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  • Beachcombed 39 September 1, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback


    Dear Reader, a long argument just finished with elder daughter about why she can’t buy ‘a short pointy thing’ for a three year old boy; almost as good as the argument about why we can’t keep a wolf as a pet (yesterday and the day before). In any case, onto more important things. August was a fertile month: seven articles written, two short stories and, most importantly, no poems: though perhaps I feel a sonnet coming on for my elder daughter. Father-in-law continues to fight the good fight against the builder who is trying to bilk him out of tens of thousands of euros and for which fil is almost entirely culpable. Then, term is about to start. Today off to look for wolves in the mountains (notice a theme?). First minor appointment is on Wed and the first full week is 9 Sept. But God it has been good: cool evenings, talking to friends on the phone, putting my back out, African hedgehogs, fried peppers, building fairy houses with infants… Best off site articles this month include Scandinavian leprechauns; this video of a wolf man (theme continues); a tribute to Baldwin IV (with predictable Gladiator music) that makes a terrible film almost watchable; history jokes; fairy faith documentary; brilliant piece on Britain’s sorry excuse for spies; the selfish age; the Jerusalem syndrome and, best of all, the fabulous, fabulous series of maps (still haven’t worked my way through it yet as am enjoying so much)… Live long and prosper and remember that summer is a state of mind, something Beach will be telling himself a lot as he rolls out of bed at 2.30 AM on 9. And yet life keeps getting better. There follow the links for this month (thanks to all contributors) and then the 13,000 most important words from the blog this month. Sorry, I exaggerated. For my money the best email was Dirk on rats: still having nightmares about that one.

    New England Fairies: Richard writes I am writing to you today in regards to your interests of finding Fairie lore in New Hampshire. I noticed your blog entry “Irish Fairies in New Hamphsire”, I am from the Derry New Hampshire (previously known as Nutfield) which was settled in 1719 by Irish-Scott immigrants. The area boasts that the first potato harvested in the United States was grown here. There is a local legend that is intertwined with native American and the first European settlers of the area. the legend is of Tsiennetto (T is silent) which is a local lake in Derry. The Native American legend is of a spirit that haunts the lake and then there is also the settler stories that it is a fairy that resides within the lake. Either way both cultures have similar stories about the same area. As for local towns Sandown is the closest and I believe has a tavern from the early colonial era. I do think that it is interesting that you mention the author J.G.Whittier and the blog entrys I am sending you refer to a  Mrs. J. G. MacMurphy. Coincidence? Also the book  Nutfield Rambles, by Richard Holmes, Peter E.  Randall Publisher, Portsmouth, NH, 2007 page 12 says that Tsienneto was an Indian word for a local fairy or wood nymph. Sorry it isn’t much information but I do have a couple of links provided below that do cover some of the stories around this subject. (1) and (2). Thanks Richard!

    Death of Books: Norm writes: the last line in todays post is where the money is today, popular fiction still can be the lottery. Harry Potter is proof of that. The hard copy at the beach is still alive and well; I was reading Salt a few years ago at the beach, a nonfiction history of salt and got nothing but ridicule from the rest of the beach book crowd, they were all reading fiction. All fiction is plagiarized from something, we just recycle the plots with different bling and that is the key. Pick up a Walter Scott or DeFoe, pick out the parts that fit and insert your bogarts, fieries or what ever part of your research that fits, cut and past so to speak and you have a book. Michener had a formula that worked well enough to make him a wealthy man, the  Clan of the Caveman books were similar. My point is you can still be a serious historian and make money off your writing. Asamov did both, he wrote textbooks and sent us to the future, you can do the same but a trip into the paranormal or the past. A bit of spice, a bit of blood, human relationships, they are what people want in their leisure reading, and they are willing to pay. The path to the lottery type payout is a book that is written so it can be made into a film, writing the screenplay while cut and pasting the book together will enable you to sell both as  an off the shelf type product. I repeat, all fiction is stolen from people who came before; how many versions of Ivanhoe have you seen in your life? As to the Sea Peoples or Phoenicians, they got around, London for sure, I suspect the Americas but that is based on art found in the Americas. Gotland would be a good bet, even odds or better just because it is in the way when puttering  about the northern inland sea. Africa, a trip around the cape was within their capacity, proof? none. Jari then chips in:  Your Reader here. You might be interested in my experiences. Why books are not dying. Once upon a time I had in my mind an updated and elaborated book of silly history with all the usual suspects, beginning with McGonagall and ending with failed predictions of significant men of letters and authority. There are myriads of books like that, and I call them entertainment, nothing more, nothing less. It bothered me that most of those books only pick up some juicy parts and leave the whole story, the tragedy and comedy of life, untold. I wanted to correct that and so I made a manuscript. The best response came from a big established publisher who praised my style (I intentionally made an (pitiful) exercise in imitating British humour), but refused to publish it, simply because they didn’t believe it  would sell. So what, I thought, and made a blog. There I posted the stories I had compiled for the book. Years passed. Meanwhile I had published a couple of books on other topics,  and my publisher asked whether I was interested to edit the best of my blog into a book. Funny that you mentioned that… A Sensible History Of World (ISBN 9789517924658), containing the stories I had previously published in a blog, was out in 2010. Some previously published chapters were expanded and partly rewritten. Biography of Nikola Tesla became two times longer as old version. New illustrations were picked from old magazines and archives. The book went into 2nd printing. As you can guess, it’s not a real moneymaker. Language is Finnish. Market area is Finland. Usual 1st printing is 1000 copies. Anyway, this is one possible model that can be followed. Free web version is a marketing tool for the book, and people seem to be willing to buy the web content as a book that has new and expanded material mixed with old stuff. Thanks Jari and Norm!

