Friday, December 27, 2013

Throwing The Book At Book Thieves – Texas Style

Poor Jory Enck! He borrowed a GED study guide in 2010. He got it at the Central Texas community of Copperas Cove located about 70 miles northwest of Austin.

In September 2013, a new law came into effect that defines the failure to return library books as thef, which is a felony. The new law makes sense; non-returning of library books drains recourses. In Texas alone, the libraries loose an estimated $18 million in “lost” books (around 1 million items). Since many communities have to deal with shrinking budgets and rising costs, they are looking for ways to have their library items returned in time.

The Texas procedure is as follows. Any library item that is not returned within 20 days carries a fine of $200. If this fine is not paid in time, a warrant will be issued by the municipal court for theft.

That’s what happened to Mr. Enck. The police went to his address due to a reported disturbance. Once they arrived, they arrested based on a previous warrant for theft of the study guide. He was promptly arrested for theft since he failed to return his overdue library book.

Mr. Enck was released on a $200 bond, and returned the book in question to library. He also turned to the media to state that he wouldn't set foot in a library again.

He also said: "I think I will probably just purchase a book from Amazon."

Mr. Eck forgot to mention that he had not been able to return the guide earlier since he had to serve a three-year prison sentence for robbery.

Texas is not the only state cracking down on people like Mr. Enck. Iowa jails this kind of offenders for one week. A man from Newton (Iowa) served jail time of more than a week for not returning six CDs and eleven library books with a total worth of a whopping $770. Vermont and Maine are also cracking down people that don’t return their library items.

The Enck incident is for now an oddity. However, it could happen far more frequently in the (near) future, especially since after such an arrest, long overdue library items are suddenly returned.

So what do you think? Are libraries (and the government) correct to crack down on people like Jory Enck to preserve their assets?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Interesting Background of the 100-Year Old Crossword Puzzle

On December 21, 1913 ArthurWynne published the first crossword puzzle in the US newspaper New York World where he worked as an editor. It was supposed to be a gimmick on the fun page of the newspaper’s Christmas edition.
As it turned out, it was just the beginning of a global phenomenon. People were enticed and wanted more. The newspaper included a weekly crossword puzzle in its Sunday edition. (Fun fact: the crossword puzzle was first referred to as the “wordcross” puzzle.)

By 1924, the crossword puzzle had become so popular, that journalist Louis Hinrichs of The Times referred to it in 1924 as “an insidious activity” that “the US of A is addicted to”.

By that time, most newspapers had incorporated the crossword puzzle tradition. Solving the crossword puzzle has become a favorite pastime by the readers of the morning edition around the world.
Publisher Simon & Schuster quickly indentified a marketing opportunity and published the first crossword puzzle book. The company was able to sell hundreds of books.
The renowned The Times crossword puzzle started in 1930. The Times asked its readers to answer in Classic Greek and Latin in order to preserve its elite image.  The Times published its 25,000the crossword puzzle in November 2011.

The world-famous crossword puzzle was used as an HR tool during WWII. To find out if potential code crackers were any good, the British government asked them to solve a tricky crossword puzzle of The Daily Telegraph. 

The first Dutch crossword puzzle appeared in the Dutch magazine “Het Leven” (The Life) on January 24, 1925. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Vincent Van Gogh’s ’s Colorful Goodbye Present To All Of Us

As we all know, Vincent van Gogh was a tormented soul. This makes his last painting the more remarkable.

"Green Wheat Fields, Auvers" has been in private hands for more than half a century, and was only recently exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Art historians were excited since it is the last masterpiece that Van Gogh completed before his tragic demise. He died in 1890 at age 37 in his beloved France.

The oil painting was owned by the late millionaire Paul Mellon. His father Andrew Mellon founded the National Gallery of Art in 1937. The painting graced the walls of Paul Mellon’s home until his wife  Rachel, donated it to the museum in 2013.

Mary Morton, curator of French paintings at the museum, stated "Here in the gallery, it needs nothing. It is incredibly powerful."

The painting is quite large, measuring two and half feet by three feet, and does not feature any persons or objects; just landscape. It depicts the northern French countryside with light green wheat fields, pale flowers, and a large blue and white, cloud-filled sky. The bright colors are interesting considering that towards the end of van Gogh's life his other works are quite dark and bleak.

According to Ms. Morton "He [Vincent van Gogh] was soothed by nature, feeling these incredible waves of joy."

