; for 'sense' implies the normal order of things, and in this order an incongruity makes 'nonsense.' A simple incongruity in the literature of physics is R W Wood's recording of the fact that he cleaned out an optical instrument by pushing his cat through it.

Even a change of dimension is sufficient to cause an incongruity. Lord Cherwell has a story of a scientist at Farnborough in World War I, who was so dismayed by the delays in ordering commercial equipment that when he wanted a dark-room lamp he made a pencil sketch of one, to be made up by the workshop. It availed him little, however, because a proper engineer's drawing had by regulation to be made in triplicate before the workshop would start. Weeks elapsed, and finally after a knock on his door two workmen wheeled in the largest darkroom lamp ever constructed. In making the workshop drawing the draughtsman had left out one dash, with the result that intended inches became actual feet. One of the classic incongruities of this type is that due to Benjamin Franklin in a letter to the Editor of a London newspaper in 1765, chaffing the English on their ignorance of America: 'The grand leap of the Whale up the Falls of Niagara is esteemed, by all who have seen it, as one of the finest spectacles in Nature!'

A variation on the simple incongruity in humor is to produce a congruity where incongruity is normally expected. One does not expect, for example, any congruity about the names of joint authors of scientific papers. It was therefore rather a surprise to find a genuine paper by Alpher, Bethe and Gamow, dated April 1.

A further variation of humor is produced when a false incongruity is expected by the victim, and an incongruity then genuinely occurs which he promptly discounts. The late Sir Francis Simon had this happen to him when he was head of a laboratory in Germany. One night his research students were working with liquid hydrogen, and there was an explosion which damaged the laboratory some time after midnight. One of the research students telephoned the professor to inform him of the damage. All he could get from Sir Francis was an amiable 'All right, I know what day it is!' It was the morning of April 1.


Simple incongruities direct or inverted, can be humorous enough, but the more advanced jokes usually involve a period of preparation and induction, sometimes elaborate, before the incongruity becomes apparent. They are called hoaxes. Maxwell's jokes were often simple in their preparation; he is credited with having engineered the advertisement of his Inaugural Lecture at Cambridge (which is still very worth reading) in such a manner that only his undergraduate students heard of it, and he gave it to them alone. The senior members of the University merely saw that the new professor would deliver his first lecture on a particular day, and they attended in force. This lecture, however, was the first of his undergraduate course, and his delighted students enjoyed the experience of seeing Maxwell gravely expounding, though with a betraying twinkle in his eye, the difference between the Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales to men like Adams, Cayley, and Stokes.

With some hoaxes the period of induction of the victim may be extended. In this type, which is probably the most interesting philosophically, the object is to build up in the victim's mind a false world-picture which is temporarily consistent by any tests that he can apply to it, so that he ultimately takes action on it with confidence. The falseness of the picture is then starkly revealed by the incongruity which his action precipitates. It has not proved difficult, for example, to persuade a Doctor of Philosophy to lower his telephone carefully into a bucket of water in the belief that he was cooperating with the engineer in the telephone exchange in finding a leak to earth. The prior induction consisted of building up in his mind a picture of something being wrong with his telephone by such tactics as repeatedly ringing the bell and then ringing off as he answered. As a further example, we may recall one of the works of a German physicist, Dr Carl Bosch, who about 1934 was working as a research student in a laboratory which overlooked a block of flats. His studies revealed that one of the flats was occupied by a newspaper correspondent, and so he telephoned this victim, pretending to be his own professor. The 'professor' announced that he had just perfected a television device which could enable the user to see the speaker at the other end. The newspaper man was incredulous, but the 'professor' offered to give a demonstration; all the pressman had to do was to strike some attitude, and the voice on the telephone would tell him what he was doing. The telephone was, of course, in direct view of the laboratory, and so all the antics of the pressman were faithfully described. The result was an effusive article in the next day's paper and, subsequently, a bewildered conversation between the true professor and the pressman.

The induction of the victim can take many forms. One of the favorite ways is an acclimatization by slow change. R W Wood is said to have spent some time in a flat in Paris where he discovered that the lady in the flat below kept a tortoise in a window pen. Wood fashioned a collecting device from a broom-handle, and bought a supply of tortoises of dispersed sizes. While the lady was out shopping, Wood replaced her tortoise by one slightly larger. He repeated this operation each day until the growth of the tortoise became so obvious to its owner that she consulted Wood who, having first played a subsidiary joke by sending her to consult a Professor at the Sorbonne whom he considered to be devoid of humor, advised her to write the press. When the tortoise had grown to such a size that several pressmen were taking a daily interest, Wood then reversed the process, and in a week or so the tortoise mysteriously contracted to its original dimensions.