    Blunt Swords: Mark Davis writes I was told by a Civil War reenactor that the sabers were blunt because they tended to stick into bone and catch if sharpened.Keeping them blunt prevented this and also prevented weakness in the blade from over sharpening.Remember,sharp or not this thin metal rod would crack skulls open…especially from horseback. MC writes: Ah what a kettle of fish we have here. I have nothing conclusive to offer, but in general, the nineteenth century saw long and bitter debates about the role of the modern cavalryman, and whether the cavalry sabre was to be regarded as a slashing or a stabbing weapon. This debate was going on worldwide, with troopers being equipped with differently designed swords every few years and having to be retrained for a different fencing style … again. As late as 1913, an obscure second Lieutenant named George S Patton wrote a manual of swordsmanship called “The Form and Use of the Saber”. He wrote  : “In the Peninsula War the English nearly always used the sword for cutting. The French dragoons, on the contrary, used only the point which, with their long straight swords caused almost always a fatal wound. This made the English protest that the French did not fight fair. Marshal Saxe wished to arm the French cavalry with a blade of a triangular cross section so as to make the use of the point obligatory. At Wagram, when the cavalry of the guard passed in review before a charge, Napoleon called to them, “Don’t cut! The point! The point!”  In the end, stabbing won. One of the last major sabre designs issued to any major army was the 1908 Trooper’s sword (and the related 1912 Officer’s pattern that is still carried in the British Army on ceremonial occasions). It is a purely stabbing weapon that is widely regarded as the perfect cavalryman’s weapon.  Of course, it was introduced just as cavalry was finally becoming totally obsolete. So what you are seeing here is probably an internal squabble between combatants who had been to the same military academies, been indoctrinated into the same military thinking du jour, and now one side is proposing to do something contrary to accepted doctrine, introducing an element of surprise. It’s just not gentlemanly! JCE writes: Regarding the question of dull American sabres/sabers in the American Civil War (ACW), I was surprised to learn there was controversy associated with the practice of blade sharpening. I was aware of the American peccadillo about sabres although am unaware if it was widespread. I know that British cavalry usually sharpened their sabres in the days after the ACW, and I think it was the practice in British units in the Napoleonic Wars. For example, I know some of Napoleon’s cavalry feared and objected to the use by English dragoons of their deeply curved 1796 Pattern Light Cavalry Sabre , which delivered devastating slashing cuts. The French themselves generally preferred less curved sabres with sharpened points , particularly in the case of their cuirassiers’ perfectly straight, long sabre blade. Tactics was behind the preference, as the French taught their cavalry to thrust with the sabre, which delivered a highly lethal piercing wound; while the English opted for the chopping, hacking and slashing with their scimitar-like blades. The outcome was that the French method led to higher lethality, but the English way resulted in far more, and more grievous, wounds, which were often permanently disabling.  I don’t know where the practice would have come from in American units, but their officers tended to worship European military practice, particularly those associated with the Napoleonic Wars. So I can’t understand where the penchant for fighting with dull blades came from. if indeed it was more widespread than an isolated practice. I had assumed that it was a tactical preference, not a moral choice. I had thought, and perhaps had read many decades ago, that a blunt sabre was preferred by some because it posed little chance of biting too deep into flesh  or bone, and thus getting stuck and disarming the bearer. I guess the theory is that a sharpened blade might bite too deep, like a sharpened ax might get stuck in green wood. I have my doubts that a sharpened saber would bite to the point of being irretrievable. I do know that of the relatively few sabre wounds treated in the US Civil War, they seemed to be crushing rather than cutting wounds. I fail to see how a completely fractured arm or a depressed fracture of the skull is in any way more humane than a deep, clean cut to flesh or bone. Perhaps it had to do with the relative inability to stop bleeding in the ACW. They could deal with broken bones and crushed skulls; but a trooper who had an artery severed by a sharpened sabre in the field was almost certainly a corpse before a surgeon could treat him. I came across some web pages of sword enthusiasts in which the dull sabre question is bandied about. I think they may discuss some of the answers I suggest.  This link, which appears to deal with, uh, zombies and sabres, has a pretty detailed general discussion of sabre tactics and the history of the thrust vs. cut controversy.  I’m unsure which method is more effective with zombies. But the whole issue is made all the more irrelevant because of the bias against sabres in the ACW. I know the ideal is of the beau sabreur, clad in plumed hat and thigh-high boots, flashing his sabre in a gallant charge across a field to do battle with his counterpart, but I think reality is different. Cavalry troopers of both sides preferred firearms, either carbines or multiple multi-shot pistols. It was not unusual to see troopers go into battle armed with two brace of revolvers, or even more. They would fire at close range while moving or nearly so, replace the empty pistol in a holster and then choose another to continue firing and riding.  Wade writes: My Dad was a Civil War buff and had a pretty good library. I remember reading somewhere that US and Confederate calvary troops mostly fought with carbines and pistols, so that the saber was almost a relic weapon for them. This post mentions that the sabers came unsharpened from the factories.  Fifth post down by Jim McDougal Here is an interesting aside from Wikipedia on Nathan Bedford Forrest and saber sharpening: At six feet, two inches (1.88 m) tall and 210 pounds (95 kg; 15 stone), Forrest was physically imposing and intimidating, especially compared to the average height of men at the time. He used his skills as a hard rider and fierce swordsman to great effect. (He was known to sharpen both the top and bottom edges of his heavy saber.) KHM writes: The key phrase here seems to be “civilized warfare,”  an oxymoron in our thermonuclear era. The notion that war can be civilized  primarily derives from Christian sources dating back to Medieval times. The church then was successful in prohibiting war activity on Sunday, on church lands, and gave sanctuary  to those fleeing to places of worship, for example. It also expounded on what a “just war” would entail. However, with the advent of cannons and firearms, especially since the time of Napoleon, considerations of this sort have been in serious decline; and after the experience with Hitler, we look with astonishment at the idea that sabers should be deliberately left blunt. It gives us a realistic idea of how brutal and inhumane war has become in the last 150+ years, but the bright side is that medicine has correspondingly made great advances in treating battle wounds with anesthetics, blood plasma, antibiotics, etc. Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes: I always thought cavalry sabers were primarily decorative/ceremonial, like a field marshal’s baton. My great-great grandfather, who was just a private, used his for bashing at the enemy’s sword, rather than cutting off heads and limbs. But it didn’t do you any good if you couldn’t hold onto the blessed thing: On an expedition to Knoxville, Tennessee, Company M [Third Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Cavalry] charged a company of Georgia cavalry and Private Jacob Kreis selected his man. As they came in collision and their sabers clashed, Jake’s saber flew out of his grasp, but with great presence of mind he spurred his horse close to his enemy; seized him by his long hair, dragged him off his horse and captured him. As Jake said, “When I goes for you, I takes you.” He had herculean strength, and the rebel was not his equal. From the History of Morrow County [Ohio], p. 173  It was said that Nathan Bedford Forrest always sharpened his sabers on both sides for better efficiency. But of course, he wasn’t noted for being sporting. If the US cavalry wanted efficiency, they should have adopted the Japanese tachi. Ruthunstoppablycurious writes ‘You can still get a very nasty cut from a dull sabre–especially when swung from the back of a horse at full gallop. The dam Yankees hadn’t figured out that it was war, not a war “game”, as in “We’ll just scowl at the Southerners and wave our swords and they’ll all go home and cower.”. (Though one could say that about most wars at the beginning, no one takes the aggressor seriously until things are getting serious and bloody.) The South was also at the let’s all pretend we’re gentlemen until things get serious. The whole thing was a stupid waste of men and resources because one area was gaining on the other when it came to manufacturing, slavery was only a side note and a way to rally people to the cause. Yes, it should have been abolished, but there were peaceful ways of doing it. Sorry I got off the subject here!’ Thanks Ruth, to Chris, Michael, KMH, Wade, Mark and Stephen D again!

    Lloyd’s Head: The Count writes: How curious that you should discuss those head-stealing Maoris only two days after your post on bulletproof Mormons, which may have inspired the Ghost Shirt movement, since you didn’t mention that there’s a kind of connection. It’s not uncommon for tiny, mad religious movements, especially those with their backs against the wall because they’re facing overwhelming armed opposition, to somehow come to believe that they cannot be killed by gunfire. Pai Mārire was founded by the clearly psychotic Te Ua Haumene, who reacted to losing a tribal debate about matters not in any way connected with religion by claiming to have been visited by the Archangel Gabriel, as a result of which he not only became a prophet, but (reports from his own followers are confused as to exactly what happened next) either sacrificed his own child to Jehovah, or broke the poor kid’s leg and then cured it by magic. Or at any rate, he said he’d done one or both of these things to a lot of other Maoris. He also decided that his group’s victory in the skirmish you discussed was not due to the Maoris employing excellent tactics that almost guaranteed a win, but divine intervention, therefore they couldn’t lose, and could in fact protect themselves from bullets by raising their right hands and continuously repeating a chant consisting mainly of the word “Hua!”, meaning “Over!”, as a result of which they became popularly known as Huahuas. This also led to the Surreal spectacle of Maori warriors charging fearlessly into battle holding up one hand and, as far as the British soldiers could tell, barking like dogs.No actual bulletproof garments were employed in this instance, since the bullets were supposed to miss completely rather than bounce off, but the idea was the same, and equally successful. Three weeks after their supposedly miraculous victory, several hundred of them tested their supernatural protection by attempting to storm a small fort containing 75 soldiers and 2 mortars by running straight at it. They were of course utterly routed, and were probably lucky to get away with casualties of only 20% – presumably the other 80% noticed fairly quickly that it wasn’t working.’ Thanks Count!

