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3/28/08  #462
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Welcome o' seekers of the truth. Once again the agents of disinformation and those who keep the truth from us are rushing about in fear and panic, because Conspiracy Journal is here with its weekly dose of news and information about conspiracies, UFOs, the paranormal, and anything else that's strange, bizarre and interesting.

This week Conspiracy Journal brings you such curtain-climbing tales as:

- U.S. Army Toyed With Telepathic Ray Gun -
- Far Side Of The Moon - Lunar Enigmas -
- Tales of Appalachian Banshees -
- Ball Lightning Bamboozles Physicist -
AND:  Meet Thomas Beatie - A Pregnant Husband

All these exciting stories and MORE in this week's issue of
CONSPIRACY JOURNAL!

~ And Now, On With The Show! ~


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In This Incredible Issue:
Sleep Paralysis, Split Personalities,
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Michelle Belanger: Life as a Psychic Vampire

Science and Psychism:The Future of Artificial Intelligence

From Microbes to Monoliths:The Search for Life on Mars

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News Blackouts and the Non-Reporting of UFOs

The Mysterious Disappearance of Agatha Christie

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Moonville, OH:A Haunted Railroad Town

Virginia’s Twitching Illness and Other Mass Maladies

The Children of God:Jesus Freaks and Flirty Fishing

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- THE VOICES TOLD ME TO DO IT DEPARTMENT -

U.S. Army Toyed With Telepathic Ray Gun


A recently declassified US Army report on the biological effects of non-lethal weapons reveals outlandish plans for "ray gun" devices, which would cause artificial fevers or beam voices into people's heads.

The report titled "Bioeffects Of Selected Nonlethal Weapons" was released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and details five different "maturing non-lethal technologies" using microwaves, lasers and sound.

Released by U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Meade, Maryland, US, the 1998 report gives an overview of what was then the state of the art in directed energy weapons for crowd control and other applications.

Some of the technologies are conceptual, such as an electromagnetic pulse that causes a seizure like those experienced by people with epilepsy. Other ideas, like a microwave gun to "beam" words directly into people's ears, have been tested. It is claimed that the so-called "Frey Effect" – using close-range microwaves to produce audible sounds in a person's ears – has been used to project the spoken numbers 1 to 10 across a lab to volunteers'.

In 2004 the U.S. Navy funded research into using the Frey effect to project sound that caused "discomfort" into the ears of crowds.

The report also discusses a microwave weapon able to produce a disabling "artificial fever" by heating a person's body. While tests of the idea are not mentioned, the report notes that the necessary equipment "is available today". It adds that while it would take at least fifteen minutes to achieve the desired "fever" effect, it could be used to incapacitate people for almost "any desired period consistent with safety."

Less exotic technologies discussed include laser dazzlers and a sound source loud enough to disturb the sense of balance. Both have been realised in the years since the report was written. The U.S. army uses laser dazzlers in Iraq, while the Long Range Acoustic Device has military and civilian users, and has been used on one occasion to repel pirates off Somalia.

However, the report does not mention any trials of weapons for producing artificial fever or seizures, or beaming voices into people's heads.

Steve Wright, a security expert at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, warns that the technologies described could be used for torture. In 1998 the European Parliament passed a motion banning potentially dangerous incapacitating technologies that interfere with the human brain.

"The epileptic seizure inducing device is grossly irresponsible and should never be fielded," says Steve Wright "We know from similar [chemically] artificially-induced fits that the victim subsequently remains "potentiated" and may spontaneously suffer epileptic fits again after the initial attack."

The acoustic energy device that affects the ear canals, disrupting the motion sense, may require dangerously loud sound levels to be effective, points out Juergen Altmann, a physicist at Dortmund University, Germany, who is interested in new military technologies.

"[There is] inconsistency between the part that says "interesting" effects occur at 130-155 dB and the Recovery/Safety section that says that 115 dB is to be avoided - without commenting on the difference."

Source: New Scientist
http://technology.newscientist.com/article/dn13513-us-army-toyed-with-telepathic-ray-gun.html

- MYSTERIES OF OUR MOON DEPARTMENT -

Far Side Of The Moon - Lunar Enigmas


Our bodies are tuned to its passage, and our calendars to its phases. Next to the sun, no other object in the heavens has played such an important role for mankind as the moon.

It is our closest celestial neighbor and has been the inspiration of lovers and poets for countless generations. It has been the source of spiritual awakenings and the earliest of religious beliefs. Some have even credited the moon as being crucial for the development of life on Earth.

It has been extensively studied and photographed, yet, even after six manned moon missions, there is still more that we do not know about the moon than what we do know. There is even a debate among scientists on whether the moon is a true satellite, and even refers to the Earth-Moon system as a "double planet."

We do know that the moon is one-sixth the size of the Earth; it is about 4.5 billion years old; it is approximately 238,000 miles distant from the Earth; it has a thin atmosphere made up of a highly dispersed collection of molecules believed to originate from the release of gases from within the Moon by moonquakes and the loosening of molecules from the surface by the impact of molecules from the solar wind. It is widely thought that the moon has no water, though there have been hints of ice within craters near the poles. Unlike the Earth, the moon has no magnetic field. However, some rocks brought back from the Apollo missions have a preserved magnetism in them. One explanation for this is that the Moon had an ancient magnetic field that somehow disappeared after the old lunar rocks had formed.

The origins of the moon have been hotly debated among scientists for years. The theory of the day holds that in the early days of the solar system, our moon may have formed from matter ejected from the Earth after a collision with a wandering celestial body the size of Mars. Others say that the moon was formed independently from the same cloud of dust and gas as the Earth, and immediately became the Earth's natural satellite. Another theory holds that the moon originated somewhere else in space and was captured by the Earth.

Strange Things on the Moon

The one thing that all scientists do agree on is that the moon is, and always has been, devoid of life of any kind. It is an extremely hostile, sterile environment, with withering radiation from the sun, and extremes in temperature that range from broiling hot in the sun, to freezing cold at night.
Nevertheless, the moon is far from inactive. Unexplained lights and shapes seen on the Moon are a classic example of an enigma called Transient Lunar Phenomena (TLP), and skywatchers have been intrigued by them since the earliest times.

It is thought that the first recorded example of TLP was on June 18, 1178. This is when a group of men at Canterbury in England witnessed an incredible event according to a manuscript written by Gervase, a 12th century monk whose chronicle is preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. Gervase reports that the men were startled by "a flaming torch" which suddenly appeared on the four-day-old crescent Moon, "spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks." The Moon is said to have "writhed like a wounded snake" and assumed a blackish appearance shortly after this unprecedented occurrence.

On May 4, 1783, William Herschel, the astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus, observed through his telescope a strange glow on the dark half of the crescent moon that resembled: "Slowly burning charcoal thinly covered with ashes."

In April 1787 Herschel recorded other prominent TLP, and he became convinced that the lunar surface was experiencing volcanic activity. Herschel even invited King George III to view the moon with him using the royal telescope in the grounds of Windsor.

In July 1821, Franz Gruithuisen, the creator of the meteoric impact theory of Lunar cratering, saw flashing points of light on the surface of the moon, however, when he revealed he had discovered a lunar city he was ridiculed by his colleagues and he burned his notes.

