Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Top 10 Fictional Male Charmers


It’s not uncommon to find a fictional character, whether in literature, television or film, that has that certain alluring spark in his smile. He’s smooth, sophisticated, and always knows the right thing to say. And sadly, for many of us, we’ve fallen victim to his charisma. What is it about these guys that make men jealous and women weak at the knees? We’re exploring that today in our list of the top ten fictional charming men.


#10 - Sir Lancelot


Who is He: Sir Lancelot is one of the most celebrated knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. Now, it’s still unclear whether Lancelot was a real man or simply based on someone, but he does live abundantly through literature as a valiant and athletic hero in Arthurian legends. He and his fellow knights traveled across the lands on adventures that tested their courage, strengths and wits. Did we mention many of those stories involved damsels in distress?

How Charming is He: Most famously, Lancelot had an affair with Queen Guinevere, who was said to be one of the most beautiful women. His appeal was just too much for the married queen to handle. However, she wasn’t the only one that caught his attention. Young virgin damsels were often depicted fawning for him because he was dashing, youthful and, in many ways, perfect. Everything about him attracted women and kept his peers riddled with jealousy and admiration. In the famous poem “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Tennyson, she was so taken back by Lancelot that she brings on her own curse to follow him to Camelot, resulting in her death.


#9 - Han Solo


Who is He: If you don’t already know, you’ve been living under a rock in a galaxy far, far away. Han Solo is a mercenary from the film trilogy Star Wars. He was played by Harrison Ford, portrayed as a polar opposite of protagonist, Luke Skywalker. Han lives by his own rules, looks out for his own interests, and doesn’t give a damn if Chewbacca is shedding all over your seat. He’s Han Solo, baby and he shot first!

How Charming is He: As a rogue, Han’s charm isn’t similar to the rest of the men in our list. He’s in your face, challenging and self-serving for a good portion of the films. It’s only under the rugged exterior that the audience see the sweet, cool and bewitching aspect of the once lone wolf smuggler. In the ultimate example of his aloof slickness, Princess Leia professes her love for him and all Han has to say in response is, “I know,” and yet we still love him.

Similar Charmers: Action-adventure heroes Indiana Jones (also played by Harrison Ford) and Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean film trilogy, played by Johnny Depp.


#8 - Dorian Gray


Who is He: He was the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. He’s a man whose beauty was breathtaking, and one of the most famous examples of Adonis-like perfection in all of literature. The novel itself is a study of man’s quest for beauty and his desire for superficial excellence, demonstrated through Dorian’s wish to keep his physical appearance untainted while his portrait ages and deteriorates. Thus, his sins and transgressions never blemish his perfection, in exchange for his soul.

How Charming is He: While Dorian’s plan fails him in the end, he is still a famous charmer. Men became infatuated with his handsomeness, if only curious as to how Dorian seemed ageless, and women were unable to resist succumbing to his charms. In fact, he got every lady he desired, and broke their heart soon after. That’s just one of the perk of being the most beautiful man in literature.

Similar Charmer: Tom Jones from The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by novelist Henry Fielding.


#7 - Ferris Bueller


Who is He: Ferris is the lead in the 1986 film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This fourth-wall breaking character takes the day off from school to spend time in the city with his friends, while avoiding all chances of getting caught. This leads them through fun, exciting adventures as they push their luck with every new and surprising situation. Ferris, the leader and the brains behind their rowdy antics, barely keeps them out of trouble, but managed to pull off the perfect day without suffering any parental repercussions.

How Charming is He: One of the big reasons Ferris gets away with his victimless crime is his charm. He’s the cool kid in school, the kind that always seems to have a good time. He knows how to get in trouble, and how to get out of it in style. As said in the film, “Oh, he’s very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”


#6 -Count Dracula


Who is He: Count Dracula was the protagonist of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. The character was based on Romanian general Vlad the Impaler, notably remembered for the cruel punishments he ordered on his enemies. Count Dracula’s notoriety surpassed the written word when he was adapted into films and television, making him one of the most famous villains, and the greatest vampire of all time (you heard me, Twihards). This powerful, enigmatic figure has been the subject of many interpretations, and still captures the interests of audiences today.

How Charming is He: For a second, look past the fact that he’s undead, he’s creepy and that he likes to drink your blood. When you study the rest of Dracula, you come to realize he’s actually a charmer (though some of you might argue he’s as charming as a snake). He possesses hypnotic eyes and mind controlling abilities, but more than that, he’s charismatic and worldly. Here’s this sophisticated being that lives like royalty, and treats his guest as such… until it’s dinner time, of course.

Similar Charmer: Patrick Bateman, from Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, American Psycho. Patrick is another dangerous and creepy character who might not traditionally be seen as a charmer, but he is when you look beyond the murder. And necrophilia. And cannibalism. No, really. He’s charming.


#5 - Jay Gatsby


Who is He: Jay Gatsby is a literary character from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. He’s a self made man living in the U.S. during the Jazz Age. It’s through the course of the novel that readers learn Jay earned his money through bootlegging during Prohibition, when alcohol was banned. The once former poor man is now one of the most beloved socialites of his time. He hopes his wealth and power would win the heart of Daisy, a married rich woman he has loved for years.

How Charming is He: Though his heart is set on Daisy, Jay takes all opportunities to be a good host to every one of his guests (particularly the women). He is a neat dresser, polite, fun and equipped with natural good looks. Jay is the hit of every party, and the talk of the town among the rich and powerful. Both envied and desired, Jay is often thought to be the quintessential American icon.


#4 - Rhett Butler


Who is He: Rhett is one of the main protagonists in Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind. Clark Gable’s film portrayal brought the character to life in the 1939 movie by the same name. Rhett was considered a pariah amongst the Confederate South during the U.S.’s Civil War years. He ends up falling in love with protagonist Scarlett O’Hara, despite the fact that her heart belongs to someone else.

How Charming is He: What made Rhett different from the men around him was his experience, and sophisticated understanding of human nature. He was one of the few that appeared to be involved with the Confederate South, but still able to see it from an outsider’s perspective (ultimately keeping his distance at all times). Even as a black sheep, he was accepted by his associates for his charming ways and educated ideas. There’s just something about the mustache and smile they couldn’t seem to ignore.

Similar Charmer: Bugs Bunny. The animated rabbit is actually based on Clark Gable.


#3 - Mr. Darcy


Who is He: From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is not, at first, a charming man. He was respected by his peers for his fortune and demeanor, even if he believed himself superior to them, and acted with feigned modesty. It wasn’t until the woman he’s attracted to denied his marriage proposal that Mr. Darcy changed for the better. He saved her family from social disgrace, and redeemed himself by proving his arrogance was merely a facade.

How Charming is He: Mr. Darcy is a fangirl’s dream. He’s handsome, rich and English (it’s the accent). Most of all, he’s not just a good-looking guy. Once his perspective was changed, he became a gentleman who truly cared about others, especially Elizabeth, and who goes out of his way to validate his sincerity. There are many female readers that would openly admit to crushing on Mr. Darcy for these reasons.


#2 - Don Juan


Who is He: This fictional character is mostly known as a libertine, a person who disregards social norms and embodies what’s understood as loathsome and undesirable. Don Juan has been written about in a variety of stories, plays and poems but is consistently portrayed as a womanizer.

How Charming is He: There isn’t much explanation needed here. The name Don Juan itself has become a term meaning “ladies’ man.” Some of the stories glorify his actions, personifying him as a hero and revolutionary for embracing his sexuality, while other stories condemn him and his behavior as a warning to future and potential Don Juans. Either way, his charm can’t be matched easily by just any other man.


#1 - James Bond


Who is He: Secret Agent 007 was created by journalist Ian Fleming, and was featured in several of his novels. The character became a household name when he made the transition in to films (22 in total). These action movies were filled with dangerous car chases, explosions and beautiful women. Does any of that phase James Bond? Not likely.

How Charming is He: Bond can charm the pants off you. He is the epitome of cool, too. 007 only drives the most luxurious of cars, wears the sleekest of suits, and packs the kind of weapons and secret agent tools that make our most valued piece of technology look like a plaything. Villains hate him for his skill, women love him for his attitude and audiences adore him for his charms.

Similar Charmer: Movie character Austin Powers, who was based on James Bond.


10 Generals Who Got In Trouble With Their Chief


American General Stanley McChrystal was recently relieved of command by President Obama, for disparaging comments he made about the administration. He was the latest U.S. general to be sacked for crossing the Commander In Chief. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of other generals from history who got into trouble of varying severity with their superiors.


#10 - Belisarius


Belisarius was the greatest Byzantine general, under the greatest Byzantine emperor, Justinian I. He fought many battles against the Persians and Bulgars, helped reconquer much of Italy, and put down the Nike rebellion at home. He fell out of favor with Justinian, in part because he overstepped his authority in parleying with the Goths. He stood trial on spurious charges, but was protected by influential family connections. He was later pardoned by Justinian, and spent his final years in peace. There is no truth to the legend that Belisarius was blinded by Justinian, and died as a beggar on the streets of Constantinople.

#9 - Thomas Conway


Thomas Conway was a French general (of Irish birth) who served on the American side in the Revolutionary War. In October of 1777, George Washington strongly opposed the promotion of Conway to be major-general, on the ground that it was unjust to the abler and older American officers. He felt that Conway was a general of no particular distinction, and somewhat of a braggart. However, the Continental Congress refused Conway’s proferred resignation, and the defeats Washington suffered that year caused Conway to ally himself with the victor of Saratoga, General Gates, in attempts to oust Washington as top commander. After a series of intrigues and personality clashes too long to summarize, but collectively known as the “Conway Cabal”, Conway’s disrespect of Washington finally angered Congress to the point where Conway’s resignation in 1778 was accepted, much to his chagrin. After a duel, when he thought he was dying, he wrote Washington a complete apology for all the injury he had done to him. He recovered and served with the French army overseas, and later supported the Royalist side in the French Revolution.

#8 - William “Fox” Fallon


In early 2007, U.S. Navy Admiral William Fallon became the central commander of American troops in the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the first time a naval commander had held this post. From 2003-2005, Fallon had served as the commander of Fleet Forces Command. He then served as head of the U.S. Pacific command from 2005 to 2007. In this post, Fallon was commander of all the American forces stationed in the Pacific, a total of 300,000 military personnel. However, in 2008 he allowed himself to be profiled by an opponent of the Bush administration in Esquire magazine. In it, he was portrayed as deploring the Bush administration’s perceived saber-rattling towards Iran. Even though he denied a rift with the President, and deplored the article as “poison pen stuff”, he resigned his post. Defense Secretary Gates accepted his resignation, and in a press conference said that the “cumulative” effect of Fallon’s outspokenness had become a distraction.

