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Gay History: Remembering the Gay Man Who Saved 17 Million Lives

The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.

“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”

—Benedict Cumberbatch

I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.

This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.

Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.

Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.

The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.

“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.

Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.

I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.

In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.

Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.

I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.

Reference

Slang For Penis And Where It Comes From

Americans rarely use the word “penis” in conversation. We say pecker or prick, willie or wang. Or whopper, wiener, wiggle stick, wrinkle beast, wobbly warhead, even wife’s worst enemy. “We, as humans, love to play with language, and mixing taboo language with clever wordplay to get coinages is a really common endeavor simply because it gets such a great reaction in others,” slang lexicographer Grand Barrett says. As a result, we’re always creating new slang for “penis,” and a lot of it can be traced back to these 11 words.

11 c. Sword

An instrument of death and destruction. A symbol of power and strength. A protector. An avenger. A slayer. The mighty sword is the ultimate symbol of masculinity. So, of course, it became one of the earliest slang terms for the penis, although a flaccid penis does not necessarily benefit from the comparison. Suddenly, swordplay is much less impressive.

 More derivations: arrow, lance, warder, pike, ramrod, bazooka, gun, pistol, dagger, cutlass

1610s Cock

While it’s possible that “cock” developed its sexual affiliation from its second meaning, “spout,” it’s more likely that it came from similarities to the wobbly red bits on a rooster’s neck. Just as a man’s penis reacts to arousal, an angry or excited cock’s wattles fill with blood, swell and brighten. Additionally, when a rooster crows, he arches his neck and tips his head back. Sound familiar? “Cock” eventually became so associated with the penis that the word “rooster” was created in the late 18th century to replace it.

 Modern derivations: pillicock, peacock, cockroach, cockaroony, doodle

1676 Penis

“Tail” has been used to refer to both male and female genitals since the 14th century, but “penis,” the Latin word for “tail,” was not introduced to the English language until 1676. And it wasn’t until 1965 that “schwanz,” the German word for “tail,” was assimilated. The usage creates an entirely new meaning to the phrase “tail wagging the dog.”

 Modern derivations: bobtail, tickle-tail, pee pee, peep, peeper, pee wee, pee nee, peanut, pencil

1790s Doodle

Before its induction into the dick-tionary, “doodle” was used to denote a simpleton. In the late 18th century, this became associated with a man who thinks not with his “big brain” but with his small one. Of course, “doodle” could also be a distant cousin of “cock,” born from a rooster’s crow—cockadoodle-doo. Either way, the word is at its best from the lips of Rainn Wilson in Juno, “This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.”

 More derivations: doodad, doohicky, loodle, whangdoodle, wang

1800s Roger

While Richards everywhere have borne the modern weight of the penis-name burden, they aren’t alone. In fact, “Roger” was the first in a long line of names applied to the penis. “Thomas” was second, introduced in 1811, followed by “Dick,” “Peter” and “Willie.” In general, these poor gentlemen are simply victims of having a common name. But let’s be honest, all Richards who choose to go by Dick are asking for it.

 More derivations: Pete, Pepe, Rudy, Willer, Stanley, Johnson

1888 Dingus

The 19th century was a time of discretion and delicacy, not description. Americans were prone to replacing distastefully specific words with more general and thus less offensive ones. “Breasts” was replaced with “bosom,” a word that referred to a woman’s entire midsection. “Legs” was replaced with “limbs.” And “penis” was replaced with “dingus,” a word derived from Dutch dinges that simply means “thing.”

 More derivations: dinkus, dink, winky, winkus, tinky, stinky winky, winky wonkers, konk konk

1900 Dong

It is said that “dong” first became associated with the penis after the publication of Edward Lear’s poem “The Dong with a Luminous Nose.” As the story goes, a one-eyed creature referred to as The Dong attempts to find himself a lady using a long, red lamplike probe. Tragically, light-up noses are not great lady-finders, and all his searching is in vain. Good thing he has his flesh light to keep him company.

 More derivations: dangle, dingle, dingle dangle, ding ding, ding dong, dingleberry

1910 Wiener

Wienerwursts, literally “sausages of Vienna,” became familiar in the United States in the late 19th century. But the word “wiener” was not created until the “-wurst” was dropped in 1905. The wiener was not commonly associated with the penis until five years later. This means it took more than a decade for the most phallic food in history to be officially associated with the penis. How disappointing.

 More derivations: wienie, wee, weeter, wee wee, weedle, wenis, sausage

1932 Putz

German and Yiddish — both Germanic languages — share many of the same words. For example, “putz” and “schmuck” roughly translate to “ornament or decoration” in both languages. However, Jews used “schmuck” and “putz” to refer to a penis, and Germans used them to denote jewelry or Christ’s manger in a Nativity scene. Despite the inevitable miscommunications the holiday season may bring, Jews and Germans agree that there’s nothing like a good “putz” to put everyone in a festive mood.

 More derivations: wantz, schmeck, schmeckel

1986 Junk

While the exact origination of “junk” is unclear, there are theories that claim “junk” was a common word for male genitalia in gay culture in the early ’80s. During that time, “junk” was usually associated with being kicked. Since then, “junk” has ameliorated; it has lost some of its potency. Today, “junk” is commonplace. It could mean anything from male or female genitalia to worthless stuff.

 More derivations: package, lunch box, picnic basket

2009 Disco Stick

Although Lady Gaga’s homemade euphemism confused audiences at first, the infamous hook “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” would carry “LoveGame” into top-ten charts in more than ten countries. Gaga cleared up any confusion on the words’ meaning in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying, “It’s another of my very thoughtful metaphors for a cock.” Barrett attributes creations like this to young people’s propensity to be “a hell of a lot more fun, which leads to lots more wordplay and goofing with language just for the heck of it.”

 More derivations: meat stick, blow stick, jolly stick

Even More Derivations

schlong, little finger, widgy, ting ting, tilly, hoo hoo, hoozee, mushroom, turkey, cookie, carrot, pudding, beans, tallywacker, goober, bug, buggy, flubbly, paddle wackle, hose, sprinkler, doohinger, baloney pony, trouser snake, uterus unicorn

Before A Penis Was A Penis: Sex Slang Throughout History

What word did people use for “vagina” in 1714? Or for “testicles” in 1300? Along with the rest of language, sex terminology has been evolving since humans started talking. Lest you assume that the vestiges of modern-day sex talk have been lost in the annals of time, the world’s foremost slang lexicographer is here to say it ain’t so. And, he should know; he can tell you exactly what a vagina was called in 1714.