Induced incongruities have a high place in warfare, where if the enemy can be induced to take incorrect action the war may be advantageously affected. A stratagem in which some of my wartime colleagues were involved is now well known as 'The man who never was.' These same colleagues also worked with me in some technical deceptions, of which one was the persuasion of the Germans in 1943 that our successes against the U-boats were due not to centimetric radar but to a fictitious infrared detector. We gained some valuable months while the Germans invented a beautiful anti-infrared paint and failed to find the true causes of their losses. The paint, incidentally, was a Christiansen filter of powdered glass in a transparent matrix over a black base. The filter 'peaked' in the near infrared, so that incident radiation in this region went through and was absorbed in the underlying black. Visible light was scattered back by the filter, which thus gave a light grey appearance to the eye, but was black to the near infrared. This simulated admirably the reflecting power of water, and thus camouflaged the U-boat. It was afterwards reported that the inventor of the paint was Dr Carl Bosch. Before I turn to the more serious side of this lecture there is one further story from Physics in which the exact classification of the incongruity can be left as a problem to be worked out at leisure. It concerns Lord Kelvin's lectures at Glasgow, where he used to fire a bullet at a ballistic pendulum; as an undergraduate at Oxford I had heard a story of how Kelvin missed on one occasion, with the result that the bullet went through a wall and smashed the blackboard of the lecturer next door. Kelvin rushed into the next room in some alarm to find the lecturer unscathed, and the class shouting 'Missed him—try again, Bill.' This experiment has now produced a further incident, and to avoid any doubt I wrote to Professor Dee for his own account of what happened. This is what he says:

'In the Quincentenary Celebrations here I had to lecture on the history of the Department. Of course Kelvin figured strongly in this. One of Kelvin's traditional experiments was to fire a rifle bullet at a very large ballistic pendulum. All his students regarded this as the highlight of the course. He was reputed to have the gun charged with a big dose of powder—the barrel is about half an inch internal diameter. I decided this experiment must be repeated but there was great alarm here that the barrel would burst and annihilate the front row (Principal and Senate). So I decided to use a modern rifle. I also decided to make it a double purpose experiment by using Kelvin's invention of the optical lever to display the pendulum swing to a large audience. On the night all went off well.

'The next day I repeated the whole lecture to the ordinary class. Mr. Atkinson was the normal lecturer to this class and he had noticed that in referring to the dual purpose of the demonstration I used the phrase ". . . fitted a mirror to the pendulum so that I may kill two birds with one stone." After the explosion to my surprise a pigeon fell with a bloody splash on to a large white paper on the bench—our lecture room is very high. I tried to resolve the situation by saying "Well although Mr. Atkinson isn't lecturing to you today he appears to be behind the scenes somewhere. But he does seem to have failed to notice that I said two birds with one stone!" Immediately a second pigeon splashed on the bench! Whether this was due to a slip up in Atkinson's mechanical arrangements or to his brilliant anticipation of how I would react I don't really know but I always give him the credit of the second explanation. 'Anyway the students loved it but I wonder how many would remember about the optical lever?’


I want to turn now to technical deception in war, as exemplified by our attempts to mislead the German night defenses in their appreciation of our raiding intentions. The method here is that of the induced incongruity; by a false presentation of evidence we wish the enemy controller to build up an incorrect but selfconsistent world-picture, thus causing him to generate the incongruity of directing his nightfighters to some place where our bombers are not. I originally developed this 'Theory of Spoof' in a wartime report; the salient points, which have some interest in physical theory, are the following. As with all hoaxes the first thing is to put oneself in the victim's place (indeed, a good hoax requires a sympathetic nature), to see what evidence he has with which to construct and test his world-picture. In night aerial warfare in 1939-45, this evidence was mainly the presence of deflections in the trace of the cathode ray observing tube. Therefore any device which would give rise to such deflections could provide an element of Spoof. One such device was a jammer which would cause fluctuating deflections all the time, thus concealing the true deflections due to the echo from an aircraft. This, like a smoke screen, would render the enemy unaware that you are where you are. A more positive technique is to provide a false echo, and if possible to suppress the genuine one, thus giving him the impression that you are where you are not. The easiest way of providing a false echo is to drop packets of thin metal strips, cut to resonate to the enemy's radar transmissions. This is, of course, what we did in 1943. There is little time to tell now of the fortunes of this technique, but the packets were extremely successful, and they changed the character of air warfare at night. At first, the German controllers confused the individual packets with aircraft; I can still remember the frustrated tones of one controller repeatedly ordering a packet to waggle its wings as a means of identification. Soon, however, the Germans gave up the attempt to make detailed interceptions, and tried to get a swarm of fighters into our bomber streams. We then used many tinfoil packets dropped by a few aircraft to provide the appearance of spoof raids, which lured the nightfighters off the track of our main raids.

As the war went on the Germans gradually found ways of distinguishing between echoes from metal foil packets and those from aircraft. The packets, for example, resonated to one particular frequency, and therefore they had a relatively poor response to another frequency. If two radar stations watched on widely separate frequencies, a genuine aircraft echo would be present on both, whereas the foil echo would appear only on one. The foil could, of course, be cut to different lengths, but as the number of frequencies was increased, the amount of foil needed was greater. Moreover there was a pronounced Doppler effect on the echo from an aircraft, with its high speed, but little effect on the echoes from the foil drifting with the wind. Thus, against an omniscient controller, we have to make the decoy echoes move with the speed of aircraft, and reflect different frequencies in the same way. This is easiest done by making a glider of the same size as the bomber. Then if we allow the enemy controller to use sound and infrared detectors and other aids, we find that the only decoy which can mislead him into thinking that there is a British bomber flying through his defenses is another British bomber flying through his defenses.