Since those early observations, many lunar observers have reported witnessing the brief appearance of inexplicable mists, cloud-like shapes, glows and flashes on the moon. Astronomer F.H. Thornton reported seeing "a puff of whitish vapor obscuring details for some miles," in February 1949. In 1954, Astronomer Walter H.Haas observed a "milky luminosity" present on the wall of the crater Tycho.

That same year, Spanish engineer Sixto Campo seriously promoted the theory that a technologically advanced civilization had once waged nuclear war against itself on the lunar surface. Annihilation came quickly he claimed, and the resulting craters remain as testament to the holocaust on a now dead world. However, red glows continue to be observed in the region of the moon's North Pole and blue misty glows have been periodically noted near craters at the South Pole.

Russian astronomer N.A. Kozyrev, has recorded numerous incidents of red transient lunar phenomena, particularly in the 80-mile wide crater known as Alphonsus. It was at this location in 1965 that the final Ranger probe 9 crash-landed. Aristarchus is not only one of the brightest formations on the moon; it is responsible for more than half the number of reported TLP.

Astronomers take TLP very seriously and one of the first real attempts to catalog a large number of TLP sightings was made on behalf of NASA and published in NASA Technical Report R-277. This report gave details of 579 mysterious lunar events dating from November 1540 to October 1967. The February 1969 issue of National Geographic says that: "One could disregard such reports were it not that they number more than 800, many of them from respected astronomers. The sightings have been concentrated in a few locations, notably the craters Aristarchus and Alphonsus."

TLP also was observed close-up by the Apollo astronauts.  On July 19, 1969, the Apollo 11 command module had just achieved orbit around the moon when Mission Control received word that amateur astronomers reported TLP in the vicinity of the crater Aristarchus.  Asked to check out the situation, astronaut Neil Armstrong looked out his window toward the earthlit region and observed an "area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area. It just has…seems to have…a slight amount of fluorescence to it." Although he wasn't sure, Armstrong believed the region was Aristarchus.

As well, while in lunar orbit, Harrison Schmitt on Apollo 17 witnessed a flash of light near the crater Grimaldi. In the past, more than a dozen reports of light flashes have been reported by Earth-based observers near Grimaldi.

It would appear that despite what has been believed for years, the moon is far from a cold, inert neighbor after all. Yet, despite a profusion of observations and space missions, the moon still manages to retain its secrets, and to remain intriguing to this day. 

Anomalies on the Moon

Along with strange lights and clouds, the moon also has its share of what appears to be mysterious structures and shapes on its surface.  In 1953, astronomer John O'Neil observed a 12-mile-long "bridge" across the crater Mare Crisium. British astronomer Dr. H.P. Wilkens verified its presence, "It looks artificial. It's almost incredible that such a thing could have been formed in the first instance, or if it was formed, could have lasted during the ages in which the moon has been in existence."

Early Russian and American lunar probes, such as the 1966 U.S. Lunar Orbiter 2, took photos showing strange spires on the moon. One scientist from NASA said that they looked like an "array of antennae." Other pictures show a remarkable series of domes that appear to be about 1,500 feet high and two to ten miles wide.

On March 21, 1996, a grass-roots space research group under the aegis of Richard Hoagland's The Mars Mission, held a press briefing at the National Press Club in Washington DC.  The group had called the conference to report on analyses of 30-year-old "suppressed Evidence" revealing alleged manufactured artifacts on the moon.

The suppressed evidence consisted of a series of photographs showing unusual structures taken by various lunar probes and Apollo missions.  One anomaly, referred to as "the Shard," is an obvious structure which rises above the Moon's surface by more than a mile. The amount of sunlight reflecting from parts of the Shard indicates a composition of crystal or glass rather than lunar rock.

Another anomaly is called "the Castle," and was photographed in 1969 hanging seven miles above the lunar surface by Apollo 10.  The Castle seems to have a definite structure, like the remnant wall of some ancient building. The bottom looks as if it has rows of columns that support a high spire. Whatever it is, it's much brighter than the surrounding landscape.

Hoagland insists that there are other intriguing photographs of strange moon anomalies that are currently hidden deep inside the NASA safes. Hoagland speculates that this information is being kept secret because NASA feels the public is not yet psychologically ready for the implications that the moon may have been visited by intelligent life whose origins are somewhere other than planet Earth. 

Source: Tim R. Swartz/Conspiracy Journal

- POLICE STATE U.S.A. DEPARTMENT -

NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data

Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans' privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the data-sifting effort didn't disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people's communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Congress now is hotly debating domestic spying powers under the main law governing U.S. surveillance aimed at foreign threats. An expansion of those powers expired last month and awaits renewal, which could be voted on in the House of Representatives this week. The biggest point of contention over the law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is whether telecommunications and other companies should be made immune from liability for assisting government surveillance.

Largely missing from the public discussion is the role of the highly secretive NSA in analyzing that data, collected through little-known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Supporters say the NSA is serving as a key bulwark against foreign terrorists and that it would be reckless to constrain the agency's mission. The NSA says it is scrupulously following all applicable laws and that it keeps Congress fully informed of its activities.

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA's enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world's main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called "black programs" whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions.

It isn't clear how many of the different kinds of data are combined and analyzed together in one database by the NSA. An intelligence official said the agency's work links to about a dozen antiterror programs in all.

A number of NSA employees have expressed concerns that the agency may be overstepping its authority by veering into domestic surveillance. And the constitutional question of whether the government can examine such a large array of information without violating an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy "has never really been resolved," said Suzanne Spaulding, a national-security lawyer who has worked for both parties on Capitol Hill.

NSA officials say the agency's own investigations remain focused only on foreign threats, but it's increasingly difficult to distinguish between domestic and international communications in a digital era, so they need to sweep up more information.

The Fourth Amendment

In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, then NSA-chief Gen. Michael Hayden has said he used his authority to expand the NSA's capabilities under a 1981 executive order governing the agency. Another presidential order issued shortly after the attacks, the text of which is classified, opened the door for the NSA to incorporate more domestic data in its searches, one senior intelligence official said.

The NSA "strictly follows laws and regulations designed to preserve every American's privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," agency spokeswoman Judith Emmel said in a statement, referring to the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA in conjunction with the Pentagon, added in a statement that intelligence agencies operate "within an extensive legal and policy framework" and inform Congress of their activities "as required by the law." It pointed out that the 9/11 Commission recommended in 2004 that intelligence agencies analyze "all relevant sources of information" and share their databases.

Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with that item -- and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city -- for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans -- the government's spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city.

The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet browsing. The system also would collect information about other people, including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit.

The information doesn't generally include the contents of conversations or emails. But it can give such transactional information as a cellphone's location, whom a person is calling, and what Web sites he or she is visiting. For an email, the data haul can include the identities of the sender and recipient and the subject line, but not the content of the message.

Intelligence agencies have used administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI -- which don't need a judge's signature -- to collect and analyze such data, current and former intelligence officials said. If that data provided "reasonable suspicion" that a person, whether foreign or from the U.S., was linked to al Qaeda, intelligence officers could eavesdrop under the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program.

The White House wants to give companies that assist government surveillance immunity from lawsuits alleging an invasion of privacy, but Democrats in Congress have been blocking it. The Terrorist Surveillance Program has spurred 38 lawsuits against companies. Current and former intelligence officials say telecom companies' concern comes chiefly because they are giving the government unlimited access to a copy of the flow of communications, through a network of switches at U.S. telecommunications hubs that duplicate all the data running through it. It isn't clear whether the government or telecom companies control the switches, but companies process some of the data for the NSA, the current and former officials say.

On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a letter warning colleagues to look more deeply into how telecommunications data are being accessed, citing an allegation by the head of a New York-based computer security firm that a wireless carrier that hired him was giving unfettered access to data to an entity called "Quantico Circuit." Quantico is a Marine base that houses the FBI Academy; senior FBI official Anthony DiClemente said the bureau "does not have 'unfettered access' to any communication provider's network."

The political debate over the telecom information comes as intelligence agencies seek to change traditional definitions of how to balance privacy rights against investigative needs. Donald Kerr, the deputy director of national intelligence, told a conference of intelligence officials in October that the government needs new rules. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he said, their identity shouldn't need the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their "essential privacy," or "what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs," should be veiled, he said, without providing examples.

Social-Network Analysis

The NSA uses its own high-powered version of social-network analysis to search for possible new patterns and links to terrorism. The Pentagon's experimental Total Information Awareness program, later renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, was an early research effort on the same concept, designed to bring together and analyze as much and as many varied kinds of data as possible. Congress eliminated funding for the program in 2003 before it began operating. But it permitted some of the research to continue and TIA technology to be used for foreign surveillance.

Some of it was shifted to the NSA -- which also is funded by the Pentagon -- and put in the so-called black budget, where it would receive less scrutiny and bolster other data-sifting efforts, current and former intelligence officials said. "When it got taken apart, it didn't get thrown away," says a former top government official familiar with the TIA program.

Two current officials also said the NSA's current combination of programs now largely mirrors the former TIA project. But the NSA offers less privacy protection. TIA developers researched ways to limit the use of the system for broad searches of individuals' data, such as requiring intelligence officers to get leads from other sources first. The NSA effort lacks those controls, as well as controls that it developed in the 1990s for an earlier data-sweeping attempt.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who led the charge to kill TIA, says "the administration is trying to bring as much of the philosophy of operation Total Information Awareness as it can into the programs they're using today." The issue has been overshadowed by the fight over telecoms' immunity, he said. "There's not been as much discussion in the Congress as there ought to be."

Opportunity for Debate

But Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the committee, said by email his committee colleagues have had "ample opportunity for debate" behind closed doors and that each intelligence program has specific legal authorization and oversight. He cautioned against seeing a group of intelligence programs as "a mythical 'big brother' program," adding, "that's not what is happening today."

The legality of data-sweeping relies largely on the government's interpretation of a 1979 Supreme Court ruling allowing records of phone calls -- but not actual conversations -- to be collected without a judge issuing a warrant. Multiple laws require a court order for so-called "transactional'" records of electronic communications, but the 2001 Patriot Act lowered the standard for such an order in some cases, and in others made records accessible using FBI administrative subpoenas called "national security letters."

A debate is brewing among legal and technology scholars over whether there should be privacy protections when a wide variety of transactional data are brought together to paint what is essentially a profile of an individual's behavior. "You know everything I'm doing, you know what happened, and you haven't listened to any of the contents" of the communications, said Susan Landau, co-author of a book on electronic privacy and a senior engineer at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. "Transactional information is remarkably revelatory."

Ms. Spaulding, the national-security lawyer, said it's "extremely questionable" to assume Americans don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy for data such as the subject-header of an email or a Web address from an Internet search, because those are more like the content of a communication than a phone number. "These are questions that require discussion and debate," she said. "This is one of the problems with doing it all in secret."

Gen. Hayden, the former NSA chief and now Central Intelligence Agency director, in January 2006 publicly defended the activities of the Terrorist Surveillance Program after it was disclosed by the New York Times. He said it was "not a driftnet over Lackawanna or Fremont or Dearborn, grabbing all communications and then sifting them out." Rather, he said, it was carefully targeted at terrorists. However, some intelligence officials now say the broader NSA effort amounts to a driftnet. A portion of the activity, the NSA's access to domestic phone records, was disclosed by a USA Today article in 2006.

The NSA, which President Truman created in 1952 through a classified presidential order to be America's ears abroad, has for decades been the country's largest and most secretive intelligence agency. The order confined NSA spying to "foreign governments," and during the Cold War the NSA developed a reputation as the world's premier code-breaking operation. But in the 1970s, the NSA and other intelligence agencies were found to be using their spy tools to monitor Americans for political purposes. That led to the original FISA legislation in 1978, which included an explicit ban on the NSA eavesdropping in the U.S. without a warrant.

Big advances in telecommunications and database technology led to unprecedented data-collection efforts in the 1990s. One was the FBI's Carnivore program, which raised fears when it was in disclosed in 2000 that it might collect telecommunications information about law-abiding individuals. But the ground shifted after 9/11. Requests for analysis of any data that might hint at terrorist activity flooded from the White House and other agencies into NSA's Fort Meade, Md., headquarters outside Washington, D.C., one former NSA official recalls. At the time, "We're scrambling, trying to find any piece of data we can to find the answers," the official said.

The 2002 congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks criticized the NSA for holding back information, which NSA officials said they were doing to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens. "NSA did not want to be perceived as targeting individuals in the United States" and considered such surveillance the FBI's job, the inquiry concluded.

FBI-NSA Projects

The NSA quietly redefined its role. Joint FBI-NSA projects "expanded exponentially," said Jack Cloonan, a longtime FBI veteran who investigated al Qaeda. He pointed to national-security letter requests: They rose from 8,500 in 2000 to 47,000 in 2005, according to a Justice Department inspector general's report last year. It also said the letters permitted the potentially illegal collection of thousands of records of people in the U.S. from 2003-05. Last Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the bureau had found additional instances in 2006.

It isn't known how many Americans' data have been swept into the NSA's systems. The Treasury, for instance, built its database "to look at all the world's financial transactions" and gave the NSA access to it about 15 years ago, said a former NSA official. The data include domestic and international money flows between bank accounts and credit-card information, according to current and former intelligence officials.

The NSA receives from Treasury weekly batches of this data and adds it to a database at its headquarters. Prior to 9/11, the database was used to pursue specific leads, but afterward, the effort was expanded to hunt for suspicious patterns.

Through the Treasury, the NSA also can access the database of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, the Belgium-based clearinghouse for records of international transactions between financial institutions, current and former officials said. The U.S. acknowledged in 2006 that the CIA and Treasury had access to Swift's database, but said the NSA's Terrorism Surveillance Program was separate and that the NSA provided only "technical assistance." A Treasury spokesman said the agency had no comment.

Through the Department of Homeland Security, airline passenger data also are accessed and analyzed for suspicious patterns, such as five unrelated people who repeatedly fly together, current and former intelligence officials said. Homeland Security shares information with other agencies only "on a limited basis," spokesman Russ Knocke said.