#7 - Kara Mustafa


Kara Mustafa Pasha served as captain of the fleet, vizier in the State Council, and deputy grand vizier in the Ottoman Empire, in the 17th century. Succeeding Fazıl Ahmed Pasha as grand vizier, he led unsuccessful campaigns against Poland and then Russia. Meanwhile, a Hungarian revolt against Habsburg rule in 1678 allowed Kara Mustafa Pasha to move against Austria. The Ottoman army, under his command, laid siege to Vienna (July 17–Sept. 12, 1683). Overconfident, he did not exploit early military openings, or even entrench his forces, instead spending more time pursuing the delights of the flesh in his personal compound. Consequently, the Ottoman army was surprised, and defeated by an Austrian-Polish relief force under John III Sobieski, king of Poland. The siege was lifted, and the Ottomans never again threatened so deeply into Europe. The penalty for failure for the Ottoman commander was harsh. Although he blamed and executed scores of his own officers, Kara Mustafa Pasha was strangled with a silken cord, as befitted a high-ranking malefactor, at Belgrade that same year on orders from the sultan. His head was brought to the sultan on a silver dish.

#6 - Douglas MacArthur


Possibly the greatest prima donna of World War II, MacArthur’s vanity was legendary. He had a Filipino silversmith hammer out a five-star collar emblem, using Filipino, Dutch and Australian silver coins supplied by his aides, when he was promoted to a five-star general, rather than wait for the real stars to arrive in the military mail. His ego only grew during his next posting, as Allied commander during the Korean War. His brilliant landing at Inchon saved the South from being overrun by the communist North. But he blundered in not anticipating China’s entry into the war, and in publicly disagreeing with President Harry Truman over strategy. “I’m going to fire the son a bitch right now,” Truman declared. But such was MacArthur’s prestige and popularity, Truman had to proceed very diplomatically, and even so his own standing with the public took a sizable hit. MacArthur’s standing was such that he gave a farewell address to Congress, which included the famous line “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”


#5 - George McClellan


As an organizer and logistician, Union General George Brinton McClellan was a godsend to the Army of the Potomac, early in the American Civil War. The scholarly, well-traveled veteran of the Mexican War and former instructor at West Point was just what the Union, stunned by unexpected defeats by the Confederacy, needed to whip its forces into trim. Even though McClellan himself had been mauled by Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days Battle, his assumption of command from the defeated General Pope was met with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, he was unused to supreme command. He was as overcautious in the field as he was meticulous behind the lines, time and again allowing Lee to slip away. He complained of lack of support, and consistently overestimated the enemy’s strength. President Abraham Lincoln began to lose patience with him, sending increasingly tart orders for him to get moving: “Are you not overcautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing?” “I beg to assure you that I have never written you, or spoken to you, in greater kindness of feeling than now, nor with a fuller purpose to sustain you, so far as in my most anxious judgment, I consistently can. But you must act.” Finally, he was relieved and replaced by General Burnside. He ran and lost against Lincoln for President in 1864, later served as governor of New Jersey, and died of heart failure in 1885

#4 - Musa bin Nusair


Musa bin Nusair was an Arab from what is now southwestern Saudi Arabia. He was one of the greatest commanders of the Arabian age of conquest, most famously capturing Morocco and invading Spain, conquering it for Islam. He landed on the Iberian peninsula in tandem with an army led by his subordinate–and rival–Tariq bin Ziyad in the early 8th century AD. For the next several years he campaigned successfully, amassing a fantastic amount of treasure and captives. He and Tariq were called back to Damascus by the caliph, al Walid I. They were celebrated as conquering heroes by the people. But al-Walid died soon after, and was succeeded by his brother Sulayman ibd al-Malik. Sulayman demanded that Musa turn over his treasure, and, when he objected, Musa was stripped of his rank and turned out into the streets. His son was beheaded on Sulayman’s orders. He was reported to have spent time as a beggar outside a mosque, and he died, old and broken, while performing the pilgrimage to Mecca.

#3  - Erwin Rommel


“We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general,” said Winston Churchill, in acknowledgment of the formidable gifts of Nazi Germany’s greatest general, Erwin Rommel. His skillful implementation of Heinz Guderian’s blitzkrieg enabled the Wehrmacht to swiftly overrun France, and nearly drive the British from North Africa. It was in the latter theater, far from the meddling interference of Hitler, that Rommel earned his nickname “The Desert Fox”, for his daring and innovative tactics. But by the time of the Allied invasion of France in 1944, Rommel was disillusioned with the war, and with Hitler. He was implicated in the July plot on Hitler’s life, but was too popular with the public to move against openly. When he was injured in an Allied strafing attack on his car, the Gestapo gave him an ultimatum: to commit suicide or he would be tried publicly along with his family. He chose suicide, and his death was attributed to the airplane attack. He was given a fallen hero’s sendoff, that made excellent grist for the Nazi propaganda mill.

#2 - John K. Singlaub


General Singlaub was a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was one of the Operation Jedburgh parachute commandos who worked behind the lines with the French Resistance in August 1944. In early 1977, when he was chief of staff of U.S. forces in South Korea, he publicly criticized President Carter’s plan to draw down troop levels in Sthat country. Carter fired him for the breach of discipline on March 21, 1977. Singlaub went on to participate in a number of anti-communist organizations in the Eighties.




#1 - Mikhail Tukhachevsky


Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky was a Marshal Of The Soviet Union, and a gifted military theorist. He was decorated for bravery while serving in tsarist Russia’s army during World War One. He rose to command during the Russian Civil War, carrying out the final Red offensives, and suppressed the sailors’ revolt at Kronstadt in March, 1921. He also quite ruthlessly quashed a number of peasant revolts in the 1920s. He ran afoul of Joseph Stalin during the 1920 war between Russia and Poland, each blaming the other for Russia’s defeat. Never one to give up a grudge, Stalin framed Tukhachevsky as a Trotskyite conspirator, and had him tried, convicted and executed in 1937. His advanced military ideas came back into favor after the initial disasters of the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, and Tukhachevsky himself was posthumously rehabilitated in 1963.



