Columbus might not have been a pirate, but..

Thinking about International Talk Like a Pirate Day reminded me of seeing the Niña and Pinta when they came through my area a couple years ago. They are faithful replicas of Columbus’s originals. Below is a video of the ships when they visited Dubuque, Iowa:

The diminutive stature of these two ships destroyed my perception of Columbus‘ crossing of the Atlantic ocean. To be honest, I expected a little more girth on the vessels. That the ships were so small gave me a greater appreciation of the feat that Cristoforo Colombo and his crews accomplished.

The foundation that owns the ships doesn’t have their 2013 schedule posted yet, but if you’re up for the adventure, you can apply to be a crew member.

Napoleon’s Fax Machine

Being a geek and working with other like-minded individuals, sometimes we have some pretty great discussions on ancient history, technologies, and such. Today we were bouncing between the the lethality of Comanche and Mongolian bow skills and how ancient (and not so ancient) cultures had technology that was far more advanced than we often give them credit for. During the conversation, I make a comment with regard to Napoleon seeing a demonstration of a facsimile. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember any of the details.  I am honored that one colleagues also reads my blog, so at his suggestion, below is an accurate description of Napoleon’s fax machine.

What I was so inept in sharing in the conversation was that in 1860, Napoleon III, Emperor of France, visited the workshop of an engineer named Paul Gustave Froment, and was given a demonstration of a device called a pantelegraph that was able to reproduce printed messages across telegraph lines. The pantelegraph was invented by Giovanni Caselli. Napoleon was impressed and secured the use of telegraph lines so that Caselli could continue work on his invention. The primary commercial application of the device was to verify signatures for banking transactions. A more detailed history of the telegraph in general is available here (unfortunately, some of the image links are broken).

Finding America: University Discovers Lost Early Map of New World

An interesting piece of cartographical history:

Finding America: University Discovers Lost Early Map of New World: German university researchers have rediscovered a 500-year-old map that had been mistakenly bound in a volume on geometry several hundred years ago. The map, by cartograther Martin Waldseemüller, is one of the first to include the term “America” in reference to the New World.

The Clan System

An informative article from the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs:

The Clan System:
The clan system as we know it today was created over the course of a few years in the first quarter of the 19th century.

The clan system as we know it today was created over the course of a few years in the first quarter of the 19th century. At its heart were the novels of Walter Scott who triggered an extraordinary revival of interest in the Highlands and Highland history. This was sealed by the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 when, to the bewilderment of many Lowlanders, the capital – and the king – were decked in tartan and alien pipe music accompanied every function.

In its aftermath Clan Societies and Highland Societies sprang up across Scotland. Thousands wanted a Highland heritage and sought a connection with a clan so that they could wear the new tartans, declared by the chiefs to have been worn as a badge of identity since time immemorial.

And the new clan societies and the manufacturers of tartan were pleased to accommodate them. The concept of septs and associated names was created, those of different surnames from that born by the clan chief who had lived within the old territory of a clan territory and been part of it. The more septs a clan could claim, the more members a clan society would gain and the more kilts would be sold. The Clan Chattan federation managed to list more than 1200, Clan Campbell over 650. Many of these names were claimed by more than one clan.

Surnames came late to Gaeldom; many were based on occupations. Gows – smiths – would have been present in every clan territory. The MacIntyres are a full blown clan, but the name means son of the carpenter and carpenters would have been ubiquitous. Similarly most Johns or Ians had a son – McIan. And men anywhere could have been red-haired, fair or dark – Reid,  Bain and Dow. In a few cases most of those living within a clan’s territory did adopt the name of the chief. Simon, Lord Lovat went further. To enlarge his clan he gave a boll of meal to anyone who changed his name to Fraser.

Modern genealogical research has shown that few within any clan have a blood relationship with the chief’s family. And many who bear sept surnames find that their ancestors never had any connection with the declared clan or even its territory. Some are now seeking to become clans in their own right with their own chiefs. And surely this should be encouraged.  Cumberland destroyed the original clan culture. Scott’s followers turned it into romantic myth and adapted it for their own times. If it has been re-invented once, why should it not be changed again to what people want in this century?

This article was previously published on Panalba.

I had always heard growing up that my mother’s family (Blackwood) was Scottish, so I did a little research. They were Ulster Scots, having moved to northern Ireland from Scotland, and a sept of Clan Douglas. Being the consummate skeptic that I am, I wrote a letter the Court of the Lord Lyon to inquire what rights I have to bear the Clan Douglas crest badge. I explained in it my paternal Welsh heritage and maternal Scots heritage. They replied back that though my father’s family wasn’t Scottish, I was entitled to bear the emblems of Clan Douglas based on my maternal ancestry.

Now I haven’t started eating haggis or wearing a Prince Charlie jacket and kilt around, but I might sport a Balmoral with a crest badge at the Stone Mountain Highland Games this fall.

Caution towards a cashless society, part II

Another article on going cashless:

A Cashless, High-Value, Anonymous Currency: How?: jfruh writes “The cashless future is one of those concepts that always seems to be just around the corner, but never quite gets here. There’s been a lot of hype around Sweden going almost cashless, but most transactions there use easily traceable credit and debit cards. Bitcoin offers anonymity, but isn’t backed by any government and has seen high-profile hacks and collapses in value. Could an experiment called MintChip brewing in Canada finally take us to cashless nirvana?”

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Please see my previous post on this topic.

