Thursday, June 30, 2022

How Tolkien’s Writings Were a Mythology for the History of England

The writings of J.R.R. Tolkien are widely read and revered by both his home country of England and around the globe. A BBC poll found Lord of the Rings to be the “Nation’s best-loved book” and Amazon customers worldwide in a 1999 survey rated it as their favorite book of the entire second millennium. Given this enthusiasm, it’s no surprise that even many casual fans of the film adaptations and the books they’re based on are at least vaguely aware that Tolkien had set out to write a mythology for England. But they’re probably a bit vague on the details of how exactly stories about fury-footed little folk from a fantasy land called “The Shire” were supposed to be the English equivalent of Odysseus in Greek mythology sailing around the Greek world or Romulus in Roman mythology founding the city of Rome.

Fortunately for us, there’s a long trail of evidence regarding Tolkien’s thinking throughout the entire course of his composition. Per Tom Shippey in his book The Road to Middle-earth, the two things that separated Tolkien from other authors were “the very long gestation period of all his works, and his deep reluctance ever to discard a draft.” From the sound of it, Smaug the dragon was more than a bit autobiographical, albeit instead of hoarding dwarven gold and jewels, Tolkien hoarded moldy manuscripts from before the first World War even.

This thankfully allowed Tolkien’s son, Christopher, to posthumously publish such a veritable treasure trove in his twelve-book series The History of Middle-earth, which lays out in exacting detail the documentary history of his father’s poetry and prose about what would one day be called Middle-earth, going back decades before the Oxford don ever scribbled on a scrap of paper the iconic opening line “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” But given that Christopher’s History is several times the length of the Lord of the Rings and is padded by many manuscripts of minute variation from one another, far fewer fans have trudged through this journey from English pseudo-myths to high fantasy epic than have walked with the Fellowship from Bag End to Barad-dûr, so we thought we’d hop on the backs of eagles to give you a bird’s eye view of just what Tolkien was getting at.

Tolkien’s reason for wanting to write a mythology for the English people is that virtually nothing remains of the oral traditions told by the Anglo-Saxons prior to their migration from continental Europe to the isle of Britain starting in the fifth century. The causes for this are multifaceted, and include Christianization stamping out pagan traditions, Alfred the Great’s redirection of learning to Latin texts of non-native provenance, and the Normans’ supplantation of English with French for the upper class following Hastings, among other factors. Even Old English writings from after the migration, circa the seven kingdoms, are sparse.

Thus Tolkien lamented in a letter to Milton Waldman, “[English literature] was from early days grieved by the poverty of my beloved country; it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands.”

There is Beowulf, a poem with which Tolkien worked extensively, personally producing a translation and a widely-read essay entitled The Monster and the Critics, but apart from that no other longform Anglo-Saxon narratives from either pre- or post-migration survive. And even if Beowulf the poem is Anglo-Saxon, Beowulf the protagonist is not, being a Geat warrior whose heroics take place in Denmark and Scandinavia – hardly a basis for an English mythology.

A similar problem plagues the legends of King Arthur. The literary figure of Arthur is of Welsh derivation, and if there’s any historical figure behind Arthur, it is of a Romano-Brit who partially succeeded in repelling the Anglo-Saxon invasion at the Battle of Badon Hill. So despite the popularity of Arthuriana in the English courts of the High Middle Ages, the ancestors of the English are the baddies of the stories. There’s a reason it’s called the Matter of Britain and not the Matter of England.

So if there was to be a mythology of England, Tolkien was just going to have to roll up his sleeves and write it himself. But he wasn’t about to just pull shit out of his arse. All of the earliest aspects of his Legenarium Tolkien got either from what little Old English writing remains or tales common to Germanic and Norse worlds which Tolkien could accredit to the Anglo-Saxons originally. The genesis of his mythology came about in 1913 when Tolkien happened across a line in Christ I, a collection of poems found in one of the only Old English codices, the Exeter Book. It read:

“Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middangeard monnum sended.”

(“Hail Earendel brightest of angels,

over Middle Earth to men sent.”)

To Tolkien, the fact that nothing was known about Earendel apart from this appearance in one of the few extant pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry made him a perfect foundation on which to build an English Mythology. By 1914, Tolkien had surmised from philological comparison that the word Earendel had astronomical connotations which he guessed related to Venus, and as such wrote a poem about a celestial mariner navigating the night sky entitled “The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star.” Predating The Hobbit by twenty-three years, this was the first fiction he ever wrote set in Middle-earth, and despite the plastic nature of the narrative, Éarendel would remain a constant fixture, remaining more or less unchanged from Tolkien’s original conception down to his inclusion in The Two Towers, where Frodo calls out “Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!” “Hail Eärendil, Brightest of Stars,” an obvious callback to the lines in Christ I.

The appropriation of Eärendil from surviving Anglo-Saxon sources established the modus operandi by which Tolkien would construct his English mythology, originally to be titled The Book of Lost Tales. It centered around the story of Eärendil and the three “Great Tales” – Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, and The Fall of Gondolin, all of which were begun between 1917 and 1925, and which survived through substantial revisions and rewrites to become referenced in The Lord of the Rings. In Fellowship of the Ring, Elrond lists Turin as an Elf-friend of old, Aragorn sings sorrowfully of his ancestor Beren, and Frodo receives the shortsword Sting, forged in Gondolin before its fall. But with respect to Tolkien’s English mythology, what’s of note in the Book of Lost Tales is not the tales themselves, but rather their framing device.

Tolkien’s persisting vision was of a mariner with connection to the Anglo-Saxons washing up on the shores of an unknown island in the west and there finding the fairies, hearing the Tales firsthand from them and setting them down in The Golden Book of Tavrobel, copies of which would be transmitted down the centuries and serve as the source of Tolkien’s quote-unquote “translation.” (He later employed the same conceit with the Red Book of Westmarch, the writing ascribed to Bilbo, Sam, and Frodo from which he “translated” the Lord of the Rings.) However, the particular identity of this mariner changed over the years, and is the primary alteration which denotes the different stages of the composition.

The first version of the mariner was named Eriol, but like every character of Tolkien’s he has about a dozen different names: he was originally born Ottor, called himself Wæfre, and nicknamed by the fairies Angol “after the regions of his home.” This is a reference by Tolkien to Anglia, the part of the Danish peninsula from which the Angles originally derived, and for which they were possibly named. Elsewhere, Tolkien clarifies that Eriol was from “the region of the northern part of the Great Lands, ‘between the seas.’” The Great Lands being continental Europe, this places his home on the Danish peninsula – the thin angle of land between the North Sea and the Baltic. Far from taking place “once upon a time, in a land far, far away,” or in some separate fantasy world, the first stage of Tolkien’s mythology was conceived of having precise positioning in our world geographically and historically.

Eriol himself lived at about the early fifth century, and was the father of two sons, Hengest and Horsa. While Eriol is an entirely fictitious creation of Tolkien’s, Hengist and Horsa are, like Eärendil, pulled from pre-existing sources, being referenced by both Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain (our primary source of early British Arthuriana) and Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda (the primary text for Norse mythology). But the earliest attestation of Hengist and Horsa comes from the eighth century historian Bede, according to whom the brothers were the first chieftains of the Angles, Jutes, and Saxons living in England. The venerable Bede, despite his Christian sainthood, traced their descent just several generations back to pagan god Woden, so the brothers lived along the blurred edge between mythology and history – a perfect place for Tolkien to fill in the gaps.

Unique to the first stage of composition was the idea that, Tol Eressëa, island Eriol sailed to was the isle of Britain itself. Per Shippey in The Road to Middle-earth, “One extremely unexpected aspect of Tolkien’s early writings is his determined identification of England with Elfland… he persisted in trying to equate the two places. Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Island, is England; Kortirion, the town of the exiles of Kôr, is Warwick; Tavrobel on Tol Eressëa ‘would afterward be the Staffordshire village of Great Haywood.’”

In addition to the elvish appellation Tol Eressëa, Tolkien used the Old English frase se uncuþa holm, “the unknown island.” Great Britain was unknown to men because, within the mythology, it was located at the time far to the west, at the other end of the Atlantic, and thus was never settled by the Picts or Celts or Romans, only the fairies. It was only later in Eriol’s life that the gods quite literally dragged it eastward near to Europe, breaking off Ireland in the process. When that happened, evil men and orcs from the continent invaded the island of Britain, and it fell to Eriol’s sons Hengist and Horsa and the clans to which they were chieftains to conquer it, making the Angles more or less the aboriginal men of England. They and their descendants were then friends to the few fairies remaining.

