Caveat Emptor

Art Bell’s deep voice called out a familiar late-night invitation, “East of the Rockies, you’re on the air…”

“Hello, this is Chuck calling from Houston.  Well, I was out in my back yard looking at the comet through my telescope and I was wondering, does anyone know what that thing is next to it?”
“I’m assuming you mean the Hale-Bopp comet, Chuck?  What is it that you see?”

“I’m not sure, Art.  Astronomy is a hobby of mine and I’m always out looking whenever there are events like this… There’s a very bright light next to Hale-Bopp that, as far as I know, shouldn’t be there… it has sort of a ring around it, like Saturn… but it’s not Saturn and it’s not a star… it’s very large.”
“Chuck, this is the first I’ve heard of this, perhaps if I had a picture to look at, I might be able…”

“Oh, I’ve got a picture, Art.  I can send it to you.”
“By all means, please do and I’ll put it up on my website, Chuck.  Interesting… an object traveling along with a comet…”

Finger-pointing and argument continues today as to just who bears what blame for the tragedy that ensued several months later.  A radio host had given forum to an amateur astronomer with a question; who was responsible for vetting the hoaxers that turned it into something much bigger?  Charlatans have been pushing conspiracy theories on the gullible for fun and profit for many years prior to this, was this instance any different?
After all, Marshall Applewhite, leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult which committed group suicide on March 26, 1997 in hopes of being reincarnated onto the UFO hiding in Hale-Bopp’s wake, had already purchased Alien Abduction Insurance a full month before the photo was even published.


An Allegory Takes Flight

Ten days previously, there’d been seven ships, forty-nine days out of Batavia, en route to the Netherlands via the Cape of Good Hope.  But by the end of that day, three of them had simply disappeared, never to be heard from again.  The remaining four tried to stay within sight but the cyclone was beyond anything the Dutch East Indiamen had ever weathered.  The next day, without sails or rudder, the Arnhem found her hull being torn open upon the shoals of the Cargados Carajos.  The longboat went over the side and 108 desperate men piled in.

For nine days, they rowed and sailed as best they could to the southwest, following the white line of the reefs.  When they finally reached the shorelines of the island of Mauritius, only 80 of them remained.  Many died of injuries, some from starvation, others from drinking salt water.  A few had simply gone mad and were thrown overboard.
The castaways worked to make a life on the island, not knowing how long they’d be marooned.  Fortunately, Mauritius was lush, with plenty of fresh water, shelter, and food.  They broke up into groups and spread out, but maintaining regular contact in case of a passing ship.  On May 22, 1662, at the end of their third month on the island, an English ship was flagged down and they were rescued.

This account of shipwreck and survival would never have stood out from the dozens of others that occurred that year were it not for the journal kept by a sailor from the Arnhem in which he described how he and his companions would catch and eat a group of squat flightless birds they encountered on a small islet on the west side of Mauritius: the last reliable account of a live Dodo bird.


Man Bites Dog

On Friday afternoon, May 19, 1995, Patrick stopped by his bank on the way to the post office.  He laughed to himself as he inserted a deposit envelope into the ATM.  “I’d love to see the teller’s face when she gets this…”
Over the weekend, he thought about the deposit he made, endorsed with a smiley-face instead of a signature.  “I’m sure I’ll be getting a call from them on Monday… I’ll feign surprise when they tell me the news…”
Monday came and went without a call and Patrick simply shrugged it off.  “There’s no way… I’m sure they just round-filed it…”
Two days later, Patrick needed to withdraw some cash and stopped again at the ATM, no thought of the deposit he’d made the previous week.  After collecting his $20, the receipt buzzed out and he didn’t take two steps before stopping.  Double-checking the available balance in his account, his knees practically buckled beneath him.
Patrick knew that he had no moral right to the $95, 093.35 that First Interstate Bank mistakenly allowed him to deposit into his account via a “non-negotiable” personalized junk mail check, but he soon found out he did have a legal right.  And when the bank seized his account and began threatening him with hellfire, he’d already moved the money, via cashier’s check, to a safety deposit box ironically within the same bank.
In a time when governments have joined in open corporate partnership with banks “too big to fail,” with these same banks subsequently foreclosing on customers whose future tax dollars were pillaged to keep them in business, it’s almost with a morose delectation that we can secretly enjoy hearing of the little guy “sticking it to the man.”
Patrick Combs made them sweat it out for four months but returned every penny.


The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind

On July 26, 1954, a Mongol warrior rode bareback through the canyon lands of the Escalante Desert in southern Utah.  Jamuga had just scouted out a caravan and was now trying to convince his friend Temujin to not go through with his plans for attack.  But his friend would hear no such counsel.

But before Genghis Kahn could finish his scene, a hot wind began to blow and a massive dust storm rose up, choking out everyone on the set.  Director Dick Powell called a halt to filming and the actors scrambled for cover behind the tarps set up specifically for this regular occurrence.  After a short lunch of slightly metallic-tasting locally-grown produce and beef, they were ready to shoot again one of the most important scenes in the Howard Hughes-funded epic, “The Conqueror.”  When filming was finished the next month, Hughes spared no expense in shipping 60 tons of sand back to Hollywood to ensure that scenes which needed to be re-shot were authentic to the original.
Of the 220 cast and crew who worked on the colossal flop (not counting the hundreds of additional unnamed extras and contractors), 91 of them were destined to contract cancer, including John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, Agnes Moorehead, and Susan Hayward.  Under normal circumstances, 30 would have been the statistical probability.
Years later, a spokesman from the Defense Nuclear Agency, which was responsible for the dozen nuclear tests done in the area the year before, was asked about the toxic conditions at that site: