FYI NSA BTW – WIF Invasion of Privacy

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Intrusive Programs

Run by

the NSA

Before Edward Snowden revealed us an unprecedented amount of the National Security Agency’s activities in 2013, most of us were only vaguely familiar with the shadowy organization and its information-gathering ways. The NSA has its tendrils in virtually every digital aspect of our daily life, to the point that one of their automated information-collecting programs is probably reading this right now (Hi!) and trying to figure out whether we’re a threat to national security (We really aren’t!).

While reports of their current activities are understandably few and far between, thanks to Mr. Snowden and his leaked documents we do have some insight into the things the NSA were up to in 2013 and before that … and it’s not pretty. Here’s a look at some of the agency’s strangest antics.

10. Angry Birds

No, it’s not just a fun code name, or, for that matter, even code name. It’s that Angry Birds.

In 2014, the Guardian reported that the NSA, along with its significantly less catchy British counterpart GCHQ, were looking into various techniques where they can sneak all up the “leaks” of your favorite phone apps, up to and very much including the world’s premier “Birds Vs. Pigs” game. The idea was to slip through the security cracks of the apps in order to reach the users’ personal data, which would provide the agencies with a number of significant advantages. They would gain access to a huge amount of the kind of data that would allow them to exploit people’s phone information on a mass scale, instead of just having to hack their way into our phones one by one like some commoner. Location, as well: When you use Google Maps to find a place, the NSA can use it to find you.

The NSA seems to put great value on such technology, to the point where one 2010 presentation called it a “Golden Nugget” before rattling off a long list of information the agency could gather from just a single picture uploaded on social media. Fortunately, this plan was among the documents Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, so at least we’re aware that some of America’s taxpayer dollars go towards surreptitiously scrolling through your contact lists as you play Candy Crush or whatever.

9. Boundless Informant

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Boundless Informant is a highly sophisticated data mining tool the NSA uses to analyze and record its surveillance information. It’s essentially a hyper-competent archivist that sifts through the sea of data and arranges it to neat folders. However, it doesn’t appear to do it by user — unless they decide to take a personal interest in you, Boundless Informant probably doesn’t have a folder of your most embarrassing emails and IMs. Instead, the system sifts through the incoming information by “counting and categorizing” the communications records metadata (sets of data that describe other data). However, the level of detail it goes to even includes individual IP addresses … which, as you may know, can totally be tracked down to the countries they’re from.

8. Dishfire

SMS texting is slowly but steadily going the way of the dodo as instant messaging platforms are taking over, but the NSA has been collecting them like they were coming back in fashion. According to the 2013 data leak, the Dishfire program performs a daily, global and supposedly untargeted sweep of SMS messages, and took them to a second program called Prefer, which automatically analyzed them for assorted red flags.

The agency was head over heels about this particular avenue of information collection, to the point where a 2011 presentation was titled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit.” They weren’t exactly wrong, either: automated messages, international roaming charge texts, missed call alerts, electronic business cards and text-to-text payments gave them access to unprecedentedly clear metadata in ridiculous droves.

To put the scale of the operations in context, at the time of the leaks the NSA was able to collect over five million missed-call alerts (for contact chaining analysis), Around 800,000 money transactions, 1.6 million border crossings, over 110,000 names, 76,000 people’s real-time locations, and a total of nearly 200 million SMS messages. Per day. 

7. Egoistical Goat and its friends

The anonymous Tor network is obviously a bit of a problem for an information-gathering entity like the NSA, but it appears the agency had already made some progress to lift the veil of secrecy as early as in 2013.

To crack down Tor’s information safe, the agency created a number of programs with increasingly stupid names, all lovingly crafted to compromise Tor user anonymity. There was Egoistical Goat and its sister programs Egoistical Giraffe and Erroneous Identity, which tried to worm their way in the Firefox parts of the Tor Bundles in order to identify users. Before them, the NSA had Mjoliner, which was meant to divert Tor users to insecure channels, and a marking operation called Mullenize, which was the online equivalent of a surveillance helicopter trying to shoot a tracking device in a car before it drives in a hidden tunnel. Meanwhile, NSA’s British version, GCHQ, did its level best to outdo its American counterpart’s ridiculous code names by trying to crack Tor with operations called Epicfail and Onionbreath.

Despite all their antics, the NSA’s success rate at identifying Tor users was spotty at best — but really, who knows what they have come up with since 2013?

6. GILGAMESH

It’s one thing for the NSA to want to know about people’s information, and completely another to use that information to find out your location and giving it to the Joint Security Operations Command in case they need to bomb someone. This explosive application of NSA tracking technology is called GILGAMESH, and it’s essentially what would happen if a bunch of NSA’s geolocation tracking technologies married a Predator drone.

Thanks to the vast array of online information available to them, the NSA has taken to recommending drone targets with complex metadata analysis instead of relying on human intelligence. However, the Intercept points out that while the tactic has had some success it has by no means been particularly accurate and reliable. One drone pilot operating with NSA-dictated targets has admitted it “absolutely” has resulted in innocent people getting killed.

5. Optic Nerve

To be fair, Optic Nerve was technically a brainchild of the British GCHQ, but since they NSA happily assisted in it, we’ll let it slide. It was a code-name for a surveillance program that surreptitiously collected a bunch of images from Yahoo’s webcam chats from all over the world by the million, with little to no regard whether the people they were collecting them from were persons of interest or not.  This might be pretty creepy in and of itself, but becomes doubly so when you remember the sort of stuff that tends to go on in webcam chats. Yes, we’re talking about nudity, and judging by the scale of the operation, there must have been plenty of it, too. In fact, leaked documents reveal that the GCHQ actually had some trouble keeping all the naked pictures away from the interested eyes of its employees, which in a way is even scarier than just stealing images in bulk.

Understandably, Yahoo was less than thrilled to find out about the situation, which they say happened only when the British media reached out to ask some questions. The company called Optic Nerve a “whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy,” and really, it’s hard to argue with them.

4. PRISM

PRISM is massive surveillance program that started in 2007 and came into light when the Washington Post and the Guardian whipped out a pile of leaked documents in 2013. Technically, PRISM was/is a system for monitoring foreign communication passing through American servers. However, in practice, they monitored everything they humanly could, and gathered their data from “providers” that you might be familiar with.

As of 2013, tiny little companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and the like had to hand the NSA remarkable access to their servers, and the vast buckets of data from their users that lays within. NSA can use this giant pool of information to a terrifying accuracy, to the point where they could just directly access your — yes, specifically your — information and spy on every little thing you do online. The only caveat is that some analyst in their machinery has to vouch that they’re, like, 51% sure that you’re probably foreign, maybe.

3. Upstream

If you thought the NSA was happy just spying what you do on the internet, worry not — there’s more to come. Upstream is basically the same deal as PRISM, only with telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T … and in a much more classic “spying” capacity. Where PRISM relies on intangible tech shenanigans of the “access to big company servers” variety, project Upstream has physically installed a host of surveillance equipment to the internet’s physical “backbone”: the routers, cables and other gear that carry all the online traffic.

The NSA uses this infiltration to track down specific keywords related to potential foreign intelligence activity, though even this noble-ish intent is rendered moot by the fact that they also often target the media, legal attorneys and human rights people instead of just supposed spies and suspected terrorists. The American Civil Rights Union has called the practice “unprecedented and unlawful.”

2. Bullrun

What good is stealing data from countless unwary people if you don’t know what to do with it? The NSA answered this question with code-name Bullrun, a state-of-the-art decryption program that can straight up decode the encryption used by several prominent providers, which means they can read your emails with the greatest of ease should the need arise. This powerful Sigint (signals intelligence) weapon is built by stealthily working with large tech companies to install weaknesses in their products, and then exploiting these openings with their own decryption tools. This way, the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ are able to browse through not only their targets’ emails, but banking accounts and medical history as well. Essentially, if you have personal information online, Bullrun can find out how to decrypt it.