Needless to say, this is pure speculation. We just don’t know what went on in the soul of this tortured genius. All we can do is feast our eyes on his brilliant painting and enjoy. All in all not a bad legacy!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pixar’s Golden Rules For Storytelling – Excellent Advise For All Writers


Pixar Animation Studios is known for its animated feature and short films. The Emeryville-based enterprise is known for its compelling story lines.

Following are 23 rules that will help writers to hone their storytelling skills. Enjoy!

1. A character is more admired for trying than for succeeding (e.g., Finding Nemo)

2. What interests you as a writer can be very different from what the intended audience is interested in. (Remember Toy Story 2?)

3. Trying for a theme is important, but keep in mind that only at the end of the story will it be clear what it’s all about; that’s also the time to start rewriting!

4. The bare bones of a story consist of: Once upon a time there was […], Every day, […], One day […], Because of that […], and that […], Until finally […]

5. Keep it simple and focus by combining characters and avoiding detours.

6. Write about what the characters are good at and juxtaposition them against their polar opposites. (e.g., Shrek and Farquaad).

7. Describe how your characters deal with challenges. (e.g., Ice Age)

8. Write the beginning and the end of the story. Only then write the middle part. (e.g., Casablanca)

9. Once the story is finished, let it go. It will never be perfect and will only suffer from too many rewrites.

10. When suffering from writer’s block, make a list of what will not happen next

11. Analyze stories you like and find out why they speak to you since it influences your writing.

12. Start writing down the story and start editing and/or sharing it. You cannot write the great American novel in your head.

13. Be creative by disregarding the first few ideas that come to mind since they will be (too) obvious.

14. Characters should have opinions and attitude since your audience doesn’t like them to be passive, malleable and too perfect!

15. Get to the core of the narrative by analyzing what drives you to write this specific story.

16. Stay true to your characters by putting yourself in their situation. (e.g., Poirot)

17. Make your audience root for your characters by letting them overcome difficulties or even making the fail. (such as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in The Perfume by Patrick Sueskind)

18. Keep disregarded writing; it will be useful at a later stage or for a different story you will write at one point in the future

19. Know yourself and realize when you are really writing or just tinkering around.

20. Use coincidences to get characters into trouble, but never to get them out of it.

21. To find your style, take a novel, story, TV show or movie you hate and rearrange them to your liking!

22. Put emotion in your writing by identifying with the story’s setting and characters.

23. Figure out what the essence of the story is and how to tell it in a concise way. This will be the basis for your storytelling.

Monday, December 09, 2013

When Street Art Goes Mainstream – The STIK Story

STIK is a young British street artist known for graffiti portraits of beguiling stick people.

He learned about art as a life model at St. Martins and The Royal Academy.

 “I took in art by osmosis; I would be naked as dozens of artists talked about body, balance and composition.”

Two years ago STIK was a homeless street artist only just beginning to leave his strange, distinctive stick figures across London’s skyline. He is now one of the British art world’s hottest properties. His paintings grace the walls of Elton John, Bono, Brian May and Tinie Tempah. STIK’s art was recently sold at Christie’s and exhibited at Imitate Modern in the West End.

STIK is quite protective of his art – he recently got a cease and desist order when one of his iconic figures was picked up and turned into a viral infomercial for a huge company.

STIK is the creator of a 60ft Avenue A mural that will grace an East Village corner for a year. STIK stated “Making street art is my way of showing the world I exist. I am very defensive about the world I have created. The projects I’ve turned down are on a global scale. My form and discipline comes through necessity – to paint a picture in the time before the police are dispatched.”

STIK is also embracing acrylic on canvas, and will promote his art in Tokyo. STIK explained “I’ve been offered a lot of walls. When I do a piece on the street, I am very specific. I don’t feel like I can get permission from a Council or landlord – if I don’t feel it should be there, I don’t do it. If I’m not confident about it it’s not going to happen.”

The Dorian Grey gallery is presenting STIK’s solo show during December 2013. The gallery is exclusively hosting STIK’s long awaited print release ‘Liberty’ and is also launching a political journal ‘The Bottled Wasp Pocket Diary 2014’ which features STIK’s cover art.

The Londoner is quite enamored with NYC. “I love New York, I find it very friendly.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Was Vincent Van Gogh Murdered?

In 2011, the New York Times claimed that Vincent van Gogh did not commit suicide, but was murdered. At that time, two Pulitzer Prize-winners (Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith) claimed that Vincent was murdered by two teenagers.

In their more than 1,000 page biography “Vincent van Gogh. The Life”, the two authors explained how the Dutch painter was being harassed by Gaston and René Secrétan. According to the two authors, things heated up on July 27, 1890. Trigger-happy René Secrétan shot Van Gogh, who died two days later.

