Author Archive | Haystack

Madame Restell: The Wickedest Woman in New York

Madame Restell ArrestedMadame Restell was a flamboyant 19th century abortionist whom history remembers as  “the wickedest woman in New York” —but had she been? Victorian Gothic takes a critical look:

The cover of The New York Illustrated Times for February 23rd, 1878 depicts the arrest of the notorious abortionist Ann Lohman, alias “Madame Restell,” by the moral crusader Anthony Comstock. Flanked by reporters and deputies, the statuesque crime-fighter is pictured with a search warrant in hand, which he reads to the lady villain in the attitude of a holy messenger, banishing evil by its sacred words. Comfortably situated amongst the opulent furnishings of her Fifth Avenue mansion, Madame Restell wears a cool, appraising expression, as if to say “Ah, Comstock, my nemesis—I have been expecting you.” Her right hand is clenched into a fist, which overlaps the womb of a veiled woman who weeps with shame in the background.

Dubbed the “wickedest woman in New York,” Madame Restell built an empire of cruelty; promoting vice, and profiting upon the mistakes of married women and wayward girls.

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Cold War USAF Considered Space-Based Atomic Warship (Video)

One of the secret projects discussed in Annie Jacobson's new Area 51 book is Project Orion, an ambitious 1950's-1960's era attempt to develop a nuclear fission-propelled spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel. Like many of the Cold War aeronautics projects developed at Area 51 and related test sites, it was way ahead of its time. According to Jacobs, however, when ARPA and the USAF took over the project, they had a far more Strangelovian vision in mind:
"From high above Earth, a USS Orion could be used to launch attacks against enemy targets using nuclear missiles. Thanks to Orion's nuclear-propulsion technology, the spaceship could make extremely fast defensive maneuvers, avoiding any Russian nuclear missiles that might come its way...For a period of time during the early 1960's the Air Force believed Orion was going to be invincible. 'Whoever builds Orion will control the Earth!" declared General Thomas S. Power of the Strategic Air Command." [Jacobson, p. 305]
In this fascinating TED lecture George Dyson, son of Freeman Dyson, shares his special knowledge of the project. Not much information about Project Orion's proposed weaponization has reached the web, but pay special attention to what he says at around 3:30-3:50...
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Dina Babbitt – Painting Prisoners for Dr. Mengele

Dina BabbittDina Babbitt narrowly survived Auschwitz when her art skills came to the attention of Josef Mengele, who needed watercolor portraits to accurately document the skin tone of Gypsy prisoners whom he was studying. Sometime after the war, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum claimed ownership of the paintings. Babbitt died in 2009 after an emotionally-charged, and ultimately unsuccessful battle to have her work returned to her. Her story was related in this 2006 NY Times article by Steve Freiss:

At 83, Dina Gottliebova Babbitt still recalls the rickety easel where in 1944, under orders from the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, she painted watercolors of the haggard faces of Gypsy prisoners.

But her memories of the Auschwitz concentration camp, vivid though they are, aren’t enough for Mrs. Babbitt. Seven of the 11 portraits that saved Mrs. Babbitt and her mother remain not far from where she created them, on display at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland.

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“Prodigy of Color” – The Art of Aelita Andre, Age 4

Four year-old Aelita Andre has a solo show opening at New York City's Agora Gallery on June 4th. It might not come as too much of a surprise that a child should be able to produce beautiful, abstract expressionist art on par with the professionals, who are probably tapping their "inner children," anyway. Aelita Andre, however, has been given free reign to so do, with as much space and materials to explore her creativity as anyone could want. Moreover, she displays real talent; working in thoughtful, methodical way, and making deliberate creative choices. Discovered via BoingBoing:
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Charles Koch Buys Right to Choose Economics Professors at Florida State University

Florida StateThis via the St. Petersburg Times:
A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting "political economy and free enterprise." Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they've funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom. Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it's not happy with the faculty's choice or if the hires don't meet "objectives" set by Koch during annual evaluations.
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Edward H. Rulloff, Victorian New York’s Evil Genius

Edward H. Rulloff's brain on display at Cornell University.

Edward H. Rulloff's brain on display at Cornell.

E. H. Freeman’s biography of the criminal-scholar Edward H. Rulloff is finally back in print. Victorian Gothic looks at his bizarre life and obsession with philology:

Visitors to Cornell University’s psychology department would be hard pressed to overlook the eight pickled brains, preserved in heavy glass jars, which are proudly showcased on the second floor of Uris Hall. A small sample of the 122 specimens in the university’s Wilder Brain Collection, each belongs to a notable scholar or learned individual whose think-meat was once deemed worthy of anatomical examination.

One of these brains, however, is not like the others. If the brain of Edward H. Rulloff, a.k.a. Professor Leurio, were able to come alive, glowing and pulsating as it issued angry, murderous commands to you from inside your head, it would.

Rulloff was a criminal genius who left no question of how he should like to be remembered.

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St. Kitts & Nevis: Citizenship For Sale

St. Kitts & Nevis

St. Kitts & Nevis

The recent discussions of birth certificates and citizenship have rekindled my interest in living and working abroad, and, consequently, my frustration at just very how hard this is for the average person to accomplish. Each government jealousy guards its citizenship and work permits, even from friendly countries with whom it shares close cultural and economic ties. “I want to immerse myself in Europe’s culture and history,” I reflected, “not pop its cherry. Is there any country in the world which is even a little, you know…easy?” That’s how I learned about St. Kitts and Nevis.

If my coveted United Kingdom is an ice princess that does not deign to look down upon me from her ivory tower, St. Kitts and Nevis is her busty niece who is a sucker for men with flashy cars. St. Kitts and Nevis is a tiny English-speaking island state in the Caribbean; an independent Commonwealth realm whose Governor-General answers to Queen Elizabeth II.… Read the rest

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Measles Outbreak Linked to Anti-Vaccination Movement

Measles InfectionThe Seattle Times reports upon a recent measles outbreak in Minneapolis traced local Somalis fearful of a purported link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Andrew Wakefield himself has arrived on the scene. His 1998 study linking the MMR to a new syndrome dubbed “autistic enterocolitis” has since been retracted by the Lancet amid allegations of fraud, and his medical license has been revoked.

As CNN reports, Wakefield expected to earn as much as $43 million/year in revenue from “litigation driven testing” for autistic enterocolitis, a test for which he holds a potentially lucrative patent, and received more than $674,000 “from lawyers trying to build a case against vaccine manufacturers.”

From the Seattle Times article:

Health officials struggling to contain a measles outbreak that’s hit hard in Minneapolis’ large Somali community are running into resistance from parents who fear the vaccine could give their children autism.

Fourteen confirmed measles cases have been reported in Minnesota since February.

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Homelessness: The Game

Homeless The Game

Zachary Sniderman writes on

It’s one thing to feel bad for homeless people; it’s another to be forced into their shoes. Advertising agency McKinney has teamed up with Urban Ministries of Durham (UMD), a non-profit based in North Carolina, to create SPENT, an online game that guides users through what it feels like to be homeless.

Here’s how it works: If you accept the challenge to play, you enter a simple point-and-click game, navigating multiple choice questions about your livelihood. The site says you have been stripped of your savings and are currently unemployed, asking, “Can you make it through the month?”

You’re given simple choices with varying consequences. Do you want to try working in a restaurant? A factory? If you live far from the city your rent will be cheap, but, as you’re informed through pop-ups, you’ll have to pay more for gas or transportation.

The game’s integration with Facebook is its best feature.

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