Bullrun’s importance to the NSA can easily be seen by looking at its budget: When Edward Snowden brought the system out in the open in 2013, PRISM’s operating costs were around $20 million a year. Bullrun? Over $250 million.

1. FASCIA

The FASCIA database was among the more interesting documents Edwards Snowden leaked. It was a massive collection of metadata, consisting of all sorts of call information, IP addresses and suchlike. What made the project so impressive(ly scary) was its sheer scale: Though the document dates back to January 2004, it said that FASCIA II had over 85 billion metadata records, and an estimated 125 million were added on a daily basis. Leaked graphs (like the one above) indicate that the system has since evolved, and in 2012, FASCIA already received five billion device-location records every day. There’s no telling what that number is now, but smart money would probably say that it’s significantly larger.

The NSA started getting hold of all this metadata during the War on Terror by straight up forcing phone companies to hand it over to the agency. Originally, this data included pretty intimate stuff, such as the numbers you called and the duration of said calls, though not the actual content. In 2015, the process was slightly changed so that the NSA could only collect bulk metadata and looking at an individual person’s records would require a court order. Even so, the NSA has been known to call this system one of their “most useful tools,” and they say it has even helped them capture multiple terror suspects.


FYI NSA BTW –

WIF Invasion of Privacy

North Korean Dreamin’ – WIF Underground

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The Most Secure

Bunkers in

the World

Heavily guarded buildings are awesome, and what buildings are better guarded than bunkers? These man-made cave complexes are custom designed to keep out everything that’s not invited in, and they’re often equipped with fantastic defenses and luxurious amenities that are a far cry from the brutal underground concrete boxes you probably imagine when you think of the word “bunker.” Let’s take a look at some of the most impressive ones out there!

10. The Nike missile bunker

The Nike missile bunkers (no relation to the sportswear manufacturer, as far as we know) were a pair of Cold War-era bunkers that were so secure, they were actually as effective offensively as they were defensively — if not more. The Nike bunker location started out as a strategic spot that defended the nearby Hanford Nuclear Facility, which is (in)famous for churning out two thirds of the plutonium used in U.S. nuclear weapons, including the plutonium used in the first atomic bomb that was tested in New Mexico in July 1945.

The bunkers were arguably at their mightiest from 1955 to 1958, when they housed a sophisticated air defense system of Ajax and Hercules missiles under the designation of “H-52.” The bunkers were later refashioned into an emergency operations center and, more recently, a Gravitation Physics Laboratory that was rendered in-operational in 2011. However, the legacy of Nike missile bunkers lives on in the Golden Gate Recreational Area in California, which houses a reconstructed Nike site that is open for public tours.

9. The Sonnenberg bunker

Every European and North American country worth its salt has a nuclear bunker or six thousand lying around, but few have gone as far as Switzerland. The alpine country is the home of Sonnenberg Bunker, an unassuming pair of mile-long motorway tunnels that can transform into a massive fallout shelter by closing the 350-ton blast doors at both ends.

The tunnels and the bunker complex hidden within them lie under the town of Lucerne, and was designed to house 20,000 people in the event of the nuclear threat everyone was afraid of at the time. However, soon after its completion in 1976, the Sonnenberg Bunker turned out to be a little less efficient than advertised. While it was highly secure and could technically house the amount of people it was supposed to, provisions were a problem. Since the kitchen facilities could only feed the bunker staff and the hospital, almost everyone taking cover inside it would’ve had to bring their own food with them — and store said food on the tiny bunk bed they were also supposed to sleep in. There was also the small matter that it took a whopping two weeks to close the blast doors and get the bunker operational, which seems a little slow for a structure that exists specifically to shelter people from a disaster that could come with precious little notice.

Despite its flaws, the Sonnenberg Bunker remains operational, though only at a fraction of its intended capacity: In 2006, it was wisely downsized to only accommodate 2,000 people.

8. Survival Condo Project

Survival isn’t just a primal instinct. For some people, it’s a chance to turn in a sweet profit. Larry Hall is one of these entrepreneurial spirits, as evidenced by his Survival Condo Project, which combines luxurious accommodations with all the Armageddon-proof safety that a nuclear missile silo can provide. In 2008, Hall coughed up $300,000 for an old nuclear missile silo in Kansas, and spent a further $20 million to turn it into a series of luxurious homes, complete with communal spaces and luxuries such as swimming pools and cinemas. Hall even has plans to open a small grocery store within the complex.

Homes in the Survival Condo Project start from $1.5 million — well, started, since they were all sold out way back in 2012 — and apart from their underground location they’re virtually indistinguishable from your average inner-city apartment, complete with all the expected amenities such as dishwashers and washing machines. There are even LED screen “windows” that show live feed from the prairie range outside, though it’s probably safe to assume their view will be significantly less idyllic if the bunker is ever put to serious use.

7. Vivos xPoint

Somewhere in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, near the city of Edgemont, there’s a vast field where sturdy concrete bunkers litter the land like molehills. These 575 identical structures are Vivos xPoint, a luxury “survival community” for the people able and willing to tie themselves down to a down payment of $25,000 and a 99-year annual lease of $1,000. For that price, you get a barren bunker in one of the statistically safest locations in North America, ready to ride out whatever shelter-worthy disaster might strike.

While you’re free to ride out future disasters in an unfurnished concrete hole, the company also offers all sorts of luxurious refurbishments for your bunker — for a price, of course. They also offer “24/7 security” in the shape of trained guards and camera systems, and should the doomsday scenario allow you to exit the bunker every once in a while, there are also amenities such as a shooting range and a hot tub spa.

6. The Houston Bunker

The owners of the Houston Bunker (or “The Bunker” for short) claim that the site has “perhaps the most interesting history of any data center ever built.” While this may or may not be true, there’s no denying that the complex has a pretty wild past. Unlike your average converted Cold War -era nuclear shelter, the Bunker is a relatively young structure: A man called Louis Kung built it in 1982 as part of a supposed HQ for his Westland Oil company. The construction site was extremely secretive — armed guards and all — which is why most people didn’t know that Kung’s building also included a massive nuke-proof bunker.

Kung’s bunker was meant to save the families of Westland Oil employees (and, of course, that of Kung himself) from large-scale disaster, and it was equipped to house 350 people for three months. Apart from the usual nuclear shelter amenities such as filtration systems, water reservoirs and medical facilities, it seems Kung was also prepared for various Mad Max-style scenarios, seeing as he equipped the complex with machine gun nests and prison cells. Even the mundane office building parts of his structure featured bulletproof glass, emergency generators and other end-of-the-world features.

While Kung’s apocalyptic fears never came to be, the sturdy structure of the Bunker came in handy later, when the building got a new life as a data security center. In this role, the structure has proved its worth by surviving disasters such as hurricane Ike with zero system downtime.

5. Europa One

Remember Vivos, the company behind the xPoint bunker community? Turns out, they can do one better. When storms of fire one day raze the world, Europa One is where billionaires will go to ride things out. This giant structure in Rothenstein, Germany is an old Soviet Cold War bunker that has been converted into an underground city of unparalleled luxury that can be compared to a five-star cruise ship. Opulent swimming pools, stylish art galleries, comfortable cinemas, elegant bars and medieval-style cathedral spaces litter the complex, and if you don’t feel like hanging out in the communal spaces, you can always retire to your private accommodations, which with their plasma TVs and bedroom aquariums are not unlike a presidential suite.

It’s pointless to ask how much it costs to enter this lap of luxury, because if you have to ask you almost certainly can’t afford it. Even if you can, entrance is by no means guaranteed. First, a potential Europa One resident has to apply for Vivos “membership,” after which they’re moved to a vast pool of prospects, from which the company selects “best candidates” for the shelter.

4. The Shanghai Complex

It might be wise to take the stories about Shanghai’s massive underground bunker with a grain of salt, since it appears most reports of its existence are from 2006 and can be traced back to a single article by the Shanghai Morning Post. Still, even if just a fraction of its scale is true, it’s a massive feat of engineering that easily earns a place on this list. We’re talking about a colossal, nuclear-proof, million-square-foot bunker complex that can house a reported 200,000 people for up to two weeks. “Miles of tunnels” connect the shelter to a number of buildings, shopping centers, and the city’s subway system.

