Thursday, October 14, 2010

Devil Claw

The Codex Gigas is a manuscript dating back to the thirteenth century. Weighing in at 165 pounds and measuring more than 19 inches wide and just over two feet tall, the book is the largest of its kind (its name literally meaning "Giant Book"). The book was originally created in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, but was captured by the Swedish army in the 1600's and has since been on display in the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm.

The book contains a Latin version of the Bible, written in ornate, multi-colored ink. Despite its great age, handsome design, and enormous size, the Codex Gigas is widely known for a single illustration that dominates page 577.

According to the lore that surrounds the Codex, the book was written by a Czech monk who was instructed by his superiors to create the massive volume in a single night or face imprisonment. With god having thrown him a curveball with this impossible task, the monk summoned the Devil for assistance. In exchange for his soul, the Devil helped him complete the titanic Codex. In gratitude, the monk included an illustration of the ol' Prince of Darkness. Scientists. however, believe that the Codex was written over a period of twenty-years and there was no satanic involvement. Still, the illustration is a striking one, and especially prominant in a book that is mostly text.

Notice how the eyes seem to follow you?

Would you like to know more?
-Visit the book's official site
-Read about the Codex on National Geographic's site

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dawn of Man or Hero of the Beach?

The origin of humankind has been a point of contention for as long as we've had the capacity for introspection. Throughout history, adherents of wildly contradictory explanations have locked horns and even in today's modern times it remains a touchy subject. In spite of all this, scientific inquiry had shed light on humanity's humble beginnings and there is a general consensus concerning our development and our shared heritage with other primates. It is basically acknowledged that homo sapiens are descended from hominids that (for reasons still under debate) departed from the trees to the tall grasses of the savannah. In evolutionary terms, that really got the ball rolling.

Because we're dealing with events from a unknowably distant period in Earth's history, all we can do is make informed conjecture based upon fossil evidence. Our knowledge of man's development is far from complete, and certain behavioral and physical traits still require explanation. Over the decades, various theories invariably come forward to fill these gaps. Some are carefully considered and firmly based upon observation of available data. Others are decidedly strange. The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, which holds that modern man evolved from an amphibious hominid, belongs firmly in the latter category.

Here's the skinny: the idea first surfaced in 1930, when a British marine biologist named Alistair Hardy reasoned that man's ancestors were shoved from the trees by our competitive ape cousins and these proto-humans took to the shores to feed upon the shellfish. Eventually they adapted to their watery environment, and the vestiges of these adaptations can still be seen in modern humans. Not yet a credentialed scientist, Hardy was apprehensive about divulging his theory to the world and waited until 1960, in which he detailed his unique hypothesis to a meeting of British Sub-Aqua Club, subsequently publishing his lecture in the pages of New Scientist magazine.

The idea was immediately controversial. However, Hardy's theory did have its proponents, one being BBC television screen-writer Elaine Morgan. Morgan was convinced that the accepted theories about humanity's early days were born out of a male-dominated scientific world and failed to answer crucial questions because they were inherently sexist. In 1967, she read about Hardy's theory in its brief mention in The Naked Ape by Desmond Norris. Morgan was taken with the idea and became the theory's principle advocate.

Morgan asserts that the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis offers explanations for man's upright posture and general lack of hair, among other traits and condemns the paleontologist community for narrow-mindedness and conservatism. Still, the hypothesis hasn't won any major interest in the past forty years among serious scientists, primarily due to the crucial lack of supporting evidence. The skeletal remains of these water-loving ancestors were apparently carried off by the waves, as zero fossils have ever been discovered that corroborate with the theory. Additionally (and this will come as no surprise to anyone) modern aquatic and semi-aquatic mammals are remarkably different from humans in their design. With our long limbs and non-webbed hands, we make comparatively mediocre swimmers. If we ever had an aquatic stage, we'd look more like dolphins....which is a somewhat terrifying thought.

Elaine Morgan continues to write about the Aquatic Ape subject and deliver lectures at UK universities. We can't help but feel somewhat sad about her long, thankless mission. Frankly, her theory just doesn't hold water.

Would you like to know more?

Commence Re-entry

The commissioner just called.
We've been reactivated.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Minor Magic

Thanks to pop-culture, nearly everyone has heard of Necromancy or the practice of black magic that deals exclusively with the dead. Those that haven't heard are missing out. Go watch a Conan flick and get educated.

At any rate, in the realm of mythology and folklore, Necromancy was primarily a method of divination, or predicting the future. However, you needn't hike to your local graveyard, shovel in hand, just to catch of a glimpse of That Yet to Be. Here are some alternative methods, taken from An Encylopaedia of Occultism by Lewis Spence (published in 1920).

