Two Oddities

Late last night I was reading Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, a fascinating account of a four year journey to South America, Tahiti, Australia, and other Pacific Ocean locations. In the background the measured tones of a BBC newscaster reiterated the latest news; I’d pause in my reading from time to time and listen if a news item caught my interest.

“Birds falling from the sky in Arkansas”… my ears perked up. It seems that hundreds of red-winged blackbirds inexplicably died and fell near a small town in Arkansas. The fact that there was no immediate explanation of this phenomenon gave free reign to those people who concoct conspiracy theories — within just a few hours I found this surmise on the web:

And what of the conspiracy theories already bubbling up around the dead birds and fish?

The bodies of the Arkansas’ dead birds were hardly cold before Alex Jones and other conspiracy theorists were blaming the government, the most likely explanation being HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program). HAARP is an experimental program conducting research into the ionospheric applications of high atmospheric technological applications, including missile detection, radio transmission, etc. (These are the admitted applications, remember.)

Much of the attention directed at HAARP has been drawn to the program’s IRI (ionospheric research instrument), which is capable of “exciting” certain areas of the atmosphere. The ionosphere, full of electrons, heavily influences the Earth’s electricity and radio transmission. And so HAARP’s research with the IRI has given rise to comparisons to Nikola Tesla’s Death Ray, causing many conspiracy theorists–including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez—to believe that the IRI can cause earthquakes, storms, power outages, and on and on.

For many, it is not a stretch to assume the dead birds over Beebe, Arkansas were the victim’s of HAARP’s “Death Ray” and maybe even the fish, too.

And now I’ll show you a second oddity. Lately I’ve become fond of the Google books site. The books available there have been scanned, and if they are old enough to be in the public domain a PDF file containing the book’s scanned pages can be downloaded. I enjoy seeing the annotations and underlinings of long-dead readers as well as the original title pages.

I had just downloaded a first edition of a collection of essays by Robert Louis Stevenson, who (in my humble opinion) was one of Britain’s finest prose stylists. I was amused and intrigued to find this sticker affixed to one of the first pages of the volume:

Two years of hard labor?! Perhaps the sticker was a joke of some sort — or maybe Harvard’s library took book theft very seriously!

Larry

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Two Oddities

  1. Joan

    In re: the book plate, I’m thinking it was a bit of a joke or perhaps a not so veiled threat to prevent possible future theft. We used to have book plates saying “This book was stolen from the library of…. ” I’m figuring the people who would frequent Harvard’s library would be students and they would most probably have the money to pay for the book’s replacement, and maybe buy off the police. Soooo that’s my theory until I see chain gangs of Harvard students in some archaic photo. (grin)

  2. Darrell

    I just checked Drudge headlines: more dead birds in Louisiana, even also in Sweden that were supposedly “scared to death”. Hmmm . . .
    Maybe they flew too close to the Harvard library, or perched in an unauthorized section of the roof?

  3. Joan

    Ha! Very funny, Darrell…but seriously.. what the heck? What do they really think is killing those birds? Very spooky.

  4. Virginia

    I’m happy to report there were live and happy blackbirds with a robin drinking from our birdbath today. One idea about the birds in Arkansas and Louisiana has to do with the birds being hit by fast-moving, strong cold front. I’m not sure whether Sweden also had such a cold front or not. The huge fish kill in the Chesapeake Bay on the heels of the bird fall was attributed to rare but natural causes by a long time resident on the news today. He said the same thing has happened on several occasions during his lifetime.

    Thanks for the Google link on scanned copies of old books. I enjoy old books and journals. Like you I find the underlining and notes in margins nearly as interesting as the book.

  5. Joan

    BIRD DROPPINGS

    Oh April showers
    May come our way
    But I’m not thrilled by
    What fell today.

    We might have raindrops
    We might have snow
    But who on earth knew
    We’d get dead crow.

    Live wires or lightening
    Stray cosmic rays
    Fireworks or maybe
    The end of days.

    Theories are many,
    Solutions few,
    But this ground cover
    Ain’t morning dew.