Jonathon Green has dedicated his life to studying slang. His book, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, chronicles the march of English-language slang through the past five centuries — an epic Urban Dictionary for the ages that covers 10.3 million words (with citations) and has understandably solidified Green’s role as slang lexicography’s finest.

Now, Green and TimeGlider have graced us with interactive online charts that break out perhaps the most fascinating genre of Green’s research: sex slang. Humans have been “bumping uglies” since our cave days, but we certainly didn’t call it that back then. So, which period in history lays claim to the most inventive terms for genitalia and sex?

The Timeline of Slang Words for the Vagina begins in 1250, with the first recorded appearance of the (now-derogatory) word “cunt.” Fortunately, the vagina was eventually lavished with more poetic euphemisms, including “Venus’s honeypot” (early 1700s), “quim whiskers” (late 1800s), and, descriptively, “that thing” (early 1900s). The minds of vagina-label innovators apparently turned to food by the end of the 20th century, as evidenced by the monikers “bikini burger,” “hairy doughnut,” and “bacon sandwich.”
The penis slang timeline begins with the year 1300 and the first known usage of the word “ballocks.” This term’s proved its worth via longevity; you can find it on the lips of frustrated Brits even today, with a slight vowel adjustment. And, English speakers only got more creative from there. “Fiddle,” “spindle,” and “pulling prick” all cropped up in the Middle Ages to describe the penis, while “bush-whacker,” “cranny hunter,” “fornicating engine,” and “Captain Standish” (yes, seriously) are just a few of the nicknames born at the turn of the 20th century. And, the sexy-talk walk through history doesn’t end there.

For even more linguistic amazingness, explore the charts that track the evolution of slang for intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, orgasm, bodily fluids, and contraception. In honor of this week’s #tbt, why not sprinkle some seriously old-timey diction into your sexting? While the effect would be most dramatic if you delivered your message by horse (or raven), your iPhone will do just fine. And, if your partner asks if you’d like to “navigate the windward passage,” just be sure to consult Green’s chart before you agree. It may be safer to stick with the word “fuck” — thatone’s been around since the 1500s, and still means the same exact thing.

101 Funny Slang Names for the Male Penis

Did you know that Inuit people have 50 different words for snow? It’s an indicator that snow is an important part of their lives and has been for a long time. That’s really telling when you think about how many words there are for a man’s genitals. While “penis” is the technical medical term, it’s the one we use the least. This list has 101 different names for your junk (that makes 102). You’ll get a laugh out of at least a few of them.

1. Womb Broom
Any ladies need help cleaning their closet? Ok, that might not make sense, but this is still a good one. 
2. Womb Raider 
We’d play all 20 installments of this game series. 
3. Weapon of Ass Destruction 
This one speaks for itself. 
4. Vlad the Impaler 
It’s a classic for a reason. 
5. Uncle Reamus 
This probably has British origins. They’re still the masters of dirty language. 
6. Trouser Snake 
Sometimes this is a euphemism. Sometimes it’s a terrifying camping story. 
7. Tan Banana 
This is only true for the bold. Some might find the prospect of a sunburned penis terrifying. 
8. Sex Pistol 
Which came first — the band or the slang term? 
9. Russell the One-Eyed Muscle 
If you can think of another name that rhymes with muscle, feel free to sub it. 
10. One-Eyed Monster 
There are a lot of “one-eyed” slang terms. It’s important to have variety.
11. One-Eyed Trouser Trout 
Whoever decided to call a penis a trouser trout probably has an interesting story.  
12. Rumpleforeskin 
Be honest. You’re disappointed you didn’t think of this first. 
13. Richard and the Twins 
Speaking of Richard, a kid called us a Richard Cranium once. It took us a while to get it. 
14. Purple Helmeted Warrior of Love 
Any reference to the dong being a purple helmet is gold in my book. 
15. Puff the One-Eyed Dragon 
It breathes fire when it gets puffed! Well, sort of. 
16. Prince Everhard of the Netherlands 
This could also be the name of a band. Or an album! 
17. Pleasure Pump 
It’s accurate, simple, and effective. 
18. Moby Dick 
Every young boy in the world laughed the first time he heard this book title. It had to be on the list. 
19. Lord Hardwick 
Our penises are definitely nobility. How about yours? 
20. Long Dong Silver 
Have you ever read Treasure Island? Now you don’t have to! 
21. Lap Rocket 
Well, it can be explosive at times. 
22. Knobgoblin 
This has to be the most demeaning term you can level at another human being. 
23. King Dong 
I mean, obviously. Right? 
24. Just-in Beaver 
Easily the best thing to come from Bieber’s famed career. 
25. Herman von Longschlongenstein 
Remember it’s pronounced “Stine” and not “Steen.”

26. Heat Seeking Moisture Missile 
If this doesn’t make you rethink everything about your own penis . . . 
27. Frank n’ Beans 
It’s a weird mental image if you think about it too hard. 
28. Fuck Puppet 
Right to the point! 
29. Excalibur 
You’ve made this joke. Don’t lie. 
30. Energizer Bunny 
That ad campaign has been around for a long time. So has this nickname. 
31. Disco Stick 
This feels dated until you realize disco is still a thing in Europe. No, really.
32. The Dicktator 
You just chuckled, didn’t you? Welcome to your future. It’s all dad jokes from here. 
33. Cocktapus 
If you have eight members, you need to see a doctor. Or a publicist. 
34. Clam Hammer 
It even helps produce pearl necklaces. 
35. Cave Hunter 
It’s not the funniest name on the list, but it still feels appropriate. 
36. Blue Veined Aristocrat 
The little guy only has to be an aristocrat in public. Behind closed doors is another story. 
37. Atomic Turtle 
We’re honestly not sure why it’s atomic, but it feels right. 
38. Action Jackson 
Try not to conflate this with a Disney Channel show you watched as a young child. 
39. Mutton Dagger 
There seems to be a recurring theme of objects that pierce and meat. 
40. Yogurt Slinger 
An all-time classic. It’s funny. It’s gross. It has everything. 
41. Meat Scepter 
Remember gents, mushroom stamps are a form of harassment. 
42. Wedding Wrecker 
Oofa. This might be a little too true. 
43. Spam Javelin 
Another meat piercer. Cool. 
44. Tuna Torpedo 
The theme reigns. 
45. Dora the Explorer 
It’s a joke that had to be made. But at what expense?! 
46. Vagina Miner 
Is this a real occupation??? 
47. Jurassic Pork 
You’ll never watch those movies the same way again. 
48. Tiny Tim 
Hopefully, this doesn’t imply your Tiny Tim needs a crutch. Although, he probably has a nasty cough. 
49. The Bone Ranger 
Hi-yo Silver! 
50. Woody Womb Pecker 
At some point, you’re going to have to come to terms with your fear of children. 
51. Ass Opener 
You might not believe it, but this is actually a very old nickname. It stems from the 1890s. 
52. Ass Wedge 
This is also from the 1890s. It’s hard to say which is better. 
53. Bayonet 
Does this make implications about Bayonetta? 
54. Beard Splitter 
Great. Now we’re associating vaginas with dwarves or some shit.