Aromancy: A method of divination which is effected by the inspection of the shoulders. The ancients judged by this means whether a victim was suitable for sacrifice to the gods.

Capnomancy: The observation of smoke, which consisted of three principal methods, including the practice of breathing the smoke of the sacrificial fire.

Cleromancy: Was practised by throwing dice. Mentioned in Egypt and Rome.

Critomancy: Divination by means of observing cakes. The paste of cakes which are offered in sacrifice, is closely examined, and from the flour which is spread upon them, omens are drawn.

Gyromancy: Was performed by going round continually in a circle, the circumference of which was marked by letters.

Hippomancy: A method of divination practised by the ancient Celts, who kept certain white horses in consecrated groves. If on leaving in the outbreak of hostilities they crossed the threshold with the left forehoof first, the presage was regarded as an evil one, and the war was abandoned.

Kephalomancy: A method of divination which is practised by making signs on the baked head of an ass. It was familiar to the Germans and the Lombards substituted for it the head of a goat.

Onychomancy: Divination by fingernails. It is practised by watching the reflection of the sun in the nails of a boy, and judging the future by the shape of the figures which show themselves on their surface.

Stoichemancy: A method of divination which is practised by opening the works of Homer or Virgil and reading as an oracular statement the first verse which presents itself.

Stolisomancy: Divination from the manner in which a person dresses himself.

Tiromancy: Divination by means of cheese. It is practised in diverse ways the details of which are not known.

But don't take my word for it!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sadists of the Sky

As Canada slowly burns away, May quietly exits the building. Clearly it's time for another Monster of the Month. Many of our previous entries have been fished out of the murky pool of b-movie cinema, so we thought that it was high time that we enriched the pulsating young minds of our readers by visiting the world of art. We at the Hyper Kitchen are connoisseurs of high culture, and believe us when we say that all truly great art has monsters in it. Case in point: the Torment of Saint Anthony by Michelangelo.

Originally thought to have been painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio (Michelangelo's mentor and fellow Italian), it was eventually determined to be a Michelangelo piece in 2009. Drawing upon medieval Christian folklore, the painting depicts Saint Anthony swept into the air by a horde of shrieking demons. While a few of these devils are of the more generic variety, most are surreal beasts with animal features. Of particular merit is what appears to be a melancholy hybrid of fish, porcupine, and elephant, ready to bash in Saint Anthony's head with a large club.

Adventures in Science

Apparently Professor Townsend survived his encounter with Mac and Alan, and went on to write a tell-all comic book about his experiences.

One Bad Hombre

Saddle up.

The Tree of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit

As the need for new sources of energy becomes ever more painfully obvious, enormous quantities of money are being invested in the development of bio-diesel fuels. While the sustainability of these fuels is questionable, that hasn't stopped scientists from analyzing countless different plants in search of viable sources of bio-diesel. One such member of the vegetable kingdom is the Pong-Pong Tree, known by the scientific name Cerbera Odollam. The Pong-Pong Tree makes its home in India and Southeast Asia, and produces green mango-sized pods. However: fruit fans take caution! The seeds that these pods carry contain a poison, cerberin, that causes a deadly disruption of the heart-beat. The poison seeds have been used for centuries by the inhabitants of India and Madascar for various sinister pursuits. The easy to conceal seeds, combined with the difficulty of detecting cerberin in autopsies, makes the Pong-Pong fruit ideal for murderers everywhere. People have also commonly used it to kill themselves, leading to the ghoulish nickname of "The Suicide Tree."

Would you like to know more?

Monday, May 24, 2010

How Things Work: Russian Navy Edition

The Novgorod was built in 1874 by the Imperial Russian Navy. Its designer, Admiral Andrei Popov, believed that the unique circular shape of the vessel would give it the capacity to carry much heavier guns that other ships of its size, due to the greater displacement of water. It was also intended to have uncommon stability while fighting coastal battles.

As it happened, the ship was an astounding failure of design. Thanks to its odd shape, manuveribility was difficult and smooth-sailing was impossible, as the Novgorod was tossed about by even mild waves. The force of its own cannons was sufficient to spend the ship spinning in the water, and even the addition of special rudders couldn't fully correct the problem.

The ship proved to be wildly impractical in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. In the end, the Novgorod was used infrequently as a coast patrol-boat, before finally being scrapped in 1912.

But don't take my word for it!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Insect America

The New Wavelength

Reject your hi-def, widescreen plasma television! True technological elegance can only be achieved through bakelite dials and pine molding!