Tolkien summed the matter as such: “Thus it is that through Eriol and his sons the Engle (i.e. the English) have the true tradition of the fairies, of which the Iras and Wealas (the Irish and Welsh) tell only garbled things.” This desire for the English to have the “true tradition of the fairies” explains many of the narrative choices regarding the story of Eriol: his nickname becoming the ethnonym for the English people, him recording in Old English the only firsthand account of the fairies’ Tales, and the Anglo-Saxons not being invaders but liberators, freeing the fairies from men who themselves were trying to conquer the island.

But Tolkien was unsatisfied with this scheme, and made a major revision to his mythology. Thus, in the second stage of the composition the mariner became Ælfwine, but in true Tolkien fashion he had other names besides, including Wídlást, Eldairon, and Lúthien – the last one the elves named him because he came from Luthany, that is, Great Britain. Instead of being the man to discover the British isles, Ælfwine would instead simply be the first in many millennia to travel to Tol Eressëa – still a lonely island far to the west, but no longer identified with England itself. Consequently, Tolkien set Ælfwine’s story long after the Anglo-Saxons settled in England – specifically, the eleventh century, circa the Norman invasion, as it is they who drove him off, forcing him to sail westward.

Nevertheless, the Ælfwine story is no less insistent on the Anglo-Saxon’s special relationship to England. Ælfwine is from the outset described as a descendent of Ing, the King of Luthany many ages past, who ruled the first men to live there and was a friend to the elves, accepting them as refugees when they were fleeing the continent, thus simultaneously establishing a connection between the elves and England. King Ing and his people later set sail to Tol Eressëa to dwell with the elves there, but were blown eastward and shipwrecked, with Ing alone surviving on a raft, which washed up among the East Danes. The Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frissians all took him as their king, and called themselves the Ingwaiwar after him. He did not die, but in old age sailed westward and was seen no more, but his people inherited from him a true knowledge of the elves and gods and the rightful inheritance of his old dominion. Over the centuries, seven different tribes of men invaded Britain, each increasingly more hostile to the elves there, culminating with the sixth tribe, the Romans, who didn’t even believe the elves existed. But the seventh tribe, the Ingwaiwar, were not foriegn invaders, but rather returning to a land that was already their own.

Like Eriol’s nickname Angol, the name Ing and its derivation Ingwaiwar are obvious faux-ethnonyms for the English people purportedly derived from them in Tolkien’s telling. But he didn’t invent Ing wholecloth. The name appears in the Old English Rune Poem as part of the following lines:

“Ing wæs ærest mid East-Denum

   gesewen secgun, oþ he siððan est.”

“Ing was first seen by men among the East Danes,

Until he departed eastward over the waves.”

This rather obscure reference Tolkien connected to the story of King Sheave, a legendary ancestor attributed to various North Sea peoples. The Old English poem Widsith lists Sceafa Longbeardum as leader of the Lombards, while the chronicler Æthelweard relates Scef to the ancestors of King Æthelwulf of Wessex. However, the fullest telling of the tale comes from William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum:

“Sceaf; who, as some affirm, was driven on a certain island in Germany, called Scandza… a little boy in a skiff, without any attendant, asleep, with a handful of corn at his head, whence he was called Sceaf; and, on account of his singular appearance, being well received by the men of that country, and carefully educated, in his riper age he reigned in a town which was called Slaswic, but at present Haithebi; which country, called old Anglia, whence the Angles came into Britain, is situated between the Saxons and the Goths.”

The writer of Beowulf begins the poem by referencing the story of Sheave, this time as the ancestor of the Danish Scyldings. Per Tolkien’s own translation of the opening lines regarding the funeral rites of his burial to sea: “[Scyld Scefing] who was first found forlorn… With lesser gifts no whit did they adorn him, with treasures of that people, than did those that in the beginning sent him forth alone over the waves, a little child… none can report in truth, nor lords in their halls, nor mighty men beneath the sky, who received that load.”

While Tolkien’s King Ing came to the Angles and other tribes as a grown man and not a young boy, he otherwise perfectly fits the pattern of a mysterious man from somewhere west over the waves whom the tribes take as their king, and in either old age or death send him back on a boat to whence he came.

Even after the second stage of composition, when Tolkien had abandoned the framed format of The Book of Lost Tales instead for the more straightforward Silmarillion, he continued to try to integrate the story of Sheave even more explicitly. Tolkien had come to an agreement with his friend and fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis that each should write a science fiction story; the latter would write about space travel, while the former about time travel. Lewis succeeded on his end, publishing Out of the Silent Planet in 1937, the first book in what would become his Space Trilogy. Tolkien only ever produced a few chapters of his time-travel tale, to be titled The Lost Road, but what he did produce points to a clear continuation of his mythologizing the history and pre-history of the English people and their Anglo-Saxon ancestors.

What we know of The Lost Road is that Tolkien planned for each chapter to be about a different set of father and son situated at different points in history, but all of whom share the same meanings to their names: “Bliss-friend” for the fathers and “Elf-friend” for the sons. Circa 915 A.D., this pairing was to be Eädwine and Ælfwine, the latter repeating much of the same role as he would have in The Book of Lost Tales. However, before ever setting sail on his voyage to the West, The Lost Road starts Ælfwine as a minstrel asked to sing to King Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great. Ælfwine through some strange inspiration improvised a song about Sheave. This lengthy lay was additionally accompanied by a prose retelling of the tale, the text of which is virtually plagiarized from the prologue to Beowulf.

Of note here is that in this stage of the composition, King Sheave is not merely an inspiration for King Ing, but himself an actual part of the narrative. This was to remain Tolkien’s intention as late as his composition of The Notion Club Papers, a second attempt at a time-travel story, this time about a fictionalized version of his Oxford literary society, the Inklings. As with The Lost Road, the narrative is largely concerned with connecting modern-day Englishmen, by way of Anglo-Saxons and older ancestors, back to the time of Tolkien’s mythology. Written during a hiatus between The Two Towers and The Return of the King, The Notion Club Papers were to show an indirect but definite line between the England of the present period and ultimately the Númenóreans, the mighty men from an island in the West, from whom Aragon descended. This would have closely integrated the narrative of The Lord of the Rings with the mythological history he had been constructing for the English people.

Tolkien never got to complete his mythology of England. He was, like his autobiographical protagonist in the allegorical Leaf by Niggle, always niggling, making continuous adjustments and focusing on fleshing out details instead of ever finishing his magnum opus. Even after the publication of the Lord of the Rings up until his death, he was working on potentially major revisions to the Silmarillion and other stories set in the First Age. But thanks to his son Christopher Tolkien, who continued to edit and posthumously publish every one of his father’s writings, finally finishing the lifelong task mere months before he himself died on January 16th of this year at the age of 95, we’re able to see clearly the connection between Tolkien’s fictitious fantasy stories and the real remaining fragments of the lost mythology of the Angles and their ancestors. Like looking through a palantir, we see through the various versions of the Book of Lost Tales and The Lost Road the ancient legends of Eärendil, Ing, Hengist, Horsa, and Sheave.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

In the early stage of composition in which Eriol was the father of Hengest and Horsa, Tolkien names the father of Eriol as Eoh, an Old English word for “horse,” explaining the sons were so named “to avenge Eoh.” This is reference to the fact that Hengest in Old English means “stallion,” while Horsa, as you could probably guess just by hearing it, is another word meaning “horse.” Apparently the Anglo-Saxons had more words for “horse” than the Inuet allegedly have for “snow,” because Tolkien was able to use yet more words meaning equine to name Marcho and Blanco, the two Hobbit brothers who lead a migration westward over the water, with three tribes of Hobbits – the Harfoots, Stoors and Fallohides – setting out from Bree and crossing the Brandywine river to settle the Shire. The story of Marcho and Blanco parallels that of Hengest and Horsa, the brothers who led the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes across the North Sea to settle England. The Shire is, geographically, the English countryside, with Tolkien writing in a letter that Hobbiton was at about the latitude of Oxford.

#2) C.S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength, the third book in his Space Trilogy, specifically name drops Númenor, writing, “[Ransom] thought that Merlin’s art was the last survival of something older and different––something brought to Western Europe after the fall of Numinor and going back to an era in which the general relations of mind and matter on this planet had been other than those we know… But if the only possible attraction of Bragdon lay in its association with the last vestiges of Atlantean magic, this told the Company something else.” Lewis had heard Tolkien read aloud the manuscripts of The Lost Road and other writings regarding the Second Age of Middle-earth, so was well aware that Tolkien was rewriting the Atlantis myth and calling the island Númenor.

“Númenórë” is the high Elvish word meaning “Westerness.” Like everything under Anor in Middle-earth, it has many, many names. For the time after it had already sank beneath the waves, Tolkien decided it should earn an appellation meaning “downfallen.” He translated this into his already extensive Elvish language, and by happy coincidence, according to the rules of his Elvish grammar, the name turned out to be “Atalantë.”