Bonus - Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky


Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky was one of the generals who became a victim of Stalin’s purge of the Red Army in the late 1930s. His support for the ideas of Marshal Tukhachevsky undoubtedly helped land him in hot water. He was tortured and imprisoned, but unlike so many of his colleagues he was not executed. Even more atypically, he was released and reinstated in a military post in 1940. He rose to high command after the German invasion, and famously escaped with his life after stubbornly disagreeing with Stalin over a matter of strategy. He served to the end of the war, linking up with British General Montgomery, while General Zhukov’s forces captured Berlin.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

15 More Amazing Animal Facts



Facts 1 – 5


1. The tuatara (pictured above) is a lizard-like creature endemic to New Zealand, and it is thought to have existed for at least 200 million years (if you believe in evolution, or 6,000 years if you believe in special creation). The most fascinating aspect of tuataras is their third eye – complete with lens, cornea, rods and nerve tissue connecting it to their brain. This suggests that the eye was a fully functioning eye in times gone by. By six months of age the eye is covered by scales. Pictured above is a baby tuatara. Tuataras are the only remaining species of the sphenodontia genus.

2. Another fascinating fact about ants is that some species send their queen into neighboring nests, where she will bite the head off the resident queen and begin laying her own eggs to take over.

3. On average, sharks kill 10 humans every year. But here is the thing: approximately 100 people die each year when they are stepped on by cows. Remember that next time you are in a field of cattle.

4. Woodpeckers slam their heads into wood at a rate of 20 pecks per second. What protects them from injury is a spongy area that sits behind their beaks and acts as a shock absorber.

5. In the seventeenth century, when anti-Catholicism and anti-papacy was rife throughout the puritan world, puritans would stuff wicker effigies of the Pope with live cats and then set it on fire – taking much glee in the screaming anguish of the poor cats.


Facts 6 – 10


6. Unlike most animals, the word for butterfly in European languages do not resemble each other. In German it is schmetterling, in French it is papillon, in Spanish it is mariposa, in Italian it is farfalla, in Dutch it is vlinder, and in portuguese it is borboleta.

7. To vomit, some frogs spew out their entire stomach, rinse it off with their right hand, and then push it back in.

8. The hoatzin (pronounced watseen) bird is a vegetarian which, due to its strict vegetable diet, has stomachs similar to a cows to help it digest. The need for large amounts of food makes these birds very heavy, and consequently bad fliers. The rather beautiful bird is pictured above.

9. Manatees have two teets beneath their forelimbs, which is very likely to be the cause of the many tales of mermaids heard around the world in the days of great sea voyages.

10. Here is one for all the animal rights activists. The giant tortoise was often killed for its delicious oil, which was considered by the Dutch the only way to make the flesh of the now extinct Dodo bird palatable. The flesh of the giant turtle is sufficient to feed several men and virtually every part of it is a taste sensation (including the bone marrow and eggs).


Facts 11 – 15


11. Tappen is the name given to a plug made of leaves, resin and fat which bears prepare and insert into their rectum prior to their three months winter dormition. This is to stop insects from intruding and laying their eggs.

12. An ant chamber can be up to 10 feet deep. Each chamber within the vast network is designed for a different task. The bottom chamber is for eggs, while others are for larvae, the queen, new queens and food storage.

13. Bats manage to hang upside down with ease because their claws lock on to the branch or object from which they hang. When a bat dies like this, it stays in place with its toes locked.

14. The double headed Eagle symbol of the byzantine empire has a special meaning. One head symbolizes old Imperial Rome, and the other symbolizes Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, and colloquially known as the New Rome.

15. The giant weta is a New Zealand insect which can grow a body (excluding legs) to the size of a mouse. It is also, on average, heavier than a sparrow. It is rather a horrifying looking creature, but unlike its also quite large relatives which are found all over New Zealand, the giant weta is confined to small islands. The picture above shows an adult human holding a weta, which gives a good indication of its size. Wetas are harmless and only bite when in danger.


Top 10 Museums that will Scare You Silly


#10 - House on the Rock


Originally designed to house a collection of basically anything, the House on the Rock in Deer Shelter Rock, Wisconsin first opened in 1959. The house contains fascinating exhibits such as a re-creation of an early twentieth century American Town and a 200 foot model of a sea monster. Now this doesn’t sound too scary but only because I forgot to mention that the entire collection is basically left to rot in dark, dusty rooms. Now imagine such a room room filled with the stench of rot in which you can just make out a scattering of decayed mannequins sawing at old broken musical instruments – playing what sounds like a symphony written in hell! Having seen it, I can assure you that the real thing is far worse than the description!


#9 - Glore Psychiatric Museum


Who wouldn’t want to check out a museum dedicated to the history of such wonderful things as electroshock treatment and lobotomies? Well – most people probably. But for those who have a taste for the downright shocking, the Glore Psychiatric museum is for you. And if you find the horrifying parts of the museum too much to cope with, you can relax in the “awful things people have swallowed” exhibition. Don’t forget to check out the ancient treatments area where you can see instruments for bleeding patients and the fascinating dioramas taking you step by step through a psychosurgical operation.


#8 - New Haven Ventriloquist Museum


In New Haven connecticut there is a museum that contains nothing but row upon row of old ventriloquist’s dummies. Every seat in the theatre has a dummy in it – in fact, when you visit you have to stand on the stage because there is no room anywhere else. Now most people don’t suffer from Autonomatonophobia (the fear of artificial humanoid figures – yes it’s real) but even the staunchest of the staunch will be horrified by this awful display. Just think “Chuckie” times one thousand.