    If God soon tires of
    Fragging small fowl
    And ups the ante
    We’ll really howl.

    Chorus:
    So keep on praying
    That huge vultures
    Are not the next to fall.
    Meanwhile, I won’t go outside at all.

  6. Virginia, it’s just human nature to try to connect seemingly disparate phenomena; we inherit this trait from our Pleistocene ancestors. Perhaps it’s one reason the human race has survived. Nine times out of ten such suppositions and speculations are wrong, but that tenth time can make quite a difference!

    I agree that looking at the pages of an old book can open up the imagination — who was this person who made such annotations? What was his or her life like?

    Good one, Joan! I can just imagine vultures expiring and plummeting to the earth, vomiting nasty half-digested carrion in their death throes … Arkansas people were lucky it was just blackbirds!

  7. Darrell

    Virginia, as a paleontologist, do you recall anything about the “Ash Fall” site in Nebraska? I once read that the cluster of dead rhinos found there may have froven to death because a super volcano to the west sent up a tremendous cloud of ash that left the atmosphere, lost all its heat and dropped to a couple of hundred degrees below zero, then crashed back down, and onto the hapless rhinos . . . freezing them to death almost instantly.

  8. Virginia

    Darrell, I’m not a paleontologist though I’ve collected a few small fossils. The ash fall more than likely choked the animals to death and they fell quickly. I’ve collected tiny insects and leave bits from an old ashfall in Colorado, but no rhinos. I can’t remember the real name of the proto-rhino at this point, but there is a skull in the UMKC museum one of the students collected on a dig in Nebraska. It is quite a showpiece in the middle of all those lovely minerals (my field).

  9. Virginia

    If anyone is even remotely interested I remembered the name of the rhino-like beast after the computer was off last night. It is titanothere, and differs from the rhino at first glance because of its more impressive horn structure.

  10. Darrell

    I think the rhinos weren’t titanotheres; much too small, with little stubby legs. Apparently one had a leg completely ripped off . . probably by the only thing capable of doing that: a big bear dog.

    Here’s the Ashfall link: http://ashfall.unl.edu/

  11. I want to visit that museum! I love the name of one fossilized species on display there: “the barrel-bodied rhinoceros (Teleoceros major)”.

    I’ve known a few barrel-bodied people…

  12. Darrell

    “Known”?? In a “Biblical Sense”?

  13. Virginia

    Darrell, I checked the website and saw the animals are actually small rhinos not the much larger titanotheres. Thanks.

  14. No, Darrell, not in a “Biblical Sense”!

    Well, there might have been one….

  15. Darrell

    Okay, we won’t dredge up a painful and possibly poignant past, except for barrel-bodied beasts. These rhinos were little guys compared to modern and later ice-age wholly rhinos. And the ones at Ashfall were still munching vegetation when they died. However some critters are rather non reactive, so perhaps they were being killed on the hoof by glass-like fragments in an ash cloud, and just stood there until they pitched over?
    As for titanotheres, I may be wrong, but I don’t think they were related to later rhinos; they just had a sillhoutte similarity?

  16. Virginia

    Darrell, I told you I wasn’t a paleontologist. I believe your are correct though. Sometimes I’ve heard of titantotheres described as rhino-like so immediately thought you were referring to a rough description. Should have known better 🙂

  17. Darrell

    As I recall, there are some strange lines of descent in the animal kingdom . . . so titanotheres are more closely related to horses than rhinos. The biggest “descent disconnect” I can think of comes from the now-extinct Andrewsarchus, the largest mammalian land carnivore that ever existed. It seems that sheep are descended from the same group of animals as Andrewsarchus . . . so, the thought crossed my mind of of being eaten by a lamb chop instead of the other way around? See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXNQgpCflIs !!

    Which led to: http://www.cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/andrewsarchus/

    Which then led me to the art of John Sibbick . . . . http://www.johnsibbick.com/
    Larry, you should enjoy the beasts therein? Virginia, Sibbick does paleo-landscapes and has one of a Carboniforous world . . . the sort that created coal, etc? Anyway, check ’em out?

    And, while on the topic, check the art of

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