    Black Dogs and Fear: CS writes: Apologies if you covered this topic in the past, or tangented it, but I’m still putting it out there. Black Dog Bias  “Black dog bias is a veterinarian and animal shelter phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over for adoption in favor of lighter-colored animals.[1] Black dog bias is also known as “big black dog syndrome.” Shelters often use the term BBD, or big black dog, to describe the type of larger dark-colored mixed-breed typically passed over by adopters.” Maybe it has roots in folklore’ Then there is Ivo: I’ve studied the subject of the black dog for years. Here in Holland we have numerous stories with black dogs. A lot of them are so called kettinghonden (chained dogs), dogs of farmers, chained outside. They let their presence known by rattling a chain, just like ghosts and some ufo stories. On the subject of fear: in the talk radio show of Theo Paijmans in ca. 1997 (I was his sidekick and note taker on the show) there was a caller who saw a big orange orb of light which flew next to him, about 10 yards away on the right. It followed him for about 100 yards, after which it flew away. The sighting is not that remarkable, but he told the audience that he was afraid, very afraid during the encounter. He was an ex-marine (aren’t they all:-) and he said he was afraid of nothing. But the moment the orb came into view and started to follow him, he felt afraid, more afraid than ever. He had never been so afraid of something in his life. What, indeed, is this fear. Numbers of ufo sighters mention this fear, Bigfoot sighters as well. It seems that the paranormal has a fear component, which seems to make it a physical something. Something intrusive into our reality. Yeeps!’ Finally we have the great Mike Dash: I think the imagery of Hans Christian Anderson helps to explain their impact … I still vividly remember the fairy story (The Tinder Box) about the dog with eyes as big as saucers, and the one with eyes as big as mill wheels, etc. It’s something that’s familiar (a dog) that morphs into something that is supernatural (a very big dog, with very peculiar eyes) – that is, the supernatural sneaking up on us when we are unawares, and getting right up close before the big jump cut. PS – Are you familiar with the tale of the Grey Dog of Meoble? That’s my personal favourite. Thanks to Mike, CS and Ivo.

    Laddering: Neil B writes in: This sounds like a skimmington or stang. This “rough music” was a common method of expressing local community disapproval of private behaviour. It is found fairly widely in England – skimmington tends to be the form in Somerset & Wiltshire, while stang seems to be more common in the north but the format is generally the same. In early modern England it was more usually the reverse; men humiliated for failing to live up to their role of head of their household. However, the history of spousal relationships in early modern England is an area in which historical study is too often coloured by the politics of the author. There is a frieze depicting a Skimmington Ride at Montacute House, in Somerset, http://montacutehouse.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/skimmington-ride.html The main academic work is by David Underdwown, though now quite old, which is primarily based on Somerset. Underdown, D. (1985). The Taming of the scold: The enforcement of Patriarchal authorityin early modern England. In: ‘Order and Disorder’ in Early Modern England. Ed. Fletcher, A., Stevenson, J. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press Underdown, D. (1985). Revel, Riot and Rebellion. Oxford. Oxford University Press. Thanks Neil!

    Totalitarian Idiots: Tacitus from Detritus makes an obvious point that I should have caught. How could you not have an entire post on Idi Amin?  Why his titles alone cry out to be mocked.  And among much that is simply unsavory to bestial in his regime there was considerable comic gold. My personal favorite was the special Suicide Commandos he kept on hand.  Leggy gals, including wife number 5, reportedly willing to die for him. At the last however he was abandoned by them all and ended his days in Saudi Arabia.  I read somewhere that he could often be found at the local Pizza Hut in Jedda’. The great Mike Dash writes: I suspect this tendency has a pretty long history, and while of course much depends on how one defines “bizarre”, many of the actions of the First Emperor of China might qualify, from his burning of all histories of older regimes (apparently so he could not be unfavourably compared to any earlier ruler) to ordering the standardisation of all Chinese cart axles so the newly unified nation’s carts could all run in the same ruts. Rather like Ataturk’s insistence that Turkey switch from Arab to European script, or Sweden’s decision to stop driving on the left, such decisions make a good deal of post hoc sense, but imagine the chaos at the time. The Ottomans also boasted a long line of unhinged dictators; a close parallel to Kim Jong Un’s machine-gunning of his old mistress was the order, issued by Ibrahim the Mad in the mid seventeenth century, to sew all his harem girls into weighted sacks and drop them into the Bosphorus. My old history teacher’s version of these events was that he did this solely so he could have the pleasure of selecting their replacements; no wonder I acquired a lasting fondness for Turkish history. And in recent times, it’s hard to outdo the 250ft tall Arch of Neutrality erected in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan by President Saparmurat Niyazov in 1998. This monument – constructed, in one critics’ words, to resemble “a gigantic rotisserie” – was topped by a 39-foot high gold plated statue of Niyazov himself which was designed to rotate slowly throughout the day so that the figure always faced the sun. NPM writes: I’m not sure we can leave Nero out of this discussion.  Pliny the Elder and Suetonius(??-I think it was in his “Lives of the Caesars”) talk about Nero’s one-time hobby of dressing up as a commoner and mugging people in the streets of Rome at night.  When his victims realized that it was the emperor mugging them, they were obliged to stop fighting back and give him their stuff, lest they face imperial punishment.  Pliny says that after the fact, the emperor was said to treat his bruises with the sap of the deadly carrot (Thapsia sp.) to make the swelling go down (though he found this to be suspect, since Thapsia and other species in the Apiaceae contain chemicals that can cause nasty skin reactions). And of course, we could go on about Augustus, too.  Suetonius says the first emperor actually had a squad of men that he sent around the countryside to find good looking virginal girls and bring them back to his palace in Rome so that he could deflower them.  The emperors seem to be a treasure trove.’ Thanks to Mike, Tacitus and NPM for getting all classical on us! Beach hopes to start a series Totalitarian Twits.