Another example is one that I encountered earlier in what has been called 'The Battle of the Beams' in 1940. Here the problem was to upset the navigation of the German night bombers, when they were flying along radio beams to their targets. The signals received by the pilots telling them to steer right or left were counterfeited in this country, and sometimes resulted in their flying on curvilinear courses. However, had the pilots had unlimited time of observation they could have detected that there was something wrong, even if we had exactly synchronized our transmitters with those of the Germans. The bombers were in general flying away from their own transmitters and towards ours, and so they would have received a Doppler beat from which they could have deduced that a second transmitter was active. If one allows the possibility of various simple tests, which fortunately would take too long in actual warfare, one arrives at the conclusion that the only place for a second transmitter which will simulate the original exactly is coincident with the original and the counterfeit thus defeats its purpose.

Like Joseph for Pharoah... advertisers interpret our dreams

(Click diamond ad to enlarge)

"Advertisers are the interpreters of our dreams - Joseph interpreting for Pharoah. Like the movies, they infect the routine futility of our days with purposeful adventure. Their weapons are our weaknesses: fear, ambition, illness, pride, selfishness, desire, ignorance. And these weapons must be kept as bright as a sword."

- E. B. White, "Truth in Advertising," The New Yorker (July 11, 1936) White wrote Stuart Little, The Elements of Style (with William Strunk, Jr.), Charlotte's Web and other works.

Sometimes, it's not a prank - Wrong number saves a life

"I really didn't realize the seriousness of the call... I honestly thought it was a prank call. It was a late Friday night, early Saturday morning. And that was the farthest thing from my mind, that something like this would happen. So when I realized that it was a serious call, it was a big deal."

Taylor Booker answered her phone and realized the call wasn't a joke when the voice on the phone, Annie Turner, 70, said she had fallen. Taylor had suffered a stroke and dialed Booker, an18-year-old biochemistry major at the University of California, by mistake.

Booker then used her smarts to track her down.
Read article at CBS News, The Early Show Saturday Edition>>

Where's the face in the coffee beans?

"Wake up!" said the beans. Can you find the face? (Click to enlarge)

This image, called "Sweet Caffeine," is from the artist furitsu from the Worth1000 site. What is Worth1000? (Named that because a picture is worth a thousand words.) In their own words:
Worth1000 is a collection of online arenas where the world's best artists compete daily in creative competitions. Worth1000 has hosted thousands of daily competitions since it launched and is well known across the web for inadvertently triggering hoaxes, celebrity amusement and even major media scandals when an entry created here is mistaken for real. (Seriously, the Pentagon once issued a statement distancing itself from Worth1000 images).
The "Sweet Caffeine" image above is an optical illusion in their Subtle Changes 2 category.

How to make a news report (Newswipe with Charlie Brooker)

"Newswipe with Charlie Brooker was glorious: perceptive and rude, it showed the inanity of 24-hour news (the endless repetition, the mad montages of images) as well as how little it actually explains, as it feverishly tries to move stories forward." - A review from the UK's Times Online

From the BBC Four program Newswipe with Charlie Brooker>>

Want to make a cell phone call? You need this giant cactus

 Never needs watering

This cactus is actually not a cactus, it's a cleverly disguised cellular phone tower in Fountain Hills, Arizona, made by Larson Camouflage.

See an article at WebUrbanist>>

View many more disguises at>>

Richard Nixon and honesty

"Certainly he is not of the generation that regards honesty as the best policy. However, he does regard it as a policy."

- Walter Lippmann on President Richard Nixon

By contrast, makeup makes you look more feminine

 These faces are of the same person

In the Illusion of Sex optical illusion from Richard Russell at Harvard, two faces are shown. Both are photographs of the same asexual or genderless face One face was altered by increasing the contrast, and the other face was altered by decreasing the contrast.

The face with more contrast is seen as female, and the face with less contrast is seen as male.

A face with makeup around the eyes and on the lips increases the face's contrast, and appears more feminine.

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

Best Illusion of the Year Contest>>

In this baseball prank, bigger was better

No, that's not a video projection.

So how did Seattle Mariner’s baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. prank his friend, catching coordinator Roger Hansen?

Hansen said, “I was tipped off that I needed to head up to Field 2… As I started to walk up, I saw the thing.”

“The thing” was a huge 60 foot by 30 foot photo of Ken Griffey Jr. and Roger Hansen hanging on the center field fence.

Why was it hanging there?

The photo was taken earlier in spring training, and Griffey had made copies and hung them around the training room. Hansen tore them down, and Griffey said he would make bigger copies, and threatened to wrap the tour bus with them, or fly them from an airplane. Hansen said he’d tear them all down.

So Griffey did what he had to do, and made the outrageous thing.

Hansen said, “We go way back. We're very close friends. The family, too… It's just fun stuff. He has a lot of money to play the fun stuff. But that's going way beyond what needs to be done.”

