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Failure To Launch: How New Mexico Is Paying For Richard Branson’s Space Tourism Fantasy

Posted at November 21, 2017 16:55 by network in Uncategorized
Failure To Launch: How New Mexico Is Paying For Richard Branson’s Space Tourism Fantasy

One of the poorest states in the nation has invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and 10 years in creating a hub for Richard Branson’s space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. Some see it as the crown jewel of a new space age while others call it a carnival for the 1 percent — but with persistent delays and mounting financial strain, Spaceport America is just trying to avoid becoming New Mexico’s costliest, most futuristic ghost town.

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They came from the north by helicopter, flying over scattered cattle and mesquite brush and yucca plants straining skyward. To the east was White Sands Missile Range, where the first atomic bomb was detonated, and further east was Roswell, where the streetlamps are little green alien heads. Below them was that old muddy snake, the Rio Grande, and just west, a town called Truth or Consequences. But the men on that cherry red Bell 206 LongRanger chopper were not sightseeing. They were headed to the middle of the desert, where they planned to launch a bunch of spaceships.

It was December 2005, and Rick Homans ran the New Mexico Department of Economic Development for Gov. Bill Richardson. Homans sat shotgun in the LongRanger and behind him were three Brits: two top dogs in a company called Virgin Galactic and the godfather of all things Virgin, billionaire Richard Branson. He had recently licensed technology that in 2004 won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by taking the first privately built manned ship to an altitude above 62 miles, the internationally recognized boundary of space. Branson was confident that by 2007 they’d be making that trip on a daily basis.

As the chopper flew deeper into the desert, the men shouted louder into their bulky headsets. Homans knew he might not get another chance to spitball with these men he considered some of the top branding minds in the world, and so he had them brainstorming, a round robin of hollering over the propeller noise, to figure out a name for the place they were headed. And Richard Branson was the one who finally said it.

The name was one that encapsulated all the ambition of the project, one that suggested a collective ownership — the hope that access to space would soon be available to anyone who wanted it. It was one that outshined the rather mundane Southwest Regional Spaceport, by which the project had been known for the decade before Virgin Galactic flew into New Mexico. It planted a symbolic flag, a gesture fashioned in roughly the same spirit as Armstrong and Aldrin driving the Stars and Stripes into the surface of the moon 36 years earlier. Here at the beginning there was more than a little bit of the old space race bleeding into the new one, even though the New Space Race was not about a cold war, but a commercial one.

And so they called it Spaceport America.

Almost nine years later and little is known about Spaceport America. All the talk is of Virgin Galactic, the self-proclaimed “world’s first commercial spaceline”; since 2004 more than 700 people have forked over at least $200,000 for a ticket on the two-hour flight. Many of these “future astronauts” are celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber and Tom Hanks and Brangelina. (The Winklevoss twins bought their pair using Bitcoin.)

This is what they’ve paid for: WhiteKnightTwo, the Galactic mothership, will fly to 50,000 feet with SpaceShipTwo strapped to its underbelly. SpaceshipTwo and the six ticket holders seated inside will then be released from the airplane and rocket at up to 2,500 mph to sub-orbit some 70 miles high where they will be weightless for a few minutes before gliding back down to Earth and sipping champagne in the Astronaut Lounge and slapping high fives the way only people who have been to space can slap high fives. By 2012, 3,000 tourists were supposed to have made this trip, a goal not reached in part because of problems with rocket development, including a 2007 fatal explosion at test facilities in Mojave, Calif. There have been a number of the kinds of technological delays that one might expect from a fledgling industry, but nearly every year Galactic promises to begin operations anyway. The last nine years of promises without a spaceflight recently culminated in Branson biographer Tom Bower calling the billionaire Virgin mogul an overvalued and “aging sun lizard” whose Galactic company is a total sham.

But the untold story is one about New Mexico and its taxpayers, the people who paid for and built Spaceport America. The saga of their decade-old quarter-billion-dollar gamble on the aging sun lizard’s quest to dominate the commercial space industry often gets overshadowed in favor of playing up the diminished, yet quintessentially American dream of space travel. But whether the dream will be realized or whither or crash and burn, it will happen here in New Mexico, down the road from a town called Truth or Consequences.

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There’s an ashtray for every barstool, and the pool table is right in the doorway, and beyond that there’s lots of room for two-stepping or staggering. I’m in Truth or Consequences at the Pine Knot Saloon on an uncharacteristically frigid New Mexico day in late November. On my drive in, the local radio had bemoaned Virgin Galactic failing to begin operations from Spaceport America in 2013. Richard Branson would not, they said, rocket to the edge of space with his kids on Christmas as he had hoped. Galactic would not be ready to fly for another year. Nobody at the Pine Knot seems too bothered by the news. There’s a man lying on a bench beside a telephone booth, napping before his night shift. Three guys slowly orbit a game of pool. Everything in the saloon is pine and covered in a little bit of sweat from joy and a little bit of sweat from toil, and there’s that thick bar air from years of liquor-swelled dreams that don’t quite break but just get stagnant and hang around.

The Pine Knot is the only bar in Truth or Consequences, a town with a population of about 6,400 and an annual median income south of $22,000. The largest employers are Wal-Mart and the public schools. Half the storefronts in the historic downtown are shuttered. Main Street stays pretty empty except for an Art Hop one night a month, when you can buy any kind of turquoise jewelry or Navajo rug or get your tarot read by Christopher the Bohemian Vagabond. The real treasure of downtown is its spas, which are fueled by countless natural hot springs. The name of this town was, in fact, Hot Springs until Ralph Edwards held a contest in 1950 that required the winner to rename itself after his popular radio show, Truth or Consequences. Though a handful of citizens moved out in protest, the name stuck. Now, 60 years later, their identity is on the brink of another unlikely and controversial makeover.

I’m hanging around the Pine Knot waiting to get a good look at Spaceport America. I’m sort of obsessed with it because I lived most of my life just on the other side of the mountains in a town called Alamogordo. I grew up gazing at these New Mexico skies. When I attended the 2007 XPRIZE Cup held near Alamogordo I stood next to a mock-up of a Galactic spaceship and told a local news crew that I aimed to be the first-ever poet in space. The poetry thing hasn’t worked out, but here I am still wondering if I’ll ever be able to wake up one morning in my own bed and then spend the afternoon weightless. But tonight I’m stuck at the bar because the one road leading out to the spaceport is down to one lane and that one lane is frozen over.

Even though I’ve visited Spaceport America once before, my experience of it wasn’t matching the hype. New Mexico Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson had told me, “It can become an iconic destination like the Sydney Opera House or the Statue of Liberty.” Christine Anderson, executive director of New Mexico Spaceport Authority, also likened the building to the Sydney Opera House and told me it is an “iconic jewel in the desert.” Richard Branson (whose representatives at Galactic declined interview requests for this story) said at a 2011 dedication ceremony, “It could be one of the Seven Wonders.” I want to look at it again the way any of us want to look the future in the eye, to know for sure whether Spaceport America represents a paradigm shift for human travel or a boondoggle for one of the poorest states in the nation or a carnival fad for the 1 percent or a cathedral for a new kind of space-age spirituality.

When I ask the guys at the pool table if this is, in fact, the closest bar to the spaceport, they respond with an incredulous “Huh?” They’re aware of the spaceport’s existence, but they don’t know why I’d care to ask about it because, as they say again and again, not much is going on out there. Nobody’s flying to space.

Or, almost nobody. Bonnie, who calls herself a “sometimes employee” of the bar, smokes and smokes and tells me all about the “ashes of dead people that get launched into space over there.”

“That old guy from Star Trek and some astronauts,” she says. “They pay a bunch of money to just shoot their ashes in the air. Into space! And so we have to just … What? … Breathe them in?”

In the absence of Galactic operations, the only passengers who have lifted off from Spaceport America are the cremated remains of people whose families have paid UP Aerospace to launch their dead loved ones on a final joyride.

UP Aerospace is one of a few small commercial space startups that have been operating at Spaceport America over the last eight years. Together those startups have conducted 20 launches. But these have been relatively small rockets at a vertical launchpad secondary to the prized Virgin Galactic terminal, and they create a minuscule fraction of the revenue needed to operate the spaceport. UP Aerospace’s first operation, the first launch from Spaceport America in 2006, malfunctioned well before it got suborbital, crashed, and spilled the ashes of a veterinarian in the desert. Celestis is the company handling sales of space burials for clients like James Doohan (“that old guy from Star Trek”) and Gordon Cooper (the last of America’s Right Stuff astronauts to orbit Earth in Project Mercury). About its burials the company says, “Celestis missions are environmentally friendly in that no cremated remains are released into space.”

Bonnie assures me, though, that some of those ashes from Spaceport America’s first “tourist” are still scattered out there in the desert.

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The Pine Knot Saloon: “They pay a bunch of money to just shoot their ashes in the air. Into space! And so we have to just … What? … Breathe them in?” Photograph by Arlen Albert

Out there in the desert means, specifically, 18,000 acres in the middle of the Jornada del Muerto, a stretch of mostly barren land between the sharp San Andres Mountains and the rolling Cabello Mountains that got its name from having killed so many Spanish travelers in the 17th century. Despite now being home to The World’s First Purpose-Built Commercial Spaceport, that area is still pretty remote and difficult to access. First, you have to get to Truth or Consequences. (A road connecting the spaceport to the larger southern city of Las Cruces is still incomplete.) Then you have to take a nearly hour-long bus ride along the one paved road that is sometimes down to that one lane. You could make the drive in your own vehicle but you’ll be turned away at the gates by a security guard sitting in a shack with black plastic bags on the windows — only official vehicles allowed. And anyway, you should leave the driving on this road to the professionals or the seasoned locals. Besides having steep drop-offs and winding wildly like all canyon roads, this one is infamous for flash floods, and last year one of them took the life of an Arizona worker on his drive home from tiling the dome roof of the Spaceport Operations Center.

I first took a bus to the spaceport in the summer of 2013, four years after construction on the main terminal began and two years after the lion’s share was complete. Virgin Galactic had finally begun paying its $1 million-a-year lease to New Mexico in January, but only after insisting on a $7 million upgrade to the still unused runway and the passage of state legislation that limited liability for themselves and their chain of suppliers in the case of an accident. But the real delay was the fact that Galactic was nowhere close to having their rocket motor perfected. And so the place was built but empty. There were 12,000 feet of pristine runway. There was the futuristic-looking terminal designed by the world-renowned architecture firm Fosters + Partners. It’s a strange building that fades up from the reddish desert in the shape of a horseshoe, and grows from almost sand-level on the south side into a three-story wall of glass that curves around the face of building. That spherical glass wall looks north over the runway like the cornea of a giant eye blinking open out of the desert after about a billion years of sleep.

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“The then-governor said to me, ‘If you build me a spaceship, I’ll build you a spaceport.’ And I replied, ‘Well, I guess if you’ll build me a spaceport, then I’m gonna build you a spaceship.’ And then we shook hands.” Sir Richard Branson and friends rappel down the exterior of Spaceport America, October 17, 2011. Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images

Back in October 2011, Branson had rappelled from the roof of the terminal with his kids and a team of similarly suspended ballet dancers and declared Spaceport America open for business. He christened the terminal The Gateway to Space and showered it with champagne. But two years later, when my tour group visited in the summer of 2013, the champagne was all dried up. The Gateway to Space was an amazing thing to encounter in the midst of all that open range, but the facility had the eerie sense of one of the many ghost towns that you can find within miles in any direction, leftover from the New Mexico mining boom of the late 1800s. The building was immaculate on the outside but the guts of it were hollow, unfinished — like the façade of a movie set. The only people there were three firefighters who stayed busy washing their massive F-550 truck that was already so shiny from lack of use I wondered if they weren’t actually trying to scuff it up to give the monster a bit of character.

On the runway there were some skid marks, suggesting that Virgin Galactic had begun moving its operation from the test facilities at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to its purpose-built home in the New Mexico desert. But the burned rubber, a security guard said, was from Will Smith’s private jet. The Fresh Prince had been there, just a few weeks earlier, shooting promotional photos for the doomed After Earth.

Failure To Launch: How New Mexico Is Paying For Richard Branson's Space Tourism Fantasy

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“We planned rocket races. Like NASCAR. But with rocket planes.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson mentions this offhand over the phone from his office in Santa Fe. He was governor from 2003–2011 with a brief 2008 presidential run sandwiched between the two terms. Today he’s just back from charity work in South Africa. I’m sitting on the ceramic tile floor of my adobe room at the Pink Pelican Motel in Truth or Consequences, killing time, still waiting for that November ice to melt off the lane leading to the spaceport.