While the scale and existence of this particular shelter might be debatable (even the Shanghai Morning Post article didn’t go into too many specifics), it wouldn’t be too surprising to find out it’s real. After all, there’s no denying that China’s large cities have a long history of large-scale bunker building, and Shanghai alone built many large shelter complexes during the Cold War. To get a sense of the scale, you only need to take a look at another large Chinese city, Beijing, where an estimated million people live in the city’s old, forgotten nuclear shelters.

3. Burlington bunker

At first glance, the Burlington bunker seems less like a real location and more like a video game level. Located 100 feet under the cobblestones of the quintessentially English small town of Corsham, this massive complex is a little bit larger than your average doomsday prepper’s concrete bunker: A full-on 1950s “Cold War City” that features an insanely complex, mile-long labyrinth of nuke-proof underground structures and 60 miles of criss-crossing subterranean roads. The climate-controlled location was designed to house up to 4,000 people, ran on massive generators that powered over 100,000 lights, and was chosen because a vast network of natural limestone caves that was already running under Corsham.

The Burlington bunker’s amenities include usual Armageddon fare such as control rooms, kitchens, storage rooms and a pneumatic tube system for messages. It also features a hospital, the second largest phone exchange in Great Britain and, of course, an underwater lake that supplies the drinking water. A fully equipped TV studio allows whoever’s left of the government (and, for that matter, the British royals) to address the people, which is why the site used to feature a secret rail line that forked from the main line between London and Bristol.

People only learned of the top secret Burlington bunker’s existence after it was decommissioned in 2004, at which point most of its supplies had been drained and a small staff of four people was running the entire bunker.

2. Raven Rock

Where does the Department of Defense go when things get really hairy? Like, “actual bombs are falling on the Pentagon” serious? The answer is Raven Rock. This mountain complex, which is also known as Site R, was built underneath Pennsylvania’s Blue Ridge mountains, and is connected to Camp David (the country retreat of the President of the United States) with a 6.5-mile tunnel in case the POTUS needs evacuating as well.

Raven Rock is basically every Cold War -era fear rolled into one giant bunker complex, which comes as no surprise seeing as it was built between 1951 and 1953 — the heyday of the post-WWII Red Scare. It’s basically the Pentagon, but as a huge, ultra-safe underground structure that was (at least theoretically) self-sufficient enough to shelter the country’s best and brightest for an indeterminate period of time. Some of its tunnels are large enough to house several large buildings that, in turn, are designed to house hundreds of high-ranking folks. The site also has its own power plant, two water reservoirs, and even a well-stocked bar. Being a military project, its price tag was equally impressive — its original budget of $35 million eventually ballooned into $350 million, adjusted for inflation.

Despite all of its obsolete Cold War glory, Raven Rock remains fully staffed even today. It was even used for emergency evacuation during the 9/11 attacks, when Vice President Dick Cheney sought shelter there. However, it’s hardly a top secret location — in fact, the Obama administration even started offering tours of the site as part of their “Weekend at Camp David” program.

1. The Oppidum

And then there is the Oppidum. Where other luxury bunkers stuff their underground complexes with high-end features and millionaire opulence, this super-secure compound in the Czech Republic takes things even further.  Apart from the five-star nuclear bunker comfort you’d expect at this point of the list, the Oppidum’s living quarters are two-part affair where you can go from living in your palatial above-ground residence to an equally lush underground bunker, which can be sealed with a sturdy blast door in under a minute.

Because the whole structure is surrounded by mountains and located in a peaceful country with no ready enemies, it’s unlikely to be nuked to oblivion in the first place, but should the situation demand taking things underground, the massive two-level bunker is reportedly the most luxurious “residential doomsday shelter” in the world. Incidentally, it’s also the largest, at a ridiculous 323,000 square feet. The Oppidum isn’t shy about using all that space for sheer extravagance, either; apart from unexpectedly fancy living quarters, the complex features amenities such as a spa, a wine cellar, and even a nice garden with “simulated natural light.” Oh, and to protect the luxury compound from attacks by mutants of the radioactive post-apocalyptic wasteland, the Oppidum also features state-of-the-art defense systems, ranging from high walls and sensors to “automated defense technology.”


North Korean Dreamin’ –

WIF Underground

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Ocean – WIF Travel

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Sable Island:

The Graveyard

of the Atlantic

Sable Island is a small island located about 190 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This remote and very isolated location is one of the farthest offshore islands in Canada. Although it’s almost 200 miles from the mainland, it is still part of the Halifax Region.

The island is famously known for its hundreds of wild horses that inhabit the island, as well as several other animals and birds that make this place so unique. There is, however, a darker history that surrounds the island, specifically the hundreds of shipwrecks that have occurred there over the years. In fact, the island is eerily referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

From the incredible wildlife that inhabits the island, to the French criminals who lived there centuries ago, to the horribly dangerous weather and hundreds of shipwrecks, this article will detail 10 of the most amazing facts about Sable Island.

10. The Location

The distant crescent-shaped sandbar is located almost 200 miles from Halifax in the Atlantic Ocean. Sable Island measures 26 miles long and is home to a considerable amount of wildlife, such as wild horses, seals, and numerous rare birds. In fact, the island is the world’s largest breeding colony for grey seals. The exceptionally strong plant life also attracts many insects that are found no other place on Earth.

The weather is highly unpredictable and the tides are continuously changing. There is much debate on whether Sable Island is, in fact, moving eastward. Some scientists believe that the western part of the island is washing away, while the eastern side of the island is gathering more sand. This makes the island appear as if it’s moving eastward; however, others argue that the island is not moving but it is actually getting smaller and could potentially one day disappear altogether.

9. First Settlers From The 1590s

In the 1590s, a Frenchman with quite a name – Troilus de Mesgouez, marquis de La Roche-Helgomarche, viceroy of New France – decided to harvest colonists for Sable Island to make money from fur and fish. He gathered criminals, vagabonds, and beggars from a French port and told them they would be going to an island where they would work for the colony. By the late 1590s, about 50-60 settlers, along with 10 soldiers, were living on Sable Island. They also had a storehouse.

The criminals, not surprisingly, committed crimes on an almost nightly basis, mostly by robbing each other. When the marquis, who had previously left to explore the mainland, tried returning to the island later that year, he couldn’t find it and ended up sailing back to France. While the settlers received living supplies annually, in 1602 they were cut off and had to fend for themselves. When a new supply ship arrived on the island in 1603, they discovered that only 11 of the settlers were still alive. They had resorted to murdering each other during that year alone on the island. The survivors returned to France, where King Henry IV rewarded them with silver coins. And the island, once again, became uninhabited by humans.

8. It’s Been Named A Canadian National Park

In December 2013, Sable Island was named Canada’s 43rd National Park. The island is home to a variety of animals and plant life. There are over 350 species of birds living on the island, with some listed as endangered. The world’s largest breeding colony of grey seals is found on Sable Island, not to mention the countless number of wild horses living there.

While there are nearly 200 different species of plants found there, there is oddly only one tree on the island – a small pine tree that stands at just three feet tall. The strong winds make it nearly impossible for trees to survive on the island, along with the fact that there isn’t much real soil found there.

There’s also plenty of history and cultural resources connected to the island, such as the many shipwrecks that have happened there. In fact, sometimes when the sand shifts, the remains from shipwrecks are found. Other important locations on the island include the life-saving stations, lighthouses, and telegraph poles.

7. The HMS Delight

In 1583 the HMS Delight, the first recorded shipwreck took place at Sable Island. The Delight was exploring the waters along with another ship named the HMS Squirrel when the commanders of each vessel got into a dispute about the safest course to sail their boats. Richard Clarke, who was the master of the Delight, agreed to obey Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s (the commander of the Squirrel) orders.