#7 - Catacombs of Palermo

Not intending to be a museum, that is 7exactly what the Catacombs of Palermo have become – a museum of death. Deep in the bowels of the Capuchin monastery you can view hundreds of corpses – both monks and local members of the community. The bodies are lined up along the walls in the clothes in which they were buried. Bodies were put in the catacombs from the end of the 16th century to the last interment – little Rosalia Lombardo in the 1920s. The cool air and dry environment mean that the bodies are extremely well preserved – so well preserved in fact that some look like they are just sleeping. But most look like hideous corpses ready to wake up at any moment to attack the visitors. A must see holiday spot.


#6 - London Dungeon


The London dungeon is really famous. So you may wonder why it isn’t in the top five of this list. Mainly because it is scary in a different way from the rest of the items here. It is scary in the sense that no one wants a random stranger dressed as the grim reaper to jump at them while screaming. That aside, the dungeon does present a great selection of macabre torture devices from the middle ages. Mind you, your local army base probably has an equally terrifying array of torture devices from the last decade! If you go to the Dungeon take your heart medication with you – those actors can certain put the frights up you. Oh – and be prepared to queue for a long time – it is a popular attraction. The only place you will have seen queues longer is at a bakery in Soviet Russia.


#5 - Lombrosp’s Museum of Criminal Anthropology


Cesare Lombroso founded the Italian school of criminology. It is no wonder then that this museum – filled with objects from his work is a terrifying place indeed. Combined with the macabre collectibles are images of crimes, weapons used to slaughter humans, and even Lombroso’s own head perfectly preserved in a bottle of formaldehyde. If you are interested in crime – or just want to spend a day gazing at skulls, human remains, and other horrifying objects, this is the place to go.







#4 - Madame Tussauds


This is probably the most famous entry on the list. Madame Tussauds in London is best known for its enormous collection of wax figures – mostly of famous people. But the museum had a more grisly start. Madame Tussaud herself started the collection during the French revolution. She would run up to the guillotine after people had been executed and make wax imprints of their severed heads. The most famous is probably that of the last King of France. These heads are all on display at the museum along with a horrifying collection of monstrous historical displays in the chamber of horrors. When you see the life-sized reproduction of one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, you will never be quite the same again. Oh – and to make matters worse, the chamber of horrors now employs actors to jump out and terrify visitors. Take along a change of underwear.


#3 - Museum of Anatomy

Honoré Fragonard was a professor of anatomy – at least he was until he got canned for showing the symptoms of insanity! Twenty years later he began the work that would be his life’s crowning achievement. In 1794 he began gathering dead 3bodies for what would become his museum of anatomy. His museum was designed to house a gigantic collection of corpses that he personally stripped of their skin and embalmed with a secret recipe – a recipe that remains a mystery to this day. The collection contains the preserved flayed bodies of animals, children, and executed criminals as well as a collection of skulls from asylums for the mentally disturbed. This museum in Paris is so horrifying that entry is available by appointment only.


#2 - Mutter Museum


The Mutter Museum is best known for its large collection of skulls and anatomical specimens including a wax model of a woman with a human horn growing out of her forehead, the tallest skeleton on display in North America, a 5 foot-long human colon (pictured above) that contained over 40 pounds of poop, and the petrified body of the mysterious Soap Lady whose entire corpse was turned into soap after she died. The museum also houses a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s hard palate, the conjoined liver from the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, and a growth removed from President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. It may not terrify you – but I guarantee that it will end up haunting your dreams.


#1 - The Purgatory Museum


According to Catholic doctrine, a person who dies with only slight sins on their soul goes to purgatory to be cleansed by fire before floating off to heaven. At the Church of the Sacred Heart in the Prati district of Rome, there is a small museum tucked away behind a side altar. It is the Purgatory museum. This truly scary place has exhibits which document cases of souls in purgatory coming back to earth to haunt the living. Some of the items on display are a table with scorch marks and lines carved out of it by an otherworldly hand, as well as burnt fingerprints on clothing and bedlinen. But perhaps the scariest item of all is a book with an entire human handprint scorched deeply into the pages – the handprint of a long dead monk suffering in the fires for some unknown sin.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top 10 Greatest Empires In History


The definition of an empire is: when a single entity has supreme rule and power over a vast area of territory, which consists of peoples of different ethnicity and nationality. This list is based on the influence, longevity and power of the various empires, and, as you will see, it contains at least one or two entries that may strike some as controversial. My one requirement for this list is that the empire must have been ruled – for at least a majority of the time – by an emperor or king. This excludes modern so-called empires such as the United States and Soviet Union. The entries here are listed roughly by influence and size.

#10 - Ottoman Empire


At the height of its power (16th–17th century), the Ottoman Empire spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. It contained 29 provinces and numerous vassal states, some of which were later absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types of autonomy during the course of centuries. The empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. With Constantinople as its capital city, and vast control of lands around the eastern Mediterranean during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (ruled 1520 to 1566), the Ottoman Empire was, in many respects, an Islamic successor to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.


#9 - Umayyad Caliphate


The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four Islamic caliphates (systems of governance), established after the death of Mohammed. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the city of Mecca, Damascus was the capital of their Caliphate. Eventually, it would cover more than five million square miles, making it the largest empire the world had yet seen, and the fifth largest contiguous empire ever to exist. The Umayyads established the largest Arab-Muslim state in history. From the time of Mohammed until 1924, successive and contemporary caliphates were held by various dynasties – the last being the Ottoman Empire (above).