They claim that suicide was out of the question, since the suicide shot was sloppy (somewhere in the stomach area) and Vincent did not leave a suicide note. They also point out that the high output of paintings during the last week of his life did not indicate a lack of energy. Furthermore, there were lots of rumors in Auvers at the time that two youngsters had shot Van Gogh.

Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp are connected to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. They published a book that concludes that Van Gogh did indeed commit suicide. They furthermore state that the murder theory of Naifeh en Smith is based on speculations. 

The two Dutch researchers have solid evidence. The suicide shot was well-aimed. The wound was “between 3 and 4 centimeters under the left nipple” as stated by the medical examiner at the time. Furthermore, there was a brown discoloration around the wound that indicated “burnt gunpowder”. The gun must therefore have been fired at close proximity and not by René Secrétan. Quite likely, it was Vincent himself who fired the fatal shot. Furthermore, Vincent’s last paintings reflect extreme solitude and angst.

For now, Vincent van Gogh was not a homicide victim. Sadly enough, the genius did indeed take his own life. So let’s celebrate his genius, and stop speculating about his demise!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

“Selfie” has been named as new English word of 2013

According to Judy Pearsall, chief editor of Oxford dictionaries, “selfie” was first used in 2002 in Australia. 'Hopey' posted a photo of himself on September 13, 2002 with the text:

Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer (sic) and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The term became popular throughout the English-speaking world during 2013. The use of the word “selfie” increased 17,000%. A search on photo sharing app Instagram retrieves over 23 million photos uploaded with the hashtag #selfie, and a whopping 51 million with the hashtag #me.

The Oxford dictionary defines “selfie” as: "photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."

There are several kinds of selfies: Helfie (a picture of one’s hair), Belfie (a picture of one’s posterior), Welfie (a workout selfie), and Drelfie (a drunken selfie)

According to publisher Katherine Martin, the term “selfie” is a typical Australian word pun similar to “barbie” for barbecue, “firie” for firefighter and “tinnie” for a tin of beer.

Other words that made the shortlist:
  • Twerk – a raunchy dance move to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance 
  • Showrooming – to check out merchandise in shops and then order online for a lower price
  • Binge-watching – watching a marathon of episodes of a TV 
  • Schmeat - a form of meat synthetically produced from biological tissue
  • Bitcoin – a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You Can Live Like an Agatha Christie Character – For a Price

Bantham is one of those quaint English villages were time seems to stand still. Located on the shores of south Devon, it consists of 25 cottages with thatched roofs, one shop and a pub. The hamlet is part of the family-owned Evans Estates. It is currently for sale – for Euro 11.9m., you can be the proud owner of the village; purchasing the whole estate will cost you Euro 41.7m. However, you will get more than just prime real estate; you will buy literary history.

Nearby Bigbury Beach, one of the region's largest beaches, can also be purchased. A TV adaptation of Agatha’s Christie’s “Evil Under The Sun” was filmed there, as was the British TV show Lovejoy.

From the beach, there is a spectacular view of Burgh Island, which is only 250m away and can be reached on foot when the tide is out. The Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel was not only the second home of Torquay-born Christie, but also of Noel Coward. Agatha Christie wrote both "And Then There Were None"as well as "Evil Under The Sun" while she was staying at the hotel during the 1930s.

The residents of Bantham fear that their village will be sold to an investor for real estate development. They hope that Richard Branson, who a regular visitor, will be the new owner.

Want to live like Miss Marple? Would you like to pen at the Burgh Island Hotel? Or get inspiration while soaking up the sun on Bigbury Beach where Poirot did his sleuthing?

You can! But for a price….

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Curious Case of Farrah Fawcett’s Andy Warhol Portrait

It comes across as an episode of Law and Order. It has all the elements: a priceless piece of modern art, an iconic actress who tragically passed away a sleazy ex-lover, a former quarterback, and a respected university.

It all started after Farrah Fawcett passes away and left all her artwork to her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. Her art collection included two portraits that the late Andy Warhol made of her. Created in 1980, the stunning paintings consist of synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen on canvas. One portrait already found its home in the University's Blanton Museum of Art. It’s the other one that is creating a legal and media storm.

The second portrait is currently in the possession of Ryan O’Neal, the former partner of the popular actress. O’Neal claims that Warhol painted one portrait as a gift for Farrah and the other one for him. He went on to state that although he handed over his one to Farrah, it was not a change of ownership.

O”Neil admits that “his” portrait normally hang in his Malibu beach house. He claims that when he was cheating on Farrah with another woman, his new lover told him that Farrah’s portrait made her “uncomfortable” - quite understandable considering the piercing eyes. He further stated that he therefore gave the portrait to Farrah to keep it for him.

