“Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” — Steve Martin

Galactic Dibs


On New Year’s Day, 1949, James Mangan went to the Cook County recorder of deeds and registered his own country. The Nation of Celestia, he said, encompassed all of outer space. He was claiming it, as “founder and first representative,” to prevent anyone else from establishing political hegemony there.

Mangan wasn’t shy about it, either. Later that year he informed the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations that he was banning atmospheric nuclear tests, and he sent angry letters to the Americans and the Soviets when their space flights infringed on his “territory.” He even briefly got the U.N. to add the Celestian flag to those of its member nations.

Still, the idea never caught on, it largely died with its founder. All that’s left are some stamps, coins (“celestons”), and the titles Mangan gave to his grandsons: Glen Stump, “Duke of Selenia,” Dean Stump, “Duke of Mars,” and Todd Stump, “Duke of the Milky Way.”

Don’t Blink

The world’s slowest science experiment is the “pitch drop experiment” at the University of Queensland. In 1927, physics professor Thomas Parnell poured some pitch into a funnel to see how long it would take to drip out. Pitch is pretty viscous: When Parnell died in 1948, only two drops had fallen.

The experiment is still going on. The eighth drop fell on Nov. 28, 2000, allowing experimenters to calculate that the pitch has a viscosity about 100 billion times that of water.

Space to Let

Times are hard everywhere, but shed a tear for the Kongo Gumi Company of Osaka, Japan. When it closed its doors in January, the construction firm had been operating continuously for 1,400 years. The family business built its first temple in the year 578 and could trace its leadership through 39 generations.

No Man’s Land


Stereocard of no man’s land near Lens, France, during World War I.

Just as I was beginning to forget there were such things as trenches and shrapnel and snipers, they told me a horrible story of two Camerons who got stuck in the mud and sucked down to their shoulders. They took an hour and a half getting one out, and just as they said to the other, “All right, Jock, we’ll have you out in a minute,” he threw back his head and laughed, and in doing so got sucked right under, and is there still. They said there was no sort of possibility of getting him out; it was like a quicksand. …

They told me another story of a man in the Royal Scots who was sunk in mud up to his shoulders, and the officer offered a canteen of rum and a sovereign to the first man who could get him out. For five hours thirteen men were digging for him, but it filled up always as they dug, and when they got him out he died.

— Anonymous, Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, 1914-1915

Writer’s Block

A limerick fan from Australia
Regarded his work as a failure:
His verses were fine
Until the fourth line.

International Board of Hygiene

In 1926 the League of Nations recognized a new medical body, the International Board of Hygiene. It’s a good thing they didn’t assign it any responsibilities: The “board” was really a group of drinking buddies who met in a turf bar in Tijuana during Prohibition. San Diego pathologist Rawson Pickard invented a surgeon, “Honorable J. Fortescue,” as a founder, and anyone who attended a meeting became a lifetime member.

Pickard probably imagined his joke would be exposed pretty quickly, but the other shoe never dropped. In response to his letter, the League of Nations recognized the board in a couple of weeks. Soon the nonexistent Fortescue was invited to join the American Conference on Hospital Service, and the U.S. National Research Council included him in a directory of child psychologists. Pickard began to write articles under his byline and answered journalists’ inquiries on his behalf.

The joke kept snowballing. By 1936 Fortescue was listed in Who’s Who in San Diego, including his publications, association memberships, medical studies and travels. He lived in Paris, ostensibly, but his address was given as “The International Board of Hygiene, 1908 Eutaw Place, Baltimore, Maryland.”

That’s it. For years membership of the International Board of Hygiene spread by invitation, but no one ever caught on. Pickard died in 1963, taking Fortescue with him.

Someone ought to check the rest of our luminaries. Do they all exist?

Tour de France


Riding in the Tour de France is the equivalent of running a marathon almost every day for almost three weeks, plus climbing three Mount Everests. Each day, riders eat up to 10,000 calories, the equivalent of 17 Big Macs.


“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” — Alfred Hitchcock

Faces of a Pandemic

Famous people with HIV:

  • Isaac Asimov
  • Roy Cohn
  • Eazy-E
  • Michel Foucault
  • Liberace
  • Greg Louganis
  • Robert Mapplethorpe
  • Rudolph Nureyev
  • Anthony Perkins