The HMS Delight, which was the larger of the two ships and carried the most supplies, ended up wrecking on one of Sable Island’s sandbars and sank. The HMS Squirrel was unable to rescue them as the water was too shallow to enter. The majority of Clarke’s crew members drowned and only 16 of them, along with Clarke himself, were able to get into a small boat and sailed the water for days, hoping for someone to rescue them. They were on the boat for a total of seven days when they finally reached the northern province of Newfoundland. Five days after that, a Basque whaling vessel found the men and rescued them.

6. The Merrimac – Not the Ironclad

The most recent shipwreck on Sable Island – and the first one since 1947 – happened on July 27, 1999, and it was that of the Merrimac. The 12-meter fiberglass yacht with an auxiliary engine was owned by Jean Rheault of Montreal, Quebec. At around 2:00 a.m., after the ship had wrecked, they got into a life raft but quickly realized they were just a few meters away from Sable Island. Once the three-man crew (including Rheault himself) had reached the island, natural gas exploration workers rescued them. The crew members flew to Halifax the following day.

Although Rheault hired a fisherman to try to recover the yacht, they were unable to retrieve it. After just six weeks, the remains of the yacht were nothing more than tiny fragments of fiberglass caused by the sand and strong waves crashing upon the wreckage. A portion of the yacht’s Dacron sail is now on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which is located in Halifax.

5. It’s Home To More Than 350 Species Of Birds

There are over 350 different species of birds living on Sable Island. It’s believed to be the only nesting place in the world for the Ipswich Sparrow. Also found on the island are 2,000 pairs of Herring Gulls, more than 2,500 pairs of terns, and over 500 pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls. Other birds include American Black Ducks, Semi-palmated Plovers, Red-breasted Mergansers, and sandpipers, just to name a few. In addition, there have been several migrant birds, along with exotic strays that have been found there.

There are three types of terns: Roseate, Common, and Arctic. While there are over 2,500 pairs of terns that live on the island, approximately 60% of them are Arctic Terns. The Roseate Terns are listed as an endangered species.

4. Horrible Weather Conditions

Sable Island is known to have extremely strong winds and a lot of fog. In fact, there is a daily average of at least one hour of fog on the island for about a third of the year (125 days). When the warm air from the Gulf Stream mixes in with the cool air from the Labrador Current, it creates fog throughout the island. It also has the strongest winds in the entire province of Nova Scotia. The temperatures, however, are not too severe, with the yearly average ranging between 26 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s believed that many of the shipwrecks that have happened on Sable Island were caused by the dangerous and severe weather. Prior to the more advanced modern day navigational equipment, the older instruments depended greatly on using the sun and the stars for navigation, making it impossible for the crew members to use when they reached the thick fog and clouds near the island — a perfect recipe for a shipwreck. In addition to the sometimes horrible weather conditions, Sable Island is also directly in the path of many storms (including hurricanes) that travel up the Atlantic Coast.

3. Human Population: One

We’ve talked about the high wildlife population on this remote island, but there is also one — and only one — person who lives there year-round. In fact, she’s been living there for over 40 years, by herself. Zoe Lucas, who is a 68-year-old scientist, first visited the island in 1971 when she was just 21 years of age and studying goldsmithing. While there are other workers and scientists who rotate shifts on the island, Lucas is the only permanent resident.

While it would seem that living on an island all alone would be terribly boring, Lucas claims that she’s never lonely and spends her time studying the ecology. She lives in a wooden house that’s settled within the sand dunes, and she has supplies flown in every two weeks. She’s found many strange things that have washed ashore, but the oddest one was a fake leg. While many of us couldn’t imagine living in solitude on a remote island, it’s obvious that Lucas really enjoys it, or else she wouldn’t have stayed there for over four decades.

2. It’s Nicknamed the “Graveyard Of The Atlantic”

With severe weather hiding the island from sight because of dangerous storms, large waves, and thick fog, it’s not surprising that many ships have crashed there. Since 1583, more than 350 shipwrecks have been recorded on Sable Island, which is why it has been given the ominous nickname of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

One of the reasons so many ships have wrecked in that area is that it’s a very rich fishing ground, as well as being directly on the shipping path between North America and Europe, so a lot of boats pass by there every year.

In 1801, the first lifesaving station was developed on the island and by 1895 there were a total of five stations. This project was referred to as the “Humane Establishment.” There were two lighthouses on the island, where someone would always keep watch during the nights. There were also shelters in place where survivors from shipwrecks could go to keep warm and eat. However, after 11 years without any reports of shipwrecks, the Humane Establishment ended in 1958.

1. Wild Horses

When most people think of Sable Island, their first thought is usually of the many wild horses that inhabit the island. While there isn’t an exact count of the number of horses living on the island, it’s believed that there could be up to 400.

While some people assume that the horses ended up on the island by swimming there from one of the shipwrecks, historians believe that they were put on the island on purpose in the 18th century. In the 1750s or 1760s, a Boston merchant and ship-owner named Thomas Hancock transported Acadians to American colonies during their expulsion from Nova Scotia. He also brought horses, cows, hogs, goats, and sheep with him. In the end, it was only the horses that were able to survive on the island, and it’s believed that the horses today are the descendants from those introduced there centuries ago.

And when you consider the horses live on the remote island and have never had any veterinary care or antibiotics, it’s amazing that these animals have survived for centuries on their own.


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Crazy Railroad Tracks – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Crazy Railroad Tracks

Around

the World

While we don’t think of them in the same way as cars or even commercial airplanes, trains are a staple mode of transportation and may be the very definition of the “standard routine” at times, being guided by rails. Yet rail and train construction is often anything but standard or routine, and is sometimes hatched from the brains of ultra-creative and – at times – desperate engineers.

We’ve already told you about bizarre locomotives themselves, so in this account we’re going to get into some of the crazier railroads from around the world…

10. Hindenburgdamm, Germany

Rail and sea travel might seem to be worlds apart, but when trains appear to run across the waves on a narrow causeway, the role of a ferry may be replaced by the capabilities of a train. The island of Sylt, off the coast of Germany, is not accessible by either roads or ferries. Instead, the method of traveling and, most significantly, of bringing cars to and from the popular island destination consists of what might best be called a sea train.

Locomotives pulling railcars stacked with personal vehicles travel between Sylt and Schleswig-Holstein on mainland Germany just barely above the waves on rails laid upon a precarious-looking causeway called the Hindenburgdamm that crosses almost 7 miles of water. The causeway is solid but exceptionally narrow, and also has very little height above sea level. The shallow waters in between the mainland and the island of Sylt made the creation of this remarkable alternative to the more typical means of transporting vehicles to an island by boat possible. Around 100 trains per day travel between the island and the mainland, half of those carrying cars and trucks.

9. Rail Transit No. 2, China

Chongqing, in China’s Sichuan Province, is a populated area where spicy food is popular and urban residential, commercial, and transportation space is at a great premium. So much so, in fact, that when the planned construction of Rail Transit No. 2 Line in Chongqing was set to go forward an apartment building was right in the way of the track slated to be built. While such a defined problem might baffle some designers and planners, a remarkable planning compromise was reached that balanced the competing transportation and residential needs.

Lacking an alternative route for the railway and not wanting to take the drastic step of demolishing the building, transit planners and engineers concocted a successful plan that removed several suites and passed the elevated train track right through the apartment building. While not easy, taking the approach of routing the railway through the building was still more feasible than trying other paths, given the little available space. The apartment still houses most of its original inhabitants, who apparently don’t mind a monorail barreling through their place once in awhile. Care to maintain the structural integrity of the building through the tunnel-like modifications combines with the quiet and efficient railway system to make the building livable, and surprisingly without significant noise or disturbance to residents.

8. Gisborne Airport Railway Crossing

Planes, trains, and… wait, planes and trains together? Yes. New Zealand is not the largest nation on Earth, and the competition for flat land that can be used for purposes dependent on flat land (especially, for example, an airport) is significant in certain areas. In a dramatic example of space sharing in transportation infrastructure, a railway intersects with a runway. On New Zealand’s North Island, thePalmerston North – Gisborne Railway Line crosses the runway of the Gisborne Airport.