#8 - Persian Empire

or Achaemenid Empire


Babylonian, Akkadians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Hitites, Bactrians, Scythians, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Ethiopians… Before the Romans, there were the Persians. They basically unified the whole of Central Asia which consisted of a lot of different cultures, kingdoms, empires and tribes. It was the largest empire in ancient history. At the height of its power, the empire encompassed approximately 8 million km2. The empire was forged by Cyrus the Great, and spanned three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.


#7 - Byzantine Empire


The Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire, was the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered on the capital of Constantinople, and ruled by emperors in direct succession to the ancient Roman emperors. It was called the Roman Empire, and also Romania. During its existence, of over a thousand years, the Empire remained one of the most powerful economic, cultural and military forces in Europe, despite setbacks and territorial losses, especially during the Roman–Persian and Byzantine–Arab Wars. The Empire received a mortal blow in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade, when it was dissolved and divided into competing Byzantine Greek and Latin realms. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople and re-establishment of the Empire in 1261, under the Palaiologan emperors, successive civil wars in the fourteenth century further sapped the Empire’s strength.


#6 - Han Dynasty


During the Chinese period of warring states, the whole of China was embroiled in a civil war as the different kingdoms within it battled it out with each other in the quest for supremacy. In the end, the Qin State won, and gobbled up the whole of China, with 40 million people under it’s control. The Qin Dynasty didn’t last long, and soon it went to the Han, which eventually controlled China for close to 400 years. The period of the Han Dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese history in terms of scientific achievement, technological advance, economic, cultural and political stability. Even to this day, most Chinese people refer to themselves as the Han people. Today, the “Han people” is considered the largest single ethnic group in the world.


#5 - British Empire


At it’s greatest extent, the British empire was known as the largest empire in history, as it covered more than 13,000,000 square miles, which is approximately a quarter of the Earth’s total land area, and controlled more than 500 million people – again a quarter of the world’s population. As a result, the legacy it imprinted on these conquered lands is tremendous in terms of political reform, cultural exchanges and way of life. The English language, which it spread, is the second most-widely spoken language in the world today, and many linguistics agree that English is the defacto standard language of the world. The British empire is definitely one of the most influential empires ever to have existed in human history.


#4 - Holy Roman Empire


During the middle ages, they were considered the “superpower” of their time. At it’s height, the Holy Roman Empire consisted of eastern France, all of Germany, northern Italy and parts of western Poland. Despite being relatively small in terms of Empires, its influence on the history of central Europe is still felt today. Incredibly the Empire lasted from the early middle ages ages to the 19th century. The Empire was formally dissolved on 6 August 1806 when the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II (later Francis I of Austria), abdicated following a military defeat by the French under Napoleon. Upon its collapse, the following nations emerged: Switzerland, Holland, the Austrian Empire, Belgium, the Prussian Empire, Principality of Liechtenstein, Confederation of the Rhine and the first French Empire.



#3 - The Russian Empire


The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia, and the predecessor of the Soviet Union. It was the second largest contiguous empire in world history, surpassed only by the Mongol Empire, and the third largest empire behind the British Empire and the Mongol Empire. At one point in 1866, it stretched from eastern Europe, across Asia, and into North America.



#2 - Mongol Empire


It all started when Temujin (who was later known as Genghis Khan), vowed in his youth to bring the world to his feet. He almost did. His first act was unifying the scattered Mongolian tribes. Then he set his sight on China, and the rest is history. From Vietnam to Hungary, the Mongol Empire is the largest contiguous empire in the history of mankind. Unfortunately for them, their empire was too big to be controlled, and there was no unity among the different cultures. The Mongols were fearless and ruthless fighters, but had little experience in administration. The image of the mongols as a brutal and savage people is renowned through history.



#1 - Roman Empire


At first they were ruled by divine kings, then they became a republic (perhaps their greatest period) before finally becoming an empire. How a group of farmers, who started off fending wolves to protect their livestock, eventually became the greatest empire in all history is the stuff of legends. Coupled with an excellent military and administrative system, the Roman Empire, or rather ancient Rome, is also one of the longest-lasting. Counting from its founding to the fall of the Byzantine empire, ancient Rome lasted for a whopping 2,214 years!

Ancient Rome contributed greatly to the development of law, war, art, literature, architecture, technology, religion and language in the Western world. In fact many historians consider the Roman Empire to be a perfect empire – influential, fair, long-lasting, big, well defended and economically advanced. The influence of the Roman Empire is felt to this day, if for no other reason than the influence on the Catholic Church, which took much of its administrative nous and pageantry from it.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

10 Of The World’s Biggest, Baddest Bugs


Bugs… though most are small, even tiny, the ancient order of Arthropods boasts over a million species and includes more than half the world’s living organisms. With such variety and diversity, insects, spiders, and their exoskeletoned ilk push the envelope on a number of fronts including size, so put away that fly-swatter – you definitely do not want to make these guys mad!


Ancient Giant Bugs


The history of life on Earth is a long and complex story with changing geologic, climactic and environmental conditions continually shuffling the genetic deck. Mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and insects have all produced giants in the past, so it’s worth looking at some of prehistory’s largest insects to put their modern descendants into perspective.


The most notorious of these ancient giant insects lived during the Carboniferous period approximately 300 million years ago; the most well-known examples are the giant dragonfly Meganeura (above) and the giant centipede Arthropleura.


Meganeura had a 2.5-ft (0.75 meter) wide wingspan and scientists speculate it ate other flying and crawling insects; even some of the smaller early amphibians that were just beginning to colonize dry land. Arthropleura, on the other hand (or maybe, the other foot) stretched up to 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) long and may have eaten both plants and small animals.


