Saturday, March 31, 2007
Throughout Nepal, both Hindus and Buddhists revere the Kumari Devi. These are young girls believed to be the incarnation of the goddess known as Taleju. The most famous of the Kumari is the Royal Kumari (see above) who resides in the capital city of Kathmandu. Many Nepalese believe that the girl is a source of supreme power, and even the king of Nepal must bow before her.
Each Kumari is chosen through an elaborate process. First, she must come from the tiny Shakya caste of silver and goldsmiths. She must also meet a long list of thirty-two physical criteria, including very black eyes and hair, unblemished skin, an appealing voice, and dainty feet. Then she is truly put to the test. The girl (who is often as young as four years old) is placed in a room with the severed heads of 108 goats and buffalo. Men in demon masks dance menacingly around her. Only a girl who shows no fear is eligible to house the goddess Taleju.
Once a girl is chosen, her life will change completely. Until she reaches puberty, her feet will never touch the ground. She will not attend school and can only enjoy the company of a few carefully chosen playmates. Crowds will wait outside her palace, hoping for a brief glimpse that will bring them good luck. The sick (particularly those suffering from blood disorders) will flock to her, bringing gifts and offerings in exchange for her blessing.
Then one day, puberty arrives and the girl returns to being a mortal. A new Kumari is anointed and the old one is banished from the palace and sent home to her parents. She's uneducated, knows no skills, and may never marry (since most Nepalese consider it bad luck to marry a former Kumari). It's a high price to pay for a few years spent as a living goddess.
Below: The Kumari Ghar, the Royal Kumari's palace in Kathmandu.
That was my reaction when I was flipping through a slide show on Newsweek's website devoted to "monster" animals. Big frogs, big snakes, big dogs. (One somewhat interesting cat.) Dull, dull, dull. And then I found Herman. He's more than three feet long and weighs upwards of 22 pounds.
Though Herman lives in Berlin with his owner, Hans Wanger, he calls to mind another giant rabbit that was terrorizing Northern England last year. Known as the were-rabbit (after the giant Wallace and Gromit character), the monstrous beast ripped up gardens for months, leaving huge bite marks in tender turnips and footprints as big as a deer's. The villagers hired two trained marksman to do away with the were-rabbit, but it disappeared without a trace sometime last summer. Let's hope it moved to a town that's a little less precious about its gardens.
Friday, March 30, 2007
It has come to my attention that an unnamed institution has banned this blog. Apparently, the source of the controversy is the silhouette of a trucker. (See below.) While it is certainly in questionable taste, (hey—nobody’s taste is perfect all the time), you’ve got to wonder what planet someone lives on if she doesn’t see a hundred worse things before breakfast. The post would qualify for a G rating.
In fact, I challenge anyone to search this blog’s 100+ posts and find one foul word, one questionable link, or one reference to anything more “scandalous” than a flying humanoid. (Sorry if I’ve disappointed anyone.)
There’s a good reason there’s nothing of that sort to be found here. I have no issues with it personally—it’s just boring. There’s too much of that stuff on every other Internet site, and the last thing I’d want is a blog that’s like all the others.
This blog is devoted to all the amazing things people overlook everyday—not the stuff they could uncover with a simple Google search.
So what do you guys think? I originally considered taking the post down because it affects one of my favorite readers, but I think it’s better to open up the topic for discussion. I'm leaving the choice up to you guys.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
In 2004, a simple science experiment conducted by two fourteen-year-old Kiwi schoolgirls exposed false advertising claims made by the second largest food and drug company in the world. Yesterday, New Zealand courts fined that company more than $200,000 for fifteen breaches of its Fair Trading Act.
Made by GlaxoSmithKline, Ribena is a well-known juice drink outside of the US. One reason for its popularity? It has long claimed to be filled with wholesome, healthy vitamin C. In fact, advertisements for the product claimed the blackcurrants in Ribena syrup have "four times the vitamin C of oranges."