55. Best Leg of Three 
This is just truth. 
56. Brat Getter 
Well, go get ‘em. 
57. Bum Tickler 
It’s ok if you giggled. It’s the right response. 
58. Bush Whacker 
This does not mean you should attach a hair trimmer to your penis. Put it down! 
59. Creamy Hunter 
Well, yeah. 
60. Customs Officer 
This is my new favorite. 
61. Dr. Johnson 
Let’s be real. The little guy has earned a title of respect. 
62. Eye Opener 
Sometimes it’s also an eye closer. 
63. Father Confessor 
If he can elicit cries to God, then this sounds about right. 
64. Foreman 
Yes, it’s a pun. You know you like it. 
65. Lance of Love 
An oldie but a goodie. 
66. Leather Stretcher 
Try not to associate this one with Leatherface. 
67. Life Preserver 
If someone is drowning, don’t throw them your penis. 
68. The Heimlich
The next time someone shouts “Giver her the Heimlich!” You know what to do. 
69. Love Dart 
It’s important to practice your aim. 
70. Manroot 
This makes an odd amount of sense. 
71. Master of Ceremonies 
He’s good at it too. 
72. Meat Skewer 
This one isn’t trying too hard, is it? 
73. Milkman 
What does this make the milkman’s daughter? 
74. Mole 
He does like to burrow into a hole. 
75. Pee-Wee 
This got meta when Pee-Wee Herman got in trouble for showing his Pee-Wee.

76. Skyscraper 
You wish. 
77. Tentpeg 
You shouldn’t be pitching a tent right now . . . 
78. Silent Flute 
Well, sometimes sound comes out. 
79. Skin Flute 
But it’s not always melodic. 
80. Sweetener 
If you tell this lie enough times it might actually work. 
81. Redcap 
Maybe purplecap would be better, but that’s not a pun. 
82. Majesty 
Forget aristocracy! He’s royalty. 
83. Charmer 
When the snake becomes the charmer . . . 
84. Champion 
He really is. After all that abuse you’ve put him through, it’s the only right word. 
85. Baby Fetcher 
You’re still flinching? You know where babies come from, right? 
86. Axe 
If the female counterpart is called an axe wound, then this one has to be on the list. 
87. Nightstick 
You can use it during the day too. It’s ok. 
88. Joystick 
There might never have been a truer name for a man’s junk. 
89. Gospel Pipe 
You just want to believe this one. 
90. Drill 
I took this too literally once. I’m still dizzy. 
91. Family Organ 
Get it? Eh? 
92. Crown Jewels 
Also known as the family jewels. 
93. Ham Bone 
I’ll never understand why the male member is associated with pork. 
94. Old Boy 
This is actually the most British thing ever said. 
95. Ambassador 
He is vital to foreign relations. 
96. Organ Grinder
Ouch. 
97. Bald-Headed Sailor 
We probably don’t relate to the baldness of our penises enough. 
98. One-Eyed Rattlesnake 
Thankfully he’s not venomous. 
99. Tonsil Tickler 
Only on a good day. 
100. Toothpick
It might imply a small penis, but the oral connotation is worth it. 
101. The Fantastic Four 
This name can be adapted to many forms: the furious five, the salacious six, the dirty dozen. The idea is that you’re implying the length of your penis in the joke. The key is to never use the same phrase twice. You want to keep people guessing.

Ten Words That Have Surprisingly Offensive Origins

Covered mouth image from Shutterstock

While the etymology of many words we use today has faded into obscurity, there are some that are more offensive than we can ever imagine. There may be some words you use every day without a thought to their original meanings. Here are ten that it pays to be aware of.

#1 Bugger

noun | bug·ger | \ˈbə-gər, ˈbu̇-gər\

1. sodomite

2. a worthless person

3. a small or annoying thing

eg. “put down my keys and now I can’t find the buggers”

As well as being a noun as described above, Australians tend to use this word as a tamer expletive than some of its four-lettered cousins. However, though many people know its secondary meaning as ‘a sodomite’ or ‘sodomy’, not many know that the word was originally racially charged as well. Bugger comes from Middle English bougre which was derived from Medieval Latin Bulgarus — a literal translation for ‘Bulgarian’. This came by through association with a Bulgarian religious sect called the Bogomils, whose ways were so unorthodox that they were accused of sodomy.

Use instead: Depending on the context in which you’re using the word, you might instead call someone a ‘nuisance’. If you’re use it as an expletive… well, there’s really no reason not to enjoy the four-lettered classics.

#2 Uppity

adjective | up·pi·ty | \ˈə-pə-tē\

•putting on or marked by airs of superiority, eg. “uppity technicians” “a small uppity country”

The word uppity is commonly used to put down someone who is seen to be acting above their station — putting on airs and speaking out of turn, generally being a nuisance. While the word can be applied to pretty much anyone these days, its origins were in the United States’ racist heyday, during segregation. In this period, Southerners used the term “uppity” to describe black people who didn’t know their place in society. The word doesn’t sound so casual anymore when you consider that people have likely been lynched at one point in history due to being too “uppity”.

Use instead: ‘Arrogant’ and ‘pretentious’ are both great words to knock someone down a peg, without those nasty racist overtones.