NSA gets access to the flow of data from telecommunications switches through the FBI, according to current and former officials. It also has a partnership with FBI's Digital Collection system, providing access to Internet providers and other companies. The existence of a shadow hub to copy information about AT&T Corp. telecommunications in San Francisco is alleged in a lawsuit against AT&T filed by the civil-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, based on documents provided by a former AT&T official. In that lawsuit, a former technology adviser to the Federal Communications Commission says in a sworn declaration that there could be 15 to 20 such operations around the country. Current and former intelligence officials confirmed a domestic network of hubs, but didn't know the number. "As a matter of policy and law, we can not discuss matters that are classified," said FBI spokesman John Miller.

The budget for the NSA's data-sifting effort is classified, but one official estimated it surpasses $1 billion. The FBI is requesting to nearly double the budget for the Digital Collection System in 2009, compared with last year, requesting $42 million. "Not only do demands for information continue to increase, but also the requirement to facilitate information sharing does," says a budget justification document, noting an "expansion of electronic surveillance activity in frequency, sophistication, and linguistic needs."

Source: The Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120511973377523845.html?mod=hps_us_whats_news

- WAIL FOR THE DEAD DEPARTMENT -

Tales of Appalachian Banshees

Not all fairy tales have happy endings. Not all fairies bring goodness and light. Among the Irish and Scottish people there is a supernatural creature they call “the Banshee.”

The Banshee is an attendant death fairy, one that brings an omen of doom to Irish or Scottish clans. It is the Banshee that announces the death of a family member, usually over bodies of water with her keening or caoine, a shrill crying for the dead.

But the Banshee doesn’t just stay near bodies of water washing out the grave clothes of her dead as it is told. She also travels to the homes of those about to die, sometimes mounted on a pale steed or riding a black funeral coach with two, pale headless horses leading the way.

There are various descriptions of the Banshee. The Irish Banshee is called Bean Sidhe in an older tongue. Depending upon what source you use, “Bean” means woman and “Sidhe” (shee) means fairy. But other sources say that Bean Sidhe is translated as “woman of the hills.” Some ancient lore says the Banshee can even be the ghost of a young woman who has died in childbirth, especially if she was not given the last rites of confession.

The Irish Banshee is said to materialize as a beautiful young woman with streaming auburn hair. She wears a green woolen dress with gray cloak clasped about her shoulders. The Irish Banshee hangs out at rivers and waterfalls. The only hint that this beautiful Banshee is a messenger of doom comes from the fact that her eyes are blood red from crying for her Irish dead.

The Scottish Banshee, the “Bean Nighe,” is more menacing. The Scottish Banshee dresses in moldering grave clothes, her face covered by a tattered veil. Often, she rides a prancing white steed. Her age and features are difficult to make out but she appears to be a decrepit crone. And yet, the Banshee’s movements are lithe and she rides her pale horse sometimes with a black hearse following behind her. Rarely, the shroud of the Scottish Banshee is crimson, reddened by the gore of blood.

The Mid-Ohio Valley as well as West Virginia was settled predominantly of people of Irish and Scottish ancestry. Along with the Welsh and French, they shard ancient Celtic ties and are descended from clans. The Celts believed in unique forms of mysticism, such as sorcerers, witches, leprechauns and fairies, and not the least of them — the Banshee.

Stories of Banshee spirits went underground as Irish and Scottish immigrants moved into the verdant hills of the Ohio Valley and West Virginia. But the legend of the Banshee is not entirely forgotten, as you will see by reading the following pages.

Let us travel back to the shores of Scotland on a blustery winter day in the year
1590. A group of women, known later as the Berwick Witches, summoned their
powers at the ocean’s edge. Over the icy waters of the North Sea, King James VI and
his new bride Anne of Denmark made their way back to Scotland when their boat
nearly capsized. Later, rumors circulated that King James was in great danger from
a plot or a curse put upon him by the witches of North Berwick.

This quickly caught King James’s attention, since he had always been fascinated by witchcraft. It wasn’t long until the supposed witches were captured and put on trial. One young woman, called Gilly Duncan, confessed under torture that she and other witches cursed the King, and was intent upon murdering him by chanting spells and evil curses. She also claimed that she and other witches were in cahoots with the Earl of Boswell, first in line to the throne after King James’s death, and they wished him dead.

King James’s morbid fascination with witchcraft only fed his paranoid delusions about the mysterious powers of woman. It was during James’s translation of the King James Bible that he changed the Hebrew word for “poisoner” into the English word for “witch,” two terms that are hardly interchangeable. The word stuck however, and the rest is sad history of the murder of many innocent people, mostly women.

King James had earlier written a treatise against witchcraft. Wild claims about the Devil being intent upon murdering King James were made and rumors flew. It was reported back to King James that a group of Scottish witches had gathered at night near a castle in Edinburgh where they fashioned a waxen image, or witch’s poppet (a European version of a voodoo doll) of the King. In front of a raging bonfire, the witches passed the wax doll amongst themselves, chanting in unison:

“This is King James the VI, ordained to be consumed at the instance of a nobleman, Francis Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.” The witches’ poppet was tossed into the flames where it melted away instantly.

Were such dubious claims likely? It is highly doubtful. Most of the women charged with witchcraft identified themselves as devout Christians, and would not likely talk ill against such a powerful and paranoid ruler.

But the story fit in perfectly with what the King already believed, making him even more determined to hunt down the “witches” who were “persecuting” him. More “witches” were brought forth and the King himself interrogated them. It was alleged that 200 witches met at a Church in North Berwick on All Hallows Eve to curse King James again. It was then told that the Devil himself presided over the meeting wearing a black mask, preaching obedience to him and bringing great evil against the King. Unable to stay quiet a moment longer, King James interjected and called the witches present liars.
For some inexplicable reason, one of the witches gestured for the King to come closer. She whispered words King James had spoken to his wife on their wedding night. No one knew why the woman would do such a thing. It sealed their doom.

The witches were later executed at Edinburgh’s Castle Hill. But it did not end there. In later years, Scottish witches were “brought to justice” at MacBeth’s Hill near the town of Nairn. Witchcraft had a strong hold in Scotland. Scottish rule executed 4,400 alleged witches. Only a handful of witches were executed in England and Ireland. Next to Germany, Scotland murdered more people during their witch trials than any other country.

In light of our tale, if the names of “Duncan” and “MacBeth” sound familiar, there is a reason for it. It has long been thought that King James held great influence over William Shakespeare and was even responsible for Shakespeare’s unflattering portrayal of Scottish witches in his play “Macbeth.” James supported the works of Shakespeare, whose famous plays came about later.

King James was certainly one of the most literate of all British Kings and Shakespeare’s Macbeth was written only seventeen years after initial royal paranoia about the Berwick witches, a long enough time for the imagination to fodder and take certain liberties with the actual story.

Most of the scenes for MacBeth took place at Glamis Castle, allegedly the most haunted castle in Scotland. This was even acknowledged in the day of Shakespeare. But Scotland’s influence on public thought having to do with witches and witchcraft did not end there. Many trials and executions were to follow later.
And yet the powers of witchcraft still lurked in Scotland’s remote forests, its lonely crashing shores and mystic mountains of gloom.

North of Aberdeen, there is a haunted place called the “Forest of Marr.” It is believed this is the area where some of the Scottish witches escaped. As they went underground, the women’s occult powers grew. It was conjectured that the ghosts of the executed witches eventually became Banshee spirits and continued to roam the countryside bringing death to the Scottish Clans who backed King James or were responsible for their persecution.

