Houdini Murdered by Spiritualists?

The family of legendary magician and escapologist Harry Houdini have announced plans to exhume his body, to clarify whether he died from natural causes as originally thought, or whether he was in fact murdered. The family, and others, now believe he may have been poisoned by 'spiritualists' whom he accused of fraud - one of whom was Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

A 2006 biography, 'The Secret Life of Houdini', renewed interest in the theory that he was poisoned by a group known as The Spiritualists, whose members included Arthur Conan Doyle. The illusionist used his stage shows to expose the group's fraudulent seances, which he regularly attended in disguise, accompanied by a reporter and a police officer.

The authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman detail a letter by Conan Doyle from November 1924 in which he says Houdini will "get his just desserts very exactly meted out ... I think there is a general payday coming soon." Two years later, Houdini was dead.

Mr Kalush and Mr Sloman say that "the spiritualist underworld's modus operandi in cases like this was often poisoning" - possibly by arsenic, which could still be detected decades later.

Not sure if I've ever heard of a 'spiritualist underworld' (excusing any puns), let alone their 'modus operandi' of poisoning people. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Revisiting Project Alpha

Michael Prescott has posted an informative blog entry, revisiting the infamous 'Project Alpha' scandal of the early 1980s, in which James 'The Amazing' Randi arranged for two young magicians to infiltrate a parapsychology lab in order to confound the researchers. The scam has long gone down in skeptical folklore as a major coup against parapsychological research, but Michael provides some clarification as what actually went down. One of his main sources is an article by Michael A. Thalbourne from the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, titled "Science Versus Showmanship: A History of the Randi Hoax", which you can download as a PDF. Fascinating read.

French Release UFOs

Big ufological news of the moment is the French national space agency opening its files on UFOs to the general public, by putting them on the web, uncensored and free of charge:

The online archives, which will be updated as new cases are reported, catalogues in minute detail cases ranging from the easily dismissed to a handful that continue to perplex even hard-nosed scientists. "It is a world first," said Jacques Patenet, the aeronautical engineer who heads the office for the study of "non-identified aerospatial phenomena."

France provided some of the pioneer investigators into the UFO phenomenon, including Aime Michel and Jacques Vallee, and the records begin in 1954 (probably in response to the UFO wave of that year). Unfortunately, the amount of interest in these files has meant the server providing them has been constantly down due to heavy traffic (so I thought I'd help out by sending another 10,000 people there). Yes, the UFO topic is obviously dead...

Weekend Roundup 23-03-2007

A few things to keep you busy over the weekend...


News Briefs 23-03-2007

Go fish...

  • Does 16th century map show that the Portugese beat Britain in 'discovering' Australia by 200 years?
  • Rosslyn Chapel receives windfall in restoration grants. What's this "discovering" thing white man?
  • While on-the-ground monitoring becomes too dangerous, satellite imagery shows Iraq's archaeological treasures disappearing.
  • European Space Agency proves that quantum entanglement remains intact over a distance of 144 kilometres.
  • DARPA project aims to have computers that sense what you're thinking, and also what you're not thinking.
  • Astronomers explode a virtual star.
  • Former astronaut none too pleased with NASA's latest strategy for dealing with potential asteroid threats.
  • Seth Shostak labels The American Farmer an American myth, although he likes the 'only in America' aspect (which he applies to SETI). Forgetting those frontier-riding Nazi rocket scientists, and a little piece of metal called Sputnik of course.
  • Predicting the next great earthquake.
  • Doubt cast on definition of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
  • Genetic studies enhance the colour vision of mice. Once again, the mice get the good stuff.
  • Investigation finds much of the money raised by Shriners went to the costs of the fraternity, including keeping liquor cabinets full. I want an audit of the number of goats purchased.
  • 'King of the witches' used to talk to dead. Now he has joined them.
  • Industrial-scale microwave need to defrost colossal squid caught in the Antarctic last month. Don't put it on 'High', or the calamari market could be flooded.
  • Whale fossil found in one of Italy's finest vineyards. Explains why the wine was described as of "a fruity texture, with a high note of krill".

Quote of the Day:

The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.

Jon Stewart

Opening the Pyramid Doors

As mentioned in Jameske's news on Wednesday, Dr Zahi Hawass has (once again) announced an expedition to investigate the 'doors' found in the shafts of the Queens Chamber in the Great Pyramid. The first so-called 'door' was discovered in 1993 by German robotics engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink (check out Cheops.org for a wealth of information, from CAD drawings to his own account). Despite once saying in relation to the door "We are not discovering anything in the Great Pyramid, there is nothing really remaining to be discovered inside," the good doctor (in his usual self-effacing manner) had this to say...

I dedicated my whole life to study the secrets of the Great Pyramid and I must say that these doors create many exciting questions...I can only say that this year I will reveal the secrets of the Great Pyramid doors.

Considering that originally the expedition was slated for last month, and that Dr Hawass has said "that he does not want to do the investigation live because he wants to do the scientific work first and then maybe do a live broadcast if something important is found," we can only wonder if the 'expedition' has already occurred.

News Briefs 22-03-2007

Sailing the seas of cheese...

  • What would it be like to stand on Mars, and take a good look around? Something like this I'd imagine. So, so cool.
  • Heaven's Gate, ten years on. Wonder if C2C will cover the anniversary?
  • Storm warning! The solar minimum we're currently in is the calm before the storm, with a massive solar maximum expected in (*gasp!*) 2012.
  • Company wins $19million lawsuit against Amway distributors for spreading rumours about its links with Satanism.
  • 'Bleeding' Jesus portraits draw crowds in India.
  • Nature goes on the attack against alternative therapies being taught in universities.
  • UK paper apologises on front page for supporting the legalisation of marijuana, claiming they now believe the drug is dangerous. Numerous stupid comments, such as the one about marijuana being more dangerous than Ecstasy and LSD - the reason it's rated higher is because the other two aren't considered dangerous...the report lists alcohol as being significantly more harmful than marijuana.
  • Need to navigate the current paradigm? Here's a handy map.
  • Scientists create microscopic alphabet soup. I looked for some Voom! in there, but I couldn't find any.
  • Mapping the 248th dimension.
  • Hinode space telescope reveals the impossible on the Sun.
  • Futuristic NASA think tank to be shut down.
  • Anomalous lights seen in conjunction with earthquake.
  • Scientists study sacred sounds.
  • Professor decries 'DaVinci Codification' of culture over the past few years.
  • You don't need sex to evolve. Hell of a good way to kill 40 million years though...
  • Duke University patents mind-controlled weapons.
  • Study details catastrophic impact of nuclear attack on US cities. Scary things, like no American Idol to watch, no McDonalds to get a snack from. Duck and cover!
  • Was Marilyn Monroe tricked into killing herself by the Kennedys?
  • Remember when those scientists did a proof of how vampires could not exist? Seems they forgot the Buffy factor (first thing they teach in 'Maths in Vampirology 101').

Quote of the Day:

Sell a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and you've ruined a wonderful business opportunity.

Karl Marx

Fortean Times Sale

Alistair from Fortean Times has sent over a quick note:

I've just put up a book sale on the FT site. The books have been priced ludicrously cheap, and we've thrown in some nice giveaways with it.

Anybody in the UK should have a quick look. If you're in Australia like me, due to the Dollar-Pound conversion I think the cheapest costs $342,999 (okay, I'm exaggerating...just a little).

News Briefs 21-03-07

Perhaps when those pyramid doors are opened there will be more evidence of the pyramids being young.

Quote of the Day:

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.

H.L. Mencken

Opening the Chinese Tombs

Debate has reopened in China as to whether the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang should be excavated. Zhang Wuchang, a respected economist, says that "the cultural enlightenment from excavating the tomb of Qin Shi Huang will surpass the pyramids of Egypt," adding that an added benefit would be that tourism revenues to the area would also double.

The burial place of Qin Shi Huang is currently best known as the imperial tomb that accompanies the famed Terracotta Warriors, and which lies beneath one of the 'Chinese Pyramids'. However, there may be far more of note hidden beneath this structure, with historical records from less than a century after the emperor's death telling of a map of the heavens with stars represented by pearls, and on the floor of the tomb a map of China with the rivers and seas represented by flowing mercury. The latter at least may well be true, as surveys have shown high levels of mercury in the area.

As befits a king with his own pyramid, it is said that Qin Shi Huang was obsessed with finding the key to immortality, which led him to embark on numerous quests and 'trials' (including sex with multiple partners - though abstaining from climax, and also the drinking of mercury - before its ill effects were known). Many western archaeologists also think that the lack of excavation of Qin Shi Huang's tomb is based not so much in concerns about preservation, but in Chinese traditions and warnings about disturbing the dead...especially one so powerful in life. Certainly, if it ever happens, this will be one of the great archaeological excavations of this century.

If this topic interests you, I thoroughly recommend the video I've posted today, The First Emperor - a great documentary.