#3 Gyp

noun | \ˈjip\

•cheat, swindler, eg. “Is that all they give you? What a gyp!” “we were very disappointed when the “free weekend in Las Vegas” offer turned out to be a gyp”

“Gyp” or “gypped” has universally come to mean being cheated or swindled, and though there’s no solid evidence for the origin of this slang term, it’s highly likely that it is derived from ‘gypsy’, a derogative term for the Romani people. While many people know little of “gypsies” other than what we see in Disney movies and costume shops, the Romani people have a long history of persecution — including their attempted genocide at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Use instead: ‘Swindled’ is an oldie but a goodie, or if you’re feeling ripped off, ‘highway robbery’ is a fun phrase without the racist undertones.

#4 Paddy wagon

noun | pad·dy wagon | \ˈpa-dē-\

•an enclosed motortruck used by police to carry prisoners, eg. “The cooperative family was being escorted into the paddy wagon”

While the racist meaning of paddy wagon is more overt to anyone who stops to think about it, it’s also so ingrained in our lexicon that it’s hard to stop and think in the first place. For those who are blissfully unaware, paddy wagon is the slang term for a police car. And where it came from? “Paddy”, short for “Patrick”, was a pejorative term for any Irishman — a group who have been the butt of many jokes for much of the last century. Whether the term came into use because there were many Irish criminals or because of a large number of Irish policemen, the association is still not the best one to be making. Interestingly enough the similar term ‘meat wagon’ seems to be used by people misinterpreting this phrase as ‘patty wagon’.

Use instead: “Police car” or “police van” should suffice.

#5 Hooligan

noun | hoo·li·gan | \ˈhü-li-gən\

%bull;a usually young man who does noisy and violent things as part of a group or gang, eg. “shouldn’t you hooligans be in school instead of threatening old ladies?”

While the term ‘hooligan’ is fairly dated these days — I can only seem to think of that crotchety old man yelling “you hooligans get off my lawn!” — other forms of the word are still in common usage. ‘Hooliganism’ in particular is one that the media seems keen to trot out as often as they can. But as in the case of ‘paddy wagon’ hooligan originally came from some poor sod’s surname — Houlihan. The name was used for a rowdy fictional Irish family in a popular drinking song, and soon after the word came to be a catchall for anyone displaying rowdy, violent tendencies.

Use instead: ‘Hoodlum’ is a word with a longer, non-racist history. ‘Hoon’ is also a uniquely Australian take on the concept.

#6 Eskimo

noun | Es·ki·mo | \ˈes-kə-ˌmō\

•a member of a group of peoples of northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and eastern Siberia

Far from being those cute, fur-wearing, nose-kissing people of the Arctic regions, this is actually an offensive term for the Inuit people. The reason? The word ‘Eskimo’ comes from the Danish loanword ‘ashkimeq,’ literally translated to ‘eaters of raw meat’. Calling an extensive group of different societies by such a gross generalisation is a great way to limit understanding of the entire culture.

Use instead: The proper term is Inuit, meaning “the people”. That’s it, unless you know the proper name of each individual nation.

#7 Hip hip hooray!

•an exclamation of congratulations especially in response to a call for ‘Three cheers for’ the person.

The racist origin of this common celebratory cry is controversial, but it potentially stems from the Hep Hep Riots — anti-Semetic riots conducted throughout Germany in the 19th century. The participants in these demonstrations reportedly cheered “hep hep” as they chased Jews from their homes. “Hep hep” was a traditional German call that shepherds would use while herding their sheep, but was given another meaning entirely in 1819 when it was Jews who were hunted under this rallying cry.

Use instead: ‘Hooray’ by itself is completely harmless, or the more old-timey ‘hoorah’.

#8 No Can Do

informal + humorous

•used in speech to say that one cannot do something that he or she has been asked or told to do, eg. “Can you give me a ride to work tomorrow?” “Sorry— no can do. My car is in the shop.”

The game of Chinese Whispers has been renamed in the past few years for its racist connotations, but few know that the common phrase “no can do” is a similar riff on the idea that Chinese people speak broken English. While it has since moved into common parlance, this phrase was originally used as a mimicry of a Chinese person with a heavy accent — and the same is true of ‘long time, no see’.

Use instead: Going back to the origin of the phrase “I can’t” or “I can’t do it” would be your safest option.

#9 Basket case

noun

1. a person who is very nervous, tired, etc., and is not able to think or act normally

2. something (such as a company or a government) that is in very bad condition and close to failure

eg. “I was so worried about losing my job that I was a complete basket case.”

Oddly enough the term basket case is not commonly used by its dictionary meaning today, and seems to now have connotations of someone being crazy (perhaps being mixed up with terms like head case and mental case). As it was originally used, however, a basket case refers to someone who is useless or not functioning well. The reason for this has its origins in WWI, when a ‘basket case’ was someone who had lost all four limbs and therefore had to be carried around in a basket. Not the best mental image and potentially offensive to amputees.

Use instead: ‘Nervous wreck’ or ‘bundle of nerves’ are nicely evocative terms that don’t risk making fun of quadruple amputees.

#10 Hysterical

noun | hys·te·ria | \his-ˈter-ē-ə, -ˈtir-\

1. a state in which your emotions (such as fear) are so strong that you behave in an uncontrolled way

2. a situation in which many people behave or react in an extreme or uncontrolled way because of fear, anger, etc.

eg. “A few of the children began to scream, and soon they were all caught up in the hysteria.”

Hysterical’s modern usage is problematic enough by itself, with the word most often being applied to women — looking at the first dictionary definition, you might be able to tell why that’s an issue. However the connotations behind calling a woman ‘hysterical’ have far-reaching implications beyond even the 2011 film Hysteria.

The term comes from the Greek ‘hysterikos’, meaning ‘of the womb’ or ‘suffering in the womb’. The Greeks believed that the uterus was the direct cause of a number of female ailments, based on the premise that the uterus was essentially its own organism. The womb was said to be so obsessed with creating children that it would wander the body, pressing up against other organs and causing medical havoc unless it was pregnant. Yup.

Use instead: Try ‘overwrought’, ‘frenzied’ or ‘agitated’ if you really have to call someone ‘hysterical’ without resorting to womb-based comparisons.

Reference

Patron Saints of the Nerds…and Hackers

NEW ORLEANS – Here in the oldest church building in New Orleans, tucked into a dark corner by the door as far away from the main altar as possible, stands the statue of St. Expedite – the unofficial patron saint of hackers.