The Texas Board of Regents wholeheartedly disagreed. Since the University of Texas is entitled to all art works formally owned by Ms. Fawcett, it promptly sued O’Neal stating: "The Warhol portrait is an irreplaceable piece of art for which legal damages could not fully compensate."

David Beck, lead counsel for the University of Texas, is planning to call some high-profile witnesses including Fawcett's former college sweetheart and Longhorns quarterback Greg Lott, Fawcett and O'Neal's son Redmond O'Neal, Fawcett's best friend Alana Stewart, and Farrah’s "Charlie's Angels" co-star Jaclyn Smith.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Jian Feng’s Ugly Divorce – A Case of Love at Second Sight

According to the story, Mrs. Feng underwent major plastic surgery before her marriage to become beautiful. She forked out a whopping $100,000 for various plastic surgery procedures in South Korea. The skillful surgeons created her flawless bone structure and wide-eyed look.

She consequently dapper successfully married handsome Jian Feng. So far, so good. But once she gave birth to her baby girl, trouble started.

Once he clapped eyes on his “incredibly ugly” baby daughter, he suspected that she was not his offspring. He assumed that the child was the result of his wife’s illicit affair. However, DNA test showed that the baby was indeed sired by him.

He subsequently found out that his beautiful wife got her beauty from the surgeon’s knife, and not from good genes.

He promptly sued his wife, stating: “I married my wife out of love, but as soon as we had our first daughter, we began having marital issues. Our daughter was incredibly ugly, to the point where it horrified me.”

A local court reputedly awarded him $120,000 based on the fact that she had tricked him into marrying her under “false pretenses”.

This story has come under scrutiny, with several sources claiming it’s a hoax.

But even it is, isn’t it a wonderful warning about the consequences of extensive plastic surgery?

You will be the judge!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Vatican’s Painful Typo – How Jesus became Lesus

The Vatican wanted to commemorate Pope Francis’ first year of reign with a medal.

The Italian State Mint created and minted a few thousand medals in gold, silver and bronze for purchase.

The medals feature the Pontiff’s coat of arms and motto and went on sale on October8, 2013. Soon after, it was noticed that “Jesus” was misspelled as “Lesus” in Pope Francis’ motto.

His official motto is Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, “Sequere me” [Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, “follow me”]

Once the typo was detected, Vatican officials quickly recalled thousands of medals slated for sale to collectors. However, four of the “flawed” medals were already snapped up by collectors before the embarrassing mistake was detected, which makes their value soar.

According to Francesco Santarossa, a coin and stamp shop owner close to St. Peter’s Square, no such a mistake has ever happened before in the 600-year-long history of papal medals.

In the current social media age, puns like “Lesus” Christ. “I blame the Lesuits” quickly made the rounds on Twitter.

Moral of the story: also the Vatican needs a good proofreader! Quod est demonstrandum!

Friday, October 04, 2013

Nick Brandt’s Haunting Photos in His New Book “Across the Ravaged Land”

Photographer Nick Brandt released his latest book Across the Ravaged Land.

It features haunting photos of a deceptively still body of water in Tanzania with holds a deadly secret, Due to its unique chemical makeup, it turns any animal it touches to stone. Brandt captures the petrified creatures on camera. The whole area around the lake petrifies animals due to its constant pH of 9 to 10.5, which is an extremely basic alkalinity that preserves these creatures for eternity.

Brandt explains:

"I unexpectedly found the creatures - all manner of birds and bats - washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. No-one knows for certain exactly how they die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses them, and like birds crashing into plate glass windows, they crash into the lake. The water has an extremely high soda and salt content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds. The soda and salt causes the creatures to calcify, perfectly preserved, as they dry.

I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life’, as it were. Reanimated, alive again in death." 


The haunting images look like stills from a horror movie or a Dr. Who/Warehouse 13 episode. But the poor creatures featuring in Brandt's book are (too) real, and it is therefore strongly recommended to stay away from the real thing….and whatever you do - don't touch it!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Man Behind Fictional Austrian Cartoonist Rachel Gold

Austrian editorial cartoonist Rachel Gold is a “young, pretty Jewish immigrant girl from Israel”. She got a job as a cartoonist at the Wiener Zeitung, replacing Markus Szyszkowitz. The Kronen Zeitung editor Hans Dichand let Markus go since some of his cartoons had offended politicians – especially Werner Faymann who serves as Austria’s chancellor since 2008 despite some scandals. Faymann and Dichand were very close friends until “Uncle Hans” passed away in 2010.