Crumpled leaf leads fortuneteller to rape

A man, Cesar Duran, 47, who described himself as a fortuneteller, was convicted Thursday of forcible rape and lewd acts on two teenage girls. After he told the girls to crumble a leaf to predict their futures, he said he saw portents of disaster unless he could "be in you." Duran faces a maximum of 29 years and eight months in prison.

Read article at The Daily Breeze in California>>

Houdini the movie star, circa 1920

Houdini: Hungarian, magician, illusionist, escape artist, pilot, publicity hound, spiritualist skeptic, action hero.

Read article and view more videos at the Los Angeles Times>>

Rape, murder in a grove aroused Kurosawa

In a Grove (Yabu no naka), by the Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, is a short story written in 1922, five years before his suicide at the age of 35. Akutagawa wrote over 150 short stories and no novels. This story and his story Rashōmon were combined to become the basis for Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashōmon. Translated by Takashi Kojima. About 3,500 words. Worth reading.

In a Grove

The Testimony of a Woodcutter Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Yes, sir. Certainly, it was I who found the body. This morning, as usual, I went to cut my daily quota of cedars, when I found the body in a grove in a hollow in the mountains. The exact location? About 150 meters off the Yamashina stage road. It's an out-of-the-way grove of bamboo and cedars.

The body was lying flat on its back dressed in a bluish silk kimono and a wrinkled head-dress of the Kyoto style. A single sword-stroke had pierced the breast. The fallen bamboo-blades around it were stained with bloody blossoms. No, the blood was no longer running. The wound had dried up, I believe. And also, a gad-fly was stuck fast there, hardly noticing my footsteps.

You ask me if I saw a sword or any such thing?

No, nothing, sir. I found only a rope at the root of a cedar near by. And… well, in addition to a rope, I found a comb. That was all. Apparently he must have made a battle of it before he was murdered, because the grass and fallen bamboo-blades had been trampled down all around.

"A horse was near by?"

No, sir. It's hard enough for a man to enter, let alone a horse.

The Testimony of a Traveling Buddhist Priest Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

The time? Certainly, it was about noon yesterday, sir. The unfortunate man was on the road from Sekiyama to Yamashina. He was walking toward Sekiyama with a woman accompanying him on horseback, who I have since learned was his wife. A scarf hanging from her head hid her face from view. All I saw was the color of her clothes, a lilac-colored suit. Her horse was a sorrel with a fine mane. The lady's height? Oh, about four feet five inches. Since I am a Buddhist priest, I took little notice about her details. Well, the man was armed with a sword as well as a bow and arrows. And I remember that he carried some twenty odd arrows in his quiver.

Little did I expect that he would meet such a fate. Truly human life is as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning. My words are inadequate to express my sympathy for him.

The Testimony of a Policeman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

The man that I arrested? He is a notorious brigand called Tajomaru. When I arrested him, he had fallen off his horse. He was groaning on the bridge at Awataguchi. The time? It was in the early hours of last night. For the record, I might say that the other day I tried to arrest him, but unfortunately he escaped. He was wearing a dark blue silk kimono and a large plain sword. And, as you see, he got a bow and arrows somewhere. You say that this bow and these arrows look like the ones owned by the dead man? Then Tajomaru must be the murderer. The bow wound with leather strips, the black lacquered quiver, the seventeen arrows with hawk feathers—these were all in his possession I believe. Yes, Sir, the horse is, as you say, a sorrel with a fine mane. A little beyond the stone bridge I found the horse grazing by the roadside, with his long rein dangling. Surely there is some providence in his having been thrown by the horse.

Of all the robbers prowling around Kyoto, this Tajomaru has given the most grief to the women in town. Last autumn a wife who came to the mountain back of the Pindora of the Toribe Temple, presumably to pay a visit, was murdered, along with a girl. It has been suspected that it was his doing. If this criminal murdered the man, you cannot tell what he may have done with the man's wife. May it please your honor to look into this problem as well.

The Testimony of an Old Woman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Yes, sir, that corpse is the man who married my daughter. He does not come from Kyoto. He was a samurai in the town of Kokufu in the province of Wakasa. His name was Kanazawa no Takehiko, and his age was twenty-six. He was of a gentle disposition, so I am sure he did nothing to provoke the anger of others.

My daughter? Her name is Masago, and her age is nineteen. She is a spirited, fun-loving girl, but I am sure she has never known any man except Takehiko. She has a small, oval, dark-complected face with a mole at the corner of her left eye.

Yesterday Takehiko left for Wakasa with my daughter. What bad luck it is that things should have come to such a sad end! What has become of my daughter? I am resigned to giving up my son-in-law as lost, but the fate of my daughter worries me sick. For heaven's sake leave no stone unturned to find her. I hate that robber Tajomaru, or whatever his name is. Not only my son-in-law, but my daughter … (Her later words were drowned in tears.)

Tajomaru's Confession

I killed him, but not her. Where's she gone? I can't tell. Oh, wait a minute. No torture can make me confess what I don't know. Now things have come to such a head, I won't keep anything from you.