Unofficial because the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t know what to do about St. Expedite. He’s too pagan to be a proper saint, and too popular for his statues to be simply tossed out the door.

Statues of St. Expedite seem to appear at some churches, a puzzling phenomenon. Where do the statues come from? Who sends them? No one really seems to know who St. Expedite was in life or even if he ever existed.

But whatever St. Expedite may or may not be, geeks, hackers, repentant slackers, folks who run e-commerce sites and those who rely on brains and sheer luck to survive have all claimed the saint as their own.

In 2002, the Catholic Church offered up St. Isidore of Seville as the saint of computer programmers. Isidore seemed to be a fine choice – in the 7th century, he produced one of the world’s first databases, a 20-volume encyclopedia called The Etymologies, intended to be a summation of everything that was known about the world he lived in.

But Isidore somehow seems a bit too plodding for hackers, plus his life story includes none of the weird wordplay that makes so many hackers happy.

St. Expedite’s name obviously relates to his attested ability to deliver favors quickly to the faithful. But wait! There’s more – a joke about how St. Expedite manages to maneuver his statues into churches.

In 1781, or so the story goes, a packing case containing the body of a saint who’d been buried in the Denfert-Rochereau catacombs of Paris was sent to a community of nuns in the city. Those who sent the body wrote “Expedite” on the case, to ensure fast delivery of the corpse for the obvious reasons.

The nuns got confused, assumed Expedite was the name of a martyr, prayed to him, had a bunch of prayers answered amazingly quickly and the cult of St. Expedite was born. News of this saint who cheerfully dispensed quick miracles soon spread rapidly through France and on to other Catholic countries.

It’s a swell story, but Italians were asking St. Expedite to grant their wishes well before 1781, so either the date or the entire story is wrong. And the whole thing just screams urban legend anyway.

A different version of the same story is told in New Orleans. Supposedly, the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe received a big shipment of assorted saint statues. Only one didn’t have a proper label on the case identifying the saint whose statue was contained within. But the crate did have an “Expedite” label on it, so the locals decided that must be the saint’s name.

A century and a half later, according to the story, they found out there was no saint called Expedite. However, a little research turned up the obscure St. Expeditus, whose status as a possible Armenian martyr gave the Expedite myth legitimacy.

St. Expedite is typically depicted as a young Roman centurion squashing a crow beneath his right foot and hoisting a clock or, in later versions, a cross inscribed with the word hodie (“today” in Latin). A ribbon with the word cras (“tomorrow” in Latin) emerges from the squished crow’s mouth. The idea is that St. Expedite destroys people’s proclivity to procrastinate and vanquishes vague promises of joyous tomorrows in favor of making things happen right now.

Why a crow? English-speaking people tend to mimic the sound a crow makes as “caw caw.” Italians hear it as “cras cras.” In Italian folk tales, crows and ravens are forever yapping on about tomorrow.

St. Expedite is also widely considered, among people who consider such things, to provide real-time assistance on problems – he’s the saint of the fast solution. He is also is the patron saint of people who have to deliver work or products on a tight schedule.

While visiting St. Expedite in New Orleans, we saw half a dozen people come in and tuck notes and flowers by the saint’s statue, ignoring the official saints in the front of the church.

“St. Expedite got me a job fast after my company closed down last month,” said Letish Jackson of New Orleans, who’d come to the church to thank the saint. “If you knew how hard it is to get jobs here you’d know that me being employed is a very big miracle.”

She’s not the only one who turned to the saint for financial help. A recent article that appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal noted that St. Expedite has also become the patron of victims of outsourcing.

Jackson, and other Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners, said that “computer people,” as Jackson described them, often come to visit St. Expedite.

“I asked my friend who runs a computer repair service why those people come here, and he says Expedite is the nerd’s saint,” said Jackson. “My friend said St. Expedite is all about delivering information fast.”

Patron saints in general are broadband connections to the Almighty, passing along messages from the desperate or faithful. And the Catholic Church seems to have a patron saint for every possible need.

St. Joseph of Cupertino, the “flying friar,” is not the patron saint of Mac users – he’s appealed to by skittish air travelers (it’s said the good friar levitated whenever he was happy). Girls who live in rural areas can pray to St. Germaine of Pibrac, the patron of peasant females.

“I’m not a big believer in the saints, but St. Expedite is another whole story – he’s so good he’s scary,” said freelance computer support consultant Kathy Dupon, a resident of New Orleans. “My clients were forever paying me late until I taped a card with the saint’s picture behind my mailbox as a joke last year. Now my checks almost always arrive on time.”

ST ISIDORE OF SEVILLE

St. Isidore of Seville

Born: c.560 in Cartagena, Spain 

Died: April 4, 636

Canonized: pre-Congregation

Feast Day: April 4

Patron Saint of: computers, computer users, computer programmers, Internet

Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain, about 560 AD, the son of Severianus and Theodora. His elder brother Leander was his immediate predecessor in the Metropolitan See of Seville; whilst a younger brother St. Fulgentius presided over the Bishopric of Astigi. His sister Florentina was a nun, and is said to have ruled over forty convents and one thousand religious. Isidore received his elementary education in the Cathedral school of Seville. In this institution, which was the first of its kind in Spain, the trivium and quadrivium were taught by a body of learned men, among whom was the archbishop, Leander. With such diligence did he apply himself to study that in a remarkably short time mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Whether Isidore ever embraced monastic life or not is still an open question, but though he himself may never have been affiliated with any of the religious orders, he esteemed them highly. On his elevation to the episcopate he immediately constituted himself protector of the monks. In 619 he pronounced anathema against any ecclesiastic who should in any way molest the monasteries. 