Any mistake by a pilot or an engineer could potentially cause a plane to crash right into a train crossing the middle of the runway at right angles, but not to worry: schedules are carefully coordinated. Still, a locomotive steaming across a runway may shock the eyes of the unprepared. The railway is busy throughout the day and into the night, according to scheduled train routes. In contrast, the runway is only in operation to handle air traffic between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. During the day when both are in full use, it is a job and of itself to coordinate the arrival and departure of aircraft with the seemingly out-of-place trains that cross the runway. Aircraft and trains both stop for each other.

7. Gotthard Tunnel Route

Northern and Southern Europe may be geographically different and set apart by massive Alpine peaks towering above sloping forests and fields, but the remarkable Gotthard Tunnel solves the problem by tunneling directly through the mountains, connecting Europe on either side of the imposing Swiss Alps by going right under especially difficult sections. The tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in the world at 35 miles in length, greatly reducing the need for truck traffic. The tunnel is also not only the longest railway tunnel existing on the planet, it is also the deepest under the surface.

At its greatest point of depth, the remarkable tunnel is 1.42 miles below the mountainous surface above as it carries trains in the subterranean desolation. Replacing the traffic of a million trucks that have been transporting goods every year, the twin-bored tunnel links the municipality of Erstfeld, with its German language name and located towards Switzerland’s north, with the south of Switzerland municipality of Bodio, closer to the Italian border and with a corresponding Italian name – examples of Switzerland’s linguistic diversity. The tunnel route was opened in a ceremony that involved hundreds of passengers getting the opportunity to ride the train in each direction.

6. Maeklong Railway Market

Playing on train tracks is not recommended, but the Maeklong Railway Market in Bangkok, Thailand takes things one step further. You see, not only do people gather around the tracks, but an entire marketplace is set up and dismantled daily. When the market is open, stalls are erected and goods are sold… right on the tracks upon which trains will soon arrive. Each time trains are scheduled throughout the day, items and people are moved hastily off the track, before the trains come through. Paying attention to the time is certainly a matter of survival in this particular set up.

The scale and complexity of the market in its cumulative sum makes its dismantlement seem immensely challenging. But it is the coordinated effort of multiple vendors working together that also makes it possible for the entire set up to be moved out of the way of oncoming trains when the need arises. Close attention is duly paid to the schedule of the train despite the apparent distraction of the busy selling conditions and throngs of market visitors. As the tracks are cleared according to train schedules, disaster is consistently averted.

5. Katoomba Scenic World Railway

Australia may be thought of as a land of flat terrain and desert, but it is worth remembering that while that impression may be true across much of the Australian landscape, there is topographical variation. The Blue Mountains of New South Wales are not only noteworthy natural features but also home to an incredible railway system that forms a tourist attraction. Remarkable as the world’s steepest funicular railway and the steepest passenger-carrying rail system worldwide, the Katoomba Scenic World Railway was originally built in the late 1800s and has a rich history, given its construction to aid in transportation aspects of mining operations.

Funicular indicates that the railway operates with the assistance of cable traction, pulling cars up the steep inclines that would otherwise pose an insurmountable challenge to rail travel. With tracks positioned at 52 degrees, which is a 128% incline, the incredibly steep railway now sees modern vehicles operating as an attraction for daring rail travelers. The railway offers spectacular views of mountain, forest, and cliff formations as it traverses difficult terrain. In one particularly hair-raising section, the railway drops 1,017 feet as it travels through a tunnel in the side of a mountain cliff.

4. Tren-a-las Nubes, Argentina

The Andes are known as exceptional geographical formations that offer some of the most ambitious mountaineering routes on the planet. Translating to “Train to the Clouds,” Tren-a-las Nubes in Argentina rises just over 13,779 feet above sea level. Passing through numerous spectacular landscape types and climate zones, the train traverses arid lowlands, rocky precipices, and high elevation landscapes where the air is thin enough to potentially create challenges for those not accustomed to the height. And speaking of that height: onboard oxygen is available in case of medical symptoms due to the exceptional height reached on the journey.

Construction of the incredible railway route began in the year 1921 under a plan to connect Northern Argentina to Chilean lands by reaching across the Andes. As the tracks cover variations between peaks and immense valleys, the differences are leveled out by carefully constructed trestles equipped with an incredible array of beams, abruptly transitioning into railway track, skirting slope edges with sufficient clearance made in the rocks. Typical track may seem to be the exception rather than the norm in such parts of the route. While the train to the clouds reaches astonishing heights, the name actually refers to clouds of steam from the locomotive hovering in the cold air rather than any natural clouds that may be encountered on the route.

3. Qinghai-Tibet Railway

The highest railway in the world, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway reaches the exceptional height of a little more than 16,640 feet at its highest point, while its average height is still exceptional at nearly 14,764 feet. The railway passes through the world’s highest elevated railway tunnel, with sections of the track experiencing severe freezing conditions. The route contains a number of record-holding elements in the track layout, including the most lengthy plateau tunnel on the planet at Kunlun Mountain, extending 5,531 feet, while the Fenghuoshan Tunnel is at the top of world records for the tunnel that is at the highest elevation, being built at 16,092.52 feet.

The railway is recognized as a Chinese engineering feat of great significance, standing out with many ingenious and challenging engineering solutions given the vast distances involved in the route, remote locations, and the need to build sections of the track on frozen soil that never thaws. The thinness of the air at the higher elevation along the route has presented challenges not only to passengers, but significantly affected construction workers to the point where oxygen facilities were set up. Passengers fill out a health declaration and are also supplied with personal oxygen masks, while train windows filter excess UV rays.

2. Mauritania Railway, Sahara Desert

Yes, there is a train running through shifting sands and shimmering heat. At 437 miles in length, the Mauritania Railway braves the blistering isolation of the Sahara. The seemingly endless trains running from desert to coast along this route, the national railway of the sizable, Sahara desert-dominated African country of Mauritania, are the longest freight trains in the world at 1.5 miles in length. The route is used to transport iron ore vast distances across the desert to port locations, where it is shipped.

Given that the nation is almost entirely stark and desolate desert, iron ore export plays a crucial role in the economic survival of the country. While the trains are mostly intended to carry freight, passengers can hitch a ride on the trains, either opting to ride for free in the hoppers or to pay a small fee to travel on available benches. But if the train were to break down in the extreme heat of the Sahara, the results could be disastrous for travelers. The risks of the adventure on the desert tracks include extreme sandstorms brought about by the harsh desert winds and easily disturbed fine sands that characterize the desert landscape.

1. Dawlish Railway Station, Exeter to Plymouth Line

Trains on the beach, a seawall station, and sea cliff tunnels. That’s a lot to combine together in a railway route, and sometimes, the cause of an awful lot of trouble due to collapsing tracks. An example of particularly notable and extreme railway line construction that has left much to be desired, the Dawlish Railway Station in southern England and the railway tracks to and from the areas close to the station have at times been fraught with problems. The challenges have included the collapse of a track section after being partially washed away by the waves caused by extreme weather.

The spectacular appearance of the beach-side station and nearby tracks stands out, seemingly being out of place due to the station being right on the seawall, allowing salt spray to easily wash over the tracks. The sight of trains in a view-scape where one might expect beached or moored ships adds great interest and creates fantastic photography opportunities. Adding to the drama of the exceptionally challenging rail route, the track travels through tunnels bored into challenging sea cliffs just to the south of the station, creating a contrast between track running through the closed seaside tunnels, and track laid along open seawalls.


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The Alaska Triangle – WIF Did You Know?

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The Alaska Triangle

We’ve all heard of the Bermuda Triangle, but surprisingly there is also an Alaska Triangle. This mysterious triangle is the location of countless disappearances of people, planes and boats that have never been found or heard from again. There are many theories regarding the explanation of so many missing people, such as the land being located on a vortex, and of course we have to mention that mythical creatures are said to cause some of these disappearances.

It is a huge area full of unsolved mysteries that nobody can explain, and that’s why the Alaska Triangle is such an interesting and complex location that many people haven’t even heard of. This article will detail the top 10 interesting facts about the mysterious Alaska Triangle.