Expand for References

Works Cited/Referenced/Researched

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. 1955

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Book of Lost Tales 1. Christopher Tolkien, editor. 1983

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Book of Lost Tales Part Two. Christopher Tolkien, editor. 1984

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lost Road and Other Writings. Christopher Tolkien, editor. 1987

Tolkien, J.R.R. Sauron Defeated. Christopher Tolkien, editor. 1992

Tolkien, J.R.R. Morgoth’s Ring. Christopher Tolkien, editor. 1993

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fall of Arthur. Christopher Tolkien, editor. 2014

Tolkien, J.R.R. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. Christopher Tolkien, editor. 2015

Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-earth. Revised Edition. 1982, 2005

Lewis, C.S. That Hideous Strength. 1945

The Inklings & King Arthur. Sorina Higgins, editor. 2017

Birzer, Bradley J. Tolkien & Anglo-Saxon England: 2019.

Cook, Simon J. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lost English Mythology.

Cook, Simon J. Tolkien’s English Mythology. 

Cooper, Callista (5 December 2005). “Epic trilogy tops favourite film poll”. ABC News Online

O’Hehir, Andrew (4 June 2001). “The book of the century”. Salon.

The post How Tolkien’s Writings Were a Mythology for the History of England appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Matthew Theriault - June 30, 2022 at 05:11PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

How the Whole ‘Nigerian Prince’ Scam Got Started

Does the following sound familiar to you?

Dear Sir,

 Although I know you only from good references of your honesty, my sad situation compels me to reveal you an important affair in which you can procure a modest fortune saving at the same time that of my darling daughter.

 Before being imprisoned here, I was established as a banker in Russia as you will see by the enclosed article about me of many English newspapers which have published my arrest in London.

 I beseech you to help me to obtain a sum of 480,000 dollars I have in America and to come here to raise the seizure of my baggage paying to the registrar of the court, the expenses of my trial and recover my portmanteau containing a secret pocket where I have hidden the document indispensable to recover said sum.

As a reward I will give up to you the third part, viz., 160,000 dollars. I cannot receive your answer in the prison, but you must send a cablegram to a person of my confidence who will deliver it to me.

 Awaiting your cable to instruct you in all my secret, I am sir,…”

 You will likely recognize this highly dubious communication as a ‘Nigerian Prince’ scam email, several of which are likely cluttering up your inbox at this very moment. If so, then you would only be half-right, for this particular scam message actually dates back all the way to 1910. For while unscrupulous foreign scammers luring unwary marks with promises of vast fortunes might seem like a recent phenomenon, this type of confidence trick has been around for quite some time. This is the long and shady history of the Spanish Prisoner swindle, the original Nigerian Prince scam.

Like its more famous descendant, the Spanish Prisoner was a type of advance-fee scam, in which the con artist convinces the mark to hand over a smaller sum of money with the promise of eventually receiving a much larger sum. There are countless variations of this basic con, the simplest of which is the “pigeon drop” or “Spanish handkerchief.” In this con, the con artist and a compatriot trick their mark into stumbling upon a large sum of supposedly lost money. They then convince the mark that they can all claim equal shares of the money if they each put up some of their own money as a show of good faith. Once the mark has handed over their money, the con artists hand them an envelope containing their share of the found money and depart. The envelope, of course, contains nothing but shredded paper or other worthless material, and by the time the mark discovers this, the con artists are long gone. This classic scam was famously portrayed in the opening of the 1973 film The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

Another common variant of the advance-fee scam is the so-called “black money” or “wash wash” con. In this scam, the con artist, posing as a corrupt businessperson or government official, approaches the mark with a large number of banknotes which have been stained by ink in a robbery or dyed black to smuggle them through customs, rendering them worthless. Thankfully, the con artist has discovered a mixture of chemicals which can wash the bills clean, and proceeds to demonstrate by using a small vial of said mixture to clean a sample bill. Unfortunately, the con artist informs the mark, they have run out of cleaning chemicals, but if the mark advances them the money needed to buy more, they will agree to share a portion of the cleaned bills. In reality, the supposedly “stained” bills are nothing more than banknote-sized pieces of black construction paper, while the sample bill has been treated with a chemicals that turn colourless when combined, such as Iodine and Vitamin C. And once the mark hands over their money, neither it nor the stained bills are ever seen again. While typically a street-level con, the black-money scam has been committed on an international scale to surprisingly great effect. In March 2004, the BBC reported the arrest of Monsuro Adeko, a Nigerian fraudster who used the black money scam to swindle three prominent businessmen in the United States, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands out of some $4.3 million dollars.

The Spanish Prisoner scam, by contrast, was always carried out by correspondence, though the setup was no less elaborate. In a typical Spanish Prisoner letter, the scammer claims to be a wealthy foreign nobleman imprisoned for political reasons. They go on to reveal that they are in possession of a vast fortune, but are unable to access it on account of being imprisoned. But if the mark forwards them a small sum in advance, they will be able to bribe their way out of prison, recover the fortune, and smuggle themselves out of the country, whereupon they will share a large portion of said fortune with the mark as a show of gratitude. In many cases the scammer further claims to be a distant relative of the mark, while in others they are unable to reveal their true identity for fear of repercussions and are corresponding through a trusted associate. This excuse is used to explain why the letter’s return address is a regular house or apartment and not a prison. Most letters also include deliberately misspelled words or “foreign” turns of phrase, adding further credibility to the scammer’s story. But sometimes scammers would get rather carried away, straying far beyond the basic Spanish Prisoner setup and into the realm of convoluted absurdity. For example, in one 1898 letter, the scammer claims to have buried $130,000 in bank notes near the mark’s home. However, the exact location of said fortune is hidden in a trunk belonging to his daughter, who is in turn being held hostage by a “hard-hearted schoolmistress” who refuses to release her until her room and board was paid. The scammer therefore requests from the mark the money required to pay the schoolmistress to release his daughter to obtain the trunk to find the location of the buried money. Sounds legit…

This kind of scam emerged around the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, being first recorded in the memoirs of Eugène François Vidocq, the first private detective and the father of modern criminology.

In Vidocq’s day the scam was known as “Letters from Jerusalem”, not acquiring its modern name until the Peninsular War of 1807 to 1814. This conflict, in which Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to invade Spain and Portugal, led to widespread political unrest and the arrest and imprisonment of many Spanish aristocrats, lending credibility to the basic premise of the Spanish Prisoner scam. Even at this early date, the basic premise and format of the scam were already well-established, with the example cited by Vidocq reading, in part: “I beg to know if I cannot, through your aid, obtain the casket in question [of 16,000 Francs in gold and diamonds]  and get a portion of the money which it contains. I could then supply my immediate necessities and pay my counsel, who dictates this and assures me that by some presents, I could extricate myself from this affair.”

While such letters, like the modern Nigerian Prince emails, would not have fooled the vast majority of recipients, it only took a handful of marks taking the bait for the scammer to get a worthwhile return on their investment. And while it is impossible to know just how many people were taken in by such scams, they were successful enough to stick around for the remainder of the century, with the next major wave of scam letters arriving in the late 1890s and early 1900s during the Spanish-American War. The letters were apparently such a problem than in 1898 the The New York Times ran an extensive article on the phenomenon, warning readers that: The letter is written on thin, blue, cross-lined paper, such as is used for foreign letters, and is written as fairly well-educated foreigners write English, with a word misspelled here and there, and an occasional foreign idiom. The writer is always in jail because of some political offense. He always has some large sum of money hid, and is invariably anxious that it should be recovered and used to take care of his young and helpless daughter by some honest man. He knows of the prudence and good character of the recipient of the letter through a mutual friend, whom he does not mention for reasons of caution, and appeals to him in time of extremity for help. He is willing to give one-third of the concealed fortune to the man who will recover it, remove the daughter to this country, and see that what is left is managed for her benefit.” 

 Notably, the article reveals that scammers had kept up with changing technology and begun to incorporate telegrams and wire money transfers into schemes, writing that: “The use of the cable and the location of the buried treasure near the home of the recipient of the letter are new features. The swindle used to be worked entirely by mail, and the treasure was always on some convenient island or somewhere in Florida.”

As science journalist Charles Siefe writes in his 2015 book Virtual Unreality: “When The New York Times warns readers about a scam, you know that a lot of money has already been lost. And when the paper decided that it had to sound a public alert about the ‘Spanish Prisoner’ game, it did so because the swindle was likely one of the most successful frauds ever known.”