The Rocket Racing League, though it sounds cartoonishly implausible, is an actual business that had hoped to operate at Spaceport America, but it ran into financial trouble and failed to build any kind of worthwhile fan base after its single exhibition at the Tulsa International Airport in 2010. Despite these kinds of burnouts, it’s hard not to feel absolutely confident about the future of the spaceport when talking to the guy still referred to by his entourage as the Gov. He’s reflective now that he’s not actively campaigning, a slow talker not because the words take time to formulate but because he wants to make sure they have time to settle in. We talk about his dreams of playing pro baseball and his backup dreams of being an astronaut. We talk about our years of gazing up at the New Mexico skies. More than once he says, “I consider the spaceport my legacy accomplishment.”

“I liked the idea of New Mexico and space. I thought a spaceport fit in.” The Gov says this like it was a decision he made on the fly, as nonchalant as a kid’s backup dream of being an astronaut. Rick Homans incubated the spaceport project as secretary of economic development in order to entice Virgin Galactic to the state. But even he confirms the gut decision. After a 15-minute presentation in 2004 about Galactic and a spaceport, the Gov simply looked at Homans and said, “Don’t screw it up, Dickey. Get out.”

“And from that moment on he never once wavered in his support for the project,” Homans says. “I have huge admiration for him as a political figure, to make a decision like that and then stick with it.” But that confidence must have stemmed in part from the guarantee that New Mexico would be the exclusive home of Virgin Galactic. Branson’s own story of that partnership, which he recently told to a crowd of businesspeople in the empty hangar of The Gateway to Space, is epic: “The then-governor [Richardson] said to me, ‘If you build me a spaceship, I’ll build you a spaceport.’ And I replied, ‘Well, I guess if you’ll build me a spaceport, then I’m gonna build you a spaceship.’ And then we shook hands.” Nine years later the ship Branson built hasn’t yet made it to space. But New Mexico has a spaceport.

The idea existed long before the Richardson administration. In June of 1963, just a month after the final orbital flight of NASA’s Mercury program, New Mexico Gov. Jack Campbell sent a letter to President John F. Kennedy that reads, “We in New Mexico believe the first inland aerospace port should be based here and earnestly solicit your acceptance of our views.”

By 1979 there actually was a spaceport of sorts operating in New Mexico. The White Sands Space Harbor was created to help NASA pilots train for landings. On March 30, 1982, the Space Shuttle Columbia landed there. The Space Harbor is a mere 50 miles east of Spaceport America, but its 35,000 feet of shuttle-ready runways have not been operational since NASA ended the shuttle program in 2011. And that brings the total amount of spacecraft runway in southern New Mexico not actively being used for space travel to almost 9 miles.

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A V-2 rocket just after launch at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

In the late ’90s, the current site of Spaceport America was in the running to become the home of the Venture Star, a reusable spaceplane NASA contracted Lockheed Martin to build as a replacement for the space shuttle. But when that program was canceled in 2001, the plans for a Southwest Regional Spaceport languished until Virgin Galactic flew into town and the project got rebranded: Spaceport America.

The difference between these other spaceport projects and the one that finally materialized was Galactic’s commitment to the state and its primary focus not on scientific breakthrough or exploration, but the unprecedented and undeniably sexy industry of space tourism. “I did a lot in the area of new job-creating initiatives, and I wanted to bring international prestige to the state,” Richardson says. “Space tourism could do that.”

The Gov was famous for getting behind big-eyed projects. Some, like the $300,000 he spent to convince the Mexican government to co-sponsor an NFL franchise in the region, never panned out. Others, like tax incentives to lure filmmakers to the state, have been incredibly successful. He says more than 135 films have been produced in the state because of those incentives — everything from Transformers to The Lone Ranger. The producers of Breaking Bad cite those tax incentives as the primary reason they chose to base their production in New Mexico rather than California and, as a result, an entire cottage industry of tourism has sprung up around the fame brought to Albuquerque by Heisenberg and his blue meth.

But many in New Mexico fear space tourism has already proven to be a flop leftover from the Richardson administration. One of the more outspoken critics of Spaceport America is Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a conservative think tank in New Mexico. “Politicians have these big dreams and frequently they sell people and give this rosy picture of, Oh yeah, this is how we’ll fix the poor economy,” he tells me. “In reality space tourism is far more speculative and dubious than anyone actually knows. It’s like building an airport before the Wright Brothers had their first flight. That’s what New Mexico did.”

Bobby Allen, a county commissioner in Truth or Consequences, recently spoke to the Santa Fe New Mexican about the lack of return on his county’s investment: “Over a period of 10 years, we’ve been promised a lot of stuff. To date, we have seen none of it, not for the little people here in town.”

The “stuff” they’ve been promised dates back to Rick Homans’ 15-minute pitch in 2004. Homans tells me the original vision was for New Mexico to be the center of not just space tourism, but the whole commercial space industry. “You create research hubs that are focused on creating those technologies,” he says. “You become an innovation center. You have to do those things that are important and public to lay claim to being the epicenter of a new industry. That was our vision.”

But any informed observers will say the Mojave Air and Space Port in California is where all the breakthroughs are percolating. That facility recently released a promotional video calling itself “The Modern-Day Kitty Hawk,” and it may very well be right. Including Virgin Galactic, there are 17 commercial space companies using 19 rocket launch sites at Mojave. “It is the center of aerospace entrepreneurial development,” says Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “There is nowhere else where you can design, build, install, and test space equipment all in the same place. Mojave is the only place in the world.” While Galactic still plans to fly its tourists from Spaceport America, the dream of New Mexico becoming the “epicenter of a new industry” never materialized. One ray of hope is that Elon Musk’s powerhouse rocket company, SpaceX, recently signed a three-year lease with Spaceport America for tests of its Falcon 9R, a vehicle designed not for tourism but for lucrative NASA work carrying payload and eventually astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX continues buying up cheap land near Brownsville, Texas, to build its own spaceport in a poor rural area, so it may not be in New Mexico for long.

And so there have been almost none of the thousands of high-quality jobs Spaceport America was supposed to create over the last decade. Galactic job offerings announced via Twitter in the final months of 2013 were for nearly 50 positions to be based in Mojave, ranging from jobs like systems engineering lead to hydraulics systems engineer to propulsion test manager. In that same period only nine jobs to be based at Spaceport America were advertised, and those jobs were not lucrative engineering gigs but decidedly more menial positions like warehouse manager and diesel technician and manager of maintenance. In the first months of 2014, some seemingly more lucrative jobs have been announced for New Mexico, like hybrid engineer and mission engineer and astronaut instructor. But for every one job based at the New Mexico spaceport, there are still another five announced for Mojave.

In the absence of attracting a significant portion of the burgeoning commercial space industry, Spaceport America has been forced more and more to rely on the promise of its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, and that company’s most immediate goal of providing an “unforgettable adventure” and “luxury life experience” for its ticket holders. But if the murmurings of boondoggle slowly arose over a decade as none of the high-quality jobs materialized to transform the economy, they have reached a crescendo as some New Mexicans realize that after all this time it may only be the 1 percenters who benefit from the state’s investment.

“What you have is one of the poorest states in the country and the taxpayers in this state subsidizing the business of a billionaire for the benefit of multimillionaires,” says Gessing.

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Richard Branson, 2005 Charles Sykes/REX USA

Whitesides, the current Virgin Galactic CEO, often fields these kinds of questions. This one was fired at him in November at an Association of Science Writers meeting in Gainesville, Fla.: “With all the problems on Earth, why are we creating amusement park rides in space for rich people?” Whitesides responded by pointing out that Galactic is a privately funded company. “You have a right to talk about your tax dollars,” he said. “But these aren’t your tax dollars.” Galactic is owned in part by Branson and in part by Aabar Investments, a company controlled by the government of Abu Dhabi. But Spaceport America is, of course, owned by New Mexico and its taxpayers.

Galactic’s response to questions about the greater relevance of its venture, beyond just good times for rich folks, increasingly plays up the possibility of intercontinental point-to-point travel via sub-orbital spaceship. It says these early space tourism jaunts are a kind of stopgap on the way to revolutionizing world travel. The idea is that you endured rich pricks lugging around brick cell phones in the ’80s and ’90s so you could have an iPhone in your pocket today. And now you should allow the rich their space tourism so that tomorrow (maybe 15 or 20 years by Galactic’s estimate) you can travel across the world from London to Sydney in two hours or from Dubai to Vancouver in an hour and a half.

Superfast intercontinental travel seems to have been in the Galactic mind since the very beginning. As early as an October 2003 interview with Charlie Rose, you can hear Branson bemoaning the retirement of the Concorde supersonic airplanes and the inability of his Virgin Atlantic airline to purchase and continue operating those planes. Between the lines you see him formulating some kind of plan to replace the Concorde. Mostly he lashes out at his airline nemesis, British Airways, and scolds the British government for completely subsidizing the building of the Concorde airplanes without ensuring that it would benefit all the people of Britain: “As far as the British public is concerned, we, the British public, paid for the Concorde and not British Airways.”

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Photograph by Arlen Albert

Now the tables have turned and the members of New Mexico’s public are the ones with their money on the line for Branson. I asked Mark Butler, the Virgin Galactic manager in charge of operations at Spaceport America, if the company would continue to use the New Mexico spaceport should its business model shift toward intercontinental travel. He responded by email, “It is too early to say.”

That is undoubtedly true. But as Gessing points out, it is hard to imagine international travelers ever heading out to the remote Jornada del Muerto desert before rocketing off to Paris for dinner. And anyway, Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo doesn’t rocket off until 50,000 feet. Until then it’s strapped to WhiteKnightTwo, which operates much like any other airplane. Many runways at many airports in the world, then, could conceivably be retrofitted for the flights.

Even if Galactic’s business model does not shift toward intercontinental travel anytime soon, it’s currently in the process of building a spaceport in Abu Dhabi, this time with its own money and the money of the Abu Dhabi-controlled company that owns almost half of Virgin Galactic. Galactic is tight-lipped about the project, and despite repeated questions, I could get no one in the company to confirm anything other than the fact that the project was underway and it is expected to be completed in the next few years. But presumably, the oil-rich Galactic investors in Abu Dhabi will spare no expense to create a luxury life experience for their ticket holders that far surpasses anything the New Mexico taxpayers can afford. And this brings up all sorts of visions of Spaceport America 10 or 15 years down the line, the creosote and cacti taking over again, just as abandoned as it was when I first visited.

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Photograph by Arlen Albert

There is one group of people who can be the saviors of Spaceport America, if and when they show up. Christine Anderson, the current director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, calls them by this oxymoronic name: Terrestrial Space Tourists. She tells me the hope is to have a full 50% of spaceport revenue come from these old-fashioned tourists, not the few who can afford a ticket on SpaceShipTwo, but the many people like you and me who are expected to show up and gawk without ever leaving the Earth.

“I think any commercial spaceport that wants to be self-sufficient needs to have a second source of revenue coming in,” she says. “In our case, it is tourism. For Mojave [Air and Space Port], it is windmills. Just like most airports do not get all their money from airplane traffic; they get it from concessions.”

There is plenty of precedent for this. During the moonshot, a launch from Cape Canaveral, like that of the Saturn V rocket and Apollo 11 shuttle on July 16, 1969, drew hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country to beaches and bridges and islands for miles in every direction. But that was a free-for-all picnic situation where the pilgrimage had a distinctly patriotic feel and everyone was at least guaranteed the fireworks show of a 36-story behemoth of engineering blasting off with a force equivalent to 1 million pounds of TNT. Spaceport America is isolated and can’t offer such a spectacle. And Galactic’s technology isn’t 1 million pounds of TNT fireworks show — SpaceShipTwo ignites its rocket at 50,000 feet, so any observers on the ground will only be watching WhiteKnightTwo take off horizontally, much like any other plane.

So Christine Anderson has been hunting for a $21 million loan to help make the place more enticing to the much-needed Terrestrial Space Tourists. “Several years ago we had a company called IDEAS from Florida help us plan that whole visitor experience,” she says. “Many of the company employees are former Disney Imagineers. We’ll have a 3D theater on site and we’ll have a restaurant and we’ll have a little observation deck that you can walk out to and watch as the spaceships take off and land.”

Anderson wanted to have all of this ready so that its opening coincided with the first flights of Virgin Galactic, which she hopes will begin later this year and draw about 200,000 people annually. That number of expected Terrestrial Space Tourists has been consistently revised downward over the last decade as the spaceship launch delays have piled up and reality has set in. Also likely to cut into this number is the fact that for the time being, none of this visitor experience will actually be built; Anderson recently shelved the ambitious plans in order to save money in the wake of increasing boondoggle talk. For the foreseeable future, the relatively small public gallery of The Gateway to Space will be the only area for visitors who have not paid for a ticket.