Rachel was hailed as one of the only two female political cartoonists in Austria. According to her Wikipedia page, Ms. Gold was born in Tel Aviv in 1978. She was raised in Israel and moved to Vienna in 1999, where she has been a freelance artist since 2004. She also has a Facebook page and her own website where she posts her cartoons. Apart from working for the Wiener Zeitung, she also created cartoons for the Tiroler Tageszeitung.

All was well in the editorial cartoon world until an editor became suspicious of Rachel and started digging. In the end, Gold’s cover was blown. Neither Szyszkowitz nor Gold commented or made any statement.

However, Daryl Cagle, a fellow editorial cartoonist for MSNBC. thinks that he understands what drove Markus. “Rachel was created in response to Markus’ frustrations, working under editorial constraints at his former newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung.”

He also believes that Szyszkowitz purposely chose a Jewish identity. He argues that “Markus is convinced that his editors, and the Austrian readers, were willing to accept more hard-hitting, liberal cartoons from the young, pretty, Jewish immigrant girl from Israel. Given Austria’s harsh history, Markus believes that Rachel gets more editorial leeway because she is Jewish, rather than because she is a woman.”

Whatever the reason, it worked out fine in the end. Both Szyszkowitz and his alter ego Gold are currently working at other newspapers happily posting their cartoons for our amusement.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

JK Rowling Claims “ANGER” At Lawyer For Leaking Her Pseudonym – Righteous Indignation?

In another interesting twist, Ms Rowling has said she feels "very angry" after finding out her pseudonym Robert Galbraith was leaked by a legal firm.

As widely covered by the media, JK Rowling has penned a crime novel (The Cuckoo's Calling, the first in a series) under the pen name “Robert Galbraith”.

As it turns out, Chris Gossage, a lawyer at her law firm Russells, told his wife's best friend Judith Callegari, who promptly blabbed it to whoever wanted to know in the Twitter universe.

Galbraith/Rowling stated: "I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. A tiny number of people knew my pseudonym and it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of prior to Sunday night could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know."

Needless to say, Russells Solicitors went into “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” mode, apologizing "unreservedly". In good lawyerly fashion, the firm pointed out that the secret was leaked "during a private conversation" and that "the disclosure was made in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly. On becoming aware of the circumstances, we immediately notified JK Rowling's agent."

Rowling reacted to the apology by suing the lawyer and the friend. Her attorney, Jenny Afia, argued in High Court that her client felt "angry and distressed that her confidences had been betrayed.”

Russells agreed to reimburse Rowling's legal costs and to make a "substantial" donation to The Soldiers' Charity, which helps former military personnel and their families.

What do you think – another clever marketing move?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pippa Middleton Takes Legal Action Against @PippaTips - The Streisand Effect

Mat Morrisroe and Suzanne Azzopardi started tweeting as @PippaTips. Their hilarious tweets spoofed
Pippa’s predictable party tips.

Some gems include:

@PippaTip: avoid awkward silences by talking

@PippaTip: when driving at night lights aren't only a legal requirement, but a fun way of seeing the road and other things

@PippaTip: if you're shopping on a budget, try purchasing things that cost less to buy

@PippaTip: breakfast is a yummy way to get rid of hunger after waking. Toast (re-cooked bread), cereal or eggs with bacon are always winners

@PippaTip: the weekend is a good opportunity to do things you don't have time to during the week

@PippaTip: headache tablets can be a great in helping deal with a headache

@PippaTip: form friendships by being nice to people you like

@PippaTip: a refreshing afternoon nap can be enjoyed by taking a nap in the afternoon

With more than 50,000 Twitter followers, the dynamic duo launched "When One is Expecting: A Posh Person's Guide to Pregnancy and Parenting". It’s a parody of Pippa’s quite unsuccessful book Celebrate.

Ms. Middleton was not amused and instructed her lawyers Harbottle and Lewis LLP to demand that the @PippaTips Twitter account must be deleted

Part of Pippa’s chagrin could be the fact that the spoof is outselling the original on Amazon. Celebrate ranks at #3,370, while the @PippaTips book ranks at #961.

Sales in bookshops are still better for Celebrate. Pippa did not do herself a favor with her public outcry. It generated a lot of publicity that only helps to boost sales for @PippaTips. It’s a classic example of the Streisand Effect.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

What If Ancient Rome Had Internet? This Is How Social Media Could Have Looked....Feel Free to Add Your Own!

Sometimes I wonder ancient Romans would have used social networks. Feel free to add your own 2 asses!