You'll feel like a king when you take a seat in our new Tri-Sheep Recliner. At last: comfort and style at affordable prices.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Protect and Heels

That guy is, like, eight feet tall.

Bite the Hand That Feeds You

April has passed by at a speed usually reserved for insidious subliminal messages [drink pepsi] and we are compelled to bring to you a new installment of the Hyper Kitchen's notorious Monster of the Month Series. Earlier, a friend suggested an entry on vampires, and while we're ordinarily way too hip to be swayed by popular demand, we relished the idea of digging up a vampire that wasn't your typical pale-faced Romanian...or a sparkly teenager. Our search yielded some mighty interesting subjects, which we will doubtlessly return to at some point in the future, but after careful consideration we went for another figure from the world of horror films. With no further delay, we are proud to present Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula!

Appearing in the 1978 movie that bears its name, Zoltan was originally a normal dog in 19th century Russia that defended a woman from the legendary vampire Count Dracula. Enraged, Dracula drains the dog's blood instead, leaving Zoltan an undead hound of hell. The now-malevolent Zoltan promptly attacks and drinks the blood of Nalder, his old master and the two go forth to perpetuate the tragic endless cycle of blood-drinking and murder. Through a series of unseen circumstances, they are defeated, staked, and locked in coffins.

Two hundred years later, the crypt is discovered by road-workers who foolishly remove the stakes and thereby return the demonic dog and his sidekick to life. Still thralls of Dracula after all this time, they travel to America and seek out Dracula's non-vampire descendant, who is in the middle of camping with his family, his German Shepard, and a box of adorable puppies. These animals, as well as dogs belonging to other campers, are eventually transformed into vampires, but human good triumphs over canine evil and Zoltan is destroyed. The film was directed by Albert Band, who also directed the supernatural potboiler I Bury the Living and was the father of Charles Band (the man who brought Robot Jox to the world.)

Now you know.

Would you like to know more?
-Watch this trailer and feel the horror

How Things Work Part IX: Where Milk Comes From

Everything you thought you knew about dairy is entirely wrong.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Farmyard Frankenstein

In the late forties and early fifties, H.E. Babcock served as the chairman of the board at Cornell University. An agriculture expert and one of the original nutrition advocates, Babcock was always searching for ways to promote the type of balanced diet that New York farms provided. He was especially keen on educating children. To this end, he created the Unimal, a wide-eyed hybrid of every principle farm animal that seemed overjoyed at its ultimate fate on America's dinner table.

While it's probably easy to discern the different animal features present in the Unimal, the official sources of inspiration were the chicken, cow, pig, steer, and sheep. A tiny toy version was produced for the kids, and in a manner similar to a Pez dispenser it would eject tiny plastic food items from its body by clicking a special button. Curiously, despite being created to teach young'ns about nutrition, the food offered by the Unimal (including a block of butter, a ham, hotdogs, and eggs) seemed to point towards high-blood pressure and cholesterol. One can only assume that a toy multi-hybrid vegetable wouldn't have been quite as popular.

Would you like to know more?
-Watch this excerpt from the 2009 documentary Farmboy.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Spiraling Shape

As you may have noticed, there haven't been too many posts on the Hyper Kitchen lately. Spring is always a hectic time around here. Everyone has had their hands full raking up the lawn, vacuuming up the ladybugs that swarm around our windows, fighting crime, and completing our taxes in the eleventh hour. Before you know it: BOOM! March is over and we're left up to our elbows in dusty tomes trying doing last minute research for viable Hyper Kitchen material.

As I looked around the Reading Room table, I saw only grim faces. Our procrastination had at last become our undoing. It was then that Hector Gush, our staff historian and pastry-maker, pointed out that it was unfair to our fan base to pass off inferior, rushed work in the place of the sumptuous food for thought that you truly deserve. We had only one option.

While it breaks our hearts to do this, we have decided to use hypnotism to make you forget this entire incident. It's an underhanded move, sure, but it buys us time to work and we'll make it up to you. Now: stare deeply into the center of Hypno-Spiral.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Volcano God and US Navy

The nation of Vanuatu spreads across eighty small islands between Fiji and New Guinea. As is typical for the region, these islands were created by volcanic upheaval. The central island, Tanna, is defined by an active stratovolcano called Yasur. There are minor eruptions every hour and there is a persistent plume of smog hanging in the air.