On the death of Leander, Isidore succeeded to the See of Seville. His long incumbency to this office was spent in a period of disintegration and transition. The ancient institutions and classic learning of the Roman Empire were fast disappearing. In Spain a new civilization was beginning to evolve itself from the blending racial elements that made up its population. For almost two centuries the Goths had been in full control of Spain, and their barbarous manners and contempt of learning threatened greatly to put back her progress in civilization. Realizing that the spiritual as well as the material well-being of the nation depended on the full assimilation of the foreign elements, St. Isidore set himself to the task of welding into a homogeneous nation the various peoples who made up the Hispano-Gothic kingdom. To this end he availed himself of all the resources of religion and education. His efforts were attended with complete success. Arianism, which had taken deep root among the Visigoths, was eradicated, and the new heresy of Acephales was completely stifled at the very outset; religious discipline was everywhere strengthened. Like Leander, he took a most prominent part in the Councils of Toledo and Seville. In all justice it may be said that it was in a great measure due to the enlightened statecraft of these two illustrious brothers the Visigothic legislation, which emanated from these councils, is regarded by modern historians as exercising a most important influence on the beginnings of representative government. Isidore presided over the Second Council of Seville, begun 13 November, 619, in the reign of Sisebut. But it was the Fourth National Council of Toledo that afforded him the opportunity of being of the greatest service to his county. At this council, begun 5 December, 633, all the bishops of Spain were in attendance. St. Isidore, though far advanced in years, presided over its deliberations, and was the originator of most of its enactments. It was at this council and through his influence that a decree was promulgated commanding all bishops to establish seminaries in their Cathedral Cities, along the lines of the school already existing at Seville. Within his own jurisdiction he had availed himself of the resources of education to counteract the growing influence of Gothic barbarism. His was the quickening spirit that animated the educational movement of which Seville was the centre. The study of Greek and Hebrew as well as the liberal arts, was prescribed. Interest in law and medicine was also encouraged. Through the authority of the fourth council this policy of education was made obligatory upon all the bishops of the kingdom. Long before the Arabs had awakened to an appreciation of Greek Philosophy, he had introduced Aristotle to his countrymen. He was the first Christian writer to essay the task of compiling for his co-religionists a summa of universal knowledge. This encyclopedia epitomized all learning, ancient as well as modern. In it many fragments of classical learning are preserved which otherwise had been hopelessly lost. The fame of this work imparted a new impetus to encyclopedic writing, which bore abundant fruit in the subsequent centuries of the Middle Ages. His style, though simple and lucid, cannot be said to be classical. It discloses most of the imperfections peculiar to all ages of transition. It particularly reveals a growing Visigothic influence. Arevalo counts in all Isidore’s writing 1640 Spanish words. 

Isidore was the last of the ancient Christian Philosophers, as he was the last of the great Latin Fathers. He was undoubtedly the most learned man of his age and exercised a far-reaching and immeasurable influence on the educational life of the Middle Ages. His contemporary and friend, Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa, regarded him as a man raised up by God to save the Spanish people from the tidal wave of barbarism that threatened to inundate the ancient civilization of Spain, The Eighth Council of Toledo (653) recorded its admiration of his character in these glowing terms: “The extraordinary doctor, the latest ornament of the Catholic Church, the most learned man of the latter ages, always to be named with reverence, Isidore”. This tribute was endorsed by the Fifteenth Council of Toledo, held in 688. 

As a writer, Isidore was prolific and versatile to an extraordinary degree. His voluminous writings may be truly said to constitute the first chapter of Spanish literature. It is not, however, in the capacity of an original and independent writer, but as an indefatigable compiler of all existing knowledge, that literature is most deeply indebted to him. The most important and by far the best-known of all his writings is the “Etymologiae”, or “Origines”, as it is sometimes called. This work takes its name from the subject-matter of one of its constituent books. It was written shortly before his death, in the full maturity of his wonderful scholarship, at the request. of his friend Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa. It is a vast storehouse in which is gathered, systematized, and condensed, all the learning possessed by his time. Throughout the greater part of the Middle Ages it was the textbook most in use in educational institutions. So highly was it regarded as a depository of classical learning that in a great measure, it superseded the use of the individual works of the classics themselves. Not even the Renaissance seemed to diminish the high esteem in which it was held, and according to Arevalo, it was printed ten times between 1470 and 1529. Besides these numerous reprints, the popularity of the “Etymologiae” gave rise to many inferior imitations. It furnishes, abundant evidence that the writer possessed a most intimate knowledge of the Greek and Latin poets. In all, he quotes from one hundred and fifty-four authors, Christian and pagan. Many of these he had read in the originals and the others he consulted in current compilations. In style this encyclopedic work is concise and clear and in order, admirable. Braulio, to whom Isidore sent it for correction, and to whom he dedicated it, divided it into twenty books. 

The first three of these books are taken up with the trivium and quadrivium. The entire first book is devoted to grammar, including metre. Imitating the example of Cassiodorus and Boethius he preserves the logical tradition of the schools by reserving the second book for rhetoric and dialectic. Book four, treats of medicine and libraries; book five, of law and chronology; book six, of ecclesiastical books and offices; book seven, of God and of the heavenly and earthly hierarchies; book eight, of the Church and of the sects, of which latter he numbers no less than sixty-eight; book nine, of languages, peoples, kingdoms, and official titles; book ten, of etymology: book eleven, of man; book twelve, of beasts and birds; book thirteen, of the world and its parts; book fourteen, of physical geography; book fifteen, of public buildings and roadmaking; book sixteen, of stones and metals; book seventeen, of agriculture; book eighteen, of the terminology of war, of jurisprudence, and public games; book nineteen, of ships, houses, and clothes; book twenty, of victuals, domestic and agricultural tools, and furniture.

In the second book, dealing with dialectic and rhetoric, Isidore is heavily indebted to translations from the Greek by Boethius. Caelius Aurelianus contributes generously to that part of the fourth book which deals with medicine. Lactantius is the author most extensively quoted in the eleventh book, concerning man. The twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth books are largely based on the writings of Pliny and Solinus; whilst the lost “Prata” of Suetonius seems to have inspired the general plan of the “Etymologiae“, as well as many of its details. 

Similar in its general character to the “Etymologiae” is a work entitled “Libri duo differentiarum“. The two books of which it is composed are entitled respectively, “De differentiis verborum” and “De differentiis rerum“. The former is a dictionary of synonyms, treating of the differences of words with considerable erudition, and not a little ingenuity; the latter an exposition of theological and ascetical ideas, dealing in particular with the, Trinity and with the Divine and human nature of Christ. It suggests, and probably was inspired by, a similar work of Cato’s, It is supplementary to the first two books of the “Etymologiae“. The “Synonyma“, or, as it is sometimes called on account of its peculiar treatment, “Liber lamentationum“, is in a manner illustrative of the first book of the “Differentiae“. It is cast in the form of a dialogue between Man and Reason. The general burden of the dialogue is that Man mourns the condition to which he has been reduced through sin, and Reason comforts him with the knowledge of how he may still realize eternal happiness. The second part of this work consists of a dissertation on vice and virtue. The “De natura rerum” a manual of elementary physics, was composed at the request of King Sisebut, to whom it is dedicated. It treats of astronomy, geography, and miscellanea. It is one of Isidore’s best known books and enjoyed a wide popularity during the Middle Ages. The authenticity of “De ordine creaturarum” has been questioned by some critics, though apparently without good reason. Arevalo unhesitatingly attributes it to Isidore. It deals with various spiritual and physical questions, such as the Trinity, the consequences of sin, eternity, the ocean, the heavens, and the celestial bodies. 