The all-time champ when it comes to huge proto-insects was Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, a Eurypterid sea scorpion that lived from 460 to 255 million years ago. It likely dined on our primitive marine ancestors – and pretty much anything else it encountered. Growing up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) long, Jaekelopterus rhenaniae was the largest Arthropod to have ever evolved. At least, so we hope.


Goliath Beetle


Deep in the jungles of darkest Africa one may find the biggest, bulkiest, heaviest insect on Earth: the Goliath Beetle. Male Goliathus’ can grow up to 4.3 inches (110 mm) long and their larvae can weigh up to 3.5 ounces or 100 grams: a true mega-maggot! Hobbyists have raised Goliath Beetles in captivity by feeding the newly hatched larvae dog or cat food.


Goliath Beetles are members of the Scarab Beetle family and it’s likely they were known to the ancient Egyptians. They can also fly using a single pair of clear membranous wings normally protected under their hinged shells. The sound of a Goliath Beetle in flight has been likened to that of a small helicopter.


Camel Spiders


While insects today have been cut down to size, so to speak, there are still some large enough to put a healthy scare into other animals, not to mention us. Take the Camel Spider… take it AWAY, is what I really mean to say! Give our brave troops slogging through Iraqi deserts extra props for having to deal with these eight-legged freaks.


While many of the tales told about Camel Spiders are fabrications (such as, they sometimes can be seen running alongside Humvees, screaming all the while), these arachnids can grow up to 10 inches (25 cm) wide, run as fast as 10 mph (16 kph) and like to hide in dark, sheltered places… like sleeping bags.


This famous photo of two Camel Spiders locked in mortal combat has made the rounds of the Internet but anything this creepy deserves another go-round. Note the spot-on desert camouflage coloring (troops and spiders) and their nasty-looking fangs (just the spiders). By the way, Camel Spiders are not found only in Iraq or the Middle East – try right next door in Mexico where they’re known as “matevenados”… in English, that means “deer killers.” Th-Th-Thumper, is th-that you??


Giant Water Bugs




Giant Water Bugs of the genus Lethocerus, also known as “Toe Biters” – lovely, huh? – grow up to 5 inches (12 cm) long and are the terrors of freshwater ponds, gorging themselves on other insects, crayfish, tadpoles and the odd unlucky fish. When they bite a potential meal (or perhaps, your toe), the bugs inject an enzyme that liquifies tissue making it easy for the bug to slurp up its meal.


Needless to say, a bite from a Giant Water Bug can be exceptionally painful and victims have been known to suffer permanent muscle damage. Toe Biter 1, ToeCutter 0.


Most of us would be happy to avoid Giant Water Bugs altogether but that’s just impossible: they’re so darned tasty! I’m not speaking from personal experience (though my Mom tells me I ate a June Bug once when I was 2, and said it was “good”) but Giant Water Bugs are a delicacy in Thailand where they’re caught using black (UV) light floating traps. Very nice, but I’m sticking to the Pad Thai if that’s OK with you.



Japanese Giant Hornet


Japanese Giant Hornets, unlike tarantulas, are NOT mild-mannered and most definitely do not make great pets. Great pests is more like it. Let’s start with size: up to 1.6 inches (4 cm) long with a 2.5 inch (6 cm) wingspan. In Japanese they’re called Oo-Suzumebachi, or “Giant Sparrow Bee”… and unlike everything else in Japan, there’s nothing cute about them. They kill, on average, 40 people every year. That’s more than the total number of deaths attributed annually to ALL wild animals in Japan, put together.


The venom of Japanese Giant Hornets is considered to be “very potent”, and it’s injected through a wickedly curved stinger 1/4 inch (6.25 mm) long. The sting itself was reported by Masato Ono, an entomologist (and sting-ee) from Tamagawa University, to feel “like a hot nail being driven into his leg”. Oh, and it gets worse – an annoyed Japanese Giant Hornet will chase a perceived threat (read: YOU) for up to 3 miles and it can fly at speeds up to 25 mph (40 kph). Guess who wins that race. And… yes, there’s more… this fiendish uber-wasp disperses a pheromone that will draw other hornets from far and wide. It bee nice knowin’ ya!


Though we can’t blame Colony Collapse Disorder and the accompanying loss of millions of honeybees on the Japanese Giant Hornet, they should at least be brought in for questioning – not by me, of course.

Check out the following video in which about 30 giant hornets take on a hive filled with around 30,000 honeybees by going all Ozzy Osbourne on them. The result? More bee-heading than in an Al-Qaeda member’s wet dream:

30 Hornets vs. 30,000 Bees, via Silentrouge


Giant Weta


The Giant Weta encompasses 11 varied species, growing to a length of 8 inches or 20 cm. They’re found only in New Zealand and its nearby islands where they took over the ecological niches normally filled by rodents such as mice. When rodents were introduced to New Zealand by human settlers, the Giant Weta went into rapid decline.


The Giant Weta’s genus name, Deinacrida, is Greek for “terrible grasshopper” and it’s a good choice as the spiky, spiny creature resembles some sort of radioactive mutated cricket from Hell. Even the native Maori were put off by the Giant Weta when they first encountered it, dubbing it “Weta Punga”, or “god of ugly things.” Yep, that’s one big ugly bugly.


Giant Wetas are flightless and have struggled to survive after the introduction of non-native predators to the New Zealand archipelago. They are among the world’s heaviest insects with one specimen weighing in at a startling 2.5 ounces (70 grams). One wicked cricket… and we’re gonna need a bigger wicket.