    Hydropathy: MJH writes I am the family historian and got interested [in hydropaphy] when my father left me [my great grandfather’s] Alfred’s 1857-58 medical school notebook.  This began several years of research on a subject I knew nothing about, but have since become very interested in.  I transcribed several letters Alfred wrote while working at the Franklin Water Cure in Franklin, Tennessee, and nearly 200 letters written home during the Civil War.  I’m currently working on an article about Alfred’s Battle of Gettysburg experience and hope to do a biography before putting his memory to rest. In brief, I became a convert to the idea of hydropathy in a mid-19th century context.  Not for a modern practitioner, of course, because we have medicines that actually work, for the most part, and better understand the causes of disease.  But in a time when mercury, opium, lobelia, and arsenic were the most common ingredients in medicines, using the water cure was actually an incredibly good alternative. Not because of what it WAS, but because of what it WASN’T.  In some ways, hydropaths stumbled on some helpful treatments without realizing the science behind why they were effective.  They were very cognizant of mercury, arsenic, opium, etc. being poisonous and bad for people.  But they were more than just placebo vendors. Hydropaths advocated treatment of illness with cold water (now known as a stimulant to the immune system and a mild aid to decrease inflammation, and a way to clean infected sores on the body).  Cold water was applied, but then followed by brisk rubbing with towels while the patient was wrapped in a sheet.  This stimulated blood flow, also a mild aid to circulation.  They advocated clean air, clean unpolluted drinking water in place of beer or spirits, vegetarianism or at least the cutting back of eating fried meats and foods, eating vegetables and unrefined grains, cutting down on sugar, taking mild exercise, and various other ‘heathful’ practices that physicians and health gurus are still trying to get us to follow today.  They also believed in establishing sewers and cleaning rotten matter from the streets in order to keep drinking supplies cleaner.  The beginnings of public health. As far as I was able to determine, a patient in the mid-19th century was actually far better off following a hydropathic treatment.  They would be adopting healthy living practices that might allow the body to heal and recover on its own, they practiced mild aids to improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation, which again would allow the body to heal naturally.  But most importantly, they allowed people to detox if they were taking preparations heavily loaded with toxic substances. The only time, of course, when mercury was of use was if the malady being treated was syphilis. However, if one suffered from anything other than syphilis, most mid-19th century medicines (at least the mercury preparations) actually made the patient sicker and compromised the immune system.  Another mid-19th century issue in American medicine was the idea that the body needed to be ‘purged’ of illness.  This led to the use of harsh emetics and purgatives for many conditions that already involved dehydration, which just led to quicker death.  Hydropaths not only did not believe in purging dehydrated people, but they forced hydration, which again (for reasons they did not understand) sometimes resulted in people recovering.  I can only speak for the United States, which used mercury in the form of “blue mass” pills to excess (even President Lincoln suffered from mild mercury poisoning from taking blue mass pills until he gave up their use after realizing they made him feel worse).  British physicians may have relied on different materia medica.  But in the US, hydropathy made a lot of sense until medicine moved beyond the theories of Galen to laboratory experimentation and the beginning of ‘modern’ medicine in the 1880s. It’s very easy for us to laugh at incorrect theories of the past, but hydropaths were serious about their philosophy.  The fact that it did cure some people, not necessarily for the reasons proposed by its practitioners, should make us examine the science behind it and not assume placebo as the convenient, and only, reason.  Hope this gives some food (and water) for thought on the plae of hydropathy in mid-19th century medical practice. Thanks MJH!

    Pre Vikings: Nils writes: Could it be that they were fishermen?  In later times during the middle ages and Renaissance, fishermen seem to always be the vanguard of settlement–northern European fishermen pop up along what is now Cape Cod before any Englishmen show up in boats, and apparently even had a settlement there.  So could it be that prior to the big population boom of the 7th-8th centuries, fishing boats were making a base of operations in the Faroes? And just for fun: perhaps they were stranded Greeks, hunting for Ultima Thule….. An old friend of this blog, Leif writes: Your page begins ‘Beach has never hidden his dislike for the Vikings’. The good doctor is always entitled to his opinions, but he might like to know that the Norwegians use two entirely separate words for the English term. ‘Norrønafolk’ means ‘old norse’ and refers to the Scandinavian population of that era. ‘Viking’ refers only to the raiders.  At any given point in time, only a small percentage of the old norse were raiders, though in difficult times, a vocational change was always a possibility. It’s fair to say that the history being rewritten is not the historical tradition of the old norse. The opposite is closer to the truth. The recent archeological findings confirm saga tradition. (Forgive this layman for a Wikipedia source, school started this week. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Færeyinga_Saga ) The Færeyinga Saga exists only in fragments. The excerpt found in Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar begins: ‘There was a man named Grímr Kamban; He first settled in Færøy. But in the days of Harold Fairhair [Harald Hårfagre]  many men fled before the king’s overbearing.’ ‘Grimr’ is an old norse name. ‘Kamban’ is not. Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar implies that this man came from the British Isles, not from Norway. Quoting from Wikipedia (again, sorry) ‘The text says that many men fled from Norway when Harald Hårfagre was king there. But it also says that the isles were settled before that (possibly for hundreds of years, although most historians do not think so).’  They do now. Thanks Leif and Nils!

    Sentry Duty: Dennis writes in with this one: I cannot verify this sea story as true, but the originator swore this happened as related. In the late 1970s, the NATO army in germany constantly prepared for the feared Soviet assault over the border from East Germany to West Germany. To keep the troops ready and prepared, there were numerous competitions for things like best tank crew, most accurate bombing squadron, and such. One such event was a competition for the best artillery crews.  This was run by the US Army’s Vth Corps training desk.  Each NATO country nominated it’s best artillery section, which then went through a series of events (like moving on a road to a field, setting up to fire, and getting off an aimed round.)  Everything was rated by accuracy and by time. Surpisingly, the british army, which had a long tradition of excellence with their artillery, regularly came in last.  One of the great innovators, their artillery came to France in 1940 with only gasoline powered vehicles to power the great guns.  Unlike the germans who continued using horses to pull the guns throughout the war, they were totally mechanised.  The evaluators got hold of a video camera and taped the entire event to better understand why some teams did better than others. As usual, the british came in last, even behind the the Belgians and Dutch, who fielded part time soldiers.  On checking the film, they noticed one quirk in the british drill.  After the gun was loaded and aimed, one of the loaders, suddenly ran twenty yards back, about faced, came to attention, and yelled “Ready”.  After firing, he would run back to the crew and assist in loading, before doing it again when the gun was loaded. No one could figure out why the one fellow had to make a long dash to the rear.  A quick check of the british drill manual showed this was a requirement, but did not explain why.  The brits readily accepted this part of the official drill was holding them back, but couldn’t change the rules. It might have lingered there, but the staff did have one objective of better preparing to meet the Soviet assault.  If the artillery drill was holding back part of NATO, it needed to be changed. After many letters and calls, the staff finally spoke on the phone with a really old, sergeant major in the british defence ministry.  Explaining what they had found, they asked what was the loader doing running to the rear and waiting from back there for the weapon to be fired. “Aow, ‘e’s ‘oldin’ the ‘orses!” Next year, the british won the competition. And shockingly we get this from Michael C: I’ve heard a similar story. During WWII, a US general observed artillery drill. The gun (a fairly small one) was unhitched from the Jeep that had been pulling it to the firing range and was loaded. Just before firing, two soldiers took ten steps back and stood there at attention for the entire live-fire exercise. No explanation for this could be found until they found an old soldier who said, “Ah, yes. They are there to hold the horses so they don’t get spooked and run off.” Tacitus from Detritus writes in: The tedium associated with guarding Bess Truman, widow of Harry S. Truman, was the stuff of legend among the Secret Service. Now days ex presidents and their spouses do not automatically get this coverage for life. These guys at least got to work on their Masters degrees!  The poor Russian sentry not so much. Larry D writes in ‘I remember a story about a sentry posted on the channel coast of England to raise the alarm if he spotted Napoleon’s fleet, and someone still holding some verison of that job, supposedly, in the twentieth century. but so far I can’t find a reference online. This may not be the kind of thing you’re looking for, but: Japanese hold out…  Thanks Larry, Dennis, MC and Tacitus.

    Monkey Magic! Ray G, an old friend of this blog writes in: I think that’s a slightly harsh assessment. The Monkey series ‘jumped the shark’ plot-wise well before it finished, but a deal of its distinctive content was highly authentic to source. For instance, Monkey’s powers, shapeshifting, the variable-sized staff that could fit in his ear, the magic headband, the magic cloud, the ability to make his hairs transform (into more monkeys, swords, etc) … and that episode of pissing on Buddha’s hand. I did rather like the cartoon portrayal (done by the animators for Gorrilaz) they used for the Monkey-themed BBC advertising for the 2008 Olympics: Thanks Ray!