According to many of the islanders, Yasur is the home of god. In this case, god is John Frum; an omnipotent spirit who takes the form of a sailor from the United States Navy. Frum is worshipped by 6000 people, who swear that he shall one day emerge from the volcano bearing gifts of motorboats, cigarettes, kitchen appliances, and Coca-Cola. Every February 15th, John Frum's adherents celebrate their god by raising approximations of the American flag, painting "U.S.A" on their chests, dancing with bamboo rifles, and singing songs about chainsaws. There is also ritualized consumption of intoxicating beverages, which are said to facilitate communication with John Frum.

The Cult of John Frum extends back to the 1930's. Vanuatu had been under Western control since the 1880's, and the tribes of warrior cannibals had been thoroughly conquered. Missionaries were determined to erase all elements of native culture in order to cultivate proper Christian communities, and the islanders were kept under strict control. Meanwhile, the US Navy had a growing presence in the area. As the legend goes, a group of elders were secretly imbibing a traditional concoction made from the kava plant and they were visited by a man dressed in a Navy uniform. Some say he was black, and others insist he was white, but he spoke their language and introduced himself as John Frum.

Frum explained that he would save them from the missionaries and urged them avoid church, throw away Western money, and remove their children from Western schools. At first, the colonial powers insisted that this John Frum was merely a native impostor and no true god. Then they started arresting followers of John Frum and deporting them from Vanuatu, but the cultists eventually became to numerous to deal with. By 1941, the followers of John Frum had become the dominant cultural force of the islands. Coincidentally, America had declared war of the Axis powers and Vanuatu was soon to be converted into a naval base. The cultists believed these men to be the emissaries of John Frum and approached them with reverence and loyalty.

At first the Navy found the John Frum Cult to be extremely convenient. In exchange for surplus and a 25 cent daily salary, the islanders helped the Navy construct airstrips in the jungle and haul cargo from ships. The islands were fascinated by the material goods of the Americans and saw them as gifts from John Frum. Ultimately the Navy grew uneasy and tried to suppress the cult to little success. As the war ended and the Navy started withdraw from the region, entire bases were bulldozed into the sea. Beneath the waves, a coral reef began to grow on this pile of jeeps, radio equipment, and concrete debris. Vanuatu divers would scrounge through these underwater junk heaps for useful items, tantalized by glittering Coke bottles.

To this day, despite an influx of modern culture in the form of tourists, the cultists continue to praise the name of John Frum and await his return. They build symbolic airstrips in the jungle (complete with bamboo radio towers), and adorn themselves with holy crosses (most likely appropriated long ago from military medical vehicles). While anthropological study continues to glean new insight of this group and of the nature of religion in general, important questions remain unanswered, not the least of which being: who was John Frum, really? Was he a kava-born hallucination? A con-man sailor? Perhaps one day he'll rise up from the volcano and shed some light on all of this.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from Smithsonian Magazine
-Read this article from the BBC

Friday, March 05, 2010

New Instructions

Vermont author Joe Citro has a new blog, and you must visit it. It gives sliced bread a run for its money. Also: keep your ears peeled for his latest commentaries on VPR.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Murder Machine

Doubtlessly, you've been checking and re-checking the Hyper Kitchen (sweat pouring down your furrowed brow) in anticipation of February's installment of our internationally known Monster of the Month series. Well! Mop that perspiration away, dear reader, and feast your eyes on the mechanical monstrosity known as the Killdozer.

The Killdozer originally appeared in a 1944 novella written by Theodore Sturgeon, published in Astounding Science-Fiction Magazine. Sturgeon had been writing professionally since 1938, but suffered from a crippling bout of writer's block. Searching for ideas, he recalled his time as a construction worker and bulldozer operator in Puerto Rico and in a sudden burst of inspiration wrote the story Killdozer!. It proved to be quite profitable and was even adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 1974.

The Killdozer was once an ordinary piece of heavy machinery, used in constructing an airstrip on a remote pacific island during WWII. The small crew of workers unearth a strange temple and discover the existence of an ancient super-civilization that was all-but destroyed in a war with living machines. An energy form emerges from the temple and possesses the workers' bulldozer, and the resulting monster proceeds to slaughter those on the island. Only one of the workers survives, and after destroying the Killdozer, all evidence of the extraordinary events is forever erased by some Japanese bombers who demolish the landscape into rubble.

While Sturgeon would go on to write excellent works of science-fiction including To Marry Medusa and More than Human, Killdozer! is of comparable quality (if less high-brow). Sturgeon was was able to take a bizarre, nearly comical premise and turn it into an entertaining yarn with genuine suspense and action. The story is greatly recommended.

But don't take my word for it!
You can read about it in a book.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


We may have found the perfect man for the Severed Mouth Woman.