Atlas Moth, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly


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The Atlas Moth and the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly are the largest of the moths and butterflies, each achieving wingspans of over a foot (30 cm). The Atlas Moth, found in southeast Asia, the Malay archipelago and on the Indian subcontinent has been cultivated commercially for the silk used by its caterpillars to weave their cocoons. Entire Atlas Moth cocoons have been made into women’s purses in Taiwan, where the women are obviously not at all squeamish.


The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly was first discovered by European naturalists in 1906, when a collector in what today is Papua New Guinea brought one down using a shotgun. Females have rounded wings than males and wingspans can reach just over 12 inches (31 cm) with body lengths of 3.2 inches (8 cm).


Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterflies emerge from their cocoons in the humid early morning hours, before the daytime’s hotter air can prematurely dry out their huge wings. Male butterflies are territorial and have been seen chasing away birds that inadvertently flew into their perceived domains.


Goliath Birdeater Spider


Besides being a great band name, the Goliath Birdeater is one of the world’s largest spiders. These jungle-dwelling tarantulas have an 11 inch (25 cm) leg span which puts them on par with the smaller-bodied Giant Huntsman spider of Laos. The Goliath Birdeater comes out ahead when it comes to weight, with mature specimens topping out at over 6 ounces (170 grams). Oh, the name? The first researcher to describe them observed one eating a hummingbird. They have also been known to kill and eat mice, bats, lizards, and small poisonous snakes.


As fearsome as they may appear, the Goliath Birdeater spider and other large tarantulas of the Amazon rainforest are not particularly aggressive – good thing! Even when they do bite humans and their fangs (which can be up to 1.5 inches or 3.8 cm long) pierce skin, they rarely inject venom and bites are relatively – relatively – painless. It’s not the fangs that are the main problem for people, it’s the hairs that irritated tarantulas shake off their bellies. Incredibly thin and wickedly barbed, these hairs can become lodged in one’s eyeballs and are nearly impossible to remove.


Tarantula Hawk Wasp


Another big bug with a seriously scary name, the Tarantula Hawk Wasp doesn’t live in some faraway jungle or exotic island… nope, it’s from New Mexico! In fact, the State of New Mexico adopted the Tarantula Hawk Wasp as their official state insect in 1989. If you happen to come across one, however, you’re officially advised to leave it alone! Though not considered to be aggressive, the Tarantula Hawk Wasp WILL sting you if pestered, and then… let’s just let Justin O. Schmidt, author of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, describe it: “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.” Officially the sting of the Tarantula Hawk Wasp rates 4 on the Schmidt scale – which only goes up to 4.


Tarantula Hawk Wasps are among the world’s largest wasps, growing up to 2 inches (50 mm) long. Unlike most familiar black & yellow banded wasps, they have bluish-black bodies and bright orange or rust-colored wings. As you may have guessed, they prey on tarantulas and other large spiders of the south-western desert.


A sting from the wasp doesn’t kill the spider; that would be too kind. Instead, the wasp drags the paralyzed spider – a significant feat of strength, by the way – back to its burrow and lays an egg on its body. The egg then hatches and immediately begins eating its still-living meal. One spider-roll to go!

Here’s a video of a Tarantula Hawk Wasp going stinger to fangs with a tarantula – be afraid, tarantula, be VERY afraid!

Tarantula Hawk Wasp Attacks Tarantula, via CreekerCouncil


Giant Walking Stick


Entomologists have described over 3,000 species of Stick Insects, and those of the genus Phobaeticus – the Giant Walking Stick – are the world’s longest insects by far. Not including extended legs, these amazing creatures measure as much as 13 inches (33 cm) from head to the tip of their abdomen. Though Stick Insects of all types are strictly herbivorous, some species secrete a substance that produces intense irritation in the eyes and mouths of predators (or overly curious humans). In some cases, victims have been afflicted with temporary blindness.


A smaller species known as the Indian or Laboratory Stick Insect (Carausius morosus) is a popular pet – and no opposite sex is required for breeding because they are both male and female, reproducing via parthenogenesis. Their geeky owners can only look on with envy.


Giant Isopod


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What happens to whales when they die and sink deep, deep down to the Stygian depths of the ocean floor, miles below the surface? The Giant Isopod knows… and waits patiently, because the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and a decomposing whale is a blubbery buffet that keeps on serving way past closing time.


Giant Isopods of the genus Bathynomus normally grow up to 14 inches (35 cm) in length, although one found clinging to a remote-controlled submarine operated by oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico last April (2010) measured an astonishing 30 inches (75 cm) long!


Here’s a video of some Giant Isopods (and their scavenging buddies) in action, pumped up with a Yakety Sax soundtrack c/o the awesome BennyHillifier:

Time-Lapse Video of Deep Sea Feeding Frenzy, via Lifeisadancer

Isopods are actually a type of crustacean but they’re included here because their close relatives, the common terrestrial woodlouse or pillbug, is one of the commonest bugs people see. As for the deep sea Giant Isopod, if you thought its whale-eating lifestyle was weird, consider that of another isopod: Cymothoa exigua, the tongue-eating louse.


This li’l feller finds its way into a fish’s mouth and after avoiding being swallowed, bites the fish’s tongue and begins drinking its blood. After a while, the fish’s tongue shrivels up from lack of blood flow but Cymothoa doesn’t want its host to die… so it firmly grips the tongue stub with its lower legs and begins to act as the fish’s tongue! Nature… and you thought it was all rainbows, blossoms and Bambi.

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If real large insects aren’t frightening enough, fictional ones should tip the scales… as in the classic Japanese sci-fi movie monster Mothra, who would often subdue competing creatures with a shower of poisonous scales. Nice to know Hollywood Far East has put our primeval fear of big bugs to good use. Oh, and… goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t let the big bugs bite!