Har, Jim Lad

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Pirates get a bad rap. Their trade was often the only course open to a poor person in the 17th century, and as an institution it treated its people uncommonly well, if you overlook the pillaging and murder.

On the Spanish Main, most pirate ships were democracies. You elected your captain, and you could vote to replace him. Spoils were divided evenly. Morale was generally high, so much so that pirates often overwhelmed trade vessels by force of numbers. And there was even a social insurance system, so a wounded pirate would be guaranteed money or gold at a certain scale.

Best of all, buccaneers were egalitarian. If they took a slave ship, they freed the slaves. Occasionally they’d force carpenters or other specialists to sail with them, but they’d free them afterward, and they could join the crew if they chose. That’s more noble, in its way, than a lot of lawful enterprises.

Highest-Grossing Films

Highest-grossing films worldwide, to date:

  1. Titanic (1997)
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
  4. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
  5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
  6. Jurassic Park (1993)
  7. Shrek 2 (2004)
  8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
  9. Finding Nemo (2003)
  10. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

At first that looks like a triumph of modern marketing — all of these films were made in the last 12 years. But here are the top ten when receipts are adjusted for inflation:

  1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  2. Star Wars (1977)
  3. The Sound of Music (1965)
  4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  5. The Ten Commandments (1956)
  6. Titanic (1997)
  7. Jaws (1975)
  8. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  9. The Exorcist (1973)
  10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Titanic has made $1.8 billion worldwide to date, and it’s only number 6 on the all-time list. Gone With the Wind has made $3.8 billion, more than twice as much.

Aerogel

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Yup, that’s a brick.

It’s sitting on Aerogel, “frozen smoke,” the world’s lowest-density solid. The stuff is 99.8% air but can support 2,000 times its own weight, and it holds 15 entries in the Guinness Book of Records.

Most amazingly, it was first created in 1931.

Who’s On First?

http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtml

Mount Everest has lost a lot of its intrigue since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953. Indeed, it’s become a big business in Nepal: Between 1998 and 2001, 560 people reached the “top of the world”; last year Pemba Dorjie Sherpa set a new record by making the climb — five miles straight up — in 8 hours and 10 minutes.

Still, it’s perilous, particularly in the “death zone” above 26,000 feet. Hundreds have died, and most of the corpses remain where they fell, frozen solid.

One of those bodies may hold some astounding evidence — proof that the summit was reached 29 years before Hillary’s achievement.

In June 1924, two British climbers, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, had climbed to within a few hours of the top. They were using oxygen, which doubled their speed; their geologist reported seeing them climbing “with great alacrity … near the base of the final pyramid” shortly after noon. But the climbers were obscured by mist, and vanished. Had they succeeded?

In 1933 one of their ice axes was found above a large snow terrace. This narrowed the search. If the bodies could be found, Eastman Kodak thought it could retrieve “fully printable images” from their cameras, which would presumably show the summit if they’d reached it. (Irvine was an avid photographer.)

At first the mystery only deepened. A Chinese porter told of finding an “English dead” near the terrace in 1975, but he died in an avalanche before he could reveal any details. Then, in 1999, Eric Simonson found Mallory’s body, with rope trauma indicating that the two climbers had fallen together. But there were no cameras, and still no sign of Irvine’s body.

That’s where the mystery stands now. Last year a new effort began to recover Irvine’s body — details are at Mallory & Irvine: The Final Chapter. So far they’ve retrieved some puzzling artifacts, but no clear answer. Stay tuned.

“The Flour City”

Cities with dubious epithets:

  • Eau Claire, Mich.: Cherry Pit Spitting Capital of the World
  • Burlington, Iowa: Loader/Backhoe Capital of the World
  • Sturgis, Mich.: Curtain Rod Capital of the World
  • Beaver, Okla.: Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World
  • La Crosse, Kan.: Barbed Wire Capital of the World
  • Clearwater, Fla.: Lightning Capital of the World
  • Gallup, N.M.: Drunk Driving Capital of the World

Wichita, Kan., calls itself the “Air Capital of the World.” Touché.

Showoffs

Only nine people have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award:

  1. Mel Brooks
  2. John Gielgud
  3. Marvin Hamlisch
  4. Helen Hayes
  5. Audrey Hepburn
  6. Rita Moreno
  7. Mike Nichols
  8. Jonathan Tunick
  9. Richard Rodgers

If you count honorary awards, then Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli also qualify. If you count “daytime Emmys,” then so does Whoopi Goldberg.