10. The Location Of The Alaska Triangle

The Alaska Triangle covers a huge area of the state, from the southeast area close to Juneau and Yakutat, to the northern region of the Barrow mountain range and also to the city of Anchorage. Inside of the triangle there is a huge amount of unexplored wilderness which includes mountain peaks, large forests, and isolated barren tundra.

The area has a large amount of local people who live there, as well as tourists visiting the location who inexplicably go missing each year. There have also been numerous planes that have disappeared or crashed without any explanation. As a matter of fact, since 1988, there have been approximately 16,000 people who have vanished seemingly into thin air in this mysterious Alaska Triangle.

9. Alaska Monsters

There was even a television series based on the Alaska Triangle and its dangerous animals that live in the area. The show is called Alaska Monsters and it’s about a team of six experienced frontiersmen called the “Alaska Midnight Sons” (or AMS for short) who explore the vast wilderness in hopes of finding dangerous creatures lurking through the forests.

Since many people believe that there are dangerous and mysterious creatures living in the huge forests of Alaska, AMS’ job is to investigate the Triangle area by area to find evidence of these beasts they believe are the reason for the disappearances of thousands of people. These frontiersmen are responsible for investigating leads, conducting interviews with locals, and even tracking footprints. One common theory is that Bigfoot lives in the remote areas of the wilderness.

8. Is Bigfoot To Blame?

With huge amounts of forests and uncharted wilderness, Alaska is certainly a perfect location for Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) to hide out. There are numerous reports of Bigfoot sightings throughout the entire state. Some reports include evidence of nesting sites, a possible Bigfoot skeleton, and unidentified hair samples. Some witnesses have even reported seeing a swimming Sasquatch during their encounters.

Some villages have even relocated as a result from terrifying encounters with Bigfoot, which is surprising because the common understanding is that the creature prefers isolated areas and is in general quite peaceful. If Bigfoot is as confrontational as people in Alaska claim it to be, it’s a possibility that this creature is perhaps the reason why some people go missing especially in the wilderness if they come face to face with it.

7. Theory Of The Otterman

There are many different theories regarding all of the disappearances in the Alaska Triangle and one of them includes the evil spirits associated with the native Tlingit people who live in the area. These people are said to have origins dating back to 11,000 years ago. Their name, Tlingit, means “People of the Tides.”

These people believe that there is a shape-shifting demon named Kushtaka who is a cross between a man and an otter. It is said to lure people to their impending doom by attracting lost people to the water by portraying children or women who are screaming for help. It is also said that when the Kushtaka (also known as the “Otterman”) captures these lost people, it then steals their souls. It is a folklore that has never been proven, but it’s still a frightening thought to say the least.

6. A UFO Flew Right Through The Triangle

In 1986, a Japanese plane was flying from Iceland to Anchorage, Alaska when it came across three UFOs. The three unidentified flying objects followed the airliner for approximately 400 miles right through the Alaska Triangle. One of the objects was said to be twice the size of an aircraft carrier while the other two were smaller in size.

The crew reported seeing flashing lights following their plane and air traffic controllers also witnessed something unidentifiable on their radar that was reportedly as close as five miles away from the plane. The pilot claimed that one point the two smaller ships appeared directly in front of the plane at pretty close range. He described the “two small ships and the mother ship” disappearing and reappearing quickly, moving fast and stopping suddenly, which is impossible for a normal airliner to do. In order to escape the UFOs, the pilot received permission from the ground crew to fly at a lower altitude while making several turns to elude the objects, but nothing he did could escape them. After about 32 minutes, the UFOs disappeared, although the pilot claimed that he thought the entire encounter lasted much longer than that.

5. Energy Vortexes

Some believe that the Alaska Triangle is located in vile vortices, which means that it has extreme electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic anomalies in addition to energy vortexes, which are electromagnetic currents. One great example of vile vortices is the Bermuda Triangle. However, several other places on the planet are also said to have it, such as the Hamakulia Volcano in Hawaii, the “Devil’s Sea” in Japan, and the north and south poles. Other famous destinations that are said to lie on vortexes are Easter Island, Stonehenge, and the Pyramids of Egypt. In fact, some people believe that the reason why these monuments were built in the first place was because they are located on a vortex.

Energy vortexes are said to cause different effects on people’s bodies, such as affecting their mental, physical, and emotional health, as well as causing hallucinations and visions, confusion, and disorientation. In addition, these people have even showed signs of healing powers. And sometimes electrical instruments can malfunction, such as compasses.

Another belief is that vortexes can open doorways to the spiritual world or another realm which could possibly explain why so many people disappear in those regions.

4. Vast Wilderness

The state of Alaska has huge amounts of wilderness. The rigid landscape includes hazardous terrain and dangerous wild animals, in addition to the harsh weather. It is also home to approximately a hundred active volcanoes. Needless to say, it’s dangerous to camp or hike there since it’s very easy to get lost in the wilderness with the added threat of the dangerous animals that lurk in the forests. Surviving the Alaskan wilderness isn’t easy and unfortunately for those who get lost, getting found is next to impossible. The search and rescue teams have a very difficult time locating people with the complications from the vast wilderness, inaccessible locations on the mountains, and unpredictable weather. For example, some areas can get as low as -40 degrees in the winter.

Perhaps this makes the most sense of all the theories; however, the majority of the disappearances are located inside of the Alaska Triangle, so that’s yet another unanswered question.

3. Astonishing Numbers Of Missing People

Alaska has more missing person reports each year than anywhere else in the United States. In fact, it’s twice the number of the national average. What’s even more eerie is that this state also has the largest number of missing people who are never found again.

For example, in 2007, there were 2,833 people who were reported missing in Alaska. And at that time, the entire state only had an overall population of approximately 670,000 people. That averaged out to a frightening statistic of 4 people in every 1,000 who went missing. That’s an incredibly high number of disappearances considering the relatively low number of people living in the state. For comparison, just the city of San Francisco alone has a higher population than the entire state of Alaska.

2. The Vanishing Plane of 1972

One of the most famous disappearances in the Alaska Triangle happened in October 1972 when a plane vanished while carrying two very important politicians – the House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and Representative Nick Begich. Aboard the plane was also an aide named Russell Brown, as well as their pilot Don Jonz. The airplane, described as a Cessna 310 aircraft, disappeared while flying from Anchorage to Juneau.

After their plane went missing, there was a huge search for them which lasted 39 days and included more than 400 aircraft and numerous boats, with help from the Coast Guard. But even after all of that searching, there were no signs of the missing plane or the passengers. There was a conspiracy theory circulating for a while claiming that the crash was intentional and it was covered up by the FBI, specifically J. Edgar Hoover, who was said to be involved in a power struggle with Hale Boggs.

1. It’s Still A Popular Tourist Attraction

Despite the endless reports of people disappearing in Alaska, that’s obviously not a worry for travelers because according to reports the tourism industry is at an all time high. The state has become a very popular tourist destination and while the visitor sector has continued to grow in the past several years, it is predicted to grow another six percent this year in 2018.

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that the Alaska Triangle is a very mysterious area with a staggering number of people, boats, and planes that have gone missing throughout the years, never to be seen again. While there are many theories as to what the causes these disappearances, from mythical creatures such as a half-man-half-otter creature, to Bigfoot, to even UFOs and aliens, there may also be a natural explanation such as a vortex. No matter what you believe, the Alaska Triangle is definitely one of the greatest unsolved mysteries to this very day and many people continue to visit this beautiful state, which is riddled with unanswered questions and secrets.


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WIF Did You Know?

4th of July in History

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 Events That

Occurred On

The 4th Of July

For Americans, the 4th of July is one of the most significant dates in history. Yet, what many may not know is that a host of other historically significant events also occurred on this particular day. Here are ten of the most important for world history, arranged chronologically.