Yesterday a little past noon I met that couple. Just then a puff of wind blew, and raised her hanging scarf, so that I caught a glimpse of her face. Instantly it was again covered from my view. That may have been one reason; she looked like a Bodhisattva. At that moment I made up my mind to capture her even if I had to kill her man.

Why? To me killing isn't a matter of such great consequence as you might think. When a woman is captured, her man has to be killed anyway. In killing, I use the sword I wear at my side. Am I the only one who kills people? You, you don't use your swords. You kill people with your power, with your money. Sometimes you kill them on the pretext of working for their good. It's true they don't bleed. They are in the best of health, but all the same you've killed them. It's hard to say who is a greater sinner, you or me. (An ironical smile.)

But it would be good if I could capture a woman without killing her man. So, I made up my mind to capture her, and do my best not to kill him. But it's out of the question on the Yamashina stage road. So I managed to lure the couple into the mountains.

It was quite easy. I became their traveling companion, and I told them there was an old mound in the mountain over there, and that I had dug it open and found many mirrors and swords. I went on to tell them I'd buried the things in a grove behind the mountain, and that I'd like to sell them at a low price to anyone who would care to have them. Then … you see, isn't greed terrible? He was beginning to be moved by my talk before he knew it. In less than half an hour they were driving their horse toward the mountain with me.

When he came in front of the grove, I told them that the treasures were buried in it, and I asked them to come and see. The man had no objection— he was blinded by greed. The woman said she would wait on horseback. It was natural for her to say so, at the sight of a thick grove. To tell you the truth, my plan worked just as I wished, so I went into the grove with him, leaving her behind alone.

The grove is only bamboo for some distance. About fifty yards ahead there's a rather open clump of cedars. It was a convenient spot for my purpose. Pushing my way through the grove, I told him a plausible lie that the treasures were buried under the cedars. When I told him this, he pushed his laborious way toward the slender cedar visible through the grove. After a while the bamboo thinned out, and we came to where a number of cedars grew in a row. As soon as we got there, I seized him from behind. Because he was a trained, sword-bearing warrior, he was quite strong, but he was taken by surprise, so there was no help for him. I soon tied him up to the root of a cedar. Where did I get a rope? Thank heaven, being a robber, I had a rope with me, since I might have to scale a wall at any moment. Of course it was easy to stop him from calling out by gagging his mouth with fallen bamboo leaves.

When I disposed of him, I went to his woman and asked her to come and see him, because he seemed to have been suddenly taken sick. It's needless to say that this plan also worked well. The woman, her sedge hat off, came into the depths of the grove, where I led her by the hand. The instant she caught sight of her husband, she drew a small sword. I've never seen a woman of such violent temper. If I'd been off guard, I'd have got a thrust in my side. I dodged, but she kept on slashing at me. She might have wounded me deeply or killed me. But I'm Tajomaru. I managed to strike down her small sword without drawing my own. The most spirited woman is defenseless without a weapon. At least I could satisfy my desire for her without taking her husband's life.

Yes… without taking his life. I had no wish to kill him. I was about to run away from the grove, leaving the woman behind in tears, when she frantically clung to my arm. In broken fragments of words, she asked that either her husband or I die. She said it was more trying than death to have her shame known to two men. She gasped out that she wanted to be the wife of whichever survived. Then a furious desire to kill him seized me. (Gloomy excitement.)

Telling you in this way, no doubt I seem a crueler man than you. But that's because you didn't see her face. Especially her burning eyes at that moment. As I saw her eye to eye, I wanted to make her my wife even if I were to be struck by lightning. I wanted to make her my wife… this single desire filled my mind. This was not only lust, as you might think. At that time if I'd had no other desire than lust, I'd surely not have minded knocking her down and running away. Then I wouldn't have stained my sword with his blood. But the moment I gazed at her face in the dark grove, I decided not to leave there without killing him.

But I didn't like to resort to unfair means to kill him. I untied him and told him to cross swords with me. (The rope that was found at the root of the cedar is the rope I dropped at the time.) Furious with anger, he drew his thick sword. And quick as thought, he sprang at me ferociously, without speaking a word. I needn't tell you how our fight turned out. The twenty-third stroke… please remember this. I'm impressed with this fact still. Nobody under the sun has ever clashed swords with me twenty strokes. (A cheerful smile.)

When he fell, I turned toward her, lowering my blood-stained sword. But to my great astonishment she was gone. I wondered to where she had run away. I looked for her in the clump of cedars. I listened, but heard only a groaning sound from the throat of the dying man.

As soon as we started to cross swords, she may have run away through the grove to call for help. When I thought of that, I decided it was a matter of life and death to me. So, robbing him of his sword, and bow and arrows, I ran out to the mountain road. There I found her horse still grazing quietly. It would be a mere waste of words to tell you the later details, but before I entered town I had already parted with the sword. That's all my confession. I know that my head will be hung in chains anyway, so put me down for the maximum penalty. (A defiant attitude.)