Despite New Mexico being at the end of a decade-long limb for Galactic, the company has no specific plans to help with the Terrestrial Space Tourism effort in New Mexico. Mark Butler, the Galactic manager at Spaceport America, explains via email, “The primary attraction of this tourism program is expected to be Virgin Galactic operational spaceflights, so that is what our primary contribution will be.” Its focus is largely on that other group, the Rich Space Tourists.

One thing Terrestrial Space Tourists can still look forward to is a welcome center in Truth or Consequences. This building is slated for construction on land the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has already purchased on the outskirts of town, situated conveniently between a Walmart and a Holiday Inn. This is where bus rides to the spaceport will originate. “But we’re also working on the mobile theater,” Anderson says. “You won’t just be sitting on a bus for 45 minutes; you’re going to be in a digital experience learning about space and New Mexico.”

When I’d taken the bus to the spaceport in summer 2013, there was no digital experience. I took notes on my iPad while our tour guide explained to us that we were getting a sneak peek at the future. His own notes were in a bulky three-ring binder — the standard tour guide technology for the last 70 years. Slipped into one of the wrinkled plastic sheaths was an old photocopy of the famous “Earthrise” photo from the 1968 mission of Apollo 8 in which Earth floats in the dark distance of space like a little blue marble swirled all over with white clouds. It’s been called one of the most important photographs ever taken because it showed people on Earth a new global perspective. Nobody ever mentions that a full half of the Earth isn’t visible in the photo, lost in shadow so that the little blue marble appears hacked in half.

Failure To Launch: How New Mexico Is Paying For Richard Branson's Space Tourism Fantasy

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When we talk about space tourism, particularly the sub-orbital kind that Virgin Galactic plans to conduct from Spaceport America, we’re talking a lot about that blue marble — the view we can get of ourselves from way up there. And this is how our spaceport out in the Jornada del Muerto begins to take on all sorts of spiritual dimensions.

The Overview Effect is a term coined by Frank White in 1987 to describe the experience of viewing Earth from space and the effect such an experience has on the viewer forever after. David Beaver of The Overview Institute, a group spawned from White’s work, writes this about the view of Earth from space: “Nearly every astronaut has told of changes or reinforcements of attitudes, perspectives and motivations; deep effects on intellectual, emotional and even spiritual levels.”

As Richard Branson says in a November 2009 Virgin Galactic promotional video, “This will be a trip like no other. It will give those that travel with us a unique and life-changing perspective of our planet.” Some version of this claim runs throughout all Branson’s discussions of his space venture, and because of his persistent giddiness and his flowing golden locks that have faded to dirty white, there’s a sort of young Gandalf-ish wizardry about him contributing to the sense that his pitch for space tourism is mixed with more than a little bit of mysticism.

World View, another tourism company that has considered making a home at Spaceport America, plans to give people a taste of the Overview Effect via balloon ride. Its balloons carry a passenger capsule to only a third of the height of Galactic’s spaceships, about 20 miles up, but it claims tourists will see the curvature of the Earth and the twinkle-speckled black of space. The flickering piano and epiphanic strings of its promotional video’s score plays beneath slow-motion renderings and shows that despite its rides not technically getting to space, it’s selling the same spiritual experience as Galactic, though its can be had for only $75,000. Another of these balloon “space” tourism companies based in Spain even claims that its passenger experience may be superior to Galactic’s because its space capsule provides room for passengers to meditate.

Brian Binnie is one of the few who have actually experienced what Virgin Galactic is selling. In 2004 he piloted to an altitude of 69.6 miles the X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne that became the prototype for Virgin Galactic’s current vehicle, SpaceShipTwo. Binnie describes Galactic’s passenger experience this way:

“Even though you’re just, as a passenger, sitting there, you are fully engaged. Your senses are pegged. There’s a lot of vibration. There’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of G-forces on your body. For a minute and a half you’re saturated by that. But at rocket motor shutdown it’s as though somebody throws a switch and just like that the noise and the vibrations, the shaking, the shuttering, the shrieking and the shrilling of that rocket motor all disappears. And right with it you become weightless. And weightlessness means all the tension that was there is gone. … you can drift to the nearest window and now you have this body sensation coupled in with that view. It’s otherworldly.”

David Beaver is wary of these selling points. “It appears that the Overview Effect has either become marginalized by some of the more esoteric of the astronauts’ experience, or minimized as simply thrilling or aesthetic experiences.” Beaver, it seems, wants the view to be about social and political change, which he figures can’t happen if it’s sold as either religion or entertainment or some amoral combination of the two.

He does say that ultimately we should have faith in Virgin Galactic and other commercial space companies because, like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, he believes the likelihood that we’re destroying our home planet absolutely demands that we become an interplanetary species sooner rather than later.

Perhaps most telling was a story Beaver recounted about his buddy Frank White, the original champion of the Overview Effect, who recently flew to New York to meet with Branson. When Frank asked why Galactic never talks specifically about the Overview Effect, Branson responded, “I didn’t want to encroach on your brand.” And Frank laughed and told Branson there was no way something so profound as the cosmic view of Earth should ever be reduced to such a thing. But the strategy of Galactic has largely been to use the transformative and spiritual aspects of space travel in service of its brand.

“Galactic will put the Virgin brand on the American map in a way money can’t buy,” former CEO Will Whitehorn told Wired in 2005. “Every time someone mentions space travel, they’ll mention Virgin.”

Galactic has also used the ingenious strategy of getting celebrities to publicize the brand by purchasing a ticket. Add to that announcements like Lady Gaga being scheduled to perform on a Galactic flight or a sweeping deal with NBC that will include a flagship reality show called Space Race and live coverage of the inaugural flight across all NBCUniversal networks that aims to rival Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. All of this shows how Galactic can maybe afford delays — they give them more time to build an enormous brand in an unprecedented market before ever delivering a product.

The powerhouse of that brand is what’s got many in New Mexico excited to see the flights start, to see the money and the prestige come rolling in. But it’s got just as many concerned the money and prestige, if it ever shows up, isn’t going to just roll into small southern New Mexico towns so much as steamroll through them.

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Photograph by Arlen Albert

“I’m leaving town soon, but by god, I’m still the mayor for a few days.”

I meet with John Mulcahy in November during his last days in office as mayor of Truth or Consequences, though he doesn’t seem to have an actual office, so we meet in a multipurpose room attached to the civic center. There’s a leak in the roof and a bucket placed pretty close to under the leak and a maintenance man occasionally popping in to size up the rise of water. The good news: The ice is finally melting and the road to the spaceport is likely to be passable. The bad news: This is not the only leak in town.

Mulcahy talks mostly about the challenges he’s faced trying to ease the town toward preparing for the tourist boom promised by the spaceport. The problems are big enough that they’ve contributed to him stepping down as mayor in favor of heading up economic development in Roswell, where there’s already an entrenched cosmic brand. The gist of the problems in Truth or Consequences, he says, is that so much of the town is in disrepair and there’s not much money.

“We’re trying real hard to fix our blight,” Mulcahy says. “We’re painting. Fixing roads. And I don’t mean spend a bunch of money. I mean get out and clean up your yard. Put the roof back on. Put the door on the front door. It’s a poor community.” Because of the cold, Mulcahy wore his cowhide work gloves to our meeting; he now twists them into and out of knots as he talks to me. “We’ve seen this coming,” he says. “It didn’t sneak up on us.”

Mulcahy says 60% of the town is on a fixed income from Social Security or welfare. Most all of the students at public schools are on a free lunch program. Because the town is largely populated by senior citizens, the Senior Meal Program at the civic center is one of the largest gatherings on any given day. While nearby Elephant Butte Lake brings in around 900,000 visitors a year, the campers and fishermen aren’t exactly rolling in with big money.

When I ask Christine Anderson how the New Mexico Spaceport Authority is working to help with economic development in Truth or Consequences, she says, “We meet with all the communities. But again, it’s their job, not ours. We share our thoughts with them and our projections with them. But ultimately its up to them.” The concern, as Mulcahy puts it, is that “a lot of players with very deep pockets” will roll into the community and transform the place into something unrecognizable, into some gold-plated playground that overshadows their unique culture.

The Virgin Galactic experience is undoubtedly, for the astronauts who purchase the tickets, a luxury experience. They will want luxury accommodations. Michael Blum, a Galactic ticket holder and former PayPal executive, recently said to a crowd in Las Cruces, “I love the Hotel Encanto, but it’s not up to the international standard that these people [Galactic astronauts and their entourages] are accustomed to.”

The Hotel Encanto is likely the swankiest hotel in all of southern New Mexico. So Blum’s remarks, while intended to urge locals toward luxury development, were also an indictment of their current way of life. For Mayor Mulcahy they were a warning sign about the dangers of deep pockets erasing the unique identity of Truth or Consequences. Even my room at the Pink Pelican Motel might not survive. It doesn’t meet Blum’s “international standard” of luxury. It’s too pink. Too crumbling adobe.

Across the street from my motel is its sister business, the Pelican Spa, one of 10 locally owned hot-spring spas in town. When I’d soaked in one, there was a nearby washing machine rumbling and a family of five laughing in the bath next door. Blum might not like it, but it seemed pretty good to me. I could dip my head under the steaming water and the rumbling of the washing machine felt something like a rocket ride, and then when I surfaced all the nearby laughter brought me back to Earth.

The hot springs flow from beneath the town at over 2 million gallons a day, pumped into baths all over downtown and even to the backyards of some houses. The geothermal waters come up at over 100 degrees, spiked by the earth with minerals including gold and silver and mercury, a brew championed for centuries by the locals as having vast healing properties. In the first half of the 20th century, Hot Springs, N.M., was a major destination for those seeking therapeutic experience, physical and spiritual, boasting as many as 50 medicinal spas for the old body-and-soul soak.

So Mulcahy’s call to “step up and say we’re gonna manage this deal” is as much about seizing economic opportunity as it is about preserving the culture that, even without the spaceport, makes the place unique. It’s a mysticism that dates all the way back to early Native American tribes who used the hot springs and surrounding area as sacred ground — neutral in war and prized for healing battle wounds and prime for talks of peace. It’s a mysticism that seems born to cradle, many centuries later, the launching point for that more spiritual notion of the Overview Effect where the blue marble becomes the only way we see ourselves, all calm and in it together.

“When we talk to people about why they want to spend the money to go up to space, we hear a lot about that view when they look back at Earth. That it is weirdly an incredibly grounding experience,” says New Mexico Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson. “We think that’s actually what a trip to New Mexico can do for people, even if you’re not able to go to space and look down at Earth, coming here can really ground you. The culture and adventures here are so unique — how you feel when you leave and how they’re truly adventures that feed your soul.”

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Photograph by Arlen Albert

As part of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration for the last three years, Jacobson has worked aggressively to rebrand the state. Her campaign is called “New Mexico True,” and the slogan she repeats several times as we talk is “adventure steeped in culture.” Indeed, much of the tourism media for New Mexico is about recreational activities alongside Native American and Hispanic culture. The True brand largely ignores the presence of the aerospace industry, suggesting maybe that aerospace is not True to New Mexico. But Jacobson thinks this can change and says she does have plans to create a Space Trail that will originate at Spaceport America and direct Terrestrial Space Tourists to related sites around the state via touchscreen kiosks.

Currently the New Mexico tourism website features nothing about Spaceport America, though there are features devoted to film locations and ghost towns and the state’s penchant for green chili cheeseburgers. The True brand is taking its time going Galactic, either because it (like everyone else) is waiting for Galactic’s first flight or because current Gov. Martinez was a bit annoyed at inheriting the old Gov’s troubled “legacy” project or because it is mindful of not letting Galactic overshadow traditional New Mexico culture. That last bit is likely the case and so then there’s a kind of tussle around Spaceport America, a battle to be the defining brand.

Even the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has gotten into the branding game in the last year, sporting a brand-new logo that looks like the Star Trek insignia dipped in the Stars and Stripes and tipped on its side. The logo is on T-shirts and hats and it looms large in the tiny Operations Center adjacent to The Gateway to Space. All three of these brands, Galactic and Spaceport America and New Mexico True, need to co-exist in order for the spaceport to succeed. The Overview Effect (the real potential for political and social change), because it is not a brand, may get lost in all that marketing. And anyway, at this point Galactic’s brand undeniably dominates. The spaceport is not just any mythological eyeball rising out of the desert. The Gateway to Space, when all lit up, is designed to resemble the Galactic logo: a blue iris modeled after Richard Branson’s own eye. From a descending SpaceShipTwo, after you’ve seen the holy curve of the Earth, you’ll get to glide quietly down into the big eye of a billionaire.