That was before Jenny Suo and Anna Devathasan decided to enter the Manukau Institute of Technology science fair. They expected their experiment--measuring the vitamin C content in a variety of juices--to be completely straightforward. They certainly didn't expect any surprises. As it turned out, they found that all the products they tested contained the advertised levels of the vitamin--except one. Multiple tests showed healthy, wholesome Ribena had ZERO vitamin C.
Since then, GlaxoSmithKline has admitted misleading the public. Odds are, they wouldn't have stopped if it hadn't been for two fourteen-year-old chemists.
A deadly species of caterpillar?
The work of America's foremost gum sculptor?
Something too disgusting to discuss on this blog?
The latest in robot technology?
A delicacy found only in the mountains of China?
The answer . . . It's a caterpillar (surprise), but it's the inspiration for the latest advancements in robot technology. Scientists are busily working to create new soft-bodied robots that may look much like the creature shown above. They may even be built out of new materials similar to spider silk--which are completely biodegradable. The advantage is that these new robots will be able to go places (like ailing colons) that other robots may find difficult to reach. I'm all for progress, but the thought gives me the willies.
Monday, March 26, 2007
New York is truly a shopper's paradise. Not only is Dracula's Castle for sale here (see the post for January 10th), yesterday at an auction held at the I.M. Chait Gallery in Manhattan, New Yorkers were given the chance to purchase a mummy's hand, warthog heads, a fossilized penguin, meteorites, and the skull of a 67 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar. (Which was advertised as "perfect for a New York City apartment.)
The dinosaur skull sold for $276,000, while the mummy's hand went for a mere $4500. (And it does, indeed, look nice on my mantel.) You can read more about the items that were up for auction in the New York Times and the New York Sun.
Below: The skull that will soon decorate some lucky New Yorker's apartment.
I'm sure you've all seen a truck or two sporting "lady silhouette" mudflaps. And I bet you've also noticed that they're rarely driven by the sort of men you'd come across on the pages of GQ. So I propose giving these gentlemen a taste of their own medicine. You can now purchase stickers for the mudflaps on your own (or your parents') automobile that feature the silhouette of a rather portly trucker. I'm sure they'll get the joke, right?
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Ever wanted your own secret room, hidden passageway, or dungeon? These days, you don't need to purchase a castle to make that dream come true. Dozens of companies now specialize in creating fireplaces that rotate with the twist of a candlestick, staircases that rise to reveal hidden chambers, or library shelves that spin around when a certain book is removed. There was even a story (with some cool photos) in the New York Times last year about the growing popularity of these features. So if you're thinking of building a new home, you might want to investigate one of the sites that specialize in creating secret rooms to fit your every need.
While we're on the subject, I recommend checking out the legend of the secret room in Scotland's haunted Glamis Castle, which is said to be inhabited by either a hideously deformed aristocrat or a monster.
Images of "wise children" are everywhere today, and girls appear to be the most popular subjects. It's a world-wide phenomenon, which I find quite intriguing. Top, the work of American painter Mark Ryden. Middle, Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. Bottom, German photographer Loretta Lux.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Continuing with the Mexico theme . . . I recently came across some impressive photos of the Crystal Cave of the Giants inside the Naica Mine just south of Chihuahua City, Mexico. The "cave," which is more than 1200 feet below the surface, was accidentally discovered in 2000 by two brothers, Juan and Pedro Sanchez, who were drilling a new tunnel inside the mine. Imagine their surprise when their machinery uncovered a vast subterranean chamber filled with the largest crystals on Earth.
Later explorations determined that there are actually two chambers inside the Crystal Cave of the Giants. One is as big as a two-bedroom apartment--the other larger than a cathedral. Both feature enormous Selenite crystals, (named for the moon goddess Selene), which often reach more than twenty feet in length. Unfortunately, most sightseers can only endure a few minutes of ogling. The two chambers can reach more than 150 degrees and have been known to "bake" those who've become stranded inside them.