From that area of Scotland to Wood County, came a family named “Marr.” Some have said that their lives were marred by the earlier witches’ tragedies. And now we begin our first tale moving from the dark reaches of Scotland into the even darker reaches of West Virginia...

The Banshee of Marrtown

On certain lonely, moonless nights in the Mid-Ohio Valley, under a sky littered with stars, riding over the hills of Marrtown, there appears a shrouded figure on a white horse— one that is known as “the Banshee of Marrtown.”

Marrtown was once a small farming community southeast of the city of Parkersburg. The family of Scottish immigrant Thomas Marr settled Marrtown in 1836. Thomas later married a local woman named Mary Disosche whose family owned a local brewery. The Marr family brought to America many of the ancient beliefs and superstitions from their native land of Scotland, where a belief in banshees, witches and ghosts remained strong. The daughter of a widow, Mary Marr was an autumn bride, considered to be an ill omen by the Scottish people. In years to come, Mary would lose six of the eight children that she bore. Only two would carry on the Marr name. Times were hard for Thomas and Mary Marr but they did not lose their dream of a better life, pouring their energies into a simple tract of land that is now Marrtown. Soon, a picturesque white farmhouse stood against shadowy woods thick with sumac, milkweed and blackberry brambles, framed by a sweeping green valley. To the west of the Marr homestead was a steep hill that ran directly into the Ohio River. To the north was Fort Boreman Hill, where Union troops camped during the Civil War, and where a Pest House housed locals and soldiers who had contracted typhoid fever, small pox and other diseases.

The years of the Civil War, as for most, were not happy ones for the Marr Family. They lost two of their children to typhoid fever. From their front window Thomas and Mary witnessed small clashes that turned into bloody battles between Yankee and Confederate soldiers. There were public hangings on nearby Fort Boreman Hill. As the Civil War drew to a close, marauding soldiers from both sides stole freely from the Marr family, making off with what food and stock the family had put away for themselves.
Shortly after the Civil War, the Marr family’s Scottish brew of bad luck appeared to come to an end. Thomas landed a job as night watchman at the toll bridge that crossed over the Little Kanawha River from lower Parkersburg to the road leading into Marrtown. Mary would stay home to tend the farm and children. Still, there were ominous hints of what was about to unfold.

On several occasions as Thomas traveled to and from his work, he mentioned to Mary about seeing a robed figure riding a white horse. Thomas said that he came upon this rider nearly every night in the identical spot not far from his farmhouse. Mr. Marr said he was not able to determine the gender of the person on the horse but it was as if their paths were fated to meet. Some sense told Thomas that the person was a woman but he couldn’t be sure. The face remained covered by a ragged hood. Whenever Thomas tried to approach the shrouded figure, the white mare reared. Horse and rider then disappeared into the mists of morning. On a cold February night in the year 1876, Mary sat by the front window awaiting Thomas to come home from his job. Earlier, Mary had awakened suddenly and was eager to see her husband. The middle-aged woman heard footsteps coming up the road. She stood up to peer out the window. But instead of Thomas, a white horse loped up to the front gate of the house and then stopped. Sitting atop the horse was a rider whose face was covered by a tattered veil. It looked to be a woman. Alarmed, Mary moved from her chair and walked outside into the frigid night air. The rider, dressed in the threadbare clothing of a beggar, remained silent.

As bitter winds gusted, Mary pulled her woolen shawl close. Mary asked the rider what she wanted. There was no answer. Plumes of icy air billowed from the nostrils of the white horse. As Mary repeated her question, rider and horse inched closer. The aged woman sat stiffly in her saddle. Underneath the gauzy veil, Mary saw that the woman’s eyes radiated an eerie red glow.

After a few moments, the woman on the horse spoke. “I am here to tell you, Mary Marr that Thomas Marr has just died. Say your prayers, Lady. I bid you well.” Rider and horse turned abruptly and galloped away.

Mary collapsed onto the front stoop. Through tears, she watched the shrouded woman and her horse vanish entirely just as they reached the bend in the road. Within the hour, a man who worked with Thomas came to deliver the dreaded news.

No one knows for sure what happened to Thomas Marr that fated winter evening. Some say that while working at the toll bridge Thomas was shot by an assailant’s bullet then fell and drowned in the Little Kanawha River. Others claim that it was the cry of the Banshee that startled Thomas into meeting his end in the river below. Other reports have Thomas Marr found dead along the B&O railroad tracks only a few yards away from the turbulent waters. After all, it is known that the keening of the Banshee is most often heard over bodies of water. The truth is, Thomas Marr did die on February 5th, 1878 when the Marrtown Banshee was to have made her visit, and she had to cross water to do so.

In years to come, the Banshee did not abandon her Marr clan just yet. The ghostly rider continued to make other visits to the family. Mary Marr lived to be ninety years old. Such advanced years were an exception for the time. As Mary lay as a corpse in the parlor of her home many years after her husband’s death, family members heard the rattling of chains in the attic. Others claimed to hear the shrieks of a wild cat near the house around the same time.

A few years after Mary died, one of the Marr descendents had his arm cut off in a tragic accident. As family members sat up with the boy, they heard snarling and growling sounds on the porch. When the women went outside to see what is was, the stoop where Mary met her Banshee was covered with blood as if a terrible struggle had taken place.

What has become of the Banshee of Marrtown? It is said she still rides, giving dreaded omens to those of Scottish Blood. Not Scottish or Irish, you say? You would still be wise to avoid Marrtown on certain still, dark and moonless nights...

The Banshee of Center Point

Banshees aside, if you have ever had the opportunity to fly over West Virginia and the Mid-Ohio Valley in a small plane, you may have noticed the foliage below appears as dense and electric-green as that of a rainforest, an excellent place for harboring fugitives but terrible for your sinuses!

In a time where most of the wilderness in the U.S. is vanishing, West Virginia is still “wild and wonderful,” as the slogan says. But what kind of “wildness” may mean something other than what the travel ads claim. Native American tribes were afraid of these lands. The Shawnee Indians were especially spooked by the lands east of the Ohio River and avoided it as much as possible. The Native Americans did not make a habit of settling into what is now West Virginia believing cursed by ghosts and strange beasts.

There is a community in a remote part of Doddridge County called Center Point, a place that is now a virtual ghost town. Center Point is typical of small mountain communities reclaimed by the woods. The village used to have a post office and the Ross Country Store, but that is all but gone. A craggy, brown creek courses through lush foliage with leaves as big as mud flaps. Modest white houses cling to the sides of hills with sloping yards made muddy by children at play.

In Center Point, there isn’t much for children to do other than chase each other with sticks or head for the creek in search of the little brown clots with pinchers known so familiar to West Virginians as “crawdads.”

Unless you’re crazy about pleasant green scenery, country areas, like Center Point weren’t exactly a hullabaloo. Nothing that good had happened there. But nothing that bad happened either. That is, until the summer of 1918, when the Black Flu hit. That was the year when the people of Center Point thought the entire world was coming to an end. The rest of the world did, too. Millions had already died.