The only cashless system is a 100% barter system. Or pure communism: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need“, which has never and will never work due to human nature. If one’s hard work is used to reward the sloth of his fellow man, then he, likewise, will not work. And to quote from my moral code: “If any will not work, neither let him eat.“, and “…if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.“, so at least for me, this is not an option. On top of the fact that there is no incentive to work under communism, it requires a strong central government to force labor. As so aptly worded by George Orwell, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others“. Let’s not just pick on communism here, because there is a strong case to be made that all fiat currencies are Orwellian. It is not in the power of “We the People” or the free market to set and control the value of the U.S. Dollar, but that power has been granted to the Federal Reserve.

As a Junior Mogambo Ranger, I’ve got a pretty idea of where a cashless system would lead us.

Downton Abbey and the Curse of King Tut

Downton Abbey and the Curse of King Tut:

By Roger Luckhurst

You must surely have been tempted on occasion to curse Julian Fellowes, if not for the script of Young Victoria, then for the creation of Downton Abbey, that death star of good old-fashioned aristocratic virtue and due deference. For a little while, all public debate seemed to be sucked through the funnel of Downton discourse, coinciding as it did with the election of all those shiny Eton boys to government in 2010. Fellowes has even had enough self-belief and ambition to become an aristocrat himself. He is now Baron Fellowes of West Stafford and sits on the Tory benches.
But don’t worry, he may already be cursed. It’s not just his obsession with the Titanic –- the sinking creates the opening crisis in Downton Abbey and this year he scripted ITV’s centenary mini-series. It turns out that there is another famous curse, ninety years old this year, which haunts Downton. The stately home that stands in for the Abbey is Highclere Castle, the family seat of the Carnarvons. And it was the fifth Earl of Carnarvon who sponsored the search for the tomb of Tutankhamun, found by Howard Carter in 1922. The Earl was present at the formal opening of the long-lost tomb in the Valley of the Kings in February 1923. Six weeks later he was dead, from pneumonia and blood poisoning, launching a frenzy of rumours and a host of mysterious deaths — allegedly. At Highclere, it was said the Earl’s three-legged dog Susie howled in misery and died at the precise moment of her master’s death. The sixth Earl, the surviving son, recalled all sorts of spooky events in the castle around his doomed father’s Egyptian adventure. There were séances and premonitions by fortune-tellers and Spiritualist mediums.
The Curse of King Tut was a monster bolted together by the tabloid press in the 1920s. It has often been called the first global media sensation, although it surely was not. But because rumours can never be denied, only ever more elaborated upon, the curse has proved remarkably persistent, evolving over the decades, claiming more and more victims. And now, it seems it has reached down to the set of Downton Abbey. The Daily Express and the Daily Mail reported recently that the set had been spooked by a series of uncanny events, associated with the museum display of artefacts from the tomb in the basement of Highclere Castle. The authoritative source for these stories, it transpires, is Shirley MacLaine, who will appear in a cameo role. MacLaine has been rather more famous for her occult and New Age beliefs than her acting in recent years. She reads auras and believes in reincarnation. She is one of many psychic sensitives who claim that they can see menacing presences swirling around Egyptian artefacts claimed from the graves of kings.


Thomas Douglas Murray. Courtesy of the London College of Psychic Science.

All of this is but the latest addition to a century of mummy curse stories associated with English collectors of Egyptian artefacts. In my book, The Mummy’s Curse, due out this autumn, I try to peel back the weird accumulation of stories to find the origin of these stories. The Curse of Tutankhamun flew off the presses in 1923, it turns out, because the way was prepared by two prior stories of Victorian gentlemen who had purchased mummy materials in the grey market of antiquities traders and suffered the consequences. The first, Thomas Douglas Murray, was a socialite well known for his parties with painters, actors, and African adventurers in his London town house in the 1870s. As a young man, he had bought a mummy case in Luxor in the 1860s, only to go hunting shortly afterwards, slip, and shoot his own arm off. He survived bearing this awesome wound of his colonial folly. The Priestess of Amen-Ra, as she was known, did all sorts of devilish things to Londoners until the case was presented to the British Museum in 1889. It resides in the Egyptian Rooms and is still known as the ‘Unlucky Mummy’, although much of the folk history attached to it has been shed along the way.


Walter Ingram. From the family collection of Anne Bricknell.

The second adventurer was the soldier Walter Herbert Ingram, who fought in the Zulu Wars and was a great hero of battles against Islamic rebels in Egypt and Sudan in the 1880s. Ingram bought a mummy case as a souvenir, only to be killed by an elephant on his next visit to Africa, prompting rumours that he had been cursed. Ingram was the youngest son of the founder of the Illustrated London News. His death, understandably, was a news sensation. The record of the lives of these extraordinary gentlemen has rested, largely untouched, in London’s eccentric archives and in family memorabilia, the fable of their curses wrapped around the true details of their lives.
Unravelling these histories tells us a lot about how Victorians and Edwardians used the supernatural to negotiate unease with colonial occupation and the traffic in ancient artefacts to the museums and private collections of the imperial metropolis. They tell us more, I’d like to think, than the clumsy way in which Downton Abbey’s Earl of Grantham and his sniffy butler are always bumping into world historical events.

Roger Luckhurst has written and broadcast widely on popular culture, specialising in science fiction and the Gothic. He is interested in the odd spaces between science and popular supernatural beliefs. He has previously written a history of how the notion of ‘telepathy’ emerged in the late Victorian period, and has published editions of Jekyll and Hyde and Dracula. He is also a regular radio reviewer of terrible science fiction films. He teaches horror and the occasional respectable novel by Henry James at Birkbeck College, University of London. The Mummy’s Curse: The true history of a dark fantasy is due to be published in late 2012.

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