    Fairies in Space: The great Chris S has sent this in. At least for me it proved an education. Well worth reading though it is long. I would like to suggest looking at Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. He has little red people who are the fae spying upon the big clumsy humans who are colonizing their homeworld. Of course KSR puts it all in the context of folklore rather than something people actually believe which may or may not be a Good Thing ™. Another fae who gets mentioned a lot is Big Man. On Mars, everything’s big. Valles Marineris, Olympus Mons, et al in comparison to Earth despite Mars’s size in comparison. “It seemed, however, to be a world without life. People searched for signs of past or present Martian life, anything from microbes to the doomed canal-builders, or even alien visitors. As you know, no evidence for any of these has ever been found. And so stories have naturally blossomed to fill the gap, just as in Lowell’s time, or in Homer’s, or in the caves or on the savannah– stories of microfossils, wrecked by our bio-organisms, of ruins found in dust storms and then lost forever, of Big Man and all his adventures, of the elusive little red people, always glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. And all of these tales are told in an attempt to give Mars life, or to bring it to life. Because we are still those animals who survived the Ice Age, and looked up at the night sky in wonder, and told stories. And Mars has never ceased to be what it was to us from our very beginning– a great sign, a great symbol, a great power. And so we came here. It had been a power; now it became a place.” Red Mars, KSR, page 3: “Well, back before the beginning, Paul Bunyan came to Mars, and he brought his blue ox Babe with him. He walked around looking for lumber and his every footprint cracked the lava and left a rift canyon. He was so tall that he could reach into the asteroid belt while he walked around, and he chewed those rocks like Bing cherries and spit the pits out and boom there would be another crater. And then he ran into Big Man. It was the first time Paul had ever seen anyone bigger than himself, and believe me Big Man was bigger– the usual two magnitudes, and that’s ain’t just twice as big let me tell you. But Paul Bunyan didn’t care. When Big Man said Let’s see what you can do with that axe of yours Paul said Sure, and with one stroke he hit the planet so hard that all the cracks of Noctis appeared at once. But then Big Man scratched the same spot with his toothpick, and the entire Marineris system yawned open. Let’s try bare fists, Paul said, and he landed a right cross on the southern hemisphere and there was Argyre. But Big Man tapped a spot nearby with his pinky and there was Hellas. Try spitting, Big Man suggested, and Paul spat and Nirgal Vallis ran as long as the Mississippi. But Big Man spat and all the big outflow channels ran at once. Try shitting! Big Man said, and Paul squatted and pushed out Ceraunius Tholus– but Big Man threw back his butt and there was the Elysium massif right next to it, steaming hot. Do your worst, Big Man suggested. Take a shot at me. And so Paul Bunyan picked him up by the toe and swung his whole bulk around and slammed him into the North Pole so hard that whole northern hemisphere is depressed to this day. But without even getting up Big Man grabbed Paul by the ankle, and caught up his blue ox Babe in that same first, and swung them into the ground and slammed them right through the planet and almost out the other side. And that’s the Tharsis Bulge– Paul Bunyan, almost sticking out– Ascraeus his nose, Pavonis his cock, and Arsia his big toes. And Babe is off to one side, pushing up Olympus Mons. The blow killed Babe and Paul Bunyan both, and after that Paul had to admit that he was beat. But his own bacteria ate him, naturally, and they crawled all around down on th ebedrock and under the megaregolith, down there going everywhere, sucking up the mantle heat, and eating the sulfides, and melting down the permafrost. And everywhere they went down there, every one of those litle bacteria said I am Paul Bunyan” Red Mars, KSR pages 350-351 “Big Man came from a big planet. He was just as much a visitor to Mars as Paul Bunyan only passing by when he spotted it and stopped to look around, and he was still there when Paul Bunyan dropped in, and that’s why they had the fight. Big Man won that fight, as you know. But after Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox Babe were dead, there was no one else around to talk to, and Mars for Big Man was like trying to live on a basketball. So he wandered around for a while tearing things apart, trying to make them fit, and then he gave up and left. After that, all the bacteria inside Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe left their bodies, and circulated in the warm water lying on the bedrock, deep underground. They ate methane and hydrogen sulfide, and withstood the weight of billions of tons of rock, as if they were living on some neutron planet. Their chromosomes began to break, mutation after mutation, and at the reproduction rate of ten generations per day, it didn’t take long for good old surviva of the fittest to make its natural selections. And billions of years passed. And before long there was an entire submartian evolutionary history, moving up through the cracks in the regolith and the spaces between sand grains, right up into the cold desert sunshine. All kinds of creatures, the whole spread– but everything was tiny. that’s all there was room for underground, see, and by the time they hit the surface certain patterns were set. And there wasn’t much to encourage growth up there anyway. So a whole chasmoendolithic biosphere developed, in which everything was small. Their whales were the size of first-day tadpoles, their sequoias were like antler lichen, and so on down the line. It was as if the two-magnitude ratio which always has things on Mars a hundred times bigger than their counterparts on Earth, had finally gone the other way, and piled it on. And so their evolution produced the little red people. They’re like us– or look kind of like us when we see them. But that’s because we only ever see them out o fthe corner of our eyes. If you get a clear look at one you will see that it looks like a very tiny standing salamander, dark red, although the skin apparently does have some chameleon abilities, and they are usually the same color as the rocks they’re standing among. If you see on ereally claerly you’ll notice that its skin resembles plate lichen mixed with sand grains, and its eyes are rubies. It’s fascinating, but don’t get too excited because the truth is you’re not ever going to see one of them that clearly. It’s just too hard. When they hold still we flat can’t see them. We would never see them at all, except that some of them when they get in a mood are so confident that they can freeze and disappear thbat they will jump around when they’re in your peripheral vision, just to blow your mind. So you see that, but then they stop moving when you turn your eye to look, and you can never spot them again. They live everywhere, including all arou rooms. Usually there’s a few in every pile of dust in the corners. And how many can say their rooms don’t have some dust in their corners? I thought not. It makes a good abrasive when you get around to swiping down, doesn’t it. Yes, on those days the little red people all have to run like hell. Disasters for them. They figure we’re crazy huge idiots that every once in a while have fits and go on a rampage. Yes, it is true that the first human to see the little red people was John Boone (A George Washington-esque figure without the millitary aspect, he dies in the first chapter of Red Mars). What else would you expect? He saw them within hours of his landing. Later he learned to see them even when they were still, and then he began talking to the ones he spotted in his rooms, until they finally cracked and talked back. John and them taught each other their languages, and you can still hear the little red people use all kinds of John Booneisms in their English. Eventually a whole crowd of them traveled with Boone wherever he went. They liked it, and John wasn’t a very neat person, so they had their spots. Yes, there were several hundred of them in Nicosia the night he was killed. That’s what actually got those Arabs who died later that night– a whole gang of the little ones went after them. Gruesome. Anyway, they were John Boone’s friends, and they were just as sad as the rest of us when he was killed. There’s no human since who has learned their language, or gotten to know them anywhere near as close. Yes, John was also the frist to tell stories about them. A lot of what we know about them comes from him, because of that special relationship. Yes, it is said that excessive use of omegendorph causes faint red crawling dots in the abuser’s peripheral vision. But why do you ask? Anyway, since John’s death the little red people have been living with us and laying low, watching us with their ruby eyes and trying to find out what we’re like, and why we do what we do. And how they can deal with us, and get what they want– which is people they can talk to and be friends with, who won’t sweep them out every few months or wreck the planet either. So they’re watching us. Whole caravan cities are carrying the little red people around with us. And they’re getting ready to talk with us again. They’re figuring out who they should talk to. They’re asking themselves, which of these giant idiots knows about Ka? That’s their name for Mars, yes. They call it Ka. The Arabs love that fact because the Arabic for Mars is Qahira, and the Japanese like it too because their name for it is Kasei. But actually a whole lot of Earth names for Mars have the sound ka in them somewhere– and some little red dialects  have it as m’kah which ads a sound that’s in a lot of other Terran names for it too. It’s possible that the little red people had a space program in earlier times, and came to Earth and were our fairies, elves and little people generally, and at that time told some humans where they came from, and gave us the name. On the other hand, it may be the planet itself suggests the sound in some hypnotic way that affects all conscious observers, whether standing right on it or seeing it as a red star in the sky. I don’t know, maybe it’s the color that does it. Ka. And so the ka watch us and they ask, who knows Ka? Who spends time with Ka, and learns Ka, and likes to touch Ka, and walks around on Ka, and lets Ka seep into them, and leaves the dust in their rooms alone? Those are the humans we’re going to talk to. Pretty soon we’re going to introduce ourselves, they say, to just as many of you as we can find who seem like Ka. And when we do, you’d better be ready. We’re going to have a plan. It’ll be time to drop everything and walk right out on the streedts into a new world. It’ll be time to free Ka.” Green Mars, KSR, pages 234-236 Ants came to Mars as part of the soil project, and soon they were everywhere as is their way. And so the little red people encountered ants, and they were amazed. These creatures were just the right size to ride, it was like the Native Americans meeting the horse. Tame the things and they would run wild. Domesticating the ant was no easy matter. The little red scientists had not even believed such creatures were possible, because of surface to area volume constraints, but there they were, clumping around like intelligent robots, so the little red scientists had to explain them. to get some help they climbed up into the humans’ reference books, and read up on ants. They learned about the antas’ pheromones, and they synthesized the ones they needed to control the soldier ants of a particularly small docile red species, and afer that, they were in business. Little red cavalry. They charged around everywhere on antback, having a fine old time, wenty or thirty of them on each ant, like pashas on elephants. Look close at enough ants and you’ll see them, right there on top. But the little red scientists continued to read the texts, and learned about human pheromones. They went back to the rest of the little red people, awestruck and appaled. Now we know why these humans are such trouble, they reported. Humans have no more will than these ants we are riding around on. They are giant meat ants. The little red people tried to comprehend such a travesty of life. Then a voice said No they’re not, to all of them at once. The little red people talk to each other telepathically, you see, and this was like a telepathic loudspeaker announcement. Humans are spiritual beings, this voice insisted. How do you know? the little red people asked telepathically. Who are you? Are you the ghost of John Boone? I am the Gyatso Rinpoche, the voice answered. The eighteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. I am traveling the Bardo in search of my next reincarnation. I’ve looked everywhere on Earth, but I’ve had no luck, and I decided to look somewhere new. Tibet is still under the thumb of the Chinese, and they show no signs of letting up. The Chinese, although I love them dearly, are hard bastards. And the other governments of the world long ago turned their backs on Tibet. So no one will challenge the Chinese. Something needs to be done. So I came to Mars. Good idea, the little people said. Yes, the Dalai Lama agreed, but I must admit I am having a hard time finding a new body to inhabit. For one thing there are very few children anywhere. Then also it does not look like anyone is interested. I looked in Sheffield but everyone was too busy talking. I went to Sabishii but everyone had their heads stuck in the dirt. I went to Elysium but everyone had assumed the lotus position and could not be roused. I went to Christianopolis but everyone there had other plans. I went to Hiranyagarba but everyne there said we’ve already done enough for Tibet. I’ve gone everywhere on Mars, to every tent and station, and everywhere people are just too busy. No one wants to be the nineteenth Dalai Lama. And the Bardo is growing colder and colder. Good luck, the little red people said. We’ve been looking ever since John died and we haven’t even found anyone worth talking to, much less living inside. These big people are all messed up. The Dalai Lama was discouraged by this response. He was getting very tired, and could not last much longer in the Bardo. So he said, What about one of you? Well, sure, the little red people said. We’d be honored. Only it will have to be all of us at once. We do everything like that together. Why not? said the Dalai Lama, and he transmigrated into one of the little red specks, and that same instant he was there in all of them, all over Mars. the little red people looked up at the humans crashing around above them, a sight which before they had tended to regard as some kind of bad widescreen movie, and now they found they were filled with all the compassion and wisdom of the eighteen previous lives of the Dalai Lama. They said to each other, Ka wow, these people really are messed up. We thought it was bad before, but look at that, it’s even worse than we thought. They’re lucky they can’t read each other’s minds or they’d kill each other. That must be why they’re killing each other– they  know what they’re thinking themselves, and so they suspect all the others. How ugly. How sad. They need your help, the Dalai Lama said inside them all. Maybe you can help them. Maybe, the little red people said. They were dubious, to tell the truth. They had been trying to help humans ever since John Boone died, they had set up whole towns in the porches of every ear on th eplanet, and talked continuously ever since, sounding very much like John had, trying to get people to wak up and act decent, and never with any effects at all, except to send a lot of people to ear nose and throat specialists. Lots of people on mars thought they had tinnitus, but no one ever understood their little red poeple. It was enough to discourage anyone. But now, the little red people had the compassionate spirit of the Dalai Lama infusing them, and so they decided to try one more time. Perhaps it will take more than whispering in their ears, the Dalai Lama pointed out, and they all agreed. We’ll have to get their attention some other way. Have you tried your telepathy on them? the Dalai Lama asked. Oh no, they said. No way. Too scary. The ugliness might kill us on the spot. Or at least make us real sick. Maybe not, the Dalai Lama said. Maybe if you blocked off your reception of what they thought, and just beamed your thoughts at them, it would be all right. Just send lots of good thoughts, like an advice beam. Compassion, love, agreeableness, wisdom, even a little common sense. We’ll give it a try, the little red people said. But we’re all going to have to shout at the top of our telepathic voices, all in chorus, because these folks just aren’t listening. I’ve faced that for nine centuries now, the Dalai Lama said. You get used to it. And you little ones have the advantage of numbers. So give it a try.  And so all the little red people all over Mars looked up and took a deep breath.” Blue Mars, KSR, pages 91-93 Hope this might be of relevance to your most recent posting. Thanks Chris!!!