And…Unless you were a seven-year-old girl named Pearl White who loved to play in the woods, one who dreamed of flapping her arms and flying away like a bird, a place like Center Point could be pretty dull. But there was plenty for Pearl to do. She had drive and imagination. She wasn’t worried about the Black Flu. Sickness happened to people older than she was and Pearl was invincible. Why, she almost knew how to fly already!

It was near dusk in late summer. Pearl was staying with her Grandmother at Center Point on the farm while relatives traveled to Pennsboro to help those already stricken by Black Flu. Like so many of the flu victims, Pearl’s young, unmarried uncle had taken sick but appeared to be doing fine. His flu didn’t seem to be much worse than a chest cold. It was odd how the Black Flu preyed upon those in the full bloom of life. Many victims that succumbed to the Black Flu were young, only in their twenties and thirties. But Pearls’ uncle was in good spirits, sitting up and talking as the day wore on.

One late August evening drew in a bit more somberly than before. The indigo of twilight was soon upon them. The night was clear. There was not one cloud among the stars. Flickering lights studded the evening sky. Pearl counted them as the Big Dipper, the belt of Orion, the North Star and dreamed of flying to all of them. Center Point was small, but the world was still hers.

Pearl’s grandmother was in the process of taking her granddaughter to the outhouse one more time for the night before retiring to bed. As darkness enclosed, the clip-clop sound of horses’ hooves sounded up the road. The trot was slow and measured. Whoever it was didn’t seem to be in a hurry. They looked around to see a rider on a horse. Grandmother thought, perhaps it was the mailman paying a late visit. After all, the Black Flu had taken its toll on Center Point. Many people had died. Mail could arrive at just about anytime of day or evening.

Pearl and her grandmother paused to watch the rider and horse make their way toward the farmhouse. Crickets sang in the shadows.

It seemed strange how the figure sat erect on the horse and was enshrouded in pale, fluttering rags almost like a mummy. The horse itself was also pale like a ghost. The gender of the rider could not be made out either although something told them it was a woman.

Pearl felt an urge to draw near the figure. She was curious and ran toward the front porch, where the horse and rider seemed to be intent upon stopping. Her grandmother followed Pearl. Now they could see that the rider looked more like an old woman and still, the little girl was not sure. The rider’s face was covered by what was a torn, ragged veil Garnet red eyes glittered beneath the gauzy fabric. The hands looked old and waxen, too, like those that had been sealed within a coffin.

Pearl’s grandmother recoiled but still the little girl ran to meet the figure on the horse anyway. They sauntered up the front walk. The sun was entirely gone, the world left in shadows. The rider tugged on the bridle and the horse stopped. In later years, Pearl would say that she was so close to that Banshee’s horse that she could feel its hot breath on her face.

Yes, those of Celtic blood called this creature a Banshee. Pearl and her relatives were of Scottish descent and this is a classic way that the Scottish Banshee appears, always as a shrouded figure.

And yet, on that fated night in Center Point the Banshee spirit issued a warning. She pointed a bony finger at Pearl’s Grandmother and proclaimed in a rasping voice, “One of yours is to die this very night!” A keening cry split the evening’s stillness. Banshee and horse instantly vanished.

Shaken and left in shadows, Pearl and her grandmother hugged each other. But there was no time to think about the terrible thing that had just happened. Already sounds were coming from the house, sounds of someone struggling for air.

It was Pearl’s uncle. The two ran inside just in time to realize that the young man’s lungs filled with fluid. Blood foamed from his nose and mouth. This was the usual way people died when they had the Black Flu. Grandmother knew it. There was no saving him. Within moments, Pearl’s uncle had drowned in his own blood. After the death rattle, all became still, except for the sound of horses’ hooves galloping away. It was then something squalled like a wildcat in the distance.

Despite the evening when she witnessed her uncle’s terrible death from the Black Flu, Pearl White grew up and she did learn to fly. She became a pioneer in the field of aviation and was the first woman to parachute out of a plane. Pearl was a member of the famous “Barnstormers,” a name given to pilots who performed dangerous stunts. Pearl performed her stunts all the way from the Pennsboro Fair in 1935 to the movies in Hollywood, California.

In her life, Pearl White feared very little. In fact, as a young woman she was attracted to danger. When she was just at the age of sixteen, men would strap Pearl’s body to the belly of a plane, go up and then swoop down so she could pick up small objects off the ground. She broke her back one time, and that was at Ravenswood, West Virginia in 1935 and yet she came back.

It was strange how in later years, Pearl was often afraid to sit outside on her front porch at her modest home on upper Juliana Street in Parkersburg. There was something that disturbed her... the oncoming of night.

Pearl was not afraid to be strapped to a plane and fly through the air. She was not afraid to jump out of one as a teenager. After meeting up with the Center Point Banshee as a small child the only thing Pearl White was ever afraid of — was the dark.
The Coach-A-Bower-Of-Mineral Wells

The Banshee has a power that she shares with witches, and that is the power of glamoury. Glamoury is a Gaelic word that simply means to ‘shape shift’ to alter ones self at will. It is also the Scottish derivative of the Old French “gramaire,” where also our word “grammar” came from which meant to “recite a spell!”

To some, glamoury is an illusion. To others glamoury is real. Witches are said to master glamoury by turning into birds, animals or even a more attractive or younger person. But in Ireland, Scotland and West Virginia the Banshee sometimes takes on another form, one that is neither animal nor human.

Along Route 14, between the small communities of Mineral Wells and Elizabeth, the Banshee assumes the disquieting form of a death omen. In Gaelic it is called the Coiste-Bodhar, or the ‘Coach-A-Bower,’ a black hearse with a coffin strapped to the top and lead by two white headless horses. In Ireland and Scotland, the Coach-A-Bower often precedes the visit of the Banshee. And since the Banshee appears at households to announce a death, you would best do well not to open the door when you hear the rumbling of a carriage outside for it is then the darker side of the Banshee’s fairy powers of the Coach-A-Bower become evident. Those who are unwise enough to open the door are met with a basin of blood tossed into their faces.

However, even in the quiet meadows and mossy woods of West Virginia, the Coach-A-Bower is updated. It is a phantom black hearse that winds its way along Route 14 between Mineral Wells and Elizabeth. And yet, the hearse is not entirely modern. It appears to be one from the time of the 1950s, perhaps even earlier.

A spiritualist group meets in Mineral Wells once a month upon every Full Moon. They have done so for a few years, and many evenings are spent
communicating with spirits from other realms. No one had given a thought to the idea of a Banshee appearing!

In the spring of 1998, one séance lasted well past midnight. As one of the participants got into her car to go home, she noticed that the air had grown quite chilly and the full moon, that now looked to be the size of a pearl, had slipped behind veils of black clouds. As the woman proceeded with her drive on Route 14 toward Parkersburg from Mineral Wells, she soon noticed that she was trailing a black hearse.

As the hearse ambled through the hills, it looked shiny but dangerous, like a loaded gun. In the mist and fog, its’ taillights blinked like a pulse. The woman thought that it was odd that a hearse would be out at such a late hour. What was stranger was the fact that the hearse, with pulled velvet curtains, appeared to be from a different era like a relic put in antique car shows, or those dusted off for community parades as curiosities from the past.