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The ice finally melts off the road and runs into the dam. The bus rumbles through the canyon and over a few cattle guards, and the water in Elephant Butte Lake is rising for the first time in years. After soaking at the Pink Pelican and drinking at the Pine Knot, I’m finally headed to the spaceport again. As we steer around stray cattle in the road, Spaceport America peeks out of the red desert on the horizon. When we get close enough, it finally blinks open and the three stories of glass gleam in the sun so I have to squint when looking directly at it.

I wonder what it might be like to sit inside, just before rocketing to space. I think of Pat Hynes, director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium and a Galactic ticket holder, who told me of sitting in the third floor of the The Gateway to Space that will become the Astronaut Lounge, complete with a champagne bar. She was there one afternoon meeting with the U.K. spaceport

Top 10 Secretly Connected Topics

Posted at November 19, 2017 7:19 by network in Mysteries
Top 10 Secretly Connected Topics

If you are looking for an article that examines a wide range of topics and controversial subjects then this list is for you. The world is full of people, ideas, laws, theories, and events that are secretly connected in some way; events that show a causal relationship or common factor. For a wide variety of reasons, some topics are not discussed by international media organizations, federal governments, and business populations. Here is a collection of ten topics that share a common factor.


Nintendo is one of the largest consumer electronics companies in the world. In 1985, the company released the NES console, which helped set a standard for video game expansion. Nintendo’s most popular character is Mario. To date, Mario has appeared in over 200 video games and is probably the most famous personality in the history of video games. Mario games have sold more than 210 million units, making the franchise the best-selling in history. Mario has inspired television shows, film, comics, and a line of licensed merchandise. However, there are two films based on Mario that Nintendo doesn’t want you to know about.

In 1993, two pornographic parodies of the Super Mario franchise were filmed called Super Hornio Brothers and Super Hornio Brothers II. The movies were made at the same time as the Super Mario Bros. film. Each movie starred Buck Adams, T.T. Boy, Ron Jeremy, and Chelsea Lynx as the main characters. The series tells the story of computer programmer Squeegie Hornio (Ron Jeremy) and his brother Ornio Hornio (T.T. Boy) who are teleported into a computer game after a freak power overload and forced to battle King Pooper (Buck Adams). Pooper has kidnapped Princess Perlina (Chelsea Lynx).

Initially, Sin City Entertainment funded the project, but dropped out, leaving Buck Adams to seek the help of Midnight Video. Before the movies were released to the public, Nintendo decided to halt their distribution. Ron Jeremy’s official website notes that while he would love to make both films available alongside his massive library, Nintendo purchased the rights to stop the movies distribution indefinitely. The evidence that the Super Hornio Brothers films are real wasn’t confirmed until 2008. The movies are currently unavailable for viewing and considered by some to be the “holy grail” of parodies.

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One of the most bizarre human disappearances of the 20th century is Tara Calico. On September 20, 1988, Tara left her home in Belen, New Mexico to go for a bike ride and never returned. After an extensive search, part of Tara’s Sony Walkman and a Boston cassette tape were discovered along her normal bike route. Several people saw Tara riding her bicycle, but nobody witnessed her presumed abduction. The disappearance of Tara Calico received extensive media coverage in the United States and was featured on Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and 48 Hours.

The case went cold until June 15, 1989, when a Polaroid photo of an unidentified young girl and boy, both bound and gagged, was found in the parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe, Florida. After the photo was released, it was immediately theorized that the girl was Tara. Her mother came forward and said that the photo was indeed of her daughter because of what appeared to be a scar on the girl’s leg, similar to one Tara received in a car accident.

Scotland Yard analyzed the photo and concluded that the girl was Tara, but the Los Alamos National Laboratory and FBI tests were inconclusive. In the photo, the book next to the girl is the gothic horror novel “My Sweet Audrina” by V.C. Andrews, which was published in 1982. According to investigators, the picture was taken after May 1989 because the film used was not sold until that time. This means the picture was not taken until at least 8 months after the disappearance of Tara.

The boy inside the picture was initially thought to be Michael Henley, also of New Mexico, who disappeared in April 1988, but after Henley’s body was discovered in the Zuni Mountains where he was lost, the theory was dismissed. In the 1980s and ’90s there were several reported sightings of Tara, but her disappearance remains a mystery. Two other Polaroid photographs have surfaced over the years that might show Tara, but the pictures have not been released by the police.


Ignaz Semmelweis was a 19th century Hungarian physician that was an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. He has been described as the “savior of mothers” because in 1847 he postulated a theory that washing your hands in a hospital with chlorinated lime solutions would improve the high fatality rate of puerperal fever. Puerperal fever is a bacterial infection that can be contracted by women during childbirth or miscarriage. The infection can develop into puerperal sepsis, which is often fatal. The discovery eventually reduced childbed fever fatalities by 90%.

Despite the publication that washing your hands can greatly reduce puerperal fever, doctors did not wash their hands while working with pregnant women in hospitals until Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory, which stated that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases. The idea was highly controversial because people were convinced that diseases were caused by miasma. The miasma theory held that diseases such as cholera or the Black Death were caused by a noxious form of “bad air.” The word miasma means “pollution.”

Miasma was considered to be a poisonous vapor. It was said that the vapor was passed to people by way of contaminated water, foul air, and poor hygienic conditions. Miasma was identifiable by its foul smell, but the infection was not said to be passed between individuals. In the 1850s, miasma was used to explain the spread of cholera in London and Paris. Authorities told people that they needed to clean their bodies to prevent the disease, but in reality cholera was being spread through the water. The miasma theory was important to understanding the danger of poor sanitation, but it failed to recognize microbiology and germs.

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In 1982, a man named Bob Lazar made his first appearance in the media when an article was published in the Los Alamos Monitor that described a project where he built a jet car with the help of a jet engine. In the article, Lazar is referred to as “a physicist at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility.” Seven years later, in November 1989, Bob Lazar conducted an interview with investigative reporter George Knapp. The interview was broadcast on a Las Vegas TV station and included claims by Lazar that he worked at a top secret facility named S-4, located near Groom Lake, Nevada, within Area 51.

According to Lazar, S-4 served as a hidden U.S. military location that was used to study the reverse engineering of extraterrestrial flying saucers. Lazar said that he saw nine separate flying discs and was given a briefing on the involvement between humans and extraterrestrial beings for the past 100,000 years. Lazar said that the beings originate from the Zeta Reticuli 1 & 2 star system and are therefore referred to as Zeta Reticulans, popularly called Greys. Bob Lazar claimed that S-4 contained nine aircraft hangars built into the side of a mountain, with doors constructed at an angle that matched the slope.

He described some specifics of the alien spaceships and provided details on their mode of propulsion. According to Lazar, atomic Element 115 served as a nuclear fuel for the aircraft. He said that the element (ununpentium) provided an energy source which produced anti-gravity effects under proton bombardment. As the strong nuclear force field of Element 115′s nucleus was amplified, the gravitational effect would distort the surrounding space-time continuum and shorten the travel time to a destination. The description given by Lazar was extremely scientific and seemed probable.

However, after the interview made headlines, Bob Lazar was called a fraud. Government officials denied the existence of Element 115 and said Lazar was lying. Lazar’s educational history was put into question and his fellow scientists claimed to have no memory of meeting him. On February 2, 2004, Russian scientists and American scientists announced that they had completed the synthesis of ununpentium (Element 115). The news was surprising and came fifteen years after Bob Lazar said ununpentium was responsible for the propulsion of alien aircraft.

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In 2003, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency developed a ten year plan named Operation Endgame. The objective of the program is to detain and deport all removable aliens and “suspected terrorists” living in the United States by 2012. In order to accomplish this goal, the U.S. has passed a collection of laws that are aimed at getting rid of immigration. In 2007, the program Secure Communities was developed to identify criminal aliens, prioritize them on criminal activity, and remove them from the country.

The program identifies illegal immigrants with the help of modern technology, most notably biometric identification techniques, which rely on computer science. The Obama administration is a strong proponent of the Secure Communities program. From 2008 to 2011, the program arrested 140,396 criminal aliens and deported 72,445 of them. By 2013, Secure Communities is expected to be all over the United States with detention centers located in many cities.

On December 31, 2011, in the middle of the American holiday season, President Barack Obama signed an extremely important law named The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Act authorized the spending of $662 billion “for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad.” The act underwent a number of revisions before being accepted. Most notably, the federal court blocked a section of the bill that allowed government officials to detain American citizens that are suspected of being terrorists. Instead, the bill allows for the indefinite detention of illegal aliens and foreign travelers deemed terrorists.

On April 23, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed law SB 1070, which made it a state misdemeanor for an illegal immigrant to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that most of the bill over-reached the state’s power into federal jurisdiction. The three provisions of the bill that were removed included the rule that legal immigrants needed to carry registration documents at all times, that state police were allowed to arrest any individual for suspicion of being an illegal immigrant, and that it was a crime for an illegal immigrant to search for a job in the state.

All Supreme Court Justices agreed to uphold the provision of the law that allows Arizona state police to investigate the immigration status of a person stopped if there is a reason to do so. Had the legislation passed, each individual state would have had the opportunity to hold vastly different immigration regulations. However, since the bill was deemed unconstitutional, current states, including Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, and Utah, will have to adjust their immigration laws to meet the new standards.


Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (Cloud 9) is a psychoactive drug that was first developed in 1969. In 2004, Cloud 9 became a popular designer drug in the United States and stores began to sell the product as bath salts. Cloud 9 is easier to get than cigarettes and alcohol, so it has become a popular choice for teenagers. Very little is known about how Cloud 9 interacts with the brain, but a wide range of unpredictable symptoms have been reported including violent outbursts and cannibalism. Starting in 2011, stories began to emerge about people who took Cloud 9 and then did some very strange things. The drug has been connected with suicides and unexplained deaths.

The issue of bath salts and their impact on people reached a new level of exposure on May 26, 2012, when it was initially reported that Rudy Eugene was under the influence of Cloud 9 when he attacked and ate the face off Ronald Poppo on the MacArthur Causeway in Miami, Florida. During the shocking attack, Eugene chewed up most of Poppo’s face, including his left eye. The event lasted for over 18 minutes until Eugene was shot to death by a police officer. Poppo survived the attack, but needed massive facial reconstruction surgery. After the event, police initially speculated that Rudy Eugene had been high on bath salts. However, toxicology reports ruled that only traces of marijuana were found in his system.

On June 2, 2012, a homeless man in Miami named Brandon DeLeon took Cloud 9 and began yelling obscenities at two North Miami police officers. He was arrested and then tried to bite the hand off one of the police officers. On June 6, 2012, a man named Carl Jacquneaux, who was high on Cloud 9, attacked Todd Credeur at his home. Jacquneaux bit the face of Credeur until he was subdued with wasp spray and forced to retreat.

At the end of May 2012, a man named Alexander Kinyua confessed to cannibalizing his roommate Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie. In the same week, Wayne Carter stabbed himself repeatedly then threw his skin and intestines at police officers. In both cases, the men were said to be under the influence of Cloud 9. In July of 2012, a man named Karl Laventure, high on the drug, was arrested because he ran on to a Liburn, Georgia golf course and threatened to eat officers. In June of 2012, Michael Daniel, 22, allegedly smoked spice in his Waco, Texas home and then went crazy. He began to bark like a dog and then took his neighbors 40 pound dog and ate it.

The current availability of Cloud 9 and spice (synthetic marijuana) has been halted by many U.S. states and countries around the world. In the fall of 2012, the drug policy of Canada will start categorizing methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) as a schedule I substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, placing it in the same category as heroin and cocaine. Cloud 9 is a dangerous drug that can cause serious mental hallucinations and delusions.


The online disinhibition effect is a term used to describe the complete abandonment of social restrictions on the Internet. The behavior occurs because the Internet is an anonymous platform and doesn’t involve face-to-face conversation. For this reason, people interact in a way that is opposite of their recognized personality. Some users will search the Internet in hopes of finding a person to have an emotional reaction with. These individuals will do whatever it takes to get someone to respond to their comments.

One has to remember that their mind will automatically assign characteristics and traits to a person on the Internet. In many cases, these assumptions are false, so the nature of the Internet throws off the basic hierarchical structure of society. You never know if you are talking with an old woman, a police officer, a child, or a sexy 25 year-old woman that is looking for a date. People on the Internet behave badly because they don’t fear reprisal.