    Allied Atrocities: Tacitus from Detritus makes some similar points: Allied soldiers certainly committed fewer atrocities, and almost certainly were less inclined to pose for photos.  Most of the incidents I have read about were in the line of “crimes of passion”, executing prisoners after atrocities committed by German or Japanese soldiers.  Sometimes they caught up with the culpable, there are instances of a few particularly brutal POW camp guards being dispatched for instance.  Sometimes they took it out on whoever was around. If you are looking for photographic evidence the several photos of German guards killed when Dachau was liberated are as close as you will likely get.  No photos of the actual shooting to my knowledge but neatly lined up dead soldiers tell a tale. The Wikipedia entry on liberation of Dachau has these if you are interested.  The famous female war correspondent Margurite Higgens was there….I wonder if she took these images? ANL writes Dr. Bill Murphy, a friend of my father, was a Protestant Unionist from the Irish Republic. He was one of the first British Army personnel to enter the camp of Bergen-Belsen, and told us that a British soldier, on seeing what had been done there, ran around shooting the camp guards with his pistol until an officer shouted: “Sergeant-Major! Stop that!” Most allied “atrocities” were probably visited upon the French rather than the Germans. Perhaps the shelling of Lisieux would be a candidate? Reputed to be the most beautiful town in Normandy, largely composed of ancient half-timbered building with exquisitely carved wooden beams, the 11-minute bombardment completely destroyed the town for no good reason; there were no Germans in the area. Thanks Tactitus and ANL!