The woman followed closely, it would seem rude or disrespectful to pass a hearse. Within moments the hearse had vanished. Curious, the woman sped up a bit to see if she could catch another glimpse of the black, snaking vehicle. By the time she got to the interchange that would take her back to Parkersburg there was no sign of the hearse.
But seeing the old-fashioned hearse was so unusual the woman did not forget it and later asked the others if they had seen the hearse on the way home? No one else had.

Within the month, one of the members of the spiritual group experienced a wrenching family tragedy so terrible that it would be sacrilege to reveal in a format like this that is meant to entertain. The woman often talked of visiting Scotland and was proud of having Scottish blood. She dreamed of a time when she could see first-hand ancient Scotland where a belief in psychic powers and omens remained strong. Was it the Banshee’s Coach-A-Bower or just a strange mix of circumstances that foreshadowed the tragic event?

As with many mysteries, we will never know. And yet, it is important to remember that every Scottish and Irish clan has its’ own Banshee. According to the Irish poet Yeats, important people often have an entire chorus of Banshees to sing upon their demise.

Luckily, I’ve not met my Banshee yet.

Let us hope you won’t meet yours any time too soon.

Source: Haunted America Tours
http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/ghosts/Banshees/AppalachianBanshees.php

- SCORE ONE FOR MOTHER NATURE DEPARTMENT -    

Ball Lightning Bamboozles Physicist

Lightning strikes are sometimes associated with intriguing shimmering balls of light that hover above the ground for minutes at a time before disappearing. But what's behind this natural phenomenon?

Scientific theories and experiments have failed to convince a physicist what's behind the mysterious natural phenomenon of ball lightning.

Emeritus Professor Bob Crompton of the Australian National University gave a presentation in Canberra this week on the latest scientific investigations into ball lightning, something once considered as likely as UFOs.

"I don't believe there is any satisfactory explanation so far," says Crompton for these small bright lights that appear after a lightning strike.

"[The theories] don't satisfy me and I don't think they satisfy anyone who looks at the evidence objectively."

Crompton, an expert in atomic and molecular physics and electrical discharges in gases, has been interested in the science behind ball lightning for decades.

He's collected 30-40 Australian sightings over a period of about 10 years, with the help of Australian meteorological services.

"In those early days I would have had enough to fill two inches of manila folders," he says.

Crompton says ball lightning is a bright light, anywhere in size from a golf ball to larger than a football. It hovers above the ground, moving slowly, able to pass through walls, until it vanishes minutes later.

Crompton says he first became interested in ball lightning after an eyewitness report in the Canberra Times in 1970. The eyewitness was the wife of a colleague and someone who Crompton thinks a reliable witness.

The woman awoke in the early hours one morning after a fierce lightning strike on a power pole near her home, he says. As she went to check on her children she saw a sparkling golden ball of light sitting on the lintel above the doorway to the bathroom.

"It was a ball of about the size of an orange or a bit bigger," says Crompton. "Then in due course it just disappeared. The whole thing lasted about 5-10 seconds."

Crompton says two main theories have been put forward to explain ball lightning. One theory, based on the physics of electrical discharges, says lightning strikes and travels slowly through conductive channels in the ground.

A high electrical field is created in the air as the lightning moves through the ground. And ball lightning is formed from electricity discharging in this field. The other theory, which is purely chemical, says lightning hits a surface containing silica and carbon in the ratio of 1:2.

The extreme heat of the lightning converts these chemicals into carbon dioxide and nanoparticles of silicon, which puff out of the surface in the shape of a ball.

The ball shimmers as the silicon oxidises in the air generating heat and light.

Crompton says this second theory was given a boost by an experiment carried out by French scientists that recreated silicon nanoparticles in the laboratory using electricity.

A synchrotron confirmed the presence of the nanoparticles, he says.

While Crompton says this second theory is the most likely explanation for ball lightning, he says it doesn't really explain how ball lightning gets into a house.

The first theory does, he says, but doesn't explain other cases such as a report in the journal Nature by a UK scientist travelling in a plane during a thunderstorm over New York City in the 1960s.

Professor Roger Jennison of the University of Kent, reported seeing a glowing sphere emerge from one wall, drift down the aisle a metre above the floor, and disappear out of the rear of the aircraft.

"The aircraft one I find the hardest to explain," says Crompton. "[But] I think this is fascinating even though I can't explain it."
Forensic analysis

Forensic lab staff at the Australian Federal Police have also analysed apparent evidence for ball lightning. Crompton once took them a piece of wood that a reliable witness reported had been marked by ball lightning.

The wood had a circular mark on it, dusty black on the outside and white on the inside. But the x-ray fluorescence analysis didn't clearly support any of the theories, says Crompton.

Source: The Austrailian Broadcasting Corporation
http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/03/20/2194630.htm?site=science&topic=latest

- LIVING FOR THE LOCH DEPARTMENT -

Steve Feltham-Nessie And Me

Steve Feltham gave up his girlfriend, his house and his job to search for the Loch Ness monster. Seventeen years on, does he have any regrets?

To say that I am a patient man would be an understatement. Seventeen years sat watching and waiting on the shores of Loch Ness for one decent sighting of the monster has to be considered dedication in anybody's eyes. To me, however, it is more a dream come true: this subject has fascinated me since a family holiday in 1970, when I was seven. It was then that we visited the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, a team of volunteers who each summer set up a makeshift camp on the lochside near Urquhart Castle, from where they mounted round-the-clock surveillance in the hope of filming Nessie. What really caught my imagination was the platform they had built, on which they had mounted a cine camera and tripod; the lens alone must have been a metre long. Grown men looking for monsters? Fantastic.

Noticing my interest, and knowing that it would be a long drive back home to Dorset, my father bought me the bureau's information pack, a folder that I still have, filled with copies of sighting reports and reprints of iconic photographs. I was hooked. Over the next decade my interest grew, fuelled by classroom debates and several more family holidays to the Scottish Highlands.

I would return to the loch many times, first as a child and then, when I was an adult, on two-week "expeditions", armed with a very basic camera and my grandfather's second world war binoculars, fully expecting to be able to solve the mystery before I had to return to work. Little did I realise that it could take a lifetime.

I might have been content to visit the loch periodically, get my fix of monster hunting, then return to work, had I remained in the creative occupations that I pursued for the first eight years of my working life, first as a potter, then as a bookbinder and finally as a graphic artist. However, by 1987, when I was 24, I had a house and a steady girlfriend, and when it was suggested that I join my father setting up a company installing burglar alarms, I jumped at the chance to make some serious money.

Pretty soon, I realised I was in the wrong job, but the thing that got to me most while working in people's homes was the number of retired folk who would say, "Oh, I wish I'd gone and lived in America when I was your age", or climbed Mount Everest, or whatever. What would I regret not having done when I reached 70?

It was obvious: I knew where I was at my happiest, and what I was most interested in. So I quit the relationship, and put the house on the market.

To make absolutely sure that what I was planning was right for me and not just a pipe dream, I loaded up the works van and, in the summer of 1990, went on a three-week hunt to the loch. I had the time of my life. The day the cheque from the sale of my house went into the bank, I told my parents I would be leaving the, by now, lucrative family business. "Oh, and by the way, I'm going to search for the Loch Ness monster instead."