The Repentance of a Woman Who Has Come to Kiyomizu Temple

That man in the blue silk kimono, after forcing me to yield to him, laughed mockingly as he looked at my bound husband. How horrified my husband must have been! But no matter how hard he struggled in agony, the rope cut into him all the more tightly. In spite of myself I ran stumblingly toward his side. Or rather I tried to run toward him, but the man instantly knocked me down. Just at that moment I saw an indescribable light in my husband's eyes. Something beyond expression … his eyes make me shudder even now. That instantaneous look of my husband, who couldn't speak a word, told me all his heart. The flash in his eyes was neither anger nor sorrow… only a cold light, a look of loathing. More struck by the look in his eyes than by the blow of the thief, I called out in spite of myself and fell unconscious.

In the course of time I came to, and found that the man in blue silk was gone. I saw only my husband still bound to the root of the cedar. I raised myself from the bamboo-blades with difficulty, and looked into his face; but the expression in his eyes was just the same as before.

Beneath the cold contempt in his eyes, there was hatred. Shame, grief, and anger… I don't know how to express my heart at that time. Reeling to my feet, I went up to my husband.

"Takejiro," I said to him, "since things have come to this pass, I cannot live with you. I'm determined to die… but you must die, too. You saw my shame. I can't leave you alive as you are."

This was all I could say. Still he went on gazing at me with loathing and contempt. My heart breaking, I looked for his sword. It must have been taken by the robber. Neither his sword nor his bow and arrows were to be seen in the grove. But fortunately my small sword was lying at my feet. Raising it over head, once more I said, "Now give me your life. I'll follow you right away."

When he heard these words, he moved his lips with difficulty. Since his mouth was stuffed with leaves, of course his voice could not be heard at all. But at a glance I understood his words. Despising me, his look said only, "Kill me." Neither conscious nor unconscious, I stabbed the small sword through the lilac-colored kimono into his breast.

Again at this time I must have fainted. By the time I managed to look up, he had already breathed his last—still in bonds. A streak of sinking sunlight streamed through the clump of cedars and bamboos, and shone on his pale face. Gulping down my sobs, I untied the rope from his dead body. And… and what has become of me? Only that, since I have no more strength to tell you. Anyway, I hadn't the strength to die. I stabbed my own throat with the small sword, I threw myself into a pond at the foot of the mountain, and I tried to kill myself in many ways. Unable to end my life, I am still living in dishonor. (A lonely smile.) Worthless as I am, I must have been forsaken even by the most merciful Kwannon. I killed my own husband. I was violated by the robber. Whatever can I do? Whatever can I… I… (Gradually, violent sobbing.)

The Story of the Murdered Man, as Told Through a Medium

After violating my wife, the robber, sitting there, began to speak comforting words to her. Of course I couldn't speak. My whole body was tied fast to the root of a cedar. But meanwhile I winked at her many times, as much as to say "Don't believe the robber." I wanted to convey some such meaning to her. But my wife, sitting dejectedly on the bamboo leaves, was looking hard at her lap. To all appearance, she was listening to his words. I was agonized by jealousy. In the meantime the robber went on with his clever talk, from one subject to another. The robber finally made his bold brazen proposal. "Once your virtue is stained, you won't get along well with your husband, so won't you be my wife instead? It's my love for you that made me be violent toward you."

While the criminal talked, my wife raised her face as if in a trance. She had never looked so beautiful as at that moment. What did my beautiful wife say in answer to him while I was sitting bound there? I am lost in space, but I have never thought of her answer without burning with anger and jealousy. Truly she said,… "Then take me away with you wherever you go."

This is not the whole of her sin. If that were all, I would not be tormented so much in the dark. When she was going out of the grove as if in a dream, her hand in the robber's, she suddenly turned pale, and pointed at me tied to the root of the cedar, and said, "Kill him! I cannot marry you as long as he lives." "Kill him!" she cried many times, as if she had gone crazy. Even now these words threaten to blow me headlong into the bottomless abyss of darkness. Has such a hateful thing come out of a human mouth ever before? Have such cursed words ever struck a human ear, even once? Even once such a… (A sudden cry of scorn.) At these words the robber himself turned pale. "Kill him," she cried, clinging to his arms. Looking hard at her, he answered neither yes nor no… but hardly had I thought about his answer before she had been knocked down into the bamboo leaves. (Again a cry of scorn.) Quietly folding his arms, he looked at me and said, "What will you do with her? Kill her or save her? You have only to nod. Kill her?" For these words alone I would like to pardon his crime.

While I hesitated, she shrieked and ran into the depths of the grove. The robber instantly snatched at her, but he failed even to grasp her sleeve.

After she ran away, he took up my sword, and my bow and arrows. With a single stroke he cut one of my bonds. I remember his mumbling, "My fate is next." Then he disappeared from the grove. All was silent after that. No, I heard someone crying. Untying the rest of my bonds, I listened carefully, and I noticed that it was my own crying. (Long silence.)