Data mining is a growing field in computer science. The process is used by a large number of organizations to predict behavior. It involves the statistical analysis of data sets in order to organize trends and patters of information. Data mining is used by Internet companies to research behavioral output. It is also heavily used by government officials to monitor Internet activity and dangerous users.

One of the reasons that data mining is so effective is because of the online disinhibition effect. Google regularly tracks activity and uses a mathematical formula to identify certain keywords and threats. For this reason, anyone can be targeted if they write the wrong thing on Twitter or Facebook. Just ask Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Banting, who were denied access to the United States because of Twitter. The online disinhibition effect helps federal agencies and business organizations accurately track the true personal, political, social, and economic trends of the world.


A large number of studies have been carried out that examine the relationship between human intelligence and religious belief. The experiments have been done in order to determine if the overall IQ of atheists is different from people adhering to religion. In 2008, intelligence researcher Helmuth Nyborg conducted a study in which he compared religious belief and IQ in 137 countries. He found that a sample population of atheists scored 6 IQ points higher on IQ tests. Among the 137 countries, only 23 (17%) had more than 20% atheists. Of these 23 countries, they constituted “virtually all… higher IQ countries.” The authors reported a correlation of 0.60 between atheism rates and intelligence, which was “highly significant.”

As you would expect, many people have challenged the results, saying that Nyborg did not examine a complex range of social, economic, and historical factors. A confounding variable is the fact that people from poor countries are generally more religious and uneducated. A correlation between highly educated people and religious belief has also been presented. In Australia, 23% of Christian church members have earned a university or postgraduate degree, whereas only 13% of the general population has earned a degree.

Gallup poll studies have shown that those with high IQs tend to not believe in God. A study in March 2010 published in Social Psychology Quarterly stated that “atheism correlates with higher intelligence.” A study conducted at Harvard University found that participants who tended to think more reflectively were less likely to believe in God. Some have argued that a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief is impossible to determine. A 2004 study concluded that people who are extremely religious reported that they had higher intelligence than the average person, so the issue is really controversial.


The chilling effect is a deterrent, usually in the form of a federal law or regulation that is used to discourage the exercise of a constitutional right. It occurs when a government passes a law that causes people to hesitate to do something. Usually, free speech is the right that is suppressed. The chilling effect doesn’t always prohibit speech, but instead imposes a collection of undue burdens. In some cases, the laws can cause outrage because they are deemed undemocratic.

In March of 2012, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin received 63.64% of the presidential vote and secured a record third term in the Kremlin. The event sparked a collection of protests in Russia because people felt it was unfair that Putin was allowed to run for a third term. People were upset at Putin and his government policies. The 2011 Democracy Index states: “Russia has been in a long process of regression culminated in a move from a hybrid to an authoritarian regime” under Putin. American diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks alleged that Russia has become a “virtual mafia state” due to Putin.

In response to the large scale protests, Russia enacted a series of laws and chilling effect. Vladimir Putin set strict boundaries on protests and imposed heavy penalties for out of bounds action. He ordered government raids on protest organizers. A law was passed that imposed a $9,000 fine for individuals who participated in rallies that caused harm to people or property. The fine was devastating because the average annual salary in Russia is around $8,500. Putin basically said that if you want to protest, I will take all your money.

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Currently, approximately 2/3 of the female population lives in an area of the world where abortion is legal. The law varies by region and China, North Korea, and Vietnam are the only countries that conduct mandatory abortions. The topic is controversial and has sparked a large number of court cases. Abortion wasn’t made legal in every U.S. state until 1973. Since that time, millions of abortions are carried out every year.

The number of abortions around the world has been increasing since the introduction of Mifepristone, which is a form of nonsurgical abortion. In the United States, the rate of abortion is much higher among minority women. In 2000, black women were three times more likely to have an abortion than white women. The most listed reasons for people to get an abortion include the mother wants to postpone childbearing, she cannot afford a baby, she has a relationship problem, she is too young, the baby will disrupt her education, or she doesn’t want more children.

In 2001, a study conducted by John J. Donohue III of Yale University was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. In the paper Donohue III examines the connection between U.S. crime rates in the 1990s and the legalization of abortion in 1973. In the 1990s, the United States experienced a dramatic decrease in crime. On average, homicides and auto theft rates dropped 40 percent in cities across the country. The event produced the longest and deepest crime decline in the U.S. since World War II.

In the paper, Donahue III argues: “We offer evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to recent crime reductions. Crime began to fall roughly eighteen years after the legalization of abortion. U.S. states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation.” The theory argues that abortion is having an impact on future crime rates because unwanted children are more likely to become future criminals. Abortion is also more common among poor people. The paper has been challenged by a collection of economists, who call the theory pseudoscientific and unproven.

Another interesting observation surrounding abortion is the Roe effect. The Roe effect is a hypothesis on the long-term impact of abortion on the world’s political balance. The theory suggests that the practice of abortion will eventually become illegal because those who favor abortion are much more likely to get one than those who oppose it. Children follow their parents’ political leanings, so the population of pro-choice people will gradually shrink until the pro-lifers become the dominant group. After generations, the impact will eventually cause the abolishment of the law. The process will then start over.

How Alex Winter (Yup, Bill S. Preston, Esq.) Made A Doc About Napster

Posted at November 14, 2017 12:07 by network in Entertainment
How Alex Winter (Yup, Bill S. Preston, Esq.) Made A Doc About Napster

Napster founder Shawn Fanning and Downloaded director Alex Winter at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival on March 10, 2013. Michael Buckner / Getty Images

AUSTIN — With the Kickstarter campaign for the Veronica Mars movie currently breaking all kinds of records for crowdsourced fundraising, it may be hard to remember a time when it wasn’t possible to connect instantly with like-minded people worldwide. The new feature documentary Downloaded, which premiered at the ongoing SXSW Film Festival, chronicles how we got to this point thanks to the breakneck rise and ignominious fall of the first online global community: Napster. And it was made by the dude from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. No, the other dude: Alex Winter.

The actor/director first approached Napster creator Shawn Fanning in 2002 through a mutual friend, with the idea of turning his story into a narrative feature film, à la 2011’s The Social Network. Winter’s pitch won over Fanning and cofounder Sean Parker (i.e., the guy played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network), but his script first bounced from MTV Original Movies at the network to MTV Films at Paramount Studios before it languished in turnaround and Winter walked away.

In researching the script, however, Winter had developed so many relationships and amassed so much material, that three years ago it hit him: Why not make it a documentary?

“It was one of those funny Hollywood stories,” he said in Austin. “For eight years, I tried in vain to get it made as a narrative, and I think within about 12 hours of coming up with the idea of doing it as a doc, I had sold it, and I had a ticket to start shooting.”

The film’s Sunday night premiere played terrifically at the enormous Paramount Theater in Austin, where Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker both joined Winter on stage afterward. “I came out of it that Alex had a better understanding of it than either of us,” said Fanning. “It felt like watching it from the outside.”

Parker agreed: “The guys in front of me were really into it, because I was whispering to my fiancée and they told me to shut up.”

The youthful, buoyant Winter is especially pleased that both Seans seemed to enjoy his take on the defining event of their lives (not to mention the lives of music labels and musicians all over the world). “I personally feel like I dodged a bullet in not making the narrative, because this is way better,” he says.

But how did Winter convince not just Fanning and Parker but the (former) heads of several major music labels to participate in his film? And what is the deal with the new Bill & Ted movie?! Read on to find out.

Video available at:

Adam B. Vary: I can’t imagine you were the only person who was approaching Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker to tell the story of Napster. So what was it, do you think, that it was about you that they were like, “This is the guy we want to work with”?

Alex Winter: I think that there were two things going on. First of all, I was really interested in the internet from the early days. I got my first computer in the early ’80s, got online immediately in the early ’90s. I was big into BBS [bulletin board systems] and newsgroups and was really fascinated with the idea that the internet was clearly going to build global communities in ways that we’d never had before. And when Napster showed up in ‘99, suddenly we had a global community where there was none the day before. It’s just impossible to describe how abrupt it was. So it wasn’t like I was so partisan, like, “Oh, I want to make a movie because I think you guys are right, and, you know, fuck the labels.” It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t even that interested in the music, to be honest with you. I mean, I like music. But I think everyone got the Napster story completely wrong. To me it was about this somewhat isolated teenager who not only found his way online but was so brilliant that he found a way to create a workable global community. What Fanning and eventually Parker really wanted to do was bring the world together online, and it worked. Everybody was trying to do that, but theirs worked. His vision had nothing to do with music. Music was a delivery system. I think that’s why they trusted me with it. They realized that I understood what their vision was.

And frankly, personally, I’d been in the entertainment industry since I was really, really young. I knew what it was like to become very, very famous very quickly, very young, and to be kind of under that kind of press scrutiny. I really had a lot of empathy for Parker and Fanning, and when I met them in ‘02, they were pretty bloodied. They were broke, they were vilified — it was not pleasant. I was in Bill and Ted — it’s not like I ever got vilified, you know what I mean? So it wasn’t a complete identification, but I certainly allowed for an enormous amount of empathy.

Sean Parker at the world premiere of Downloaded during the 2013 SXSW Film Festival on March 10, 2013. Michael Buckner / Getty Images

ABV: You do have a very clear point of view on the good that Napster was trying to do and how misguided a lot of the label efforts were, but you still got pretty much everyone involved in those efforts at the labels to talk to you. What did you say to them to make them feel comfortable with sharing their side of the story?

AW: That’s interesting. Documentaries do have to have a point of view, otherwise you’re just lying. Even my website was like, “I’ve been friends with Fanning and Parker for years.” But by the same token, I’m not a full-blown free-culture guy, nor do I think that the labels and the movie industry and everybody else are just a bunch of stupid old people who couldn’t get with the program. I understand how complicated it is to create large industries and how internally conflicted those industries are. Like, [former Sony Music Chairman] Donnie Lenner’s a friend of mine. What Donnie explains really well in the movie is, it’s not like the label guys are just going, “Oh, screw them.” They’re saying, “Well it wasn’t just downloading. It was the corporatization of our industry; it was Wall Street coming in and taking over creative companies; it was not being able to create artist development because we were beholden to stockholders who just wanted quarterly returns, and suddenly a band got one strike and they were done.”

The story’s about change and evolution and how little the people involved actually know what they hell they’re doing. I think you can say that about the Napster guys and you can say it about the label guys. I don’t think the Napster guys had some ironclad, perfect business model that the labels just looked it over and went, “No.” I think it was just like, “What the fuck is this?” So out of fairness, I think that I was interested in examining the gray, while I clearly support the Napster guys.

ABV: Seems like you’re getting a fair amount of attention for it here.

AW: Yeah, so far. You know, showing it in front of 1,200 [people at] SXSW, it’s cheating. We’re never going to have an audience that good ever again.

ABV: Yeah, between the interactive people and the music people in the audience and then all the film people too, it’s an unusually fertile ground for the film.

AW: It is. They got everything. They were laughing at jokes that a lot of people aren’t going to get. I mean, my wife, she’s like, “I didn’t know that was funny.” You know, talking about bus overruns and breaking URL systems is not exactly comedy to most of us.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Everett Collection

ABV: Finally, you may be getting this question a lot, but there’s been a lot of fun talk about another Bill & Ted movie —

AW: Yeah.

ABV: Where is that at for you?

AW: I don’t mind talking about it. What happened was me and [Keanu] Reeves and the two writers over the years have kicked shit around, basically, and tried to find a way in. We were like, “If we find a way in that we think is valuable, we would do it.” Or at least have fun writing it, right? Because we’re all really tight, it’s been a fun thing for us to just revisit the characters and kind of improv the characters again. It started just as that. I think it was a little frustrating because it got leaked to the press kind of early, so now we have to sort of excuse ourselves for not being farther along. But the reality of it is we’re just working story until we feel we’ve got something that couldn’t get ruined, and frankly has a reason for getting made in the first place. When we do, we’ll hopefully put a deal together and get it made. But it’s really just me and Reeves and the two writers.

ABV: I’d read that the idea is that Bill and Ted are freaking out because that amazing, world-changing song they were supposed to write, they haven’t written yet?

AW: I think it’s Keanu that’s guilty of spilling that much information. I’ve been trying to keep my mouth shut. Yeah, basically.

ABV: It’s a great idea.

AW: It’s a really good idea.

ABV: I don’t think people knowing it is a bad thing. A good idea begets more interest.

AW: Yeah, I think you may be right. I mean, it’s like, we were trying to think of the funniest comic scenario we can dump them back into 20 years later, was like if none of those ambitions were realized. Especially given who they are, because they’re not ego-driven guys. These aren’t normal human beings like you get in a [Judd] Apatow [film]. This isn’t This Is 40, you know what I mean? This is —

ABV: A little more high-concept than that.