"Told you," my mother said to my father.

I needed something to live in. Within days my brother had located the perfect thing, a 20-year-old former mobile library, wood-lined and with a potbelly stove. In this, I would be able to move around the loch between vantage points, and follow up any new sightings.

On June 19 1991, I arrived at the loch and became a full-time monster hunter. I had never been happier.

To fund myself, I hit on the idea of making little Nessie models out of modelling clay, sitting the monsters on rocks gathered from the shore. I was sure that tourists would buy them, but in the first year I found it hard to sell any. The problem was that nobody knew what I was doing, or why.

Fortunately, while planning this quest, I had phoned the BBC for advice about which video format I should use if I wanted my results to be broadcast-quality. I was put through to the team making the Video Diaries series. Spotting the potential for a good story, they kitted me out with enough equipment and batteries to film the whole of my first year in my new life.

As soon as this programme, Desperately Seeking Nessie, was aired in August 1992, I knew that everything would be OK. People started turning up wanting to buy a model from the guy who had given up his comfortable life to follow a dream. I still get visitors who remember it.

I never set a time limit, but I suppose I thought that within the first three years I would surely see and film something. I now know that was a wee bit optimistic. The loch is more than 23 miles long and, realistically, one man can only be looking at about a mile of it at any time. I have tried other methods of hunting over the years; using a boat with some fairly decent echo sounders on board I have had contacts with objects in mid-loch that appear to be much larger than the resident fish. But an echo sounder will never reveal what it has found, but just give a rough idea of how big it is. I have also got a good friend who owns a microlight, but it is not much use when you are looking for a very dark object in very dark water.

So nowadays I watch and wait mostly from the shoreline. I would love to have my own boat, but to generate enough money to buy one, I would first have to film Nessie.

For most of the first decade my van remained mobile, which gave me the chance to move between three or four lochside villages. However, I increasingly found myself drawn to the village of Dores, on the south shore, from where I had the best view of Loch Ness that anyone could wish for.

About 10 years ago the van failed its last MOT, and so I decided it was time to become static. The Dores Inn car park was perfect, backing on to the beach as it does and, thanks to the owners' kindness, I had permission to spread out a bit, build some decking out of old pallets, and incorporate a large piece of driftwood to display my models on. Utopia.

Now I have my perfect lochside base, as well as my own postcode and council tax bills. There is no running water or electricity, but the pub has an outside tap, and car batteries charged by a solar panel enable me to run my lights, radio and laptop. My shower consists of two buckets of loch water and a saucepan heated on the stove. The loch deposits driftwood for my stove right outside my door, (much needed, as I've seen temperatures reach minus 17C) and a great big concrete patio table on my "decking" makes sitting out on a summer's day my favourite pastime. I breakfast at this table, put my models out for sale, and wait to see what adventures will turn up.

Tourists arrive to ask me questions, friends come to sit and chat, then maybe there is a Mediterranean-style buffet, an evening campfire, a starry night sky, and, best of all, sometimes the northern lights. Then, when everyone has gone and I have the loch to myself again, I stand at the shoreline and feel the energy that pours off the place, before retiring to watch the night sky through the skylight above my bed. That, to me, is a perfect day.

The Highland weather does not always permit such joys, in which case I find that I can keep myself admirably busy inside my van. I make a few models, possibly do a watercolour painting that I can later sell, read, listen to the radio, maybe even watch the occasional osprey feeding right outside my door. As soon as I feel boredom coming on, I change tack, and anyway I have long since realised that in this life the unpredictable is never far away, be it the Chinese State Circus dropping by for a photo shoot or Billy Connolly inviting me to be a guide for half a dozen of his A-list chums for a day.

Film crews and journalists from all over the world turn up on a regular basis, and I answer all their questions, but they are invariably focused on one subject: is there a monster, or isn't there? Which is perfectly understandable, but it frustrates me that I never have the chance to get an equally important point across: that if you have a dream, no matter how harebrained others think it is, then it is worth trying to make it come true. I'm living proof that it might just work.

Have I ever regretted my decision? Never, not for one second.

Source: The Guardian
http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/privatelives/story/0,,2267752,00.html

- LIFE IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY DEPARTMENT -

Meet Thomas Beatie - A Pregnant Husband

To our neighbors, my wife, Nancy, and I don’t appear in the least unusual. To those in the quiet Oregon community where we live, we are viewed just as we are -- a happy couple deeply in love. Our desire to work hard, buy our first home, and start a family was nothing out of the ordinary. That is, until we decided that I would carry our child.

I am transgender, legally male, and legally married to Nancy. Unlike those in same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, or civil unions, Nancy and I are afforded the more than 1,100 federal rights of marriage. Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights. Wanting to have a biological child is neither a male nor female desire, but a human desire.

Ten years ago, when Nancy and I became a couple, the idea of us having a child was more dream than plan. I always wanted to have children. However, due to severe endometriosis 20 years ago, Nancy had to undergo a hysterectomy and is unable to carry a child. But after the success of our custom screen-printing business and a move from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest two years ago, the timing finally seemed right. I stopped taking my bimonthly testosterone injections. It had been roughly eight years since I had my last menstrual cycle, so this wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. My body regulated itself after about four months, and I didn’t have to take any exogenous estrogen, progesterone, or fertility drugs to aid my pregnancy.

Our situation sparks legal, political, and social unknowns. We have only begun experiencing opposition from people who are upset by our situation. Doctors have discriminated against us, turning us away due to their religious beliefs. Health care professionals have refused to call me by a male pronoun or recognize Nancy as my wife. Receptionists have laughed at us. Friends and family have been unsupportive; most of Nancy’s family doesn’t even know I’m transgender.

This whole process, from trying to get pregnant to being pregnant, has been a challenge for us. The first doctor we approached was a reproductive endocrinologist. He was shocked by our situation and told me to shave my facial hair. After a $300 consultation, he reluctantly performed my initial checkups. He then required us to see the clinic’s psychologist to see if we were fit to bring a child into this world and consulted with the ethics board of his hospital. A few months and a couple thousand dollars later, he told us that he would no longer treat us, saying he and his staff felt uncomfortable working with “someone like me.”

In total, nine different doctors have been involved. This is why it took over one year to get access to a cryogenic sperm bank to purchase anonymous donor vials, and why Nancy and I eventually resorted to home insemination.  

When I finally got pregnant for the first time, I ended up having an ectopic pregnancy with triplets. It was a life-threatening event that required surgical intervention, resulting in the loss of all embryos and my right fallopian tube. When my brother found out about my loss, he said, “It’s a good thing that happened. Who knows what kind of monster it would have been.”

On successfully getting pregnant a second time, we are proud to announce that this pregnancy is free of complications and our baby girl has a clean bill of health. We are happily awaiting her birth, with an estimated due date of July 3, 2008.

How does it feel to be a pregnant man? Incredible. Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am. In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant. To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child—I am so lucky to have such a loving, supportive wife. I will be my daughter’s father, and Nancy will be her mother. We will be a family.

Outside the local medical community, people don’t know I’m five months’ pregnant. But our situation ultimately will ask everyone to embrace the gamut of human possibility and to define for themselves what is normal.

Source: The Advocate
http://advocate.com/issue_story_ektid52664.asp

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