I raised my exhausted body from the foot of the cedar. In front of me there was shining the small sword which my wife had dropped. I took it up and stabbed it into my breast. A bloody lump rose to my mouth, but I didn't feel any pain. When my breast grew cold, everything was as silent as the dead in their graves. What profound silence! Not a single bird-note was heard in the sky over this grave in the hollow of the mountains. Only a lonely light lingered on the cedars and mountains. By and by the light gradually grew fainter, till the cedars and bamboo were lost to view. Lying there, I was enveloped in deep silence.

Then someone crept up to me. I tried to see who it was. But darkness had already been gathering round me. Someone… that someone drew the small sword softly out of my breast in its invisible hand. At the same time once more blood flowed into my mouth. And once and for all I sank down into the darkness of space.

"No one ever says, 'It's only a game,' when their team is winning."

The famous woman runner who died and then became a man

"In a life shadowed by mystery and scarred by shame, one thing was blindingly obvious about Stella Walsh: She could run faster than almost any woman alive.

During a two-decade span that started in the early 1930s, Walsh was queen of the sprints. She set or matched the world record in the 100 meters six times, her last mark standing for 11 years. She won three events at U.S. national championship meets four times, a feat that has never been equaled..."

"It was only in death that the truth about Stella Walsh emerged."

Read the story "The Runner's Secret" at The Washington Post>>

32 remaining U-2 spy planes won't be shot down

The U-2 espionage plane was famous for being shot down by the Soviet Union in an incident in 1960.
"...the Pentagon was ready to start retiring the plane, which took its first test flight in 1955. But Congress blocked that, saying the plane was still useful.

And so it is. Because of updates in the use of its powerful sensors, it has become the most sought-after spy craft in a very different war in Afghanistan."
Read article at The New York Times>>

More on the U-2 spy plane from Espionage Info>>

This image will hurt your eyes (optical illusion)

(Mercifully small... Click to enlarge)

TMZ finds photo of JFK on yacht with nude women!!! Oh, wait...

The gossip web site TMZ published a photo showing John F. Kennedy lounging around a yacht with naked women. TMZ said if this photo had surfaced before JFK's election, "It could have torpedoed his run, and changed world history." Except for one niggling detail... the tattered black and white photo was a hoax with a convincing fake back story. The Smoking Gun finds the original November 1967 Playboy color photo and clears things up.

Story at The Smoking Gun>>

Married couple beats urban legends, one Snope at a time

"You'd think it would take an army to truth-squad the rapid-fire rumors of the World Wide Web. But at, that task falls to husband-and-wife myth debunkers David and Barbara Mikkelson. is the go-to Web site for debunking the hottest rumors, hoaxes and urban legends, attracting roughly 5 million viewers a month."

Read / listen to Snopes story at NPR>>


"A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth and that is why we call what he writes fiction"

- William Faulkner 

"Faulkner was skillful in creating complicated situations that involve a variety of characters, each with a different reaction to the situation. He used this technique to dramatize the complexity of life and the difficulty of arriving at truth."

- PBS site on The American Novel

Teenagers: Prank about race at Wal-Mart... FAIL

A teenager got on the intercom system at a southern New Jersey Wal-Mart and said, "Attention, Wal-Mart customers: All black people, leave the store now."

Many people did not find this funny, including the Wal-Mart management, upset customers, the NAACP, the police who arrested and charged him with harassment and bias intimidation, and the county prosecutor who had to give a press conference about it.

No word yet on what the white16-year-old boy's motivation might have been. (NOTE: Assumptions were made that the perp was a white boy, but that may not be true.)

But Dolores Coker, 30, quoted in this Philadelphia Daily News article may have the best explanation: kids "make no sense," she said. "I don't know what goes through their heads."

Pranks are not new at Wal-Mart stores, especially concerning the intercom. In fact, there's a whole website documenting them, called WalMartPranks>>

Read more from ABC Local News>>

Video from Action News in Philadelphia

"Don't you lie to me... It makes me mad, An I get evil as a man can be"

Listen to Don't You Lie to Me by Tampa Red via the browser-based music player LaLa>>

Don't You Lie to Me (1940) by master blues guitarist Tampa Red

Let's talk it over, baby
'For we start
I hear about the way
You overdo your part

But don't you lie to me
Don't you lie to me
It makes me mad
An I get evil as a man can be

There's two kind-a people
That I just can't stand
An that's a lyin' woman
An a sneakin' man

But don't you lie to me
Don't you lie to me
Because it makes me mad
An I get evil as a man can be

Here's a proposition
I will give to you
I'll give you all my jelly
If you gimme yours, too

But don't you lie to me
Don't you lie to me
It makes me mad
An I get evil as a man can be

(kazoo & instrumental)

I'll be with you
'Till the cows come home
But mama, please don't let me
Catch you gettin' down wrong

And don't you lie to me
Don't you lie to me
Because it makes me mad
An I get evil as a man can be

But don't you lie to me
Don't you lie to me
Because it makes me mad
An I get evil as a man can be.

Thanks to Lyrics Freak for lyrics

Is an illusion of contact with the brain-damaged better than none at all?

Facilitated communication is a technique that promises to change the way patients with autism, mental retardation, muscle disease or brain damage communicate. Many people are trapped inside their bodies, unable to connect to the outside world. Facilitators work with these people, steadying their hands while they type or using devices to get their inner thoughts out.

