Monday, November 23, 2009

Oscar Wilde a literary genius...

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish dramatist, poet, and author wrote the darkly sardonic Faustian themed The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891);

In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, .... "I hate them for it,"cried Hallward. "An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them. We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty. Some day I will show the world what it is; and for that reason the world shall never see my portrait of Dorian Gray." Read more here


Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, poet and author of numerous short stories and one novel. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the greatest "celebrities" of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest. As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years' hard labour after being convicted of homosexual relationships, described as "gross indecency" with other men. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry, never to return to Ireland or Britain.

Statue of Oscar Wilde in Dublin's Merrion Square (Archbishop Ryan Park)Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin. He was the second son of Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane Francesca Wilde. Jane Wilde, under the pseudonym "Speranza" (Italian word for 'hope'), wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 and was a life-long Irish nationalist.[1] William Wilde was Ireland's leading oto-ophthalmologic (ear and eye) surgeon and was knighted in 1864 for his services to medicine.[1] He also wrote books about archaeology and folklore. A renowned philanthropist, his dispensary for the care of the city's poor at the rear of Trinity College, Dublin, was the forerunner of the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital, now located at Adelaide Road.

In 1855, the family moved to 1 Merrion Square, where Wilde's sister, Isola, was born the following year. Lady Wilde held a regular Saturday afternoon salon with guests that included Sheridan le Fanu, Charles Lever, George Petrie, Isaac Butt and Samuel Ferguson.

Oscar Wilde was educated at home until he was nine. He then attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Fermanagh,[2] spending the summer months with his family in rural Waterford, Wexford and at his father's family home in Mayo. There Wilde played with the older George Moore.

Leaving Portora, Wilde studied classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874, sharing rooms with his older brother Willie Wilde. His tutor, John Pentland Mahaffy, the leading Greek scholar at Trinity, interested him in Greek literature. Wilde was an outstanding student and won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award available to classics students at Trinity. He was awarded a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied from 1874 to 1878 and became a part of the Aesthetic movement; one of its tenets was to make an art of life.

Wilde had a disappointing relationship with the prestigious Oxford Union. On matriculating in 1874, he had applied to join the Union, but failed to be elected.[3] Nevertheless, when the Union's librarian requested a presentation copy of Poems (1881), Wilde complied. After a debate called by Oliver Elton, the book was condemned for alleged plagiarism and returned to Wilde.[4][5]

While at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna, which he read at Encaenia; he failed to win the Chancellor's English Essay Prize with an essay that would be published posthumously as The Rise of Historical Criticism (1909). In November 1878, he graduated with a double first in classical moderations and Literae Humaniores, or "Greats".

At Oxford University, Wilde petitioned a Masonic Lodge and was later raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, retaining his membership in the Craft until his death.[6]

Wilde was greatly disliked by some of his fellow students, who threw his china at him.[7]

1881 caricature in Punch:

Keller cartoon from the Wasp of San Francisco depicting Wilde on the occasion of his visit there in 1882While at Magdalen College, Wilde became particularly well known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He began wearing his hair long and openly scorning so-called "manly" sports, and began decorating his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, blue china and other objets d'art.

Legends persist that his behaviour cost him a dunking in the River Cherwell in addition to having his rooms (which still survive as student accommodation at his old college) vandalized, but the cult spread among certain segments of society to such an extent that languishing attitudes, "too-too" costumes and aestheticism generally became a recognised pose. Publications such as the Springfield Republican commented on Wilde's behaviour during his visit to Boston to lecture on aestheticism, suggesting that Wilde's conduct was more of a bid for notoriety rather than a devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. Wilde's mode of dress also came under attack by critics such as Higginson, who wrote in his paper Unmanly Manhood, of his general concern that Wilde's effeminacy would influence the behaviour of men and women, arguing that his poetry "eclipses masculine ideals [..that..] under such influence men would become effeminate dandies". He also scrutinised the links between Oscar Wilde's writing, personal image and homosexuality, calling his work and way of life "immoral".