AW: (laughs) I think so. And a little more emotionally stunted than that.

10 Lesser Known Hoaxes Frauds and Pranks

Posted at November 11, 2017 21:43 by network in Weird Stuff
10 Lesser Known Hoaxes Frauds and Pranks

Hoaxes and frauds are anything but recent inventions of schemers and scam artists. Historical records show evidence of cons and deception dating as far back as man has walked the earth. While the subject has been addressed on this site before (Top 10 Famous Hoaxes, Top 10 Scientific Frauds and Hoaxes, Top 10 Most Famous UFO Hoaxes, Top 10 Infamous Fake Memoirs, Top 15 April Fools Day Hoaxes, etc…) I feel that it is still a subject worthy of examination. Here are 10 more hoaxes, and the stories behind their execution, presented in no particular order.


Living in Los Angeles, California, in 1924, the wife of scholar Paul Jordan-Smith had unsuccessfully submitted several still life paintings to an art gallery exhibition. In response to the harsh criticism of his wife’s work from the gallery’s judges, Smith fabricated an art movement named Disumbrationism. He quickly painted a thrown-together picture of an island-native from the South Pacific, and submitted it under the name Pavel Jerdanowitch to the jury at the Waldorf Astoria gallery, in New York. As the painting (‘Exaltation’) attracted attention from the members of the art world, Smith fabricated an entire history for Pavel Jerdanowitch, in which he was born in Russia and contracted tuberculosis while studying art in Chicago, but fully recovered while living on the South Sea Islands. Smith continued to maintain the ruse, submitting additional paintings to galleries in Chicago and gaining praise from French publications such as La Revue Moderne and Revue du vrai et du beau.

In 1927, Smith came forward and described the creation of his hoax to the Los Angeles Times. His legacy lives on, however, and an annual “International Pavel Jerdanowitch” painting contest is held in an attempt to produce the worst painting in history.

(Photo and Information Source: Reverent Entertainment. (n.d.). Disumbrationist School of Painting. In Ecclesiastes 9:11)


In 2007, The Netherlands’ BNN produced a controversial reality game show titled “The Big Donor Show”. The program’s premise revolved around a woman who was terminally ill and three contestants in need of kidney transplants. During the show’s run, the woman would take advice from viewers (via text messages) as to which contestant should receive her kidney after her death. Immediately following the network’s announcement of the new show, news agencies across the country began criticizing its unethical and exploitative nature.

On the night of the show (01-06-2007), it was revealed to the audience that the entire program had been an elaborate set-up. The terminally ill woman was merely an actress, and the three contestants – while truly in need of kidney transplants – were aware of the show’s false-nature from the beginning. Following the broadcast, the show’s director explained that his intent had been to draw attention to the national shortage of organ donors that the Netherlands was experiencing. The program was given the honor of winning the 2008 International Emmy award for Best Non-Scripted Entertainment, as well as the title of Best Dutch TV Moment of the Year.

(Photo and Information Source: Eideard, . (2007, June 2). Organ Donor Contest Reaches a New High in Reality TV. In Dvorak Unsorted. AND British Talent Dominates at Emmys. (2008, November 25). In BBC News)


Beginning in November of 2000, Internet user “TimeTravel_0” frequented the message boards on the Time Travel Institute’s forums and discussed the realistic work that would have to be done in order to achieve time travel. He went as far as to describe what mechanical parts a working time machine would require (including an X-Ray based venting and cooling system, gravity sensors, and magnetic housing units for the machine’s engines). His posts became more detailed as time passed, and after migrating to the Art Bell BBS Forums, he adopted the username ‘John Titor’.

While on the Art Bell BBS Forums, Titor explained that he was a time traveling soldier from the year 2036, and that he had been sent back to the year 1975 to procure an IBM 5100 computer in order to properly debug several computer programs from the future. He further explained that he decided to stop in the year 2000 to retrieve personal effects that he had lost prior to his mission. He then began issuing ‘predictions/recollections’ about our future (his past), including a 2004 Presidential Election that led to extreme civil unrest, Russian Nuclear Strikes against the United States, China and Europe in 2015, and that World War III was sparked by border clashes between Jewish and Arabic citizens in the Middle East.

While skeptics questioned his story and his revelations, it was not until his claims were debunked by the passage of history that his status as an Internet hoax was widely accepted. Today, Titor’s story has been adapted to literature, several websites and a stage play. Photographs of his future-documents can also be found on several message boards dedicated to his original posts, and his Military Insignia is shown in the picture above.

(Photo and Information Source: John Titor: a Time Traveller From The Year 2036?. (2006, February 1). In BBC H2GH.AND John Titor: Time Traveler, Soldier, or Prophet?. (n.d.). In The Anomalies Network )


In 1969, Newsday’s Mike McGrady conspired with twenty-three fellow writers and literature critics to produce a work that reflected the poorly written texts that were quickly becoming favorites among American audiences. Each of the contributors penned a single chapter and combined them together under the title, “Naked Came the Stranger”, with the writing credit given to imaginary author ‘Penelope Ashe.’ The book describes the erotic adventures of Gillian Blake, following the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. For publicity purposes, McGrady’s sister-in-law acted as Penelope Ashe, thereby furthering the hoax’s execution.

The book quickly became a widespread hit, earning itself the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller list for a week. The authors, having each made a good-deal of money from the book’s sales, eventually decided to expose the hoax on the David Frost Show, thereby ending the ruse. The book continued to sell, and was eventually adapted into a pornographic film of the same name.

(Photo and Information Source: Cymes, A. (n.d.). Naked Came the Stranger . In 20th Century American Bestsellers. AND


Sutton Courtenay friends David Hard and Allistair Mitchell stepped into the public eye, in December of 2003, when they claimed to have found the corpse of a dragon preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. According to their story, they had been searching through a garage when they came across a 30-inch-tall jar containing the dragon body, as well as a collection of documents detailing a past correspondence with scientists from the Natural History Museum. After gaining the attention of the media, Hart explained that his grandfather had worked at the museum and had managed to come into possession of the specimen after the museum refused to accept it into their collection.

Eventually, it was discovered that the entire story was a hoax, meant to generate attention for a novel Mitchell had been working on. It was also discovered that professional model makers, who had worked on the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs, had created the model, and had even gone as far as to custom-make the glass that it was contained in.

(Photo and Information Source: BBC. (2004, March 28). Book Deal for Dragon Hoax. In BBC News. AND The London Telegraph. (2004, January 29). Pickled Dragon Mystery. In Fairfax Digital)


While mining in Calaveras County, California in 1866, miners discovered a human skull that had been buried in over 100 feet of lava. Josiah Whitney, a Harvard University Geology Professor, examined the skull and publicly presented it as evidence of his beliefs. Immediately following his discovery, members of the academic world began to question the validity of his findings, arguing that the skull was simply placed at the mine as a joke. Despite investigations by fellow Harvard Scientists (one of which determined the relative-recent-age of the skull through the use of fluorine analysis), Whitney continued to use the skull as proof of his historical theory.

After years of controversial publicity, the Smithsonian Institution’s William Holmes examined the skull and the area in which it was found. Holmes explained that while other organic matter from the site of the skull’s discovery matched organic fossils from the Pliocene Era, the skull was too modern in structure to have possibly been a legitimate find. To further discredit Whitney’s story, John Scribner, a friend and shop owner from the Calaveras Area, testified as to his placing of the skull at the discovery site. Today, the skull is widely recognized as a hoax in academic and archeological societies, but is still referenced in more amateur-based theories and arguments.

(Photo and Information Source: Archarological Institute of America. (2009). The Notorious Calaveras Skull. In Archaeology Magazine)


On February 21, 1814, during the Napoleonic Wars between the French Empire and its opposing forces (the Bourbons supported by the UK and other nations), a man calling himself Colonel du Bourg arrived in Dover, England, and began spreading word of Napoleon’s death. His news of the Bourbon’s victory quickly spread, and was verified by numerous other military officers who delivered the news to London and surrounding areas. In response to the newly established peacetime, the London Stock Exchange experienced a market boom, and prices on government securities skyrocketed.

However, word from French officials soon arrived, stating that the news of Napoleon’s death had been false. Stock market prices returned to their original levels, but not before several massive sales had taken place. Detecting possible fraud, the London Stock Exchange Committee began investigating the sales in question. They quickly discovered that a large collection of government stocks had been purchased a week prior to the news of Napoleon’s death, and had been sold for more than one million British Pounds. The committee charged Parliament member and former Naval enlistee Lord Cochrane with financial fraud, fined him (and his conspirators) 1,000 Pounds apiece, and sentenced them to twelve months in prison, as well as an hour of confinement in a public pillory.

(Photo and Information Source: Johnson, P. (2002). Fraud and Profit in Nineteenth Century London. In Fathom.)


On November 9, 1874, the front page of the New York Herald told of a disastrous breach of security at the Central Park Zoo that led to the escape of the park’s animals, including, but not limited to, a Rhinoceros, an Anaconda, a Giraffe and a Lion. The reports detailed the efforts of New York City Police Officers to capture the animals, as well as the chaos that had resulted in injuries to over 200 people, and the deaths of 49 others. A panic quickly spread, and soon people were arming themselves in the streets, pulling children from schools, and barricading their homes for the inevitable stampede of wild animals.

Had the panicked citizens read the entire article however, they would have understood that the story was simply a fabrication of one of the paper’s writers. The final paragraph of the article spelled out in clear terms that the aforementioned material had been the product of fantastic thinking, and that no animals had actually escaped. Second editions of competing papers denounced the hoax on their front page and questioned the intent of the Herald’s authors in their publication of the story. As a way of apologizing and protecting their industry, Herald editors ran a story the following day that claimed the original article was meant to draw attention to security measures at the Zoo and was misinterpreted by the majority of its readers. Surprisingly, no drops in subscriptions to the Herald were recorded.

(Photo and Information Source: Museum of Hoaxes. (n.d.). The Central Park Zoo Escape. In Museum of Hoaxes)


At the conclusion of every NCAA Football season, two teams face off in the Tournament of Roses celebration, more commonly known as The Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, California. Traditionally, the two teams represent colleges with a well-developed and highly funded athletic program, thereby excluding most technical institutes such as M.I.T. and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In response to their continued absence from the event, several Caltech students (calling themselves the ‘Fiendish Fourteen’) planned to distribute flip-cards to prank audience members during the game’s halftime show.

The game began and the competition between the Washington Huskies and Minnesota Gophers commenced. By halftime, the Huskies had a 17-point lead, and cheerleaders, along with Washington’s marching band, had taken the field for the big show. As audience members held up their flip-cards, images of school mascots and other such designs were flashed out to players on the field and news cameras that were covering the game. On the last design however, the students flipped their cards and spelled out ‘CALTECH’ instead of the name of either of the schools represented in the game. News anchors laughed at the prank, and cheerleaders on the field were unable to finish their halftime routine because of the confusion stemming from the prank. The hoax was duplicated and imitated by several schools in later years, but none had been as successful as Caltech in their hijacking of the Rose Bowl.

(Photo and Information Source: The Great Rosebowl Hoax of 1961. (n.d.). In Caltec Today)


In the early days of widespread Internet usage, hoax-webpages managed to fool a great number of users with their shocking messages and far-fetched premises. Sites like Bonsai Kitten offered a service wherein a live cat would be trapped inside of a glass jar, and preserved in a manner resembling a Ship in a Bottle, and web surfers responded with petitions demanding the site’s cessation of debauchery. took the hoax further and offered users resources related to the preparation and consumption of human flesh, meat and organs.

According to Internet traffic reports, the site experienced over half of a million visitors on a daily basis. Eventually, the Food and Drug Administration investigated the site’s claims, ultimately stating that the site was within legal parameters. due to the fact that it did not sell human meat. By June of 2001, site creators Chris Ellerby and Joseph Mallett revealed that the site was, indeed, a hoax and that they had only meant to stir up controversy among Internet users.

(Photo and Information Source: Emery, D. (n.d.). Is a Hoax. In About.Com.)

HLN Wants To Be The Cable News Network For The Social Media Generation

Posted at November 5, 2017 16:55 by network in Business
HLN Wants To Be The Cable News Network For The Social Media Generation

HLN Executive Vice President Albie Hecht. HLN

In the world of cable news networks, HLN is the low talker, barely audible over screaming competitors Fox News, MSNBC, and even sibling network CNN. And while HLN sometimes produces decent ratings — usually tied to coverage of a salacious legal trial — two things it doesn’t generate for parent company Time Warner are respect and profits on par with those of its other cable networks.