Indeed, Spanish Prisoner letters would remain a persistent problem for decades to come, with the example quoted at the start of the video appearing in a 1910 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, amusingly titled “Postal Inspector Warns People To Beware of Hoary-Whiskered Spanish Appeals.” The article reads: “The attention of M.C. Fosnes, post-office inspector, has been called to an influx of fraud letters from Spain to persons in the Twin Cities and he believes that whoever is operating the hoax is receiving some returns from this territory and warns the public not to “bite” at the alluring bait. The letters have been many and the Spanish person is apparently untiring in his efforts in Minnesota. Many of the letters have been sent to the inspector…Mr. Fosnes, in warning the public, says: “Instead of the writer being a wealthy party in temporary distress, he is a miserable Spanish scoundrel who very likely has been in jail many times. There may be a number of scoundrels working the same line of graft. Every dollar sent to Spain or sent for cablegrams is a tribute to rascality. Better throw the money into the Mississippi river.”

And as the times changed, the scammers changed right along with them, and by the First World War the majority of scammers claimed to be not from Spain, but rather Russia. In 1917 the Russian Revolution  toppled the Imperial Government, resulting in large numbers of Russian nobles being imprisoned or exiled. This once again leant the scammers’ stories of lost fortunes a useful veneer of plausibility. Evolving communications technology also provided enterprising scammers with ever more opportunities. While for 200 years the Spanish Prisoner scam had been perpetrated via regular mail and occasionally telegram, the development of fax machines and later the internet in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s allowed scammers to reach large numbers of potential marks far more easily – and cheaply – than ever before.

By this time the hub of advance-fee scams had moved from Spain and Russia to West African countries such as Ivory Coast, Togo, and – most famously – Nigeria, leading to this type of scam becoming widely known as the “Nigerian Prince” or “419” scam, after the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud. But while this scam has become inextricably associated with West Africa, many other nations are known to have a high incidence of advance-fee fraud, including Jamaica, Spain, the Netherlands, and Poland.

Like their Spanish Prisoner ancestors, the stereotypical 419 scammer claims to be a member of the Nigerian Royal Family, cut off from their fortune and requiring only a relatively small sum of money in order to access vast riches. However, it is worth noting that Nigeria does not have – nor has it never had – a Royal Family, and that the nobility the nation does possess have not held any formal political power for over 60 years. The nation known today as Nigeria was cobbled together by the British Empire in the late 1870s from various tribal territories including the Igbo, Hausa, Oyo, and Benin Empires – each having their own traditional leaders. During the colonial era, British administrators ruled the colony by proxy via these various regional leaders, though no single group was allowed to gain influence over the entire territory. And following Nigeria’s independence from the British Empire in 1960, the new nation went through alternating periods of military and democratic rule, during which the formal political power of the traditional rulers all but disappeared. Nonetheless, many traditional rulers continue to hold significant political and economic influence in the country, lending at least a shred of credibility to the ‘Nigerian Prince’ emails. Still, one would think that in today’s savvier, more connected world, such comically absurd stories would be even less likely to be believed than they were 100 years ago. Yet according to analysts like Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley, this very absurdity may in fact be an unlikely key to the scam’s enduring success: “By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible, the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select.”

Another key factor is the sheer volume of messages a scammer can send via email compared to more traditional means like letter mail or fax. For now as in the 1790s, while the vast majority of messages are likely to be ignored, it takes only a handful of suckers for a scammer to strike it rich. And strike it rich they have. In 2018, 419-type scams are estimated to have cost U.S. citizens of some $700,000, while one wealthy British victim was conned into shelling out nearly $15 million. In 2016, Interpol and the Nigerian Police Special Fraud Unit  arrested a Nigerian scam kingpin known only as “Mike,” whose global scam network is alleged to have hauled in nearly $60 million in ill-gotten gains. And just as the fraudsters of the past made the leap from traditional mail to telegrams, faxes, and email, modern scammers are likewise  evolving with the times and developing ever more sophisticated scams. One increasingly popular variation on the traditional 419 scam is the so-called “CEO scam,” in which the scammer impersonates the CEO of a company and demands that employees immediately remit various invoices to the company’s head office. Any funds sent by obedient subordinates wind up, of course, in the scammer’s pocket. This basic premise was taken to absurd lengths in 2015 when French-Israeli con artist Gilbert Chikli succeeded in impersonating French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. In one of the most brazen and outlandish frauds in history, Chikli, wearing a custom-made silicone Le Drian mask and sitting in a recreated French government office, contacted various world leaders and wealthy business owners via Skype and asked for help in paying  the ransom of French journalists captured by Islamist militants in the Middle East. As France’s official policy is not to pay ransoms, the fake Le Drian requested that the funds be rendered untraceable and deposited in a Chinese bank. While most of the recipients immediately detected the fraud, a few, including the Aga Khan and Corinne Mentelopoulos, owner of the Château Margeaux wine estate,  did not and paid up, allowing Chikli to walk away with nearly $90 million.

While more traditional 419 scams are a numbers game, relying on sheer volume to get results, modern email scams are increasingly personalized and targeted, taking advantage of the vast amounts of personal data readily available online. Yet for all its apparent crudeness and absurdity, the traditional 419 scam continues to find ready marks, just as the Spanish Prisoner swindle did some 200 years ago – proving that regardless of the era, P.T. Barnum’s maxim holds true: there’s a sucker born every minute.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Shilling, Erik, The 9 Lives of the Spanish Prisoner, the Treasure-Dangling Scam That Won’t Die, Atlas Obscura, August 3, 2016,


Online Fraud: Top Nigerian Scammer Arrested, BBC News, August 1, 2016,


Seltzer, Richard, The Serge Solovieff Mysery – a WWI Variant of the Spanish Prisoner Scam,


Walter, Ben, Feb.13, 1910: Spanish Fraud Letters Flood State, Star Tribune, February 13, 2015,


The Spanish Prisoner Swindle, History House,


Original Spanish Prisoner Letter – 1924, Vintage Memorabilia,


Fuchs, Erin, Here’s the 1898 Version of Those Nigerian Email Scams, Business Insider, July 14, 2014,


Confidence Tricks – The Spanish Prisoner,


Whitaker, Robert, Proto-Spam: Spanish Prisoners and Confidence Games, The Appendix, October 23, 2013,


Schofield, Hugh, The Fake French Minister in a Silicone Mask Who Stole Millions, BBC News, June 20, 2019,


Cummins, Eleanor, The Nigerian Prince Scam is Still Fooling People. Here’s Why, Popular Science, March 4, 2020,

The post How the Whole ‘Nigerian Prince’ Scam Got Started appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - June 30, 2022 at 05:04PM
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How Did the Practice of Calling Liberals Left and Conservatives Right Start?

Depending on the country you live in, political opinion may be varied, or biased in one direction. In democratic countries, you obviously have the option to actually decide what direction your state should move towards via voting. And while a lot of political parties may opt for a safer middle ground usually more relatable for a wider demographic, there will always be the ones standing on, and for, the far right or far left.

But why do we call them that? It turns out the terms actually come with a rich history of their own and while they may mean different things in different countries and plenty of nuance on each side, a general classification comes from Scottish sociologist Robert Morrison MacIver, who in his 1947 treatise ‘The Web of Government’ classified things as such: “The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the centre that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defence and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes.”

Fascinatingly, despite seeming to be diametrically opposed on the surface, both sides of the political spectrum show manifestations of populism and may find a strong base in people belonging to each class of people from impoverished to rich.

In fact, there are proponents of the so-called ‘horseshoe theory’, which essentially says that the political far ‘left’ and far ‘right’ are, well, far closer to each other than they are to the ones traditionally holding the center. The reason for this is that the extremists on both sides tend to favour authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

In any event, this all brings us to the origin of the classifications “left” and ‘right-wing’ themselves. These lie in the French Revolution.

Rewinding to the turbulent years between 1789 and 1799, the French monarchy was, to oversimplify it, overthrown in favour of the common people’s plight.

With the king and all his friends now mostly having forcibly gone the way of their ancestors and therefore unable to voice any more opinions, a new system of government had to be implemented. This had to happen as quickly as possible, seeing as the alternative was a further descent into chaos, which was already pretty rampant in the region as is wont to happen when all the leaders get their heads lopped off suddenly and the mob takes control.

The ‘Ancient Régime’ or ‘Old Order’ played a quite vital role in this, as the general structure of legislative bodies was kept. Within it, from the Speaker’s point of view, who stood facing the assembly, it becomes clear where ‘left’ and ‘right’ comes from – it is simply the actual seating arrangement. Traditionally, as the more extremists on the two sides didn’t exactly like to co-mingle the aristocracy sat on the right while the commoners sat on the left and those more in the middle didn’t mind sitting closer. Naturally, within the National Assembly, being on the right came to mean supporting the king, while sitting on the left meant you were in favour of overthrowing him.