Literary genius

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Peruvian gang allegedly killed peasants to get body fat for the cosmetic business...

A gang in the remote Peruvian jungle has allegedly been killing people for their fat, draining it from their corpses and offering it on the black market for use in cosmetics, police have said.

Peruvian police say they have arrested three members of a gang who murdered a string of peasant farmers, drained the fat from their dead bodies, and then attempted to sell it to European cosmetics manufacturers.

The men have confessed to a total of five killings, but are suspected of dozens more. Police believe they approached their victims on remote roads and lured them to a hut in the jungle with talk of being able to introduce them to a potential employer. Instead, the victims were bludgeoned to death.

Each of their bodies then had its head, arms and legs cut off. Major organs were removed, and discarded, before the torso was suspended from hooks in the ceiling of the hut. Candles were placed beneath, so that melting fat would dribble into pots, pans and other collecting vessels.

Suspects allegedly told police the bottles of liquid fat they had when arrested were worth $21,000 a litre. But medical experts expressed scepticism that a major market existed for fat. Peru's police chief of the anti- kidnapping squad, Colonel Jorge Mejia, said the suspects said the fat was sold to intermediaries in Lima, the Peruvian capital.

Read more here

Monday, November 16, 2009

The world's craziest horse laws...

The world's craziest horse laws...

Want to keep horses under control? It's easy. Just pass a law. Neil Clarkson looks at some of the world's silliest horse laws.

Horses tend to be law-abiding creatures. Very few end up in jail or being fined.

The same, however, cannot be said for their human counterparts. Humans, in fact, do some monumentally stupid things - and just occasionally they involve horses.

In fact, one unfortunate American woman even made the finals of the 2000 Darwin Awards for her dealings with a horse. The famous awards are given posthumously to people whose passing might, uncharitably, be considered to be improving the world's gene pool.

The woman in question struck on the less than bright idea of using her body as a hitching post while trying to bridle a green horse. Suffice to say, she won't be making the same mistake twice.

However, a little bit of research reveals that people don't just do dumb things with horses, they also make dumb laws to cover them.

Yes, while horses are quietly grazing their paddocks, there are politicians and district administrators busily coming up with ever more ingenious ways to keep law and order in the horse world.

New Zealand has not been immune from this legislative barnstorming.

The nation's Parliament passed the Police Offences Act in 1928. It remained in force until a new Act was passed in 1981.

The old Police Offences Act covered a raft of misdemeanours. It was, for example, an offence to allow a mare to be mated within site of a public road. Why it was all right for cattle and sheep and do the wild thing beside the road, and not horses, is now lost in the sands of time.

Mind you, the same Act also made it illegal to fly a kite, beat a rug in public, and wear slippers in a public place by night.

It was also an offence to "ride furiously". This beautifully crafted phrase was obviously to cover the old-fashioned equivalent of reckless driving.

Make no mistake. Plenty of people died on the roads under the hooves of horses or the wheels of carriages.

Speed, as we all know, can be dangerous, whether it involves a horse or a car.

Hence, the ingenious lawmakers in Indianapolis, Indiana, hit on the brilliant idea of imposing a speed limit on horses. If you're wondering where the speedometer is on a horse, it's right next to the fuel gauge, just above the light switch.

Any rider doing more than 10mph was in big trouble.

Imagine the court cases:

Policeman: "I reckon he was doing 14mph."
Defendant: "Well I reckon I wasn't."

Judge: "I don't know what to reckon."

Speed is also an issue in Rhode Island. It's illegal to race horses on a public road, or even to "try the speed of a horse". Expect a fine of up to $US20 or 10 days in the slammer
Horses in some parts of the world are clearly nothing but trouble. Marshalltown, Iowa, forbids horses from eating fire hydrants. I thought they were made of steel, but perhaps in Marshalltown they build them from lucerne hay.

Utah decreed that it was unlawful to fish from horseback. That's inconvenient.