But the unconventional new executive chosen to head the channel tells BuzzFeed — in his first interview since taking the job — that he plans to radically reimagine what used to be called CNN Headline News. Instead of battling for the traditional news viewer, Albie Hecht has chosen what may be an even more difficult fight: repositioning HLN around social media in a bid to attract young viewers who currently don’t watch news on TV at all.

“Younger consumers have a very different perception of what news and information is,” said Hecht. “For them, news is really made in the palm of their hands, in the iPhone prayer position. But they want every update in real time and nonstop and that’s the space that is not on TV. Our headlines are going to be ripped from social media.”

Hecht spoke over salad and sandwiches at one of the great temples of cable news, the Time Warner Center overlooking Manhattan’s Central Park, where the three TVs in his office are tuned constantly to HLN, CNN, and ESPN.

The traditional cable news audience hasn’t grown in years, leaving HLN and the flagship CNN fighting a bloody, often-losing battle each night with Fox News and MSNBC over the same 1 million swing viewers aged 25 to 54. While viewers tend to flock to CNN for breaking news coverage and Fox News and MSNBC attract audiences on opposite sides of the political aisle, nothing really defines HLN. It has found a bit of a niche with courtroom coverage of sensational trials such as Casey Anthony’s, but as Brad Adgate, vice president of research for Horizon Media, said: “How many trials of the century can you have?”

What Hecht aims to do is package and present news culled from the media young viewers are actually consuming. While its competitors will be mining newspapers and magazines and broadcast news for headlines, HLN plans to instead curate blogs, Facebook and Tumblr posts, YouTube videos, tweets, and memes to give the things that are being traded and shared on the web a home on television. (HLN will also, of course, be active in creating and pushing out new content to various social media platforms and on tablets and mobile devices.)

“There is no one place someplace where all of this news that you share on the web is available,” said Hecht, who was dressed corporate casual with a collared shirt and blazer, his silver hair matching the color of his wire-rimmed glasses. “By giving it a home, and saying clearly to the social media generation that this is for you, come here, when you watch TV, watch us, I think that’s going to be a very exciting development for them and for the media.”

That means talk shows on HLN, for instance, will now feature guests whose Tumblr just blew up or who created a viral video instead of the latest author shilling a book or actor promoting a movie. Instead of featuring the typical analysts or pundits, guests on commentary shows will be pulled from social media.

The strategy is firmly rooted in the belief that television is still the media’s most powerful star-making machine, and that the ultimate goal of all web stars is eventually to become TV stars. Put another way, HLN basically plans to program in part to a generation of American teens who, according to a recent study by youth research firm the Cassandra Report, not only want to be famous, but also believe that they will be one day. Indeed, one of the potential tag lines Hecht is toying with for the network is “We’re not the news, you are.” HLN is already defining itself in Google searches as “a national television network that focuses on the ‘must-see, must-share’ stories of the day.”

“It is a culture consumed by sharing and publishing about themselves and in their own little social circles they are famous, whether it is because a celebrity retweeted them or a prominent person followed them,” said Jason Hirschhorn, a former colleague of Hecht’s at Viacom and chief executive of media aggregator ReDef. “I expect a tremendous flow of those kinds of people making their way onto the network.”

Hecht’s makeover plan dovetails nicely with the mission of CNN’s new president, Jeff Zucker, to “broaden the definition of news” on CNN with programming that skews away from hard newscasts and toward more general interest nonfiction shows built around sports, food, or documentaries featuring recognizable personalities like Rachel Nichols, Anthony Bourdain, and Morgan Spurlock. (Zucker and Hecht share a common bond over their love of documentaries.) Or, to use another network as a reference point, Hecht is trying to modernize HLN in a way that mirrors how the History Channel both redefined itself and made its programming more contemporary under the “History made every day” rubric.

Hecht, 60, took an unconventional path to his new job, and he wasn’t exactly watching Nancy Grace when Zucker first called him about HLN last June. At the time, Hecht, who was still euphoric after his Oscar win for producing the documentary Innocente, was on his way to Thailand to begin production on a new film.

“Jeff wants to see you,” Zucker’s assistant told Hecht.

Zucker, the former CEO of NBC Universal, was calling to pick Hecht’s brain about what to do about HLN, the bastard step-news network he was now overseeing after being named president of CNN Worldwide in November 2012.

While the two didn’t have a personal relationship, NBC under Zucker had invested in Hecht’s independent digital production company, Worldwide Biggies, and Hecht at one point took part with other NBC executives in a brainstorming session about how the network could develop a kids and family business. In a prior life, as president of Entertainment for Viacom’s Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, and TV Land, Hecht helped usher in the era of SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. On the other end of the demographic spectrum, he also created the testosterone-heavy Spike TV.

But that was the past. Hecht left old media and cutthroat corporate politics in 2007 to launch Worldwide Biggies, which in addition to producing digital entertainment programming for kids also featured a nonprofit documentary film unit focused on issues impacting children’s well-being around the world.

Though getting back into corporate life was further from Hecht’s mind than Thailand at the time, after two 90-minute meetings with Zucker he agreed to sign on as executive vice president of HLN.

“It was kind of like The Godfather, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in,” said Hecht, who has been on the job for about 120 days.

An early glimpse at HLN’s new direction. HLN / Via

One of the challenges Hecht’s makeover of HLN confronts is creating a new presentation of the news that doesn’t come off as a 2014 version of Current TV, a hodgepodge of user-generated clips thrown on the air with no structure or strategy. (Current TV, founded by Al Gore, went through several different programming iterations without success and was eventually sold in 2013 and turned into what is now Al Jazeera America.)

Hecht said the network will have half-hour and hour-long shows, game shows, episodic series shows, and nonfiction programming along with clips shows and user-generated content. Hints as to what the new HLN will look like are already showing up in its programming. Hecht cites as examples using the viral video of a motorist being beaten on New York’s West Side Highway as a way to talk about violence on Dr. Drew on Call, a YouTube video of a Connecticut man giving a tour of his pot farm to discuss marijuana legalization on Nancy Grace’s show, and having a reporter conduct interviews with Seattle Seahawks players via FaceTime during the Super Bowl Media Day. Rather than doing a live show for New Year’s Eve, to cite another example, HLN aired an originally produced special called 50 States, 50 Stories that highlighted the stories behind the most shared videos of the year in each state based primarily on YouTube data.

And, on Monday, HLN plans to begin airing a new show called Right This Minute that will air two 30-minute episodes back-to-back Monday through Thursday evenings at 10 p.m. featuring four anchors who offer commentary on a selection of viral videos.

Overall, the new development slate will start small, with a maximum of four new shows this year, two to three of which will be HLN originals.

While HLN’s primetime lineup will continue to be anchored by Jane Velez-Mitchell, Nancy Grace, and Dr. Drew Pinsky, Hecht does plan changes to the on-air and production staff. Specifically, he is looking for people who have personality, a digital DNA, and are part of the social media generation. More bluntly, what he wants is to hire a bunch of twentysomethings adept at mining the most obscure reaches of the web for material as associate producers and pair them with seasoned journalist who can take their findings and package them editorially for TV. Think of a network workforce populated with teams of Brian Stelters and David Carrs.

“He has to recruit kids to work at the network. The age of the people you have working for you is reflected in the content,” Hirschhorn said. “He can’t just have a bunch of old people interpreting what they think kids want. He has to have people at the center of the scene who know where things are going on a daily basis.”

Super Bowl Media Day FaceTime Interviews. HLN / Via

The good news for HLN is that 18- to 34-year-olds are watching more video than ever — they’re just more likely doing it on something other than a television screen, and more often than not what they’re watching is not a product of a traditional television network. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hecht is well aware that his makeover is going to be met with instant revulsion by these viewers. He knows they will jump all over HLN’s programming if the tone isn’t right, and that its credibility and authority will be under constant scrutiny.

“News shows that target that demo have a certain sensibility,” said Adgate, citing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report as examples. “They have a tongue-in-cheek approach to presenting news. It is done with a wink that shows they are in on the joke.” HLN, of course, needs to have appeal outside the Beltway and beyond the coasts. In Hecht’s vernacular, the network is striving to develop “a voice and point of view that is more Austin and Boston,” which in essence means more populist.

Winning over twentysomethings en mass is going to be a long-term proposition, which is why Hecht will initially define success by the number of what he describes as “millennial-minded” viewers he can convert.

Right now, the average age for HLN viewers is around 50 years old. Hecht’s near-term goal is to shave between 12 to 15 years off that, resulting in an average viewer profile that is around 35 to 38 years old and skews 55% female.

“That’s the generation that has a connection to both old and new media,” said Hecht, adding that they participate in, but are not of, the social media generation.

Aging down the audience will require the institutional muscles of both CNN and parent company Time Warner. Though HLN’s network peer group also includes FOX News and MSNBC, it is hard to overstate just how small it is compared to those networks. Consider, for instance, that while industry research firm SNL Kagan estimates FOX News will collect 99 cents per subscriber per month from pay-TV distributors, CNN 63 cents and MSNBC 22 cents, HLN gets nothing. The network is given away to pay-TV operators for free as part of a bundle with CNN and Time Warner’s other cable networks, just tagging along with its big brothers like an annoying little one nobody wants to play with. According to SNL Kagan, on a cash flow basis FOX News is expected to generate $1.1 billion this year, CNN $337 million, and MSNBC $216 million. HLN, however, a paltry $73 million.

On its own, based on those financials, HLN is at an extreme disadvantage to its competitors in terms of newsgathering resources. And it is actually another factor in the decision to orient the network around social media. The economics of digital media production are different than traditional television production — more crudely, web producers, mobile producers, and app producers work cheap.

Hecht says he plans to operate HLN with a startup mentality, borrowing from his resource-rich corporate siblings whenever possible. The more money and talent CNN devotes to social media newsgathering, the more HLN can share and cross-promote that content to its audience. Outside of CNN, Adgate said he would expect the new look HLN to get heavy promotion on TNT and, in particular, TBS, which features a median viewer age in the thirties, one of the youngest in television, thanks to a programming lineup heavy on comedies like Men at Work, Cougar Town, and Conan.

Still, rebranding a network takes time and rarely goes smoothly.

“Smooth transitions are like science fiction, they don’t exist,” Hirschhorn said. “But you have to go in there, rip the Band-Aid off and weather the storm of criticism from the new viewers you are targeting and the old ones you are confusing.”

Hecht can take solace in knowing that he’s seen a network aimed at 20-year-olds overcome the heavy skepticism it was met with before. In 1981, Hecht was in his late twenties and working as an independent producer when MTV launched. Critics said it was going to fail because, even back then, they claimed twentysomething kids didn’t watch TV.

“We didn’t watch because it wasn’t focused on us,” Hecht said. “Once it was, we watched.”

Will Daenerys Win The War? Her Latest Moves Aren’t Proving Successful

Posted at November 3, 2017 12:07 by network in Uncategorized
Will Daenerys Win The War? Her Latest Moves Aren’t Proving Successful

This post contains spoilers from Season 7, Episode 4.Last week, Jon Snow and Davos Seaworth were in the middle of a less-than-diplomatic exchange with the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen, when Varys came shuffling up to tell her she’d just lost her first battle. This week, things got even more awkward, as the two of them found themselves standing there on the beach when Tyrion and Varys came over to announce she’d lost round 2. Will Daenerys win the war?

Can you blame Davos for trying to get out of the conversation? Tyrion is literally getting accused of treason against her because he doesn’t want to kill his siblings, she looks like she’s about ready to burn them all with dragon fire, she’s so mad. Ushering away Jon Snow before he says something that will really make her mad and head off to start mining seems the smart move.

But oddly enough, Dany isn’t having it. Let’s be clear, that scene in the cave we just saw before she learned the news had Jon turning down bending the knee, . This despite slaying they needed to work together, that he needed her troops to defeat those creatures whose images were painted on the walls. So why is she asking his advice?

Because despite her urges to go all Mad Queen on Westeros and burn their cities until every last one bends the knee, Dany isn’t her father. Nor is she Cersei. But she needs those around her to remind her why she’s not those people.

It would be so easy to just fly across Blackwater Bay and melt the Red Keep to a lump, with Cersei and Tycho inside. But that’s the easy route Cersei took, blowing up the Sept with all her enemies inside. She now rules through fear. And Dany doesn’t want that.


As Jon correctly states, Dany is different. Dany did something magical, amazing, something so different most people can’t believe it. She birthed dragons back into the world. That suggests she is different, that what she offers to the smallfolk in her return to Westeros is a new world order.