    Rats: First of all, our favourite comment from this month by Dirk, because it will give you nightmares while communicating some basic facts: I read your post on rats with interest. I know more about rats than most, and I will share what I know. My knowledge comes from several years working as chief officer on a ship carrying humanitarian grain shipments from the gulf coast of the US to Africa. The grain comes on in bags, and the rats are already in the bags when they are loaded. The holds are filled with bags until not one more bag can fit, and the hatches are closed. There is no room in the holds to enter for inspection, so the next time the hatches are opened is 60 days later. It can be up to six months until the last bag is unloaded. The rats and mice breed without interruption for those six months. There is plenty of food, and enough water from condensation and rain, even though we seal the hatch covers with special tape. The real problems begin on the return voyage. Thousands of bags have split open, and the African cargo handlers have used the holds as a latrine. When we arrive back in the USA, we are inspected immediately, and the holds must be spotlessly clean. So those forty days are all about cleaning and catching rats. There are lots of spaces for them to hide. Hydraulic hatches between decks are the worst. I don’t want to waste too many words on the subject, but lets just say that an almost infinite number of rats can hide in the cubby holes. Once we have as much of the grain swept up as we can, the rats start getting hungry. They eat the mice first, then start going after each other. Much of my time on the return trip is about trapping rats. The deck crews spend each day vacuuming and sweeping in the dimly lit, un air-conditioned holds. We cannot use poison, because we carry foodstuffs. And the little bastards learn. They evolve over the course of the trip. I have to keep using different traps and different bait. The awful truth is that once the hunger level gets to a certain point, the rats will attack people. If I were to get startled and fall down a ladder or whatever, they would absolutely kill me. I am sure that in the past, many people have been devoured by rats. And some species can get to housecat-sized. They also breed so very fast. It can really be nightmarish. The only good thing is that the ship’s holds are separated from the living spaces by steel walls and waterproof doors, and there is no direct passage from one to the other. As someone who has been in a dark cargo hold with 10,000 full grown rats, I can assure you that they have the capability and intent to kill people. Apocryphal? I wonder… Here’s a nice little quote from Derelict London:”Far from there being any romance in the tales told of the rats, these vermin are really numerous and formidable in the sewers, and have been known, I am assured, to attack men when alone, and even sometimes when accompanied by others, with such fury that the people have escaped from them with difficulty. They are particularly ferocious and dangerous, if they be driven into some corner whence they cannot escape, when they will immediately fly at any one that opposes their progress.” (Victorian Sewer flusherman) Ever heard the phrase “cornered rat”? The last-ditch emergency response of a rat to any threat it can’t run away from is to go absolutely berserk, shrieking and snapping its teeth audibly while leaping 3 feet in the air. I know this because I’ve actually been in the position of I accidentally cornering a rat. This, by the way, was not when I was a small child – we are talking about an exceptionally large adult man here! This unfortunate incident occurred when my extremely dense tom-cat Eccles somehow managed to catch a rat – it probably ran round a corner and bumped into him – and was so pleased with himself that he assumed I’d enjoy being woken up at 4 am to celebrate his accomplishment. Unfortunately he’d completely forgotten to kill it. Being woken from a sound sleep to find yourself in a dark room with a frenzied rat leaping at you is not a great deal of fun, especially if you have no clothes on… Eccles was so unnerved by this turn of events that he ran away and hid, as did the other two cats after they’d had a quick look. In the end I had to beat it death with a big stick. It really was an terrifying display of ferocity from such a small animal, and it obviously would have bitten me as badly as it could if I’d given it a chance. Now, rats are social animals –  apparently a typical colony may number several hundred (that statistic is for the black rat, Rattus norvegicus, and British encounters would usually be with the brown rat,Rattus rattus, as indeed mine was, but I assume they have similar lifestyles). Suppose you have 300 rats in a confined space, such as a sewer, and they’re all in a panic and rushing in the same direction – maybe there’s been a surge of water or whatever. If their escape route is blocked be a human being, they’re all going to leap at him in a mad frenzy, screaming and biting – he doesn’t have a chance! Of course, normal rat behavior is to flee from potential danger, no matter how many of them are present, so this would only be likely to happen if a large number of them ran straight into a sewer worker when they were already fleeing from something else, which would be a rare coincidence. But it could happen, and if it did, he wouldn’t stand a chance! PS – Other notable rat attack fiction: the movies Willard (1971), and its sequel Ben (1972). The latter is largely remembered nowadays for the eponymous ditty that accompanies its closing credits. Yes, even at the age of 14, Michael Jackson was writing love-songs about his tender feelings for a fictional male rodent who ate Ernest Borgnine. The warning signs were always there… Chris from Haunted Ohio Books meanwhile has documentary evidence. ‘You know, I really thought I would find more stories of people killed by rats, but you’re right, the most sensational stories are often that of a corpse found eaten by rats, often with ambiguity as to whether the rats caused the death. But here are a few stories where the victim has been gnawed and brought to the point of death by rats. Given the extent of the injuries, is it safe to assume that the victims died? WOMAN EATEN BY RATS While Lying Helpless on a Sick-Bed and Her Worthless Husband Too Lazy to Protect Her. Providence, R.I., February 10. One of the most horrible cases that the police of this city have ever known came before them on Friday night, when they were called by the residents of Webster Street to No. 61 on that thoroughfare. In a hovel at that number resides Julia Mahan, aged fifty-six years, and her husband, John, a man who, it is said, lived from his wife’s earnings for a long time. Mrs. Mahan was stricken with paralysis about four weeks ago and has been lying helpless ever since and deserted. The police, who went to Mrs. Mahan’s bedside, found that the place was infested with ravenous rats, and that they swarmed in the sick woman’s bed. Her nose and cheeks had been eaten away, and the jaw-bone was left bare. When the meager covering of the bed was raised a dozen rats came out from under it, and then it was found that the sick woman’s limbs had also been eaten. The flesh was gnawed from the thighs, and the woman had been for hours helpless to drive away the rodents. Captain Egan sent Mrs. Coughlin to care for the woman last night. This morning a lighted candle was left in the room, and in ten minutes it was carried off by the rats. Mrs. Mahan is dying. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 February 1889: p. 2 EATEN BY RATS Fate of Baby Twin Sisters in an Ohio City. Springfield, O., Feb. 6. Eizabeth Black, an orphan was found dead in her bed yesterday at the Logan County children’s home. She followed her little twin sister to the grave, the other having died a few days before. They were mere babies and were taken to the home from Kenton. Last week they were attacked by a swarm of rats in their miserable home and virtually eaten alive. The children suffered terribly Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette 7 February 1904: p. 1    A Child Devoured by Rats. We learn that about ten days since, a girl four months old, which had been left for a short time in a cellar kitchen, by its mother, who resided on Coal Lane, was attacked by a large rat, which so mangled one of the arms of the poor sufferer as eventually to cause its death. The child died on Wednesday last. [Pittsburg Chronicle] Rutland [VT] Herald 4 October 1842: p. 1 This seems to be the only unambiguous case where the rats truly did devour someone: Child Killed by Rats. In the Bellevue Hospital at New York, on Monday night, a poor Irish woman was admitted to the lying-in Ward. She gave birth to a babe, and so little attention was paid to the patient, that the infant was literally devoured by rats before morning, its suffering mother being too weak to drive them off the bed which they swarmed over. The baby’s feet and head were nearly separated from its body. The Daily Dispatch [Richmond, VA] 27 April 1860: p.1 And, as you have observed, it is the immobile and the young who are targeted by the rodents. The notion was obviously well-known enough to be a cliche–here it was joked about in court: EATEN BY RATS Chicago, April 22. “The defendants have been eaten by rats,” the district attorney declared in petitioning the court for a continuance in the case of the United States vs. 268 sacks of flour. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 22 April 1919: p. 10 And finally revenge! One of the celebrated restaurateurs of Paris has discovered the way to make a delicious dish with rats. He dresses them with champagne and spices. He cannot fulfill all the orders he receives. In short, the last chic is to eat rat. The market for these little beasts is held in front of the Hotel de Ville. The rats are shut up in a great cage, where the buyer selects his rat, which is then driven by the seller into a small cage, where it is alone. A bulldog is then brought, the cage is shaken, the rat rushes out and is seized by the dog, which gives it a squeeze and deposits the dead rat delicately at the feet of the purchaser.   Cleveland [OH] Leader 30 December 1870: p. 2 Thanks Dirk, Count and Chris!