Amazon.com

Buy the latest Roman Gazette Bestseller list scroll “De Bello Gallico” by Gaius Julius Caesar now! 15% discount if you order before the Ides of March. 

Best customer review: “An amazing read” Octavius
Worse customer review: “Hate it, hate it, hate it”! Widow of Vercingetorix 

eBay

Sword used to kill Gaius Julius Caesar. Features original blood stains. Only used once for murder. Condition: fair. Current bid: 100 dinarii excluding shipping.

Facebook

Like pages:

How to poison without leaving a trace” – Empress Livia (1,000,360 likes from the female Roman population and all slaves)

Kinky stuff” – Caligula (likes from Emperor Tiberius)

How to commit patricide” – Brutus (likes from all Roman nobles)

Texting

"Noticed that my husband is sexing another hussy" (Caesar’s wife to BFF)

"I am here, let’s kill the SOB" (Brutus to fellow conspirators))

"Why does oracle4u keeps texting me “Beware of the Ides of March” (bewildered I am NOT bold Caesar to his mistress). 

YouTube

Most popular:

- How to cross the Alps with elephants (posted by Hannibal) 10 minutes

Cleopatra taking a bath (posted by MarcAntony) 3 X-rated minutes

- Speeches by Cicero (too many minutes of "Furthermore, consider that Carthage must be destroyed")  

Netflix and Hulu

The black widow (documentary about Empress Livia 1 hr and 10 min.)

My Space

Emperor Nero featuring playing the violin against a stunning Roman background

Google+

- Friends circle Roman oppressors
- Friends circle Roman wives scorned
- Friends circle slaves revolt

Pinterest

Featured boards:

- Enemies I conquered (by Caesar4u)
- Enemies of Caesar (by Pompey)
- Toga fashion (by Valentinus of Roma)
- Lares (by Matrona)
- Favorite Scrolls (by Virgil)
- Volcanoes (Pliny the Younger)

Twitter

Kicked the s*** out of those #barbarians! #RomaVincit (Posted by #Caesar4u)

Lost another bloody #elephant. Stupid #Alps! (Posted by #Hannibal)

Hate my Daddy#Caesar4u sucks! (Posted by Julia, Caesar’s daughter)

Google translation (utilizing Babylon.com software) of an e-mail in Gallic to Latin:

“You Jules Bold murder wives and children. The Parisii and Gauls cannot take this. Wine and Women superior to Matrons Roman are. So exhaust fluid from this. Fornicate you!”

Thursday, June 06, 2013

William Shakespeare – Lauded Playwright, Ruthless Businessman and Tax Evader

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is famous for being one of the greatest playwrights of all times. But as it turns out, he was also a ruthless businessman.

According to the scientific research of Jayne Archer (a researcher in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth University) and Richard Marggraf Turley (professor of Engagement with the Public Imagination at Aberystwyth University), Shakespeare was a cunning and quite unscrupulous business man. According to their research paper, by “combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town.”

The researchers go on to state that the Bard “stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to neighbors and local tradesmen.” He obviously profited from the famines that swept through Europe at the time. He used his profits to purchase land.

Shakespeare also did anything he could to “avoid taxes, maximize profits at others' expense and exploit the vulnerable – while writing plays about their plight.” s one of the biggest landowners in Warwickshire, he was ideally placed to push prices up and then sell at the top of the market.

This puts Coriolanus in a whole new light! To refresh your memory, Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus evolves around a famine that is created and exploited by rich merchants and politicians to maximize the price of food. One of the famous and much quoted lines: “They ne'er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain.” Oh, the irony!

The researchers found documents in court and tax archives that show that Shakespeare was repeatedly dragged into court for his illegal activities and tax evasion. He was fined for illegally stockpiling food and was threatened with jail for evading tax payments.

His legal troubles did not end there. In February 1598, he was prosecuted for holding 80 bushels of malt or corn during a time of shortage. He pursued those who could not pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities.

In all fairness, Shakespeare could not rely on future income from his works. Copyright was only established in 1710, long after Shakespeare penned his plays and poems. Anyone could therefore copy and sell his work without his consent – and they did!

In case you want to know more, Jayne Archer will present more finding on May 23 at the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts in Wales.

(Image courtesy of  bookhaven.stanford.edu)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How a Fake Restaurant Review on Yelp Backfired

W. Blake Gray is a food writer for the SFWeekly. He was informed about a review of Tuba restaurant on Yelp, written by a Maya C. In her review, she claims to be working for the SF.

She wrote: “This place totally rocks! The food blows your mind away. I also write for SF weekly and I definitely am writing about them this week."