Welcome to Garbage City

Egypt's capital, Cairo, generates 25000 tons of refuse every day, and yet it had no municipal garbage collection service until 1980. For several generations this was the primary duty of the Zabbaleen (or "garbage people"), an ethnic minority of Coptic Christians. Even after the changes of the eighties, the Zabbaleen continue to be an integral component of Cairo's rubbish removal system.

The Zabbaleen live in Manshiyat naser, a slum without electricity or running water built on the edge of Cairo. They gather garbage by the truckload from Cairo and return home to sort it. Salvageable items are utilized by the city's inhabitants. Scrap metal is gathered and sold, along with recyclable plastic products. All organic waste is fed to pigs, which are eaten by the Zabbaleen or sold in Cairo meat markets. Manshiyat naser's entire economy revolves around trash. The streets are piled high with tightly-wired bales of garbage and overstuffed garbage bags cover the rooftops.

Recently in 2009, the Egyptian government delivered a serious blow to the Zabbaleen by ordering the slaughter of thousands of pigs, ostensibly to stop swine flu. While this did exactly nothing to curb the spread of the virus, it did succeed in leaving the Zabbaleen robbed of their major food source and good portion of their income. Additionally, organic waste could no longer be disposed of with sufficient speed, and the piles of resulting rancid piles of rubbish bred vermin and disease. Fortunately, in the wake of the crisis there has been a renewed effort to educate the largely illiterate Zabbaleen and develop Mashiyay naser into a center of profitable recycling businesses.

Would you like to know more?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beauty! Youth! Blood-sucking Parasites!

Moscow is home to a new therapy that promises to refresh and rejuvenate unlike anything else available. If that sounds intriguing to you, then you might think otherwise once you hear that it is based out of the International Leech Center, and the process involves the placement of sanitary, farm-raised leeches on the body to drain one's blood.

Leeches have been used in medicine since the middle ages, but it's only recently that they've been employed for anything practical, in reducing unwanted coagulation during surgeries. The saliva of the leech contains tiny amounts of a chemical called hirudin, which prevents blood clots from forming. The International Leech Center asserts that hirudin offers therapeutic effects for everything from one's skin to one's psychology. Children have been brought to the Center in hopes that the leeches can somehow correct hyperactivity (possibly through drinking their blood away until they're left in a stupor).

The majority of their clients, however, are women hoping to save their bodies from the inevitable effects of aging. In these cases, the leeches placed on the client's cheeks and forehead are burst, giving the client a warm, facial rinse in their own blood. One such leech-devotee is actress Demi Moore (which is bizarrely ironic given that this was one of her first films), who has gone on Letterman to regale a nauseated audience about the benefits of having one's body covered in blood-thirsty aquatic worms. Meanwhile several doctors have expressed skepticism about the practice, although this has had little effect on business. On the contrary, leech-breeding continues to be a highly profitable enterprise in Russia and new farms are being opened to meet the increased demand. All of this serves to highlight the great lengths people will go to maintain their appearance.

We at the Hyper Kitchen like you just the way you are.

Would you like to know more?
-Visit the International Leech Center
-See the interior of a leech farm with this series of photos (safe for the squeamish)
-Read this article from SkyNews

Monday, February 15, 2010

House of God, House of Dog

There are around 10,000 saints officially recognized by the Catholic Church. That may seem like a lot, but it's actually a very exclusive club. In order to be officially canonized by the Vatican, one must have lived a life of extraordinary virtue and service, and performed at least two miracles (sometimes posthumously). Supernatural acts have always been hard to come by and harder to authenticate, and even then sainthood isn't assured. For instance, in 13th century France, loyal and selfless Guinefort of Lyon was said to have healed infants after his death. His village swore by his holiness. The Church condemned this practice as demon-worship and superstition.

Problem was, Guinefort was a dog.

As the story goes, Guinefort was a greyhound owned by a local knight with a newborn son. When the knight left to go hunting, the dog was left to watch over the baby. While it may have been a more sensible idea to have a neighbor do this, it speaks to level of trust between master and dog. One day, after returning from the forest, the knight was horrified to find his son missing and Guinefort soaked in blood. Thinking that the dog had eaten his child, the knight hacked Guinefort to pieces. This proved to be a tragic error, as once the knight had finished he heard the cries of his son from beneath an overturned crib. The child was unharmed and nearby the knight discovered the body of a viper. Guinefort had killed the snake to protect the baby and was rewarded for his heroism with death.