The problem is, according to studies, the technique doesn't work. Critics liken it to the ideomotor response, where the facilitator is unconsciously helping the patient, similar to the mechanism at work with a Ouija board.

Yet many continue to believe because they desperately want it to work. A parent has said that even if it's an illusion, it's an illusion they want to continue.

Rom Houben (pictured), a 46-year old man presumed comatose and in a vegetative state for 23 years, was a hopeful recipient of this technique in November 2009.

Houben wrote: "I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me. It was my second birth."

But further tests by his doctors revealed, in February 2010, that he was not the one writing, and he was unable to communicate.

Read more at Psychology Today>> and the Guardian>>

More detail on facilitated communication from the American Psychological Association, from a 2003 article>>

The "Snail Ball" does not obey gravity... at least on our planet

"A small, metallic gold ball just over 2cm in diameter. Place it on the plastic channel which should be slightly sloping, and you would expect it to roll down in the normal way. Well, this ball does roll, but it does so incredibly slowly. To an audience, it seems baffling why it should roll down a slope apparently in slow motion. You can pick the ball up, and it seems heavy, possibly solid. No clues if you shake it."

Get a ball for yourself at Grand Illusions in the UK>>

Diet pill scammer gets 20 years

Frank Sarcona, 58, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes committed in connection with the marketing of a weight loss product, Lipoban. Mr. Sarcona...

"...defrauded more than 130,000 customers out of more than $7 million by claiming that the product, Lipoban, was sold in conjunction with a medical facility and clinical test."

"The ads created the false impression that a study was being conducted in conjunction with a healthcare clinic, the Lipoban Clinic, and that those who purchased the product would participate in that study. Virtually every customer was told that he/she was test participant #731."

In 2005, Mr Sarcona was ordered to pay $8.3 million in consumer redress for defrauding consumers as the president of SlimAmerica, for selling fraudulent "Super Formula" diet products. He created an alias to sell Lipoban.

Read more at Consumer Affairs>>

See the print ads Mr. Sarcona used at Dietscam>>

Read a PDF file about Mr. Sarcona's assets in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands being seized by the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, from Casewatch>>

The spy who could not spell, his buried treasure, and the code he couldn't remember

"Regan had been under surveillance for months, after a foreign source passed on a letter from an unidentified US intelligence official offering to sell information. The letter was riddled with misspellings like “enprisioned” and “esponage,” which led the FBI to look for a bad speller within the intelligence community. Regan, who was dyslexic, became the prime suspect. He would later be known as the spy who couldn’t spell."


"It took Olson only a couple of weeks to decode the first puzzle, the note from Regan’s wallet that began “5-6-N-V-O-A-I …” It turned out to have been enciphered using a trick made famous by Julius Caesar in which all the characters in the message are shifted by a certain number of positions in the alphabet. Lining up the message on one end of a slide board, Olson shifted the letters by one place, then two places, and so on, checking the other end of the slide board each time to see if he got anything readable."

Read article at Wired Magazine>>

"I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud."

- C.G. Jung

"I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing!"

"That's the effect of living backwards," the Queen said kindly: "it always makes one a little giddy at first... "

"Living backwards!" Alice repeated in great astonishment. "I never heard of such a thing!"

"...but there's one great advantage in it, that one's memory works both ways."

"I'm sure mine only works one way" Alice remarked. "I can't remember things before they happen."

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," the Queen remarked.

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Why was his favorite professor the one who lied?

"What made Dr. K memorable was a gimmick he employed that began with his introduction at the beginning of his first class..."

Read story at Zen Moments>>

"I have cancer..." (No... no, you don't.") Five recent cancer scams

(the "green ribbon," worn to support cancer fraud)

1) “…shaved her head and eyebrows and wore bandages on her chest to dupe people.”

2) “In addition to the fraud and theft charges, ...admitted falsely claiming she had terminal cancer.” 

3)  “…charges stemming from loans one couple said they made years ago to help the man pay for a fabricated bout with cancer.”

4)  “A woman who authorities say scammed agencies and co-workers out of thousands of dollars by claiming she had terminal cancer…”

5) “…gave an emotional interview… saying she had terminal cancer and could not afford her medical bills."

    Prankster filmmaker & comics infiltrate North Korea in documentary "The Red Chapel"

    The Red Chapel (2009) - Mads Brügger

    "The Danish filmmaker and two friends posed as a pro-socialist comedy troupe called The Red Chapel to gain entrance into North Korea. Under the guise of cultural exchange, Brügger filmed his two-week stay in the country, and the result is a rare glimpse into a closed society that is part satire and part political screed. The film is thoroughly fascinating, and just won the World Cinema grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival..."

    Read more at The Daily Caller>>

    Want the FBI File on PETA? How about Carl Sagan?

     (Click to enlarge file on PETA's threatening letter from 1991)
    The Federal Bureau of Investigation has many documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act available as PDF files on its website, here>>

    The FBI has an eclectic bunch of entries, with just a sampling below:

    "Truth is shorter than fiction."

    - Irving Cohen