One member of this assembly, deputy Baron de Gauville summed up: “We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp.”

These ‘commoners’ of the ‘opposing team’ were, however, not what we would understand of the term – people of more modest wealth and working regular jobs – but rather representatives of the richer capitalist class, the so-called ‘bourgeoisie’. Therefore originally, the ‘left’ was actually in favour of things like the free market and laissez-faire commerce. Within the parliaments, they also stood opposite those voicing their support for the aristocracy, the royals and their wishes, as well as the interests of the church. Unlike this original ‘right’, the ‘left’ wanted secularism, an increase of civil liberties, as well as republicanism.

Now all those we would actually call ‘commoners’ – the peasants, the working class, the unemployed – were not represented in this form of government really much at all, but it should be obvious that their ideals were in the general case in opposition to those of the aristocracy, therefore being ‘more left’ than the actual political left of the time. The bourgeoisie was still closer to what they wanted, and these early capitalists therefore the best allies they had.

So you can see how them gaining access to legislative bodies and the slow, but inevitable utter ousting of the aristocracy would shift the political spectrum towards capitalists being on the right.

Fast-forwarding a bit in history, to a time after 1848 – the parties used red and white flags as identifying symbols – and here is the origin of calling left-wing parties “the reds” (not to be confused with the phrase “raising red flags” which was a warning for floods).

The terminology of ‘left’ and ‘right’ was first used as a slur by the respective opposite parties and it was only in the early 20th century that these classifiers took over fully. Additionally, at first, political right-wing parties rejected the terms, as they did not wish to promote further disunity among citizens, while the ones on the left thought this was necessary in order to affect societal change. (Marx proclaimed a battle of the classes….And of course he needed classes for this theories to work!)

In any event, the formation of the more modern political parties closer to what we think of them as, finally, can be traced back to the 19th century, long after the French Revolution. The first of them emerged out of middle class liberals. The aristocracy disappeared for good in the 20th century, leaving only conservative parties that then had to compromise in order to gain a base of voters. Meanwhile, capitalism grew and with it the reactionary and equally multiplying working class, which began to form trade unions or identify with socialist, communist or even anarchist ideals.

Socialist parties originally held the purpose of giving political rights to workers and later split from the originally allied liberals, as they wanted said workers to actually have the control over the means of production. The colour red was adopted by many socialist parties, and is still seen in most european socialist parties today. It also became the colour of Communism as it developed out of WWI, in support of the Bolshevik Revolution.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, right-wing parties may include extreme conservatives, fascists, and nationalists. Depending on the time and place, these, too, either fall strongly into the people’s favour or out of it. Fascism, for instance, was obviously quite popular leading up to and during World War II in countries such as Germany or Italy, while being quite strongly condemned afterwards.

But to complete the political spectrum, another, mellower type of conservative party began to appear as a means to counteract liberalism – Christian democrats, who were originally founded by Catholics seeing a threat to their traditional values.

Finally, green parties with a strong stance on climate policies developed last and only recently, when the general public became aware of such issues in the late 20th century.

In any event, as you can see, since its original inception, the system of classifying everybody as left or right has obviously branched out, diversified with considerable nuance.

It should also be noted here that the development of what exactly ‘left’ and ‘right’ ended up meaning, did not happen in the same way in all countries.

For example, while some Americans may be quick to cry ‘communist’ at their Democrat party – which actually stands in part for so-called ‘libertarianism’ – modern-day French people would only scoff and call the same party ‘bourgeois’ instead. What is considered ‘left-wing’ in the United States is actually regarded as still pretty far on the right in some European countries. France and Germany’s respective political ‘left’, for instance, are on the side of socialism.

Additionally, it has been argued that ‘left’ and ‘right’ cannot properly encompass where one stands on most issues, as the political landscape is complex and includes many social and economic factors. While there are many ways of detailing this, one widely influential way of expressing this complexity was conceived by Hans Eysenck in the 1950s: He applied two axes, ‘radical’ to ‘conservative’ and ‘democratic’ to ‘authoritarian’, based on his (sometimes contested) research.

Another helpful two-axis system stems from Virginia Postrel, who in 1998 expanded the economic left-right axis with one ranging from authoritarianism to libertarianism.

And because it has grown into a field of study easily as varied as the political fractions, many more examples could be given, all with their own virtues and flaws. However, in most countries, ‘left’ and ‘right’ are still the clearest signifiers of which hill one is prepared to die on.

If you like this article, you may also enjoy:

Expand for References

The post How Did the Practice of Calling Liberals Left and Conservatives Right Start? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Nasser Ayash - June 30, 2022 at 05:00PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Review: Trader Joe's Sour Cream & Onion Rings Lentil & Rice Snacks

This bag contained midsize, generally thin rings with a dark beige color, promising a sour cream and onion taste while doing away with the usual corn base for onion rings, using lentils and rice instead. ...

from Snack Reviews
by June 30, 2022 at 12:39PM

Monday, June 27, 2022

Review: Tiaroma Crunch Wafer Hazelnut Cream Filling

This snack was a whole lot like Tiaroma's biscuit version, as both delivered three individually wrapped, round, chocolate-coated, hazelnut-flavored bars within a large, candy bar-like package. ...

from Snack Reviews
by June 27, 2022 at 07:33PM

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Baby With the Baboon Heart

On 3 December 1967, South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard made medical history by performing the first successful human heart transplant, transferring the heart of accident victim Denise Darvall into 65-year-old Louis Washkansky. While Washkansky died 18 days later of pneumonia, the pioneering surgery heralded a new era of medicine, giving thousands of people a new chance at life. Today over 5,000 heart transplants are performed every year worldwide, the once unthinkable procedure having become all but routine. So routine, in fact, that the main limiting factor is no longer the surgeon’s skill or the patient’s body rejecting the transplant but rather the availability of donated organs. This shortage is especially acute for babies, who, unlike adults, rarely suffer the kinds of injuries which render them braindead but leave their organs intact. It is for this reason that in October 1984 a surgeon named Leonard Lee Bailey attempted the impossible and implanted a newborn girl with the heart of a baboon. This is the bizarre and controversial story of Baby Fae.

Stephanie Fae Beauclair was born on October 14, 1984 at a hospital in Barstow, California. Her mother, 24-year-old Teresa Beauclair, was unemployed and had recently separated from Stephanie’s father. Right away, it was clear that something was wrong; delivered three weeks premature, Stephanie weighed only five pounds at birth and was blue all over – a sign of improper oxygen circulation. Stephanie and her mother were immediately driven by ambulance to Loma Linda Medical Center, a Seventh-Day Adventist hospital 60 miles outside Los Angeles. Here, Teresa received the terrible news: Stephanie had been born with a rare congenital condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome or HLHS, in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. Affecting one in 10,000 babies, HLHS is invariably fatal. Teresa was given two options: leave Stephanie in the hospital to die, or take her home to die. Teresa opted to have Stephanie baptized and move into a nearby motel room where could gather her thoughts.

It was then that fate intervened in the form of Dr. Leonard Lee Bailey, a Loma Linda surgeon who had just returned from a medical conference. During his residency at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in the 1970s, Bailey had seen dozens of otherwise healthy children die of HLHS, and was frustrated by doctors’ helplessness in the face of the disease. Nearly all attempts to repair the damage surgically failed, leaving heart transplants as the only viable option. But while by the 1970s heart transplantation was a well-established procedure, the problem lay, as previously mentioned, with the lack of available donor organs. Even today, some 2000 babies are born every year requiring heart transplants, while only around 300 are capable of donating the required organs. The majority of these are anencephalic, meaning they are born without fully-developed brains or skulls. However, few of these babies actually become organ donors, for the criteria for establishing brain death – the key prerequisite for organ donation – are often complex and ambiguous, and in any case few parents actually consent to having their child’s organs donated. In the face of such dire shortages, Bailey became an enthusiastic proponent of xenografting – the transplantation of organs from other, non-human species.

Xenografting was not a new idea, but it had never been successfully carried out. In 1964 surgeon James Hardy transplanted the heart of a chimpanzee into the chest of a 68-year old man. While the heart started beating on its own, the patient died after only 90 minutes. In 1977, heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard piggybacked the heart of a baboon on the circulatory system of a 25-year-old woman, but she died five hours later. Barnard would later use the same technique with a chimpanzee heart and a 59-year-old man, who lasted four days before dying. Throughout the 1960s surgeons Thomas Starzl and Keith Reemtsma had greater success transplanting primate kidneys into human patients, but even these lasted only two months before they were rejected by the recipient’s body. Yet despite this dismal track record, Bailey was confident that with proper immune matching techniques and recent advances in immunosuppressing drugs, a xenograft could keep a patient alive long enough for a proper human organ to be located and transplanted. In 1976, this conviction led Bailey to the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he performed more than 200 experimental heart transplants on infant mammals including goats, sheep, and baboons in order to perfect the technique. All he needed now was a human patient to test his theories. Upon learning of her case, Bailey set his sights on Stephanie Beauclair.