Mourning the loss of his dog, the knight threw the body down a well and planted trees in Guinefort's honor. Soon news of this brave animal reached the village, and the commoners arrived to pay tribute. Some brought their children to be blessed, and Guinefort was ultimately venerated as a community saint; his watery grave rebuilt into a shrine. 13th century scholar Stephen of Bourbon wrote of Guinefort and his worshippers in disparaging terms, alluding to sacrifice and unholy pacts. After this bit of bad press, the Church prohibited Guinefort idolatry, and yet the cult endured as late as the 1930's before dying out.

Would you like to know more?
-Read Stephen of Bourbon's original account of Saint Guinefort

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


At last this legendary story of courage and the indomitable human spirit has been fully restored for American audiences.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The People's Monster

Here's the scene:

The late seventies was a difficult time for acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok. His marriage to actress Choi Eun-hee had ended in an unhappy divorce and his career was in a slump. The once prolific director was frustrated by censorship of his films at the hands of the South Korean government. Unwilling to yield to their demands, his studio was dissolved in 1978. It appeared that his tenure as South Korea's premier filmmaker had drawn to a close.

Later that year, Shin received word that his ex-wife had vanished while pursuing an acting job in Hong Kong. Concerned for her safety and thinking the worst, Shin departed to Hong Kong to investigate but could find no trace of her. Remarkably, the situation only worsened from there. Shin was attacked by two men while walking to a restaurant, and was knocked unconscious with chloroform. When he awoke, he found that he had been kidnapped and was en route to North Korea. He spent the following four years in a prison, enduring attempts at brainwashing while surviving on a diet of rice and salt, all while trying to determine why exactly he had been captured. He made several attempts to escape, but all failed.

In 1983, Shin was released and was astonished to be reunited with his wife, whom he learned had been kidnapped back in 1978. The two were escorted to a party and came face to face with Kim Jong-il, son of then-president Kim Il-Sung. Kim explained that he had made it his personal mission to revamp the stagnant North Korean film industry. A true movie buff (aparently listing the James Bond and Friday the 13th franchises as his favorite films) Kim wanted to produce movies that would demonstrate the true granduer of the Worker's Party of Korea. Shin had been kidnapped to bring some new talent and fresh ideas to the table. For the next three years, Shin made movies for the North Koreans, under the careful scrutiny of the future dictator.

The result? Meet Pulgasari, the Monster of the Month.

At the insistance of Kim Jong-il (who was fond of Japan's Godzilla series in spite of the usual anamosity between the two countries) Shin had the thankless task of creating a giant monster film that showcased both communist values and the North Korean ideal of the "spirit of self-reliance." The result was bizarre film that featured a scaly, metal-eating minotaur called Pulgasari. The enormous creature was employed against a cruel emporer by the farmers he oppressed.

Shin was somehow able to convince Kim to enlist in the aid of Japanese special-effects artists and actors who had previously been involved in Godzilla movies. Within the rubbery Pulgasari suit was Kenpachiro Satsuma, who had previously portrayed Godzilla in several of those films. Pulgasari was released to theaters in Korea and Japan in 1985. The following year, Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee escaped to Vienna and then to the United States, dashing any hopes that Kim Jong-il might have had for making a sequel.

Sadly, this unique movie received only spotty distribution on VHS and has never had a proper release on DVD. As for the film's creators, Shin Sang-Ok directed the 3 Ninjas series in the 1990's, sadly dying in 2004 before he could begin work on a biography of Genghis Khan. Kim Jong-il continues to dominate the people of North Korea through his brutal State Security Department and an insidious cult of personality. Word is that they've gotten the bomb too.

-Listen to this story from NPR's Day to Day

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sour grapes or evil eyes?

The enlightened 21st century is merely a group consensus. If modernity doesn't suit you, there is always an opt out clause. Superstition continues to thrive all over the world, and its adherants recently made the headlines in Romania.

On December 6th, 2009, Romania held run-off elections so the nation could choose between closely-matched presidential candidates Mircea Geoana (of the Social Democratic Party) and Traian Basescu (of the Democratic Liberal Party). Basescu narrowly defeated his rival, and Geoana was quick to cry foul, his party alleging that the election had been rigged. While no concrete evidence of fraud was ever discovered, Geoana continued to level accusations at Basescu. Even for an election that was fraught with mutual mud-slinging and charges of corruption, Geoana's comments became especially bizarre.

According to Geoana, he lost the election due to the sinister mechanizations of one Alidor Manolea, a parapsychologist who employed "negative energy waves" to disrupt a crucial debate with Basescu. In short: he was hexed.