It’s what she did in Meereen, she changed the lives of the downtrodden. People, like Jon, want to believe she can do that here, even if he refuses to bend to her. He wants to believe she can be convinced yesterday’s wars don’t matter anymore.


Will Dany listen? Or will she ride out to King’s Landing and burn them all?

10 Curious Facts About Charlie Chaplin

Posted at October 31, 2017 7:19 by network in Pop Culture
10 Curious Facts About Charlie Chaplin

Not only was Charlie Chaplin the first world-famous film comedian, he is one of a handful of people from the silent era still remembered today by even casual movie audiences. From the Western world to Africa to China, he was a sensation.

In the interest of not seeming to engage in reckless hero worship, we should fully concede to his numerous personal failings, like desiring teenage women or pressuring lovers to get abortions. But for the most part, this list is about the odd aspects of his life and career.

10Surprising Vulgarity

Since Chaplin is mostly remembered today for sentimental comedy, it’s worth noting that when he was first becoming world famous in the 1910s, he was considered beneath middle-class sensibilities. Even the famous stylized walk he did as his Tramp character was characterized as “that nasty little walk” in a 1955 novel about perceptions of Chaplin around 1915. People even thought that Chaplin using a cane despite not needing it was debased because he might have used it to lift someone’s skirt. It didn’t help that, at the time, movies in general were considered a low-class, morally dubious form of entertainment.

To be fair, Chaplin did do gags that even today seem a little base, and we’re not just talking about slapstick. For example, in his 1918 film A Dog’s Life, the Tramp’s dog Scraps is digging a hole while the Tramp’s head is near her hind legs. He looks over, gets disgusted by the smell, and lowers the dog’s tail. Even in 1936, by which time Chaplin was in his more respectable period, the Tramp has a scene with a prison chaplain’s wife where he’s audibly trying not to fart and the gurgling of his stomach disturbs her dog. To be fair, such material is part of what made Chaplin’s appeal at the time so universal.

9Blood Test Precedent


In 1942, Chaplin got involved in one of the most scandalous affairs of his life and one of surprising significance. He had a short affair with a woman named Joan Barry while his latest marriage was just ending. Chaplin broke it off quickly. In 1943, though, Barry returned with a claim that Chaplin had fathered a child with her, and a paternity suit followed. At first, Chaplin won the case in 1944, when a blood test showed the child was not his.

But during a retrial in 1945, prosecuting attorney Joseph Scott was able to make a case that blood tests were inadmissible evidence. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, Chaplin had to pay tens of thousands of dollars in child support. Protests over the case instigated legislation which made sure that blood tests would be valid evidence in future paternity disputes.

8Smuggled Film

Chaplin’s first directorial smash was the 1921 film The Kid. The film has since become largely remembered for the child labor law brought about as a result of Chaplin’s child co-star Jackie Coogan losing most of the money he would have made from the film to his parents. Today, the film might not sit very comfortably with audiences, considering moments such as the Tramp flirting with an angel played by a 12-year-old actress named Lita Grey. (Chaplin would later accidentally impregnate Grey and marry her when she was supposed to star in The Gold Rush as a 15-year-old.) Even the ending—where the Tramp kisses the waif he’s rescued from the dreaded workhouses—might evoke the wrong kind of laughs today. At the time, it was an undisputed monetary success and launched Chaplin’s career in feature-length films.

But one of the more curious things that happened in the production was Chaplin’s smuggling. First, when he finished filming in California and began editing, Chaplin was also beginning divorce proceedings with his first wife, Mildred Harris. Concluding that his wife would want to seize the film he’d spent $500,000 shooting, Chaplin hit on a novel solution: He put the 122,000 meters (400,000 ft) of film in coffee cans, smuggled it to Salt Lake City—where it was beyond the reach of California divorce court—and began cutting the film in a hotel. Later, he had to smuggle the film to New Jersey for its final edit. During his prolonged smuggling operation, Chaplin traveled under an alias, because he was worried the courts would get him sooner or later.

7Sound: Nemesis And Friend

Years after Al Jolson’s 1927 hit The Jazz Singer convinced the film industry that sound was the way of the future, Chaplin stuck to making silent movies. Indeed, such was his disdain for the medium that in the opening of his beloved 1931 film City Lights, he lampooned the whole notion of sound-sync dialogue by having characters speak in kazoo noises. By the time he made his last mostly silent film Modern Times in 1936, he was pretty much the last commercial holdout of his era.

In 1942, though, Chaplin apparently became newly enraptured with sound. He took one of his old classics, The Gold Rush, and reedited it to include his own narration. Such was his preference for the version with sound that he didn’t bother to renew the copyright on the silent version, allowing it to lapse into public domain. All of his films after The Great Dictator were notably “talky” and heavily laden with storytelling that emphasized dialogue over visuals. There’s a lesson in that for the artists out there: If you’re the one person sticking to a particular aesthetic belief, you might find you’re denying yourself a lot of possibilities.

6His ‘Best’ Movie

The critical consensus regarding Chaplin’s films says that his silent movies were his best—some of the best of all time, in fact. For example, the American Film Institute’s ranking of the 100 best films of the 20th century puts City Lights at No. 11, The Gold Rush at No. 58, and Modern Times at No. 79. You’d think Chaplin would have considered one of those his best.

In fact, Chaplin thought his best movie was one most fans haven’t even heard of: His 1967 film A Countess from Hong Kong—the only color film Chaplin made. Starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren, it’s essentially a bedroom farce where Loren plays a Russian lady who is to be forced into prostitution until she finds a way out of it by blackmailing Brando’s character to help her escape to America. Critics and audiences disagreed immensely with Chaplin on the film’s quality, and it became a widely panned flop. The only successful aspect of the film was Petula Clark’s performance of “This is My Song,” which reached the No. 1 spot on the British charts (and was written by Chaplin).

5The ‘Communist’ Kick

Beginning in 1946, Chaplin was under official scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on suspicion of being a crypto-communist. So exhaustive was the investigation that the FBI reached out to MI5—their equivalent in the UK—to find evidence of communist sympathies or, failing that, a reason to deport Chaplin. Although MI5 found no such evidence and the FBI itself found no evidence that he was performing espionage or was a danger to American interests, Chaplin was still denied reentry to the US in 1952.

In the process of trying to find something to deny Chaplin reentry, something surprisingly banal—even by the notoriously hysterical standards of the Red Scare—was hit upon. In 1917, in his short film The Immigrant, the Tramp is part of a crowd of mistreated immigrants loosely tied to a wall. As an immigration officer walks by, the Tramp kicks him lightly while facing away from him. This was particularly interesting to FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who used it as a sign that Chaplin was unfit to reside in America more than 30 years later.

4Israel Thornstein: Frenchman


During the aforementioned investigation, a weird rumor about the iconic comedian came to light. Since the 1910s, it had been rumored that Chaplin’s real name was Israel Thornstein and that he was born across the Channel somewhere in France. Of course, evidence of this was nonexistent. However, evidence of something else was also found to be nonexistent: birth records of Chaplin being born in Britain. Indeed, although Chaplin immigrated to the United States in 1910, there weren’t any immigration records found for him prior to 1920. However, that was more likely evidence of the unreliability of record keeping at the time rather than evidence of any deceptions.

So why the name Israel Thornstein specifically—one which doesn’t sound the least bit French? It was due to the persistent misconception that Chaplin was a Jew. Notably, Chaplin reacted to the rumor by casting himself as a heroic Jewish barber in The Great Dictator (pictured above). The one time Chaplin played a French person, he was a murderous thief Monsieur Verdoux in the 1947 film of the same name. That might give some indication as to which of those two Chaplin would rather be thought of as.

3Deleted Scenes: The Movie

In 1918, Chaplin decided to end his relationship with Essanay Studios and strike out as an independent filmmaker. Considering that he was still world famous at the time, there was huge demand for more of his films, even though he’d already made dozens of them for the studio by that time. Essanay came up with a terrible solution, decades ahead of its time: They took a bunch of discarded shots and even parts of an unfinished feature-length Chaplin film called Life. They brought in some actors to imitate the famous comedy troupe the “Keystone Cops” for a few connective scenes. The end result was called Triple Trouble.

Chaplin was furious that scenes he considered so embarrassingly bad that he’d wanted them destroyed were being screened for the public and denounced the film in the press. Critics, for the most part, agreed with Chaplin, and the film was a bomb. Historians noted that Chaplin listed the film as one of his credits in his 1964 autobiography and took that as evidence that he’d gotten over his grievances. It’s also possible that Chaplin had simply forgotten what Triple Trouble was by then.

2Fake Chaplins

In the late 1910s, a weird minor film genre of “people pretending to be Charlie Chaplin” sprung up. It wasn’t just a matter of people trying to copy his style to promote themselves. These actors would be dressed and made to look as much like Chaplin as possible, and film distributors explicitly said that the actor was Chaplin himself. These performers included Billie Ritchie, Stan Jefferson, and—most notably—Billy West, who did it for years.

Critics have said that while West managed to copy most of Chaplin’s mannerisms, the problem was that his movies never tried to do anything to make his bootleg version of the Tramp sympathetic, such as doing any sort of emoting. Instead, he just imitated Chaplin’s gags and walks. Also notable about West was that his antagonist in many of the faux-Chaplin shorts was played by Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy fame), essentially copying the sort of role that usually went to Eric Campbell in the real Chaplin’s movies.

1Disney’s Savior


One of the more significant ways Chaplin’s influence is felt today is due to his part in the success of the 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That film was largely responsible for the Walt Disney Company becoming as powerful as it is today. It had a record-breaking gross and was the first hit feature-length animation. However, there was considerable concern that Disney would not be able to pull off a feature-length film. Beyond simply laughing at Mickey Mouse, would audiences be able to empathize with a drawing of Snow White? Would they be scared by spooky drawings of trees? It was going to be a huge gamble for the company.

Chaplin and Walt Disney had become friends and business associates by then, and Chaplin was fully encouraging Walt to go ahead with the production. When it was completed, Chaplin assisted Disney’s accountants with his own records from Modern Times, in order to get proper pricing for the film as the company RKO distributed it. Disney was effusive about Chaplin’s assistance, saying that without it they would have been “sheep in a den of wolves.”

Perhaps Chaplin would have been a bit more hesitant to aid Disney if he’d known what was coming. Within a decade of Chaplin helping to launch the Disney brand, Disney would be testifying before Congress regarding his belief that there was communist influence in Hollywood. By 1947, Disney would be supporting the sort of blacklist that got Chaplin essentially banished from America. That’s showbiz friendship for you.

Donald Glover Is Not An Expert On Monetary Economics

Posted at October 30, 2017 16:55 by network in Business
Donald Glover Is Not An Expert On Monetary Economics

In an interview with Time promoting his new album, Because the Internet, rapper and actor Donald Glover (who also goes by Childish Gambino) said, “We should all sit down as a planet and be like, okay, these are the rules now, because of the internet … We should definitely start looking at currency on the Internet.” By which he meant, of course, Bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency that’s has caught the fancy of the Winklevoss twins, Silicon Valley, and a huge portion of Reddit.

But then things get a bit…off:

“Yeah, I know a lot of people are skeptical, but I feel like if everything’s going to live online, why not bitcoins? Being backed by gold seems very old and nostalgic to me. Being backed to a bitcoin, which takes time to actually make and there’s this equation that has to be done, that feels realer to me and makes more sense.”

This is one half entirely wrong, one half right, and all a bit confused.

First, the entirely wrong: No major currencies, and certainly not the dollar, are backed by gold. Gold-backing is indeed “very old and nostalgic.” In the U.S., the last remnant of the gold standard was tossed away more than 40 years ago when Richard Nixon in 1971 got rid of the dollar’s gold peg. Starting in 1944, foreign central banks could always exchange gold for dollars at $35 per ounce, underpinning a system of fixed exchange rates between world currencies.

But the real departure of the U.S. from the gold standard came even earlier in 1933. Soon after talking office, Franklin Roosevelt used an executive order to forbid the “hoarding” of gold by individuals and halted the ability to exchange dollars for gold or gold for dollars by U.S. citizens. Many economists credit this move, which lowered the value of the dollar, with jump-starting economic growth in the worst days of the Great Depression.

But where Glover is right is that Bitcoin requires “this equation that has to be done.” This is accurate: more Bitcoin are produced when computers do progressively more complicated calculations. Roughly, the computers that complete the calculations are rewarded with newly “mined” Bitcoin.

But moving the economy to a currency whose value has shot up over 7,000% in a year and can shift 10–20% in a single day? That “feels realer” to Glover, but it might not make a ton of sense.

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