Pennsylvania outlawed singing in the bathtub. Fair enough - there's some pretty bad singers out there. But when it came to horses, they afforded them the full protection of the law. Many years ago, farmers were none too pleased by those new fangled automobiles, so they used a bit of political pressure to enact some entirely reasonable laws.

For example, if a driver came across a team of horses they had to pull to the side of the road and cover their car with a blanket that blended into the surroundings to encourage the horses to pass.

If that failed to persuade them, the car owner had to dismantle the "machine" and hide it in the bushes. I bet a lot of car owners simply turned around and drove home again.

Things got even tougher for drivers in Pennsylvania at night. They were required to send up a rocket every mile on country roads, before waiting for 10 minutes for the road ahead to be cleared of stock. In Wilbur, Washington, it's an offence to ride an ugly horse, while in Calgary, Canada, they're far less concerned about ugly horses, but still have a bylaw requiring businesses to provide hitching rails.

New Orleans may have had its problem in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but they're certainly not standing for any nonsense from horse owners. It's illegal there to tie a horse to a tree alongside a public highway.

Oklahoma will deal with you sternly if you engage in bear wrestling. They've also banned "horse tripping events". This sounds tame enough but it isn't. Horse tripping is used in training (such as a 'Running W' [running wire]) or in filming motion-pictures wherein the horse is pulled down or a trip-wire is set up, rather than trained to fall. If one reviews old films, it's easy to see where tripping is used, as the horses crash onto their faces, as opposed to trained falling horses which learn to fall when their heads are turned sideways. There's more on this here.

In Alberta, when they say they want to get crooks out of town, they mean it. There is a law that requires any person being released from jail be given a handgun, bullets, and a horse so that they can head off into the sunset.


Acknowledgements: Neil Clarkson

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Strong Leonid Meteor Shower Predicted for 2009...

Strong Leonid Meteor Shower Predicted for 2009

The annual Leonid meteor shower put on some dramatic sky shows in 1999 and 2001, but in recent years the event has been comparatively mundane.

Next year could be another doozie.

Astronomers now predict the 2009 Leonids could produce more than 500 shooting stars per hour for skywatchers with clear skies in certain locations. Asia looks to have the best seats, but North America might not be left out.

Such a rate would be much less than the brilliant displays a few years back, but still delightful to watch.

"On Nov. 17, 2009, we expect the Leonids to produce upwards of 500 meteors per hour," said Bill Cooke of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "That's a very strong display."

Astronomers from Caltech and NASA base their joint prediction on an outburst that occurred this year, on Nov. 17, that they figure heralds even more intense activity next November.

The Leonids are created by bits of debris left behind by the repeat passages through the inner solar system of comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. There are several streams. This year, Earth passed through one laid down in the year 1466. Most astronomers did not expect it to produce much.

But observers in Asia and Europe counted as many as 100 meteors per hour, according to a NASA statement today. That shows the 1466 stream is rich in meteor-producing debris. And in 2009, our planet will pass through this stream again, but this time closer to its center, where more material should be there to slam into our atmosphere.

The stuff, typically the size of a sand grain, vaporizes in the atmosphere. Some pea-sized objects create dramatic fireballs.

When showers exceed 1,000 meteors per hour, they are called storms. This one is not expected to reach that level.

The timing: "We predict a sub-storm level outburst on Nov. 17, 2009, peaking sometime between 21:34 and 21:44 UT," Cooke said. That favors observers in Asia, although Cooke won't rule out a nice show over North America when darkness falls hours after the peak. "I hope so," he said. "It's a long way to Mongolia."


Ken Korczac's Leonid Meteor Showers

Discoveries in the Deep: How astronauts practice to explore other worlds...

Discoveries in the Deep: How Astronauts Practice to Explore Other Worlds

Pavilion Lake, in British Columbia, Canada, is home to a biological mystery. Microbialites, coral-like structures built by bacteria, in a variety of sizes and shapes, carpet the lakebed. That's unusual for a freshwater lake like Pavilion. So unusual that researchers don't know of any other freshwater lake in the world that has microbialites with some of the same strange shapes.