Shortly after returning to Loma Linda, Bailey visited Teresa Beauclair at her motel and offered to perform the experimental transplant free of charge. Teresa agreed, and on October 19 Stephanie was readmitted to Loma Linda so that her tissues could be matched with a viable donor. The donors in question were seven young female baboons obtained from the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Texas. While around 70% of humans have pre-formed antibodies against baboon tissue, encouragingly Stephanie was found to be among the 30% who did not. Still, as many at the time pointed out, baboons were an unusual donor choice, given that other apes – particularly chimpanzees – are more closely related to humans in evolutionary terms. When questioned about this, Bailey, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, replied:

 “Er, I find that difficult to answer. You see, I don’t believe in evolution.”

On October 26 the tissue-matching results came back, indicating that Stephanie was most compatible with a nine-month-old baboon named Goobers. By this time Stephanie’s condition had begun to deteriorate, her organs shutting down one by one. It was now or never. So on the same day Stephanie Beauclair and Goobers were wheeled into the operating room and the pioneering surgery began. The procedure took five hours to complete, Bailey painstakingly reconnecting Stephanie’s tiny blood vessels to Goobers’s walnut-sized heart. Then, at 11:35 AM, the baboon heart began to beat on its own in Stephanie’s chest. Sandra Nehlsen-Cannarella, an immunologist who assisted with the surgery, later described the scene:

“[Stephanie’s] new heart began to beat spontaneously. There was absolute awe. The mood was somber, not euphoric, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, to see her literally transformed from a helpless cripple.”

Three days later, nurses weaned Stephanie off her respirator and she began to breathed on her own. Colour returned to her pale blue skin, and despite the giant incision running down her chest she looked for all intents and purposes like a healthy little girl. Bailey was ecstatic, boldly predicting that Stephanie would live to see her first – if not her 20th – birthday. The next day, he held a press conference to announce his triumph to the world, fighting back tears as he predicted:

“Infants with heart disease yet to be born will someday soon have the opportunity to live, thanks to the courage of this infant and her parents.”

 In order to protect the privacy of mother and child, Loma Linda refused to divulge any personal details and referred to Stephanie simply as “Baby Fae,” the name by which she would become globally famous. Footage of the tiny patient was broadcast all around the room, and hundreds of well-wishers flooded her hospital room with cards and flowers, praying for her full recovery.

Unfortunately, Bailey’s boundless optimism proved misplaced, for while Baby Fae thrived for a while, her body soon began to reject the foreign organ and her condition rapidly deteriorated. Her kidneys failed, her heart developed a blockage, and on November 15, 1984 Baby Fae died, having survived the surgery by 21 days – longer than any previous xenograft recipient. In hindsight her death was inevitable, for while Bailey had hoped to keep her alive until a human heart became available, no such organ was forthcoming. Furthermore, Baby Fae’s blood was Type O, a type shared by fewer than 1% of baboons. Fae’s body was thus fundamentally incompatible with Goobers’s Type AB organs.

The Baby Fae case became a media sensation, inspiring dozens of works of pop culture including a line in the 1986 Paul Simon song “The Boy in the Bubble.” However, it also ignited a storm of controversy that still rages to this day. While many commended Bailey for his pioneering efforts, others decried the procedure as morally and ethically repugnant. Particularly incensed were animal rights activists, with Lucy Shelton of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals declaring:

“This is medical sensationalism at the expense of Baby Fae, her family, and the baboon.”

Philosopher Thomas Regan argued that all beings, human or not, have a right to life, writing that:

“Like us, Goobers was somebody, a distinct individual. Those people who seized Goober’s heart, even if they were motivated by their concern for Baby Fae, grievously violated Goobers’s right to be treated with respect. That she could do nothing to protest, and that many of us failed to recognize the transplant for the injustice that it was, does not diminish the wrong, a wrong settled before Baby Fae’s sad death.”

Bailey responded to such criticisms with bafflement, stating:

“People in southern California have it so good that they can afford to worry about this type of issue. When it gets down to a human living or dying, there shouldn’t be a question [of using an animal to save that human]. We’re not in the business of uselessly sacrificing animals, we’re forced to make a choice. We can either decide to continue to let these otherwise healthy human babies die because they are born with only half of their heart, or we can intervene, and, in so doing, sacrifice some lesser form than our own human species.”

The Loma Linda Center for Christian Bioethics agreed with Bailey, stating:

“On an ethical scale, we will always place human beings ahead of subhumans, especially in a situation where people can be genuinely saved by animals. That is the story of mankind from the very beginning, Animals, for example, have always been used for food and clothing.”

While doctors and ethicists like Arthur L. Caplan of the New York University School of Medicine defended Bailey, arguing that:

“He was really trying to find an answer for very young children who needed a transplant. He was driven by a real desire to help . . . not fame, not fortune, not money, not greed.”

… others questioned whether the baboon heart transplant had actually been necessary. While Bailey maintained that the procedure was the only option due to a lack of donated infant hearts, according to Paul Teraski, director of the Southern Regional Organ Procurement Agency, a viable human heart was available on the day of Baby Fae’s surgery, but Bailey had chosen deliberately chosen not to use it:

“I think that they did not make any effort to get a human infant heart because they were set on doing a baboon.”

Bailey’s assertion that there was no other option is further undermined by the work of surgeon William Norwood of the Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, who at the time had developed a surgical procedure to correct HLHS with a success rate of 40%. By contrast, despite Bailey’s reassurances to Teresa Beauclair, his baboon heart procedure had a zero percent chance of working long-term. Faced with these accusations, Bailey still defended his decision to operate, stating:

We were not searching for a human heart. We were out to enter the whole new area of transplanting tissue-matched baboon hearts into newborns who are supported with antisuppressive drugs. I suppose that we could have used a human heart that was outsized and that was not tissue-matched, and that would have pacified some people, but it would have been very poor science. On the other hand, I suppose my belief that there are no newborn hearts available for transplantation was more opinion than data or science, but it is scientific to acknowledge that the whole area of determining brain death of newborns is very problematical.”

This issue of medical necessity is part of a larger ethical controversy over the difference between therapeutic and experimental procedures. According to most medical ethicists, a procedure can only be considered therapeutic if there exists a high probability of benefiting the patient long-term. As the odds of Baby Fae surviving long-term with a baboon heart were essentially zero, by this definition Bailey’s procedure can only be classified as experimental. For this reason, Bailey’s procedure was harshly criticized as unscientific by the American Medical Association, who argued that experimental procedures should only be performed as part of larger, systematic medical studies and not as one-offs.

Further criticism has centred on whether Bailey obtained proper informed consent from Teresa Beauclair – or whether parents can even ethically volunteer their children for experimental procedures. Had Bailey not offered to perform the surgery for free, out-of-pocket the procedure would have cost over $250,000, plus $20,000 in immunosuppressant drugs every year for the rest of Baby Fae’s life. As Teresa had no health insurance at the time and thus no other options for saving her baby’s life, critics argue that she was fundamentally incapable of giving informed consent. Furthermore, Teresa later claimed that the consent form Bailey had on file was different from the one she signed, which optimistically claimed that the transplant would keep Fae alive “long term.” And while Bailey claimed he had obtained consent from both parents, Fae’s father was not in fact present at the time of the signing. As Boston University law professor George Annas later wrote:

“This inadequately reviewed, inappropriately consented to, premature experiment on an impoverished, terminally ill newborn was unjustified. It differs from the xenograft experiments of the early 1960s only in the fact that there was prior review of the proposal by an IRB. But this distinction did not protect Baby Fae. She remained unprotected from ruthless experimentation in which her only role was that of victim.”

Yet despite these controversies, the Baby Fae experiment gave Bailey the confidence to continue his research, and the following year he performed the world’s first successful human infant heart transplant. The patient, Eddie Anguiano – known at the time as “Baby Moses” – not only survived the procedure, but is still alive today – the oldest living recipient of an infant heart transplant. Bailey would go on to perform 376 infant heart transplants and become a leading expert on congenital heart disease, serving at Loma Linda for 42 years. Leonard Lee Bailey died of throat cancer on May 12, 2019 at the age of 76.