It's hard to believe I've been blogging for an entire year, and I haven't written a single post on the subject of UFOs. Alien visitations rank fairly high on my list of obsessions--somewhere between giant squid and Japanese variety shows. So to make up for my oversight (and the extra day without a post) I'm presenting you with what I think is one of the strangest videos I've ever seen.
Mexico (as those of you who live there must know) seems to be a major destination for extraterrestrials. Sightings of flying saucers are unusually common down south, and Mexican UFO clubs are responsible for some of the best photographic "evidence" of their existence. But this video (and I've seen others like it) is different from what you're probably expecting.
Take a look. I'm curious to know what you think.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I must take a short break from blogging in order to tend to some pressing business. (If you keep up with the news, you may know what I'm talking about.) I'll return no later than next Tuesday, March 20th with a continuation of my French adventure. (As well as the usual bizarre posts.)
Wish me luck.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
In 2004, an Englishman named Allistair Mitchell made a stunning announcement to the press. He said he'd been asked by a friend to investigate an unusual object that the man had discovered in a garage in Oxfordshire. The object, preserved in large glass jar, appeared to be a baby dragon.
Mitchell claimed that a metal tin found near the dragon contained German paperwork dating from the 1890's. According to the documents, the creature had been offered to the British Natural History Museum but was rejected as a fake by the museum's experts. Mitchell suggested that German scientists might have created the dragon in an effort to dupe their English counterparts. This time, the usually skeptical Natural History Museum was intrigued and offered to examine the specimen it had rejected more than a hundred years earlier.
As it turns out, the unusual beast was a hoax. But the Germans weren't to blame. Allistair Mitchell had gone to great lengths to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. He had commissioned a well-known special effects company to sculpt the creature and had its glass jar handmade on the Isle of Wight. His motivation? He needed a publisher for a book he was writing. And I'm pleased to report that his mission was a success.
On a related note, in May of this year, the American Museum of Natural History in New York will be featuring an exhibit that "tracks the origins of legendary creatures including dragons, unicorns, mermaids, and sea serpents." I can hardly wait!
Friday, March 9, 2007
When a gang of armed men burst into Katie Ruiz's home this week, the 12-year-old New Yorker knew just what to do. As the vicious thieves ransacked her house and terrorized her family, she managed to stay calm and think quickly.
Katie told police that she had been doing her math homework when she saw a man with a gun run past her bedroom door. According to Newsday, the men had followed her mother home from work and forced her at gunpoint to let them inside. Katie grabbed her new cell phone and ducked into a closet. She dialed 911, and within minutes the police were outside the building. All four thieves were captured as they tried to escape. They've since been charged with a long list of crimes.
Katie Ruiz, you're invited to join the Irregulars!
For the whole harrowing story, click here.
(Above) The US Postal Service has created a line of R2D2 mailboxes to mark the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. (Unfortunately their website doesn't appear to be up yet.)
(Below) A chandelier made mostly from gummy bears. Cool, but won't they melt?
Thursday, March 8, 2007
These days, you no longer need a bulky black vest to be bullet-proof. You can now purchase fashionable, light-weight suits, raincoats, and jackets made from high-tech fabrics that are designed to protect wearers from bullets, knives, and needles. You can even buy bullet-proof t-shirts and underwear.
Perhaps the most famous "bullet-proof tailor" is Miguel Caballero, a Columbian fashion designer who has crafted suits for the presidents of several South American countries. He enjoys testing his wares, and claims to have shot all eighty of his employees at one time or another. (They're all still alive, apparently.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Caballero doesn't seem to make any women's clothing. Such a shame. Check out his manly styles here.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
A hundred and fifty years ago, Barnum's American Museum was hottest ticket in New York. Owned by a flamboyant man by the name of P.T. Barnum, it housed an astounding collection of curiosities, including a bearded lady, the conjoined twins Chang and Eng, and a twenty-five inch tall man who called himself General Tom Thumb. But perhaps the museum's most infamous and controversial attraction was the FeeJee Mermaid.
In 1842, a mysterious British doctor named J. Griffin arrived in New York with what he claimed was an amazing zoological discovery--a mermaid captured in the South Pacific. The crowds who flocked to see the creature, expecting a lovely corpse, were shocked to discover a hideous animal with a monkey-like torso and a fish's tail.
Despite the creature's unsightly appearance, the FeeJee Mermaid was an instant sensation, and attendance at Barnum's museum tripled during the month it was exhibited. Unfortunately for those who laid down their hard-earned cash to see the mermaid, it was all a just a clever hoax. There was no such person as Dr. J. Griffin, and the mermaid was merely an unusual piece of taxidermy.
Several months before “Dr. J. Griffin” arrived in New York, P.T. Barnum had leased the creature from another showman. By that time it had already traveled the globe. Many now believe it originated in Japan, where fishermen were known to craft fake mermaids by attaching the upper half of a monkey to the bottom half of a fish. A sailor originally purchased the mermaid and planned to exhibit it in London. Unfortunately, it was debunked by experts before he could make his fortune.
Barnum, of course, was smarter. He was well aware that the mermaid was a fake, but thanks to his ingenious publicity campaign, he made a mint long before the truth came out.
No one knows what happened to the Feejee Mermaid. It disappeared sometime after 1859 and may have been destroyed when Barnum's American Museum burned down in the 1860's. However, Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has an excellent example of a FeeJee Mermaid in storage, and some have even suggested that it may be the original. (See the photo below.)
Explore a wonderful virtual recreation of Barnum's American Museum here.
The geniuses at New York Magazine have compiled a list of the most amusingly named port-a-potty companies around the country. Here are the top 20.
20. Happy Can Portable Toilets, Atlanta
19. Drop Zone Portable Service Inc., Frankfort, Ill.
18. Blackmas Best Seat In The House Inc., Bradley, Ill.
17. Plop Jon Inc., Port Saint Lucie, Fla.
16. A.S.A.P. Port-A-Pots Inc., Hampstead, Md.
15. Ameri-Can Engineering, Argos, Ind.
14. Bobby's Pottys, Joppa, Md.
13. Johnny On The Spot Inc., Old Bridge, N.J.
12. LepreCAN Portable Restrooms, Chicago
11. Loader-Up, Inc., Sarasota, Fla.
10. Mister Bob's Portable Toilets, Vero Beach, Fla.
9. Royal Throne, Washington, D.C.
8. Tanks Alot, Tomball, Tex.
7. Tee Pee Inc, Roseville, Mich.
6. Wizards of Ooze Ltd., Anacortes, Wash.
5. Oui Oui Enterprises Ltd., Chicago
4. Gotta Go Potties, Tobyhanna, Pa.
3. UrinBiz.com, Chicago
2. Willy Make It?, Oregon City, Oreg.
1. Doodie Calls, New Orleans
Can you believe someone got paid to put that list together? I want his job!
Monday, March 5, 2007
If you've ever flown over Manhattan, you may have observed something rather unusual. On top of 77 Water Street in New York's financial district is a bright green landing strip and a WWI era aircraft. The Sopwith Camel plane is an art installation created in 1969 by Rudolph de Harak and William Tarr. It's only purpose is to amuse the workers in nearby skyscrapers.
Grand Central Station in Manhattan is one of the most famous train stations in the world, and like many of New York's historic buildings, it has its own share of secrets. For instance, of the millions of people hurry through the station every year, most are unaware of the existence of a mysterious room called the "Campbell Apartment."
Tucked away in a hidden corner of the building, the magnificent space features an unusual mix of Medieval and Renaissance decor. There's an enormous fireplace, painted ceilings, and wood-paneled walls. This was once the strange and wonderful office of John W. Campbell.
A wealthy businessman, John Campbell built his Grand Central office in the early 1920s. He made sure his unusual workspace came with all the amenities--a kitchen, butler, pipe organ, and a Persian rug worth 3.5 million dollars in today's money. Very little is known about the eccentric Mr. Campbell, and some have suggested that he may have actually lived in the train station--a theory many experts reject.