10. The Battle of Mantinea (362 BC)

Battle-of-Mantinea

In a battle of Greek city-states, the Thebans, led by Epaminondas, actually managed to defeat the famed Spartans. Epaminondas won the battle while fighting in the front line, resulting in him sustaining a fatal wound. To make matters worse for the “victors,” the two Theban leaders whom he intended to succeed him perished. A dying Epaminondas thus instructed the Thebans to make peace, despite having won the battle. As a consequence, Theban hopes for hegemony faded, while the Spartans were unable to replace their losses. Because both sides had lost their most capable leaders at Mantinea and its aftermath, the battle paved the way for the Macedonian rise as the leading force in Greece. An ascendant Macedon went on to unite most of Greece, in a campaign under Alexander the Great that conquered most of the Persian Empire, including Egypt.

9. A Major Turning Point In The Crusades (1187)

Saladin

During the Crusades at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin defeated and captured Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem. French knight Raynald of Châtillon died in the aftermath, personally beheaded by Saladin. The Muslim victory set the stage for their march on Jerusalem, which they besieged successfully a few months later in the Autumn of 1187. These two victories destroyed the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, and thereby directly resulted in the coming Third Crusade, a major event in world history in which the Holy Roman Emperor joined with the kings of England and France to attempt to retake Jerusalem. They failed and as such, Saladin’s destruction of the Crusader army at Hattin, capture of Jerusalem’s king, and conquest of Jerusalem itself had long-lasting consequences for Middle Eastern history. If somehow Guy would have triumphed instead and prevented Saladin from moving on Jerusalem, the history of the Crusades and, therefore, of Christian and Muslim relations could have been quite different.

8. THE 4th of July (1776)

declaration-of-independence

During the American Revolution, The United States Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. Yet, American independence was not immediately recognized by the British. So, in 1778, American forces under George Clark captured Kaskaskia during the Illinois campaign, one of many victories that would eventually encourage the British to acknowledge America’s independence. The result meant that the United States Declaration of Independence would go down as one of the most important documents of American times. At least two dozen countries around the world drew upon this document when drafting their own declarations of independence, in the nineteenth through twentieth centuries. Moreover, that it inspired Americans to successful liberate themselves from British rule was not only a hallmark in notions of human rights, but also in ideas of democracy. Consider the number of absolutist governments in the centuries before 1776 versus the increasing number of constitutional governments in the years afterwards. America’s success inspired many other countries’ elder statesmen, whose words regarding freedom bear obvious resemblance to that established by Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe.

7. The Deaths of America’s Founders (1826 and 1831)

july-4-dead-presidents

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, died the same day in 1826 as John Adams, second president of the United States, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Just a few years later, fellow founding father, and fifth President of the United States, James Monroe passed away on July 4th, 1831. That three of the first five American presidents died on the 4th of July is not only obviously symbolic, it also reflects something of the end of an era for the first leaders of one of history’s most powerful countries. Their passing was not just the deaths of well-known American politicians, but giants of Western civilization whose legacy still appears visually in numerous monuments, films, and even on currency


6. Alice First Entered Wonderland (1862)

alice-in-wonderland

On July 4th, 1862, Lewis Carroll told Alice Liddell a story that would grow into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequels. Wonderland was subsequently published on July 4th, 1865. The number of adaptations of the book and its sequel, in films, television, and video games is enormous. Allusions to Carroll’s stories in popular culture are incredibly pervasive, especially throughout the Anglophone world, but also in non-English speaking cultures as well. Stories about Alice rival the Oz books and the writings of Jules Verne as far as being regularly adapted in various media over the years is concerned.

5. The Turning Points Of the American Civil War Concluded (1863)

ulysses-s-grant

During the American Civil War, Vicksburg, Mississippi was surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant after 47 days of siege, while 150 miles up the Mississippi River, a Confederate Army was repulsed at the Battle of Helena in Arkansas. On the same day, The Army of Northern Virginia withdrew from the battlefield after its loss at the Battle of Gettysburg, signaling an end to the Southern invasion of the North. These three defeats represented the turning point of the American Civil War. They prevented any remaining chance that a European power might intervene militarily on the South’s behalf. They also demonstrated decisively that the South could not successfully invade the North. For the remainder of the war, the South was now entirely on the defensive and, although she held out for two more years, they were two disastrous years that resulted in the deaths of numerous Southerners.

4. The New Colossus Enlightened the World (1884)

Statue-of-Liberty-1800s

The people of France offered the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World to the people of the United States on July 4th, 1884. The two allies participated in this symbolic act nearly a hundred years after both of their revolutions began in (1776 for America, and 1789  for France.) The erection of the sculpture symbolized the triumph of Enlightenment ideas of liberty, ideas that continue to enrapture large chunks of humanity. Moreover, the magnificence and endurance of the sculpture has led many to refer to it as a “wonder of the modern world,” and “The New Colossus.”

3. The End Of A Dynasty (1918)

tsar-nicholas-II

When Bolsheviks killed future Orthodox saints Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, they effectively ended the Romanov dynasty that ruled the Russian Empires, one of the largest countries in human history after centuries of rule. The event also foreshadowed the end of other European dynasties amidst the cataclysmic First World War. Following the Russian examples, the Habsburgs of Austria, the Hohenzollerns of Germany, and the Ottomans of Turkey were also toppled by their people in rapid succession.

2. Modern Warfare Was At Its Most Massive Scale (1943)

battle-of-kursk

During World War II, the Battle of Kursk (the largest full-scale battle in history and the world’s largest tank battle) began at Prokhorovka Village on July 4th, 1943. The battle resulted in over a million casualties on both sides (Germans versus Soviets) and the loss of over 10,000 tanks, guns, and aircraft. This decisive Soviet victory crippled Germany’s offensive power in the East, in what was Germany’s final strategic offensive on that front, and thus the final realistic chance for them to turn the tide on the Eastern Front.

1. Filipino Independence Achieved (1946)

Philippines-Independence-Day

After 381 years of near-continuous colonial rule by various powers, the Philippines attained full independence from the United States. The independence of the Philippines coincided with a global trend in the years following World War II in which many African and Asian countries, previously colonized by Western powers, achieved their independence after centuries of Western domination.


4th of July

in History

Misunderstood Movie Trivia – WIF @ The Movies

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Popular Pieces

of Movie Trivia

(Debunked)

Everyone wants to provide small novelty pieces of information about beloved movies. Unfortunately, the high demand means that the product has gotten a bit diluted over time. Misunderstandings or even outright lies now permeate the pop culture landscape. We’re inclined to believe a lot of them if for no other reason than the reputation that people have in show business for being weird, or for crazy things to happen when millions of dollars are spent on make believe.

There’s too much respect for the truth to let that stand. Well, at least we want to help our readers put some smug people who think they’re the smartest people in the world because they know some piece of trivia in their place.

10. Alien’s Gender Flip

Since Ellen Ripley’s status as the main character (and sole survivor, not counting the cat) of the Alien franchise was a surprise in the original film of the series, the part being played by Sigourney Weaver instead of, say, her then-more famous male co-star Tom Skerritt made it a subject of a lot of discussion from 1979 onwards. One of the claims that popped up over the years was that the character was originally intended to be male. This seems to be a carryover from the genderflipped character Ruth Leavitt in the slightly less famous 1971 science fiction classic The Andromeda Strain.

None other than screenwriter Dan O’Bannon refuted the story. He clarified that, intentionally, none of the characters were gender specific in his script so that the casting director could take care of that. He had even included notes about this decision on the last page of his original screenplay. We’ll leave it up to the reader to decide what if anything this says about gender roles in fiction.

9. Johnny Depp/Jackie Earle Haley

It’s a classic story of an audition with a comical twist: Someone who doesn’t even intend to be an actor is just going along with a friend to audition for a job. Turns out the casting director prefers the friend who wasn’t intending to act, and that person goes on to be a big star. Something very similar to that happened to Bob Hoskins, for example. The single most famous example of this would likely be in 1983, when Jackie Earle Haley brought Johnny Depp along with him for a role in A Nightmare on Elm Street and ended up launching his friend’s career. Then for a fun coincidence, Jackie Earle Haley was cast as Freddy Krueger for the 2010 remake.