Since 1905, 33 xenografts have been performed on humans, none of which have been successful. Nonetheless, research on the practice continues, with scientists exploring ways of genetically modifying animals like pigs to make their organs more compatible with humans. Given the relative dearth of viable donor organs – especially for infants and young children – such techniques will be vital to saving lives in the future. This contemporary research owes much to Baby Fae, whose controversial 1984 surgery pushed the boundaries of what was considered medically possible. As Leonard Bailey told the New York Times in 1990:

“We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for Baby Fae. We’re not as crazy as everyone believed. The experiment gave us the confidence to continue.”

Nonetheless, the subject of infant heart transplants – and the risky but necessary experiments that make them possible – will always remain a controversial one. The moral and ethical quandaries involved in saving the lives of young children are perhaps best summarized by theologian Paul Ramsey, who wrote:

“If today we mean to give such weight to the research imperative, then we should not seek to give a principled justification of what we are doing with children. It is better to leave the research imperative in incorrigible conflict with the principle that protects the individual human person from being used for research purposes without wither his expressed or correctly construed consent. Some forms of human experimentation should, in this alternative, be acknowledged to be “borderline situations” in which moral agents are under the necessity of doing wrong for the sake of the public good. Either way they do wrong. It is immoral not to do the research. It is also immoral to use children who cannot themselves consent and who ought not to be presumed to consent to research unrelated to their treatment. On this supposition research medicine, like politics, is a realm in which men have to “sin bravely.””

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Oliver, Ansel, Iconic “Baby Fae” Surgeon Leonard Bailey Dies at Age 76, Spectrum, May 13, 2019,

Langer, Emily, Leonard Bailey, Transplant Surgeon Who Gave ‘Baby Fae’ a Baboon Heart, Dies at 76, The Washington Post, May 16, 2019,

 What Happened When a baby Girl Got a Heart Transplant From a Baboon, TIME, October 26, 2015,

Pence, Gregory, Classic Cases in Medical Ethics, McGraw-Hill, Boston, 1990,

The post The Baby With the Baboon Heart appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - June 24, 2022 at 12:18AM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

The Curse of the Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond’s story begins over a billion years ago, when carbon under immense pressure formed the larger diamond from which the Hope Diamond would spring. Not only was the mother stone large, but it was given a rare blue color due to the presence of high amounts of the element boron within the carbon.

The diamond’s story in human hands, as well as the origins of the alleged curse that goes with it, has murky beginnings that date back to the 1600s. French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier acquired the stone around the 1660s while in India. It is thought to have been originally mined from the Kollur mine in the Gunter district of Andhra Pradesh. Who originally owned the gem is unknown. Tavernier is believed to have possibly acquired the diamond through theft. Unconfirmed accounts stated that the original form of the Hope Diamond was as stolen from a statue of Sita, the goddess wife of Rama, who was the seventh Avatar of Vishnu. Thus, setting the curse in motion. Whether or not it was Tavernier or someone else who allegedly plucked the stone from the statue is lost to history.

What was confirmed is that Tavernier came back to Paris with the precursor to the Hope Diamond, a loosely triangular stone of an astounding 115 carats. This became known as the “Tavernier Blue.” He subsequently sold the diamond to Louis XIV. The details of the sale vary, and may have involved several other gems as well. Louis XIV had the stone recut, asking the court gem master to “make him a piece to remember.” Work on the stone took two years. This yielded a 67-carat stone known thereafter as the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France, or simply, the “French Blue.”

Louis XIV’s great-grandson, Louis XV, had the piece affixed to a more complex pendant, but it fell into disuse after his death. Eventually the stone was owned by Louis XVI, and was thought to have been worn by his wife, Marie Antoinette. Reports cast doubt on this, as the stone’s pendant was supposedly reserved for the King, but the events to come nonetheless launched the notion of the curse.

The French Revolution was set in motion, and Louis XVI and family were put in prison during the “Reign of Terror.” While they were imprisoned, thieves broke into the Royal Storehouse and made off with the Crown Jewels. Some would later be recovered, but the French Blue was not. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were killed by guillotine in 1793, severing the necks from which many of the Crown Jewels once hung.

The French Blue was likely smuggled to London on the heels of being stolen in France, and remained at large for some time. In this period the Hope Diamond was thought to be cut from it. This was confirmed in 2008, when a leaden model of the French Blue was rediscovered in the archives of the National Museum of History in Paris. Details from the leaden model matched those from the Hope Diamond perfectly. It was also discovered that the French Blue had also been roughly recut along the way, and that this work on the stone visibly changed its character.

It was in 1812 that the earliest date of the existence of the Hope Diamond, as cut from the French Blue, was confirmed. London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason described the stone as a “massive blue stone of 45.54 carats.” In the ensuing years, until 1830, the gem was thought to have been owned by George IV of the U.K. No records of his ownership exist in the Royal Archives at Windsor, but the consensus is that he owned it. It may have been sold to cover his debts. In any case, next up in the chain of ownership was London banker Thomas Hope, who acquired the diamond for either $65,000 or $90,000, depending on reports. The gem appeared in a published catalog of Hope’s gem collection, and it was then that it became known as the “Hope Diamond.”

When Hope died in 1839, his heirs fought an extended legal battle over the stone. Henry Thomas Pope, his nephew, eventually inherited it. He displayed it in the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855. His wife Anne Adele inherited the gem when Hope died in 1862, and it bounced around among new owners for several more decades, many of which had marriage and financial troubles and had to sell the stone to cover debts. This burnished the story of the curse.

At some point in the early 1900s the Hope Diamond made its way from the U.K. to New York with Simon Frankel, a famous diamond dealer. But Frankel’s business fell on hard times. He referred to the stone as the “hoodoo diamond.” He then sold the diamond for $400,000, about $11 million dollars today, through an intermediary to Sultan Abdulhamid of the Ottoman Empire. He, too, ran into financial problems, and his reign faltered, causing him to sell the stone.

In 1914 it fell into the hands of familiar name in the jewelry world – Pierre Cartier. Cartier would in turn woo Washington, D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband, Edward Beale McLean – heir to The Washington Post and Cincinnati Enquirer fortune – to buy the Hope Diamond from him.  Cartier tried several times to get Mrs. McLean to buy the diamond, and she eventually did purchase it from him, but only after Cartier had it reset to her liking. The sale was the subject of an article in the New York Times in which the newspaper claimed that the McLeans had tried to back out of the deal after learning about the curse. Other accounts claim that the McLeans had fabricated the story of their fear of the curse to increase the value of their purchase.

Mrs. McLean’s eccentric ways and how they manifested themselves with the diamond became the stuff of legend. She would wear the diamond around her neck around town, and even around the neck of her Great Dane, Mike. Guests at the McLeans’ parties would be treated to “find the stone” games, as Mrs. McLean would hide it on their property and challenge guests to locate it. McLean even hired a former Secret Service man to provide security during these events. Another story tells of Mrs. McLean hosting guests at her house one evening and asking somebody to turn the record player on – one of the Gramophone models with the enormous horn. Upon being told the record player wasn’t working properly, Mrs. McLean remembered that she put the diamond in the horn.

Mrs. McLean called on another well-known woman who lived near her in the wealthy playground of Aiken, South Carolina, named Eulalie Salley. She asked Mrs. Salley, a suffragist and incidentally the first woman in South Carolina to be granted a real estate license, if she would like to come over to see the Hope Diamond. Mrs. Salley jumped at the chance. After arriving at the McLean’s home, Mrs. Salley was surprised to be led to Mrs. McLean’s bedroom, against the mores of the day. Mrs. McLean reached in her stocking drawer, pulled out a stocking, and out fell the Hope Diamond. Incredulous, Mrs. Salley stated “Mrs. McLean, you’re keeping the most famous gemstone in the world in your underpants? To which Mrs. McLean allegedly replied, “My Dear, at my age, who is going to look there?”

Mrs. McLean was friends with President Warren G. Harding. They had a mutual friend named Gaston Means, who was a former Bureau of Investigation officer. When Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped, Mr. Means told Mrs. McLean that he knew where the baby was being held. In exchange for $100,000 from Ms. McLean, he claimed that he could get the baby back, and in turn Mrs. McLean and he would be heroes. She was to find out it was a cruel hoax. Means made off with the money – the kidnapped baby was already dead.

And so went so much of Mrs. McLean’s life after buying the Hope Diamond. In addition to the Lindbergh baby fiasco, two of the McLeans’ children died young, Mr. McLean was committed to an asylum in his 40s, and the diamond had to be sold upon her death to cover her estate’s debts. Hope Diamond Curse aficionados naturally attribute all of this to the diamond.