But there is one major problem - she never wrote for SF! As the food editor stated, he knows all the writers and what they are and aren't assigned to do. However, he never heard of “Maya C.”!

Blake Gray set out to correct the “mistake” – easier said than done. Yelp isn't easy to deal with, as he found out to his readers’ amusement.

He started by sending Ms. Fakester a message:

"I am the food editor at SF Weekly. Who are you? We don't have a Maya C. working for us right now. Please explain why you cite us in your review of Tuba."

Maya C, sent the following response (to avoid legal action?):

"sf weekly voice, I will fix it. I am very very sorry to cite your name, I haven't checked my reviews since
".

Needless to say, she never did. Yelp also took the moral low ground:

SF Weekly is obviously worried about its credibility, while Yelp could not care less.

In the mean time, just ignore the A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! fake review of Tuba - it’s as real as a three dollar note. If you still want to go to Tuba, I have a bridge I want to sell you…..

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Harper Lee Sues Her Agent Samuel Pinkus Over ‘Mockingbird’ Royalties


For those of you who don’t know - Harper Lee is the author of one of my favorites – To Kill a Mockingbird which was published in 1960. The novel is set in the racial South and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was also turned into a compelling movie featuring the legendary Gregory Peck who won an Oscar for his portrayal of lawyer Atticus Finch.

Harper Lee is still alive, at the ripe age of 87. Ms. Lee has failing eyesight and hearing. She resides in an assisted-living facility since 2007 after suffering a stroke.

Harper Lee engages McIntosh & Otis as her literary agent for many years. When Eugene Winick,one of the principles at the firm became ill in 2002, his son-in-law Mr. Samuel Pinkus took over. Pinkus was sued by McIntosh for stealing several clients, including Ms. Lee.

In 2007, Ms. Lee signed a document assigning her copyright to her agent’s company. The idea was that her agent, Mr. Samuel Pinkus, would act on her behalf.

Once Harper Lee found out that her agent took advantage of her advanced age and infirmity to swindle her out of royalties due to her. She promptly sued at the federal court in New York. ( Lee v. Pinkus, 13-3000, U.S. District Court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court,Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Samuel Pinkus et al are sued to confirm Harper Lee’s copyright ownership of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  In her suit, she asks that all commissions received by Pinkus will be forfeited.

Last year, Lee’s copyright was re-assigned to her after legal action. Samuel Pinkus was fired as her agent. However, he kept receiving royalties from sales of “To Kill a Mockingbird” as detailed  in the legal complaint.

According to Harper Lee’s lawyer Ms. Gloria Phares: “Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see.  Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright.”

The defendants, Samuel Pinkus and his wife Ann Winick did not respond. Ms. Winick is the president of Keystone Literary LLC and listed as a defendant. Another named defendant, Gerald Posner, also did not respond. Mr. Posner is a New York lawyer and investigative journalist who incorporated one of Pinkus’s businesses.

Ms. Lee wrote an amazing novel that inspired generations. Taking advantage of her is just obnoxious. Let’s hope that the court sees it the same way.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Dutch Dirty Past - Slavery Was Abolished in Holland As Late As 1863

Slave trade has been a black chapter in Dutch history. The Dutch always had a problem recognizing the fact that they made hefty profits from slave trade for centuries. Recent research shows that the Dutch traded an estimated total of 600,000 slaves and not 550,000 as reported before. This means that 3,000 slaves a year were transported for profit between the years 1600 and 1800 on Dutch ships.

The driving motive for transporting those slaves to the New Colonies (USA) was pure greed. In 1855 Mr. W. R. van Hoëvell wrote in his book Slaves and Freed Persons under the Dutch Law: “Each house in Amsterdam is like a palace – but the treasures that build these houses are for the greater part the result of squeezing life, sweat and blood out of whipped and beaten slaves.”

Professor Piet Emmer made it his mission to downplay the historic profits of the Dutch slave trading by juggling the numbers. He fails to understand that the numbers are not important; it’s the attitude and lack of conscience that makes it all so obnoxious.

The Dutch tradesmen got the lowest purchase price by enlisting African Ashanti slave traders to raid whole villages to meet the demands of the US. Ships were stocked to the maximum in order to compensate for the “loss of cargo” percentage during the voyage.

Food was also calculated as a business cost in order to transport as many “goods” as possible for the lowest possible costs. Once arriving in the US, the “heads” were sold as cattle and put to work on the plantations – whipped, abused and suppressed by their “owners” and local authorities. There was only one goal: making as much profit as possible by producing sugar, coffee, cotton, and indigo for the lowest cost.