Manolea works as a "bioenergy therapist" and aparently posesses numerous psychic abilities (as stated by the Romanian Association of Transpersonal Psychology). Manolea is an aquaintence of Basescu, and Geoana insists that Manolea disrupted his concentration through supernatural methods. Photographs and video footage confirm Manolea's unexplainable pressence at the debate, standing directly behind Basescu.

Spokesmen for Basescu were slow acknowledge the story or divulge any influence Manolea might have had on the campaign, but finally denied any underhanded witchcraft at work. Geoana has been criticized for his claims, with some members of the Social Democratic Party calling for his resignation as party leader. Despite the pressure, he remains steadfast in his assertions. Perhaps he would be wise to acquire a psychic ally of his own. This may be the beginning of metaphysical politics.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from the Bucharest Herald
-Read this post from Romania News Watch

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Space Junk

China has recently supplanted Japan as Asia's largest economy and it stands just beneath the United States in the ranks of the biggest economies in the world. Its emergence as an economic superpower is basically without precedent; the product of an industrial revolution and relentless national drive. However, it has come at a considerable cost. The damage to China's environment is every bit as extreme as its recent financial success.

Power plants and factories belch out sulfurous fumes, resulting in a poisonous haze that continually cloaks China's cities. 300,000 die annually due to pollution-induced lung cancer. The smog can only be cleared away by the rain (which is usually of the acidic variety) but it invariably returns. Rivers run thick with detergents, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. Clean water has become an increasingly precious commodity, and 500 million Chinese citizens are left wanting. This number is comparable to 62.5 New York Cities.

In 2003, China became the third nation in Earth's history to send men and women into space. Since then, Chinese taikonauts have gone on several more missions and multiple satellites have been launched. This achievement was also executed at a severe expense. Those villages unlucky enough to lie beneath the rockets' flight-path have have been blanketed by carcinogenic fallout and boulder-sized pieces of debris. 2 million people are thought to have been contaminated over the course of 50 launches, and plummeting scrap metal has damaged homes and administrative buildings.

It is now common for space launches to be accompanied by mass-evacuations and subsequent clean-up operations. Most recently, farmers from the province of Guangxi were paid to search for debris in the mountains and forests, despite that this material is effectively toxic waste. Meanwhile, the Chinese government struggles to counteract their ever-worsening problems with pollution, but the damage is so extensive that it seems impossible to reverse.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from the Guardian
-Read this article from the New York Times

Welcome to Club Infinity

You'll never want to leave.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moscow's Devolution Dogs

While you'd be hard pressed to find a major city without stray dogs, Moscow is somewhat famous for them. It seems that they've been around for as long as the city has existed, although they were first formally acknowledged in the late 1800's by famous Muscovite journalist Vladimir Gilyarovsky. During the days of the Soviet Union, the dogs were actively captured and killed by patrolmen. Some avoided death, but instead became participants in the Soviet space program. 57 strays were launched into outer space from 1951 to 1966.

After perestroika ushered in economic and political reforms in 1987, the dog-catching was ultimately done away with. This, combined with a new abundance of food that indirectly resulted from perestroika, resulted in a population explosion. Currently there is thought to be around 35,000 of them; 500 of which live within Moscow's metro subway stations (and around 20 of these dogs have learned to make use of the trains).

Biologist Andrei Poyarkov has been studying the stray dogs of Moscow since 1974, originally surveying the 100 dogs that dwelled within an area of 6.2 square miles near his home. Since that time, his investigation as broadened to cover the entire city. Over the years, Poyarkov has observed that these dogs are steadily losing the traits that were bred into them over the centuries by humans and are returning to a state similar to pre-domestication. While they retain special adaptations for surviving in their unique urban environment, they no longer interact with humans in the ways that we are accustomed to.

Poyarkov has documented four distinct classes of stray dogs, determined by their habitat. Those that live around buildings with security guards and groundsmen (such as hospitals and warehouses) are naturally the most comfortable with people. They often form a bond with the guards and respond to commands. Such behavior cannot be seen in the dogs that live within the heart of the city, which display indifference, but retain a keen insight of the human mind which they exploit regularly to get food. They target specific people for begging, knowing that old ladies are most likely to give them hand-outs.

The strays that form packs are even further removed from conventional dogs. They have minimal relations with people and rely upon scavenging for food, finding meals in Moscow's garbage bins. Finally, there are the dogs that live in the wooded areas and industrial parks that feed upon vermin and unlucky cats. These are truly feral and while they typically are not aggressive towards people, they avoid contact. They are nocturnal, taking advantage of the empty night-time streets.