That explains why scientists have established the Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) to study the lake. They want to understand what's so unusual about seemingly normal Pavilion Lake, how the microbial structures manage to survive, why they aren't destroyed by snails, worms and other grazing animals, as they are elsewhere.

What it doesn't explain is why NASA's MMAMA (Moon and Mars Analogue Missions Activities) program has funded the PRLP to continue its work for the next several years. Or why astronauts from NASA and CSA (the Canadian Space Agency) are participating in the project. After all, there are no lakes on the moon, and it's been a long time since there were any on Mars.

Because of the logistical difficulty of doing comprehensive exploration in an underwater environment, however, lessons learned in the process of exploring Pavilion Lake are directly relevant to future human exploration of other worlds.

"We're doing science in a setting where we have limited life support," says Darlene Lim of NASA Ames Research Center, PLRP's principal investigator. "I can't just walk out and hang out with [an interesting] rock all day."

Read more

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dinosaur prints found in NZ for the first time...

Dinosaur prints found in New Zealand for first time...

Seventy-million-year-old dinosaur footprints found near Whanganui inlet in NW Nelson; probably made by sauropods

Scientists have found 70-million-year-old dinosaur footprints in northwest Nelson.

They are the first dinosaur footprints to be recognised in New Zealand and the first evidence of dinosaurs in the South Island.

Geologist Greg Browne of GNS Science, found the prints while investigating rock and sediment formations near the Whanganui inlet. They are at six locations over an area of about 10 kilometres. At one location there are up to 20 footprints.

The depressions are roughly circular, with the largest about 60cm in diameter. Most are smaller, typically between 10 and 20cm in diameter.

Dr Browne believes the markings were made by sauropods, which were large herbivorous dinosaurs with long necks and tails and pillar-like legs. The prints were made in beach sands and were probably quickly covered and preserved by mud from subsequent tides.

?What makes this discovery special is the unique preservation of the footprints in an environment where they could easily have been destroyed by waves, tides, or wind.?

While paleontologists know that dinosaurs were present in ancient New Zealand, the record of their presence is very sketchy.

Dinosaur bones have only been found in northern Hawke's Bay, Port Waikato, and the Chatham Islands.

Dr Browne said the footprints added a considerable amount of information about how dinosaurs moved, how fast they moved, how big they were as well as how soft the sediment was when they moved through the area.

"This discovery opens the way for further study on a range of dinosaur-related issues in New Zealand."

Northwest Nelson was largely submerged under the sea between 70 and 20 million years ago and the footprints would have been covered by hundreds of metres of marine sediments. With the development of the ?modern plate boundary?, New Zealand was uplifted and northwest Nelson emerged from the sea. During the past 20 million years, the overlying sedimentary rock has been eroded away to expose the footprints again.

Dinosaur bones have previously been found in New Zealand, but not actual footprints.

Acknowlegements: NZCity, NewsTalkZB

Read more here

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gigantic jellyfish sink Japanese fishing trawler...

A 10-tonne fishing trawler has been sunk by gigantic jellyfish off the east coast of Japan.

The fishing boat, called the Diasan Shinsho-maru, capsized as its crew was trying to retrieve a net with dozens of huge Nomura's jellyfish inside, UK newspaper the Telegraph reports.

Japanese waters have been invaded by an unusually high number of the giant Nomura's jellyfish — which can weigh up to 200kg — this year.

The three-man crew was thrown into the water off Chiba when the boat overturned, but was then rescued by another trawler.

A local coast guard reported the sea was calm at the time of the accident.

Nomura's jellyfish can grow up to 2m in diameter.

Sightings of the species off Japan's coasts were rare last year, but in 2005 a similar invasion of the jellyfish caused mayhem by damaging nets, injuring fishermen and rendering some fish inedible because of their poisonous stings.

Experts believe a decline in numbers of the jellyfish's predators, including sea turtles, may be behind this year's influx.

Acknowledgements: MSN NZ News