The subjects of history and biography are represented by three important works. Of these the first, “Chronicon“, is a universal chronicle. In its preface Isidore acknowledges, his indebtedness to Julius Africanus; to St. Jerome’s rendering of Eusebius; and to Victor of Tunnuna. The “Historia de regibus Gothorum, Wandalorum, et Suevorum” concerns itself chiefly with the Gothic kings whose conquests and government deeply influenced the civilization of Spain. The history of the Vandals and the Suevi is treated in two short appendixes. This work is regarded as the chief authority on Gothic history in the West. It contains the interesting statement that the Goths descended from Gog and Magog. Like the other Historical writings of Isidore, it is largely based on earlier works of history, of which it is a compendium- It has come down to us in two recensions, one of which ends at the death of Sisebut (621), and the other continues to the fifth year of the reign of Swintila, his successor. “De viris illustribus” is a work of Christian biography and constitutes a most interesting chapter in the literature of patrology. To the number of illustrious writers mentioned therein Braulio added the name of Isidore himself. A short appendix containing a list of Spanish theologians was added by Braulio’s disciple, Ildephonsus of Toledo. It is the continuation of the work of Gennadius, a Semipelagian priest of Marseilles, who wrote between 467 and 480. This work of Gennadius was in turn, but the continuation of the work of St. Jerome. 

[ Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia ]

So, how does Saint Isidore of Seville become the patron saint for the Internet? The Observation Service for Internet, who drew it’s mission from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, researched the Internet and related technologies to select a patron saint that best reflects the concerns and ideals of computer designers, programmers and users. The saint chosen by the Observation Service for Internet was Saint Isidore. “The saint who wrote the well-known ‘Etymologies’ (a type of dictionary), gave his work a structure akin to that of the database. He began a system of thought known today as ‘flashes;’ it is very modern, notwithstanding the fact it was discovered in the sixth century. Saint Isidore accomplished his work with great coherence: it is complete and its features are complementary in themselves.

ST EXPEDITE

Expeditus with his typical iconographical attributes

Reference

Buddhism 101: More on Hand Mudras; Mudras: Meaning of Sacred Hand Gestures

Mudras are sacred hand gestures or positions that used to evoke a state of mind. The Sanskrit word “mudra” means “seal”, “mark”, or “gesture”. In Tibetan the word is ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ or “chakgya”. Each of these sacred hand gestures has a specific meaning. Many of them symbolize major moments or events in the Buddha’s life.

In this beautiful photo by Olivier Adam, an elderly nun in Zanskar shows a novice nun how to make the Mandala Offering Mudra.

8 Mudras and their Meaning

Sacred hand gestures or mudras are often depicted in Buddhist art. In this blog we’d like to share descriptions and images of some common mudras. The list here is not exhaustive.

The Earth Witness Mudra

When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he was assailed by the demon Mara, who tried to disturb his mind. Mara represents the passions that trap and delude us. Siddhartha refused to be tempted from the path to enlightenment and he called on the earth to witness his worthiness to become enlightened, saying, “The earth shall be my witness, I will not let myself be seduced.” In the Earth Witness Mudra, (also known as the Bhumisparsa Mudra or Gesture of Witness), the historical Buddha is seated in the meditation posture and touches the earth with the fingertips of his right hand, palm facing inwards. The left hand is placed in the lap with the palm facing upwards.

In this detail from a thangka print, the historical Buddha is depicted seated in meditation and calling the earth as his witness.

The Mudra of Meditation

The Mudra of Meditation (dhyana) is made by placing both hands on the lap, right hand on the left, with the palms facing upwards, the tips of the thumbs touching, and the fingers fully stretched. This mudra helps to calm the mind for meditation and is used for deep contemplation and reflection. The mudra of meditation is a characteristic gesture of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

This ancient stone sculpture shows the Buddha with his hands in the Mudra of Meditation

The Namaskara or Anjali Mudra

This mudra, while not found in representations of the Buddha or other deities, is commonly used by nuns, monks, and lay people to symbolize devotion, prayer, and admiration. Called the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra, it is used as a common form of greeting in most Asian countries. Anjali is a Sanskrit word which means “salutation” or “to offer” and Namaskar is Hindi for “good day”. To make this mudra, you bring your palms together in front of your heart space, fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest, to symbolize honor, respect, and devotion.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds his hands together in greeting and in offering respect to others. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Mudra of Holding the Jewel or Manidhara Mudra

The Mudra of Holding the Jewel looks very similar to the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra shown above. Also called the Manidhara Mudra, it is made by holding one’s hands together in front but with the palms and fingers slightly arched, holding the precious, wish-fulfilling jewel. This jewel or gem is also depicted in Tibetan prayer flags, carried upon the back of the Lung Ta  or wind horse. This sacred hand gesture of holding the jewel is a mudra of Avalokiteshvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. The Tibetan word for Avalokiteshvara is Chenrezig (སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་). The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Chenrezig,

An elderly nun in Zanskar places her palms together in devotion, holding the wish-fulfilling jewel, a mudra associated with Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The Mandala Offering Mudra

The Mandala Offering Mudra is a complex and sacred hand gesture that acts as a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings. Performing the Mandala Offering Mudra helps to reduce one’s attachment and to purify the clinging mind. Although this mudra is usually made together with prayers and Buddhist chants, non-Buddhists can also perform it to receive its spiritual benefits.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun performs the Mandala Mudra with her mala (Buddhist prayer beads). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

To make this complex mudra, sit in meditation pose with your back straight. Calm your breathing and visualize offering the mandala – the universe – to the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and all holy beings, giving with great joy and with purity of heart. Place your hands palms up and intertwine your fingers. With the tips of your thumbs, press down on the tips of the opposite little finger. Then, with the bent tips of your index fingers, press down on the tip of the opposite middle finger. Finally, take your ring fingers, unclasp them, and put them back to back, pressing the backs together and with both fingers going straight up through the center. Together the ring fingers symbolize Mt. Meru, the sacred mountain, and the four continents described in Buddhist cosmology.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun in Zanskar performs the mandala offering mudra. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Vitarka Mudra or Teaching Mudra

The Vitarka Mudra (the Mudra of Teaching or Discussion) is a common mudra representing the discussion and transmission of Buddhist teachings. It is formed by joining the tips of the thumb and index finger together to form a circle, keeping the other three fingers pointing straight up. The circle formed by the joined fingers symbolizes perfection with no beginning or end.