The trustees of her estate sold the stone to Harry Winston, a diamond merchant in New York. In fact, he bought all of McLeans’ jewelry. Winston displayed the Hope Diamond during a tour of the United States with his extensive jewel collection. He also had the Hope Diamond’s bottom facet redone to increase the gem’s sparkle.

Years later, the Smithsonian talked Winston into donating the stone to their proposed gem collection. And on November 10, 1958, Winston agreed. But he did not have security transport the stone, nor did he personally hand deliver it. Winston sent the Hope Diamond through the U.S. Mail as you would any package, without any fanfare or even mentioning it to the postal service. Simply popped it in a box and mailed it off.

The stone arrived as planned, but the mailman who delivered it, James Todd, had his leg crushed in an accident not long after, the last significant event in the alleged curse.

Winston never believed in the curse. And he lived a long healthy life with no undue bad luck apparent during his lifetime.

The Diamond has been the centerpiece of the Smithsonian’s gem collection, greatly increasing attendance and thrilling guests for decades since. It is said to be insured for $250 million. You can still see it there today. Seemingly curse free.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References (retrieved August 26, 2020). (retrieved August 26, 2020).

Bull Cooper, Emily L. 2005. Eulalie. The Aiken Partnership Of The University Of South Carolina Educational Foundation; 2nd Edition, 163 pp.

Gregory, J. 2011. The Hope Diamond: Evalyn Walsh McLean and the Captivating Mystery of the World’s Most Alluring Jewel. Turner, 96 pp.

Kurin, R. 2006. The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem. Smithsonian Books, 400 pp.

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by Kent Cubbage - June 24, 2022 at 12:16AM
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The Badass Sergeant Who was His Own One Man Army

In 1814, some 20,000 troops of the British East India Company launched an assault on the Kingdom of Ghorka in what is today Nepal, seeking to expand their influence into the Indian subcontinent’s mountainous northern territories. To their surprise, the British encountered unexpectedly fierce resistance from local mountain warriors known as Ghorkalis, and the conflict quickly degenerated into a bloody two-year slog. So impressed were the British by the Ghorkalis’ fighting spirit that defectors were quickly integrated into their own ranks. And when the Anglo-Nepali war finally ended in March 1816 with the signing of the Treaty of Sugali, the British took an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude and formed entire units of Gurkha soldiers commanded by British officers. These units quickly became an integral part of the British Army, taking part in every major conflict over the next 200 years. In this time, they have acquired a reputation that can only be described as legendary, with an astonishing 26 Gurkhas being awarded the Victoria Cross, the UK’s highest military award for gallantry. With a motto of “better to die than be a coward,” the Gurkhas are known – and feared – the world over as among the world’s most fearsome and deadly warriors. How deadly? Well, look no further than the story of Acting Sergeant Dipprasan Pun, who while serving in Afghanistan in 2010 single-handedly defended his outpost against a large group of Taliban fighters and redefined the word badass.

Born in Bima, Western Nepal but currently living in Ashford, Kent, Dipprasan Pun comes from a long line of soldiers, with his father and grandfather also serving in Gurkha regiments. His Grandfather, Tul Bahadur Pun, even received the Victoria Cross in 1944 while serving in the Burma theatre of WWII. In September 2010, the then 31-year-old Pun was an Acting Sergeant in the 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles, stationed in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. On the night of the 17th, Pun and three other soldiers were left to guard their control post near the town of Babaji while the rest of their unit moved out to secure the surrounding roads ahead of the next day’s parliamentary elections. Throughout the night, the four men took turns manning the sangar, or elevated guard tower, at the centre of the compound.

Sergeant Pun was standing guard in the tower when he suddenly heard what sounded like a cow or donkey braying in the darkness. At first he ignored it, but he soon grew suspicious and climbed higher up the tower to get a better look. It was then that he spotted two Taliban insurgents planting an Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, by the compound gate. Before Pun could react, the air filled with tracers and rocket-propelled grenades as a hidden force of Taliban launched a coordinated surprise attack on the compound. While most of us would have reacted to such a situation by making our trousers significantly damper and a bit more smelly, Dipprasad Pun remembered that he was, after all, a Gurkha, and responded accordingly:

“At that time I wasn’t worried, there wasn’t any choice but to fight. The Taliban were all around the checkpoint, I was alone. I had so many of them around me that I thought I was definitely going to die so I thought I’d kill as many of them as I could before they killed me. At first I was a bit scared, but as soon as I started firing, that feeling went away”.

With Taliban closing in all around him, Pun cooly gathered up two radios and used them to call his commanding officer for reinforcements. This done, he then went into Super Gurkha Rage Mode, and with a cry of “Marchu talai!” – Nepali for “I will kill you all!” , pulled the guard tower’s L108A1 general purpose machine gun off its tripod and proceeded to go full John Rambo on his attackers, hip-firing the weapon in a 360-degree arc. Once his ammunition was exhausted, Pun moved on to lobbing grenades off the tower and even set off a Claymore antipersonnel mine before picking up his SA80 service rifle and continuing to lay withering fire upon his attackers. At one point a Taliban fighter climbed up the side of the tower and attempted to rush him, but Pun spotted him, whirled around, and fired – only for his rifle to jam. Apparently determined to prove that a Gurkha can kill you with anything, Pun reached for a nearby sandbag, but it had not been properly tied and the sand spilled harmlessly to the floor. So with seconds to spare Pun picked up the heavy machine gun tripod, folded it, and hurled it in his attacker’s face, sending him toppling off the tower to his death.

Pun continued to beat back the Taliban assault for nearly a quarter of an hour before the rest of his unit arrived and finally drove off the attackers. His company commander, Major Shaun Chandler, gave him a hearty slap on the back and asked him how he was, to which Pun simply replied “I’m fine.” In all, Sergeant Dipprasad Pun, one-man Gurkha army, had single-handedly held off an estimated 30 Taliban fighters and killed three, in the process setting off 250 machine gun rounds and 180 rifle rounds, 17 grenades, and one mine. About the only weapon he didn’t use was a kukri, the traditional Gurkha fighting knife – but only because he didn’t have one on him at the time. As his battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Gez Strickland, later remarked:

“My battalion have done two tours in Afghanistan and been involved in some very difficult and fierce fighting. Dipprasad’s action is the bravest I have seen. He courageously held that position despite being under attack from a hail of bullets. He saved the lives of three men as well as his own.”

 In recognition of his bravery, on June 1, 2011 Sergeant Dipprasad Pun was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, Britain’s second-highest military decoration, by Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The citation for his award read, in part:

“Sergeant Pun single-handedly fought off an enemy attack on his lightly manned position. In the dark he tackled the enemy head on as he moved around his position to fend off the attack from three sides, killing three assailants and causing the others to flee. In doing so he saved the lives of his three comrades and prevented the position from being overrun. Sergeant Pun couldn’t know how many Taliban were attempting to overcome his position, but he sought them out from all angles despite the danger, consistently moving towards them to reach the best position of attack.”

Sergeant Pun was more modest about his actions that night, stating:

“I know I’m very lucky to be alive. I didn’t think the attack would ever end, and I nearly collapsed when it was over. I did what I was trained to do.”

Though the Gurkhas now make up only a small part of the British Army, their numbers having fallen from an all-time high of 200,000 during WWII to less 3,500, they continue serve with distinction wherever they are deployed – as Dipprasad Pun’s actions of September 17, 2010 clearly demonstrate. Such feats of gallantry would appear to confirm what Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, once said about this unique fighting force:

“If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha.”

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Bonus Fact

The weapon most closely associated with the Gurkhas is the kukri, a curved, machete-like knife originating in northern India and Nepal. Over the years, numerous myths have grown up around this legendary weapon, the most common being that once drawn, the kukri cannot be sheathed until it has drawn blood. According to this myth, if a Gurkha is unable to draw another’s blood, he will instead cut his thumb before sheathing the blade. However, this notion is undermined by the fact that the kukri is not exclusively used as a weapon. In fact, in India and Nepal the kukri is widely used as an all-purpose utility knife for chopping wood and preparing food; if everyone were to cut themselves after every minor task, it would surely lead to a nationwide epidemic of anemia.

Expand for References

 Stilwel, Blake, That Day a Lone Gurkha Took Out 30 Taliban Using Weapon Within Reach, Business Insider, May 19, 2016,

Bravery Medal for Gurkha Who Fought Taliban, BBC News, June 1, 2011,

Special Recognition: Acting Sergeant Dipprasad Pun CGC, Pride of Britain Awards,

Beckett, Jack, Repelled 30 Taliban: 400 Rounds, Launched 17 Grenades, Detonated a Mine, and Used His Tripod as a Weapon, War History Online, January 23, 2018,


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from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - June 24, 2022 at 12:14AM
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