Stupid Human Tricks: You’re Different, and I can Tell by Your Uniform

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“I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult” – Rita Rudner

weird Maybe now I can get a cameo on the History Channel.

I’m an Olympic channel surfer, a skill honed by years of insomnia.  I wouldn’t mind a relative inability to sleep soundly if I could be productive, but when it’s three o’clock in the morning, and the carnival has once again erupted inside my head, the only thing to do, should I wish to have a small existential footprint and avoid waking the wife and kids, is mindlessly consume the numbing pabulum graciously provided by modern media, from cable television to Twitter.  Luckily, this is highly conducive to reinforcing my interest in cataloging strange phenomena, since we tend to relegate our monsters and mysteries to the wee hours of the dawn.  You certainly don’t want your anomalies loitering about after the sun has…

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The Curse of the Charles Haskell: Strange Attractors, Creep Factors, and the Advantages of Asymmetry

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Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats – Voltaire

This seems like a safer way to fish. This seems like a safer way to fish.

Life is uncertain, or in the vernacular, “Shit Happens”.  As this is not a particularly robust philosophy of existence, we tend to putter through life with a distinctly asymmetrical notion of probability.  That is, we confidently attribute repeated successes to our good looks, charm, and wit, but strings of tragedies to bad luck, jinxes, and curses.  Psychologist Thomas Gilovich, in his How We Know What Isn’t So pointed out, “If a person has experienced such a large number of positive outcomes that it is worthy of comment, an additional success is not, by itself, terribly noteworthy.  A subsequent failure on the other hand, violates the typical pattern of success and thus stands out in the person’s experience.  Examples of earlier jinxes are therefore…

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Frederick Marryat and the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

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“We’re all of us haunted and haunting” ― Chuck Palahniuk

lady_dorthy Brown Lady of Raynham Hall – Captain Hubert C. Provand – Country Life, 1936

Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) was a British Royal Navy officer, who after distinguished service retired to a literary life, regaling Victorians with nautical narratives that would serve as the prototypes for later popular maritime novelists such as C.S. Forester (the Horatio Hornblower series) and Patrick O’Brian (The Aubrey-Maturin series e.g. Master and Commander), known for his evocative descriptions of life at sea in the 19th Century based on his own experiences.

One has to have a measure of courage to willingly crew a wooden ship likely to endure numerous canon fusillades.  I mean, it’s not high on my list of ways to live a long and healthy life.  Then again, joining the 19th Century British Navy is not for the meek in most…

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Slumlord to a Ghost: The Case of Giles Bolacre vs. Pierre Piquet

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“If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost” ― Henry Ward Beecher

ghost_slumlord Hope you don’t mind your new neighbors

As of 2013, in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that 3.3 million “ghost tenants” are occupying privately rented homes, that is occupants of rented homes that are not listed on the tenancy agreement, from live-in-lovers to friends who have nowhere else to stay.  I suspect most landlords are willing to look the other way, given the state of the worldwide economy, and with the assurance that the rent gets paid on time.  Landlords are simple people.  Money-grubbing parasites, but simple people nonetheless.  While I happen to live in Los Angeles these days (the “City of Angels”, marked by the conspicuous absence of anything reasonably termed “angelic”), I still own my first home of many years…

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Beware Ghosts Bearing Gifts: Ezekiel Grosse and the Curse of the Rosewarne Gold

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“Lawyers Are: A learned gentleman who rescues your estate from your enemies and keeps it himself” – Henry Brougham

cornwall They really need to do something about this coffin shortage.

Rosewarne Wollas (“Lower” in Cornish) was a manor house in rugged, coastal Cornwall built in 1225, and housed many generations of the aristocratic De Rosewarne family, until the reign of James I (1566-1625), right about the time of the unification of the Scottish and English crowns. As it turns out, the final De Rosewarne to own the estate was a bit of a financial screw-up.  The last lord of the manor was tangled in financial difficulties as he was busy “endeavouring, without sufficient means, to support the dignity of his family” (Hartland, 1890, p224).  Across the generations, I hear you, brother.

It didn’t particularly help De Rosewarne that his attorney and financial advisor was a certain Ezekiel Grosse, who turned out…

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Be Nice to Dead People: Professor Junker and the Reanimated Corpse

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“The companionship of dead writers is a wonderful form of live friendship” ― Julian Barnes

dead_dude Sometimes they come back.

Life as a 18th Century anatomy professor could be tough. It was one of those career choices that while relatively prestigious, required a certain talent for procuring corpses. While you might get invited to all the cool mortician parties, most folks shy away from life choices that encourage a lot of contact with the recently deceased. And although the average post-mortem chap suffers from a lack of hygiene (not their fault, being dead with the inevitable deterioration of grooming standards), they do have the virtue of not being especially talkative. Occasionally, you’ll get a ghost whining about the unfairness of it all, but in large part corpses remain thankfully uncommunicative. Except for one particular dead fellow that wound up at the doorstep of Professor Junker of Halle, Germany.

Physician Friedrich Christian…

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Dead Men Tell No Tales and Corpses are Rotten Witnesses

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“Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason” – John Harington

creepy_jury A jury of one’s peers?

Us living folks have always had an ambivalent attitude towards the dead. We certainly don’t want them wandering around making all sorts of unreasonable demands or feasting on our brains.  Although, you do have to make room for all manner of fetishes.  One must not be exclusionary.  Such leads to an “airy” of exclusion.  The one area in which we generally eschew the standard cultural taboos when it comes to screwing with the recently, or not so recently, deceased is in the courtroom. So what you’re dead?  You still owe taxes.  Your crimes in life still echo in eternity.  And if you are perceived as having committed that most heinous of acts – treason – against the powers that be, are, or will be, well let’s…

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