When Campbell died in 1957, his "apartment" became the Grand Central jail. In the late 1990's, however, the space was restored to its former glory and used to house a bar. Finding it may require a little searching, but it's well worth the trouble.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
The New York Times has never been known for its whimsicality, but perhaps that’s about to change. (And I’m not sure how I feel about it.) This weekend, they’re sponsoring a scavenger hunt. Anyone with a camera is invited to submit photos of sights that are unique to the greatest city on earth. A short sample:
Worst (most disgusting) bagel toppings
Most unusual fruit for sale (I nominate the durian—see below.)
Cheesiest Statue of Liberty souvenir (aren’t they all?)
Worst dressed dog
Most dogs with one human (minimum four dogs)
Most useful piece of garbage
Pedestrian triple-tasking (people doing at least three things at once—while walking)
However, should you take a picture of a celebrity, you’ll be fined 20 points. In New York, you’re supposed to ignore them.
I would like to add the following to the New York Times list:
Sewer alligators (+100 points if they're albino)
Exploding manhole (happens more often than you’d think)
Fiercest subway rat (that might be too easy)
Most questionable meat product
Highest ranking member of an organized crime family
Female cab driver (why aren’t there more?)
Unusual city wildlife (choose from a list of beavers, turkeys, coyotes, dolphins, seals, and reality TV stars)
The Irregulars logo
Saturday, March 3, 2007
Archaeologists believe they have discovered the remains of Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, in the waters off the coast of North Carolina. Though Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, enjoyed only a brief (two year) career as a pirate, his legend has lasted almost three centuries.
Renowned for his cruelty, Blackbeard is rumored to have shot his own first mate, an act he explained by noting that if he didn’t shoot a sailor or two now and then, they might forget who he was. He's also said to have prepared for battle by winding flaming matches into his beard--an inspired bit of stagecraft, which led many a foe to compare his appearance to that of the devil. (How Blackbeard managed to save his whiskers from incineration is anyone's guess.)
In 1718, Blackbeard was killed and beheaded by naval officers acting on the orders of Virginia's governor. (His head was suspended from the bow of a navy ship as a warning to other pirates.) Legend has it that when his headless body was thrown overboard, it swam around the ship several times before sinking.
As for treasure, aside from a few bits of jewelry and some artifacts that only an archaeologist could love, there's unlikely to be much aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge. If, as many believe, Blackbeard did indeed have a treasure, it's still out there waiting to be found.
Below: Blackbeard's Dreaded Flag
According to the Gothamist, there are quite a few counterfeit bills floating around New York these days. If you want to avoid the embarrassment (and financial suffering) that comes with having your money confiscated by the savvy clerk at Starbucks, it's probably a good idea to learn how to tell a fake bill from a real one.
The Secret Service has a great website that can teach you to identify counterfeit money. You can also check out these PDFS that show you how to examine $50 and $100 bills.
For years, I've been intrigued by the Southeast Asian durian fruit. Not only is it extremely large and covered in needle-sharp spikes (somewhat like a medieval weapon), its fruit is said to possess one of the foulest odors known to man.
While the taste of the durian is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, the smell has been described as "dead dog," "gym sock," "stale vomit," "skunk spray," and "sewage." In fact the odor is so powerful that the durian is banned from many public places in Southeast Asia. Once the fruit is open, its odor can it can taint an entire room or subway car. That's why every spring, Malaysian hotels battle their own customers to keep the fruit out of their buildings. An interesting video report on these "Durian Wars" can be found on the National Geographic website.
This morning I had an opportunity to sample the strange fruit. (And of course, I was careful to open it outside.) The fragrance was reminiscent of a rotten Easter egg that's been forgotten under the sofa and rediscovered sometime in May. The flavor and texture, however, were not unlike custard. A really eggy custard. (If you like eggs, which I don't, it would probably be delicious. I can understand why durians can sell for up to $50.) All in all, it was a very unusual experience--one I probably won't be repeating any time soon.