    Murder at Ivanhorod: 2 emails  about this shot  arguing that it is not the scene of an atrocity, though both accept it may have been a prelude. There are two problems with this: though there are suggested answers below. First the words on the back of the photograph and second the dead (?) woman on the left of the photograph. Finally, an obvious point. The events that this photograph apparently show: the murder of woman and child took place on a daily basis on the eastern front. Anyone who believes they have argued away this photograph and who wants to save the Reich from blame – THIS IS NOT THE POSITION OF THE TWO WRITERS BELOW! – would have to argue with our records of several million more killings. First, Borky, ‘Beach there may well’ve been an attrocity carried out here but this picture isn’t it. First of all the clipped shot isn’t of a soldier shooting a woman and child. The woman’s closer to us than the soldier she’s not at all in his line of sight furthermore her vertical leap’s consistent with someone jumping out her wits as a very close loud bang deafens her and her child. In fact me’n’my sugarplum did exactly the same thing when she was about four when someone set off a percussion grenade which both stunned and deafened us for several seconds and made it very clear to me just why they use ’em in hostage situations. Oddly enough whoever clipped the original clearly had malign intentions and an agenda to promote but they didn’t realise the absence of the visual chaos present in the original picture makes it much easier to concentrate on and see what’s really going on in the clip. As for the original. To my eyes at least the woman on the ground isn’t dead but’s been thrown aside by the soldiers possibly as she was try’n’o obscure their sight or block their shots as some young man or men we never see make a run for it. During the early part of the Toxteth riots the cops’d periodically come on our estate during the morning after the rioting seeking “known individuals” provoking various mothers daughters sisters and girlfriends to block their way and I personally watched a copper throw one of them to one side straight down in the gutter not out of malice but out of sheer terror at getting trapped if the hordes suddenly surged into view the woman even lying there in much the same fashion playing dead to provoke an even greater fuss. The huge shadow flowing down the grass from near her head might be blood but the hill isn’t steep enough and the grass too profuse to justify such massive and copious a flow so quickly especially downhill with little or none of it round the body but aboveall as I rotate the picture through 360 degrees I’m struck by how the right arm still seems sufficiently tensed and therefore alive enough to stop the prone individual rolling over on their face while the other hand seems to be propping up the head sufficiently to allow them to surreptitiously give peripheral glances in the direction of the soldiers at their feet and just behind them. As for the five or six figures near the upright pole or handle they all seem to be ducking as low as they can in the hope of ensuring the bullets will clear their heads especially the big unagile woman in the white headscarf whose back seems unnaturally arched  from a combination of keeping her head as low as possible and scrunching up her shoulders and neck as a result of shock from the loud bang. It may well be the preamble to an atrocity but this picture isn’t the atrocity itself and the use especially of the cropped version suggests to me whoever was using it for propaganda purposes lazily assumed no one’d bother to look at the picture long enough to begin questioning what it really showed automatically accepting the line all German soldiers’re murdering bastards so these must be Jews.’ SM sends in a piece by M Mills from Axis Forum (for original and much more context) ‘The basic argument is this: For what it is worth, I will offer an alternative interpetation of what the photo shows. A group of German policemen (at least five of them, the man shown in the photo, three men with rifles not shown, and the person who took the photo) are guarding a group of civilians (at least seven of them). Two shovels are lying on the ground, and it is reasonable to presume that they had been carried by the civilians, and that those civilians had been given the task of doing some digging. There appears to be some disturbed earth on the extreme right edge of the photo, next to the group of (possibly) five civilians bending over or crouching down, so it may be that the digging task had already commenced. Since the shovels are lying on the ground, it could be that the guards have ordered the civilians to take a break; in any case they are not actually digging. But the civilians are definitely at ground level, bending over or crouching down, not standing in any sort of excavated pit. In this proposed scenario, the policemen guarding the prisoners have ordered them to take a break and to lie down, the latter for the purpose of keeping them under guard. The group of four or five civilians to the right of the photo have laid down the shovels and are in the process od assuming a prone position, as ordered. The one policeman shown in the photo has been guarding two women, one of them holding a child. The two women were standing separately from the other four (or five) civilians; perhaps they were not doing any digging. The policeman was standing behind them. One of the two women has obeyed the order to lie down on the ground. Being nervous and afraid, she presses her face against the ground to show her obedience. The other woman panics and starts to run away. The policeman who had been standing behind her raises his rifle and takes aim at her. Possibly he had ordered her stop and lie down. Possibly the other policemen standing to the left, outside the photo, saw the woman start to run away and also aimed their rifles toward her. What happened next we do not know. Perhaps the woman stopped and lay down. Perhaps she was shot. But how did this dramatic scene come to be photographed. We have to assume that someone in the party of guards had brought his camera and decided to take a photo. Possibly the guards were relaxing after ordering the civilians to take a break, and one of them decided to take a snapshot of the civilians lying on the ground and the other policemen standing in a relaxed position guarding them. It may be that the photographer had taken a shot of the civilians digging (‘lazy Jews put to useful work’), and was preparing to take another shot of them lying down. The fact that the other policemen are outside the frame of the photo suggests that originally the photographer was not aiming at them, but rather at the huddled group of civilians at the right of the photo. Under this scenario, the photographer is aiming his camera toward the group of civilians who have been digging; he is waiting for them to lie down before taking his photo. His police comrades are not in the shot being prepared; they are standing to the left, and so are the two women. As the photographer is lining up his camera, he hears a sudden shout. He swings sightly to the left, still holding his camera in the ready position. He sees the woman with the child running to the right, away from the policeman guarding her; he sees that policeman aiming his rifle at her. Immediately, on impulse, he takes the photo. The result is an unusually dramatic scene that does not give the impression of having been staged. The very drama of the scene, its uniqueness, may be the reason for the photo’s having been sent by mail to Germany. As for the word ‘Judenaktion’ allegedly written on the back of the photo (and there is no way of knowing for certain whether the words on the back of the photo had been written by the sender, or by the Poles who found it), it is entirely possible that the group of civilians consisted of Jews who were in the process of being taken to an execution site. If that is the case, it is unlikely that the place where the photo was taken was that actual execution site, it is more likely that the photo has adventitiously captured an impromptu escape attempt. There have also been several emails suggesting it may have been faked. There are two important objections here. First, who would have done it? As we will argue soon, in another post, faking a photograph like this is not something that the Western Allies would have done. So who do we blame: the Soviets? The free Poles? Second, the photograph is such a mess. Faked photographs usually have a simple narrative. The very confusion indicated above suggests that this was a ‘slice of life’, which was captured by an amateur who happened to be there.’ Thanks SM and Borky!