While killing strays became illegal eight years ago, the city government has taken efforts to keep the population under control. Spaying and neutering pets isn't customary in Moscow, and the ranks of dogs are continually replenished thanks to hundreds of unwanted, abandoned pets. Modern dog-catchers bring the dogs to be sterilized and housed in animal shelters. There is a problem with insufficient adoption, and those dogs that are taken in as pets often don't take well to living in confined spaces.

However, by and large, the stray dogs aren't viewed as a pressing public dilemma. Moscow's attitude towards the dogs ranges from the ambivalent to the amicable. Meanwhile, foreigners regard the dogs with a mixture of confusion and amusement.

Would you like to know more?

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Blood is Life (with Peppers and Onions)

In Ernest Hemingway's book The Green Hills of Africa, he describes a meal shared with the Masai tribesmen of Tanzania. As an aside, Hemingway mentions hearing stories of the Masai subsisting on blood, taken from their still-living cattle and mixed with milk. While ritualistic consumption of animal (and human) blood has been common all over the world, this was an early account of blood drinking for purely dietary needs. If you can get past the taboo, its nutritional value is considerable.

In modern Chad, meat shortages in the city of N'Djamena have resulted in a return to traditional blood-based dishes. A new variation, referred to as "vampire," consists of fried blood combined with peppers, onions, and other ingredients. The inexpensive blood can be purchased from slaughterhouses by the bucket, making vampire a real hit amongst families trying to save money. It has also become popular in bars.

Despite an exhaustive search, our Hyper Kitchen interns were unable to find any recipes for vampire, but given Hollywood's current infatuation with blood-suckers, it may not be long before some variation arrives in the United States eateries. Some may squirm, but we say that you can't go wrong with frying.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this BBC article

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"The Long Arm of the Law" or "Fist of Fury"

During the superhero boom of the early 1940's, comic-book publishers had assembly lines of artists and writers to churn out endless variations on the superhero formula. As a result, the comics landscape became crowded with interchangeable do-gooders, but occasionally a weirdo was produced as the demand for new gimmicks grew. Few were more bizarre than this one.

The origin of the mysterious Hand is never revealed, but it is suggested that it belongs to a crime-fighter who somehow reached into the scene from afar. In its debut in Speed Comics #12 (1941), the Hand defeats two crooks who are trying to rob an oceanic casino. Not only can it produce notes written in blood from out of the void, but it also possesses "superhuman strength" that comes in useful in dealing with the criminals.

The Hand is currently in public domain, so we feel that it's only a matter of time before we see an avalanche of Hand-themed merchandise, a Saturday morning cartoon, and eventually a multi-million dollar cash-in on Hollywood's current fixation on superhero properties. We think that Johnny Depp's hand would do a splendid job at portraying the famous appendage, but we're open to other casting suggestions.

Would you like to know more?
-Download the Hand's first appearance here for free (requires CDisplayEx viewing program)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Shape of Things to Come

It's day three of this New Era, and already the public is consumed with anticipation as to what the future has in store for them. Rather than wait to find out, we cracked open our copy of The Book of Predictions, authored in 1981 by the creators of the People's Almanac. Within its pages, there are the predictions of futurists, Las Vegas psychics, and mathematicians. In its final chapter, the authors offer their own guesses about the form of the future. It's unclear how likely they considered these developments, but here's what they wrote for 2010:
    • A robot can now cross a busy highway without being hit
    • Football coaches still direct their teams from the bench, but their teams consist entirely of robots.
    • Because of rising inflation, the U.S. issues a new currency to soften the impact of high prices. Many realistic people turn to barter.
    • There is an open market for used and reconditioned body parts.
    • An artificial brain, as complex as the human brain, proves to have conscious thoughts and emotions.
    • Authoritarian governments in various nations are using mind and behavior control chemicals on their subjects to suppress dissent.
    • The Soviet Union attempts to to change its history by using tachyons.
    • The black pope of Rome transfers the Vatican to Jerusalem.
    • International terrorists, employing nuclear weapons, destroy a major world capitol. This leads to police repressions, which in turn leads to a worldwide disarmament conference. As a result all nuclear-weapon systems are scrapped.
    • One million people are living permanently in space colonies.


Obviously 2010 is going to be a very incredible year. It's a shame that a world capitol is going to be destroyed, and I'm not sure how I feel about the Soviet Union coming back, but at least we'll have robots that can play football.

Source: Wallace, Amy; Wallace, Irving; and Wallechinsky, David. (1981). "The Chronology of the Future." The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Predictions. 468: pp. 11-20. ISBN: 0-553-20198-0. Buy it here for a single penny and learn the secrets of tomorrow.