Except… no. Haley clarified in an interview in Esquire that all this talk of him and Depp at the audition was just a rumor. He doesn’t even know what the origin of the rumor could have been, just that him not bringing Depp there was crystal clear.

8. Daniel Day Lewis’s Insane Method Acting

Daniel Day-Lewis is as much famous for his extreme method acting as he is for winning three Academy Awards for Best Actor. For example, playing the primarily paralyzed Christy Brown in My Left Foot involved him staying in a wheelchair for the duration of the shoot. He supposedly insists on only being referred to by his character’s name. It’s all designed to instill the belief that he spends all day trying to think of himself as the character in some maniacal worship of the acting profession.

On the podcast I Was There Too, Paul F. Tompkins (who worked with him on There Will Be Blood) clarified that Lewis wasn’t so intensely in character at all. Between takes he would discuss the characters as if they were characters, he wouldn’t insist at all on being referred to by his character’s name, and he was fine with dropping the accent once the shoot was done for the day. Indeed, as Tompkins opines, it would be an indication that Lewis isn’t a good actor if he makes others uncomfortable with such unreasonable demands, since part of the nature of being a good actor is to pay attention to the needs of your collaborators.

7. Tricking Alan Rickman

No, this isn’t an assertion that it’s untrue that Alan Rickman was ever tricked. This is referring to a story that, in order to get a better reaction out of Hans Gruber for the shot when he is dropped off Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard, supposedly the director told him that he would be dropped on the count of three. However, to get a genuinely shocked reaction before Rickman had properly braced himself, though, he was dropped on the count of one.

Sorry to ruin everyone’s fun, but Rickman was asked about this very thing during a Q&A event. He unambiguously didn’t remember it happening, which – considering how vividly he remembered the director saying “we’re going to drop the actor” – means that would have been an aspect that would have stuck in his memory. Considering he remembered the fall being higher than the generally reported (40 feet instead of 25) he clearly wasn’t in the mood to downplay anything.

6. Al Capone’s Tailor

Bringing it back to the subject of method acting, we all know perhaps the second biggest method actor in the world was Robert DeNiro for years and years, starting with becoming a real cab driver for weeks to prepare to play Travis Bickle in 1974’s Taxi Driver. By the time 1987 rolled around, for The Untouchables the news went around that DeNiro was supposedly personally tracking down Al Capone’s tailor so that the pajamas he wore (and even his underwear) matched the crime lord’s.

As was pointed out by others well after this misconception spread, given that there was a 56-year gap between Capone’s incarceration and the production of The Untouchables, Capone’s tailor was very unlikely to be in the right shape to work. For one thing, Capone’s tailor was actually Louis Dinato, an associate of Capone’s whose main noteworthy aspect was being repeatedly questioned by the police even after Capone was imprisoned (to no avail), as if he were some sort of interrogation punching bag. The person who actually did the costume work for DeNiro was Rich Bruno, and given that he was only 52 when The Untouchables was made, it would have been quite a trick for the costumer to be tailoring for Al Capone.

5. Spider-Man’s 156 Takes

This one has been a favorite of trivia sites for years: Somehow Sam Raimi’s 2002 film Spider-Man had enough time in the production schedule to devote hours and hours (if not days) to shoot 156 takes of Tobey Maguire catching a tray full of food. Now granted, in 2002 CGI affordable enough for a throwaway gag wasn’t quite up to scratch, so there’s plenty of reason to do it mechanically instead of with computers. But Maguire didn’t do it alone and the “156 takes” claim is certainly a joke (evidenced by the fact that in its source, a commentary track, the commenter gets a laugh from it).

It explicitly was a combination of using a “mechanical rig” to drop the food and gluing the tray to Maguire’s hand, and using force-absorbing gel on the bottom of said food. In fact, if you go frame-by-frame, you can see a white substance stuck to the bottom of the apple. That at least confirms it wasn’t CGI, since why would a CG artist put that on there? Still, it definitely puts this back in the “SFX” category.

4. Werner Herzog’s Shoe Bet

Errol Morris and Werner Herzog are two of the most interesting documentary filmmakers working today, and their film careers were connected in a rather befuddling way. Errol Morris began his career in 1978 with the cult documentary Gates of Heaven(particularly beloved by Roger Ebert) at a time when he had little funding and getting distribution for the film would have been extremely difficult. Herzog came up with a bizarre bet to motivate his friend: If the movie were completed, Herzog would eat his shoe at the premiere. It was enough of an event that a short film was made of the preparation of the meal.

Then Morris came along during a Q&A session at the Lincoln Center and revealed that they actually didn’t have a wager – it was just something that Herzog had made up as an excuse to eat a shoe. Not wanting to be comedically upstaged, while telling the truth about this, Morris said he would joke for years that the bet had actually stipulated Herzog’s foot.

3. The Dark Knight’s Remote Futzing

Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in this 2008 blockbuster was so compelling that much of his manic behavior felt completely natural, leaving audiences open to the notion that even the biggest parts were improvised. A scene where the Joker claps in jail is an example. But the best known example is the scene where the Joker is blowing up Gotham General Hospital, but stops when there seems to be a problem with the detonation. In what was alleged to be improv, Ledger messes with the remote, and then the explosion resumes, leaving him to scramble onto the bus.

As director Christopher Nolan explains in a behind the scenes feature included on The Dark Knight blu-ray, the sudden stop in the explosion and the Joker’s pause was actually planned in advance. In fact, Warner Brothers provided a CGI mockup of how the scene would be staged as evidence. That’s much further than most studios go in debunking a piece of trivia.

2. Citizen Kane’s Non-Plot Hole

Since this 1941 film has for decades been known as arguably the best ever made, it was a delight for film buffs and critics alike to claim that the story has a gigantic plot hole right in the middle of it. The impetus for the story is that the titular Kane’s last word was “Rosebud” and it was supposed to be said to an empty room. Which begs the question of how anyone heard what his final word was if he was alone. There was a story circulated that this was pointed out to auteur Orson Welles by a member of the crew, and Welles responded some variation on “don’t you ever tell anyone this.”

The problem with the plausibility of that little story is that it’s not consistent with the content of the movie. While the opening scene has been watched by cinefiles and parodied many times by shows such as The Simpsons, the scene’s person who heard the words doesn’t appear until much later. Very near the end, the reporter that’s been spending the movie trying to learn from Kane’s intimates what Rosebud could mean has a brief chat with the butler Raymond, who explicitly says he’s the one who heard it. Raymond’s other main contribution to the movie is telling the reporter about the famous scene where Kane wrecks his room until he sees a snow globe and says Rosebud the first time. So if someone had asked Orson Welles about who heard the words, Welles would just have said Raymond instead of acting as if his entire movie were in jeopardy.

1. Being John Malkovich’s Beer Can

A lot of this trivia took a concerted effort to debunk or a celebrity to wanted to set the record straight. In this case, the thing that disproved it was completely unintentional. Indeed, the performer in question might not even have ever heard of the false story.

In Being John Malkovich, there’s a scene where the titular actor is walking by a road while he’s in a rut. An extra in a passing vehicle yelled “Hey Malkovich, think fast!” and threw a beer can at his head. Supposedly the scene was completely unscripted and instead of being rebuked for potentially ruining a take, the actor got a raise (some versions say he got a Screen Actors Guild card) because the line of dialogue was used.

The truth didn’t come out until Malkovich was doing a question and answer session known as a “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) on the popular website Reddit. One of his fans asked about that particular scene without mentioning it was supposedly completely spontaneous. The actor said that he was especially fond of that scene, and had been looking forward to it… as soon as he read it in the script. In fact, director Spike Jonze wasn’t even sure if any of the actors would be able to hit Malkovich in an acceptably low number of takes. In hindsight, it would have been a pretty bad idea to actively encourage extras to do things that might harm actors and ruin takes, so everyone should have found the story dubious even before Malkovich accidentally corrected them.


 

Misunderstood Movie Trivia –

WIF @ The Movies