The reason that the main Dutch trading companies (the West-India Company and the Middelburg Commerce Company) decided that slave trade was not profitable anymore does not make them any less inhuman.

Abolition of slavery was not inspired at all by decency or morality, but solely by the fact that it just was not financially viable anymore. It was therefore a pure business decision and nothing else.

This makes remembering the slave trade even more horrific. The last thing we need is another “Holocaust denial” movement to gloss over the horrific acts our ancestors conducted towards African slaves.

 (Image© ANP. 2002: three statues in the Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam, part of the exposition 'Slaves and Ships – One way trip, destination unknown'.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Voynich Mystery – Part II

In September 2012, I wrote about the Voynich mystery. The Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown. It is named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich. He acquired it in 1912.

The pages are filled with colorful drawings of strange diagrams, odd events and plants that do not seem to match any known species. The appeal of the manuscript is impossibility to decipher it.

Many scientists are still trying to crack the Voynich code. One of them is Jorge Stolfi, a professor of computer science at the State University of Campinas, Brazil. He was able to compose a grammar for Voynichese and concluded that it behaves like a natural language, more so than like a code, as many others believe.

According to Stolfi, Voynichese points to an Asian language like Chinese with its short words with tonal structures. He theorizes that someone went to the Far East and phonetically transcribed something he heard or read. He explains: “It is not unusual at that time to make up an alphabet to record a foreign language.” 
  
But Andreas Schinner, a theoretical physicist, argues that the non-randomness of syllable distribution is a strong indication that it is a hoax, not a natural language. He concluded that the ‘language’ is very different from human writings, even from ‘exotic’ languages like Chinese. In fact, the results better fit to a ‘stochastic process’ (a sequence of correlated random events).” In an article in Cryptologia, he concluded that the Voynich Manuscript does not contain any encrypted messages.

Psychologist Gordon Rugg agrees that it is a hoax. This creates a new mystery – why would anyone create such a manuscript? Creating a hoax for profit?

The main suspect for penning a hoax manuscript is EdwardKelley who had a track record of creating made-up languages and perpetrating frauds and hoaxes. As a convicted villain, he had his ears cropped for forgery.

However, the Voynich Manusript shares many similarities with Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, a 17th-century utopian tract about a fantasy island. In it, Bacon’s ideal college is described, including the  unknown plants, the grafting, the code, books on velum, and new types of animals, as well as a bath full of naked ladies.

For now, the Manuscript keeps its secrets, although many experts believe that the key to the Voynich manuscript is just around the corner. Let’s wait and see...I will keep you posted!

Monday, April 15, 2013

How the City of Amsterdam was Duped by an Author with a Questionable Reputation


The City of Amsterdam wanted to hire a consultant to formulate a better policy for managing prostitution in the city.

Mayor Mr. Van der Laan and Councilman Mr. Asscher hired Ms. Valérie Lempereur, a journalist. She had published an “autobiography” under the pen name Patricia Perquin. In her book “Behind the windows in the Red Light District”, she tells her “true story” as a prostitute.

As 'Patricia Perquin', she also penned a series of articles for the Dutch newspapers Het Parool and AD. Based on these articles and her “autobiography”, she was hired as a consultant. In this capacity, she submitted various recommendations that were included in the City’s official Prostitution Plan.

Fellow journalists started digging into the background of Ms. Lempereur. They quickly found out that she could never have worked full time as prostitute for 4.5 years as claimed in her “autobiography”. It turned out that during those years, she was managing the now defunct publishing house “Lampedaire” in Antwerp, Belgium, for at least two years. She also worked in Holland and Belgium as a society and crime reporter for various magazines including NieuweRevu, Story, TV Familie en Het Laatste Nieuws

The newspaper De Volkskrant interviewed 25 acquaintances of Ms. Lempereur. Several did not want to go on record out of fear for repercussions.

Not without reason: the three newspapers “de Volkskrant”, “het Parool” and “AD” are all part of the same media group (“de Persgroep”, CEO Mr. Christian Van Thillo). Lempereur worked for years at the Belgian branch of the group.

Many of the well-known acquaintances accuse her of lying and fraud. The crime reporter Peter R. de Vries fired her from his program due to multiple cases of fraud.

Lempereur tried to get an injunction against the Volkskrant newspaper. She asked the court to forbid the newspaper to publish her true identity. The judge dismissed her case.

The Mayer and Councilman declined to comment.

The scandal (not her first one!) will not harm the sales figures of her books. She has already published her second novel as Patricia Perquin, The theme is this time the victims of lover boys.

As for her “autobiography - booksellers will just move it to the fiction section.