This mudra is usually made with one hand, most often the right one, with the hand held upward close to the chest and the palm facing outward. However, the mudra may also be made with both hands held in front of the chest, with each index finger and thumb joined in a circle. When two hands are used, the left palm faces inward and the right palm is turned outward. The Teaching Mudra represents the Buddha’s first teaching after becoming enlightened. It also symbolizes the “Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma” or Dharmachakra. There are a great number of variations of this mudra in Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the mystic gesture of Taras and bodhisattvas.

This sculpture shows the mudra of teaching or the Vitarka Mudra, with the tips of the thumb and index finger joined to form a circle.
In this detail from a thangka print, White Tara is holding an utpala flower in her raised left hand. The tips of her thumb and fourth or ring finger are touching. This is a gesture of good fortune and shows that, by relying upon her, one may accomplish complete purity of mind and body.

Generosity Mudra or Varada Mudra

The Varada Mudra is the gesture of generosity, charity, and compassion. It is commonly found in representations of the Green and White Tara. This sacred hand gesture represents the granting of blessings, wishes, or even pardon. It also symbolizes the “gift of truth” – the precious gift of the dharma or Buddhist teachings. In the Varada Mudra, the palm faces out and hangs down, usually touching the right leg. This mudra is often used in conjunction with another mudra. The five fingers represent the five perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, and meditation.

Detail of a thangka print depicting White Tara and showing the outward facing palm and downward hand of the Varada Mudra or Mudra of Generosity.

Mudra of Fearlessness or Abhaya Mudra

Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. The Mudra of Fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra symbolizes the dispelling of fear. It can look to Westerners like the common hand gesture for “stop”. The mudra is made by raising the right hand to shoulder height, with the arm bent and the palm facing outward. This mudra is more commonly depicted in standing images.

This very ancient hand gesture is also a sign of peace and friendship. Placing one’s hand up and open in this way indicates that one is free of weapons and comes in peace. In Buddhism, the mudra shows the fearlessness and therefore the spiritual power of the Buddha or bodhisattva who makes it.

It is said that the historical Buddha made this sacred hand gesture immediately after gaining enlightenment. At a later time, the Buddha was about to be attacked by a mad elephant. The poor animal had been fed alcohol and tortured by one who hoped to use the elephant as a weapon against the Buddha. The elephant, enraged and in pain, charged at the Buddha and his followers. While others ran away, the Buddha stood calmly, raising his hand in the gesture of fearlessness. He felt great love and compassion for the stricken elephant. In response, the elephant stopped in its charge, became calm, and then approached the Buddha and bowed its head.

A giant Buddha statue in Hong Kong shows the seated Buddha with the mudra of fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra

A note about the images of mudras: The thangka prints shown in this blog post were donated to the Tibetan Nuns Project by a generous donor. A range of thangka prints are available through our online store, with all proceeds from sales going to help the nuns. We are very grateful to Olivier Adam for sharing his beautiful photos. Many of his photos are available as cards through our online store. Prints of Olivier Adam’s photographs are available through his Etsy shop, Daughters of Buddha.

Additional Sources

YouTube links to videos of some Buddhist hand mudras.

Reference

Buddhism 101: Hand Mudras

Fancy/Veer/Corbis / Getty Images

Mudras are a silent language of self-expression used in Hindu and Buddhist teachings. Mudra hand gestures or poses are often used in yoga practice, meditation, and for healing purposes.

Anjali Mudra
Alternate Name: Namaste Anjali. photo © Joe Desy

The Anjali mudra is used as a salutation or greeting such as gassho or namaste.

How to form the Anjali mudra: Hands are held together in prayer fashion directly over the heart/chest. 

Pushan Mudra

Give and Take Gesture Pushan. photo © Joe Desy

The Pushan mudra demonstrates the understanding that life energy moves with ebb and flow motion.

How to form the Pushan mudra:
Right hand: Thumb, index finger, and middle finger touch at tips. Ring finger and pinky fingers are fully extended.
Left hand: Thumb, middle finger, and ring finger touch at tips. Index and pinky fingers are fully extended.

Apana Mudra

Earth Connection Apana. photo © Joe Desy

The Apana mudra has a grounding force to help you connect with the earth’s energies whenever you are feeling off balance or flighty.

How to form the Apana mudra: Tips of thumb, middle and ring finger are joined. Pinky and index fingers are extended.

Hakini Mudra

Rememberance Mudra Hakini Mudra. photo © Joe Desy

The Hakini mudra helps thinking and concentration. Powers the brain.

How to form the Hakini mudra: Hands and fingers are open and spread apart. Join hands together at the thumbs and fingertips.

Mantangi Mudra

Hindu Goddess of Peace Mantangi. photo © Joe Desy

The Mantangi mudra reates an atmosphere of calmness and serenity. Tames conflicts. This hand gesture resembles the trunk of an elephant.

How to form the Mantangi mudra: Fold both hands together with fingers inter-twined. Extend both middle fingers outward and point them toward the skies.

Akash Mudra

Heart Mudra Akash. photo © Joe Desy

The Akash Mudra helps to “center” your energies. It nourishes any part of your body that is lacking.

How to form the Akash mudra: Thumb and middle finger are joined. Index, ring, and pinky fingers are extended.

Vajra Mudra

Alternate Name: Fist of Wisdom Vajra. photo © Joe Desy

The Vajra mudra transforms ignorance into wisdom. Symbolizes the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and metal.

How to form the Vajra Mudra: Right-handed fist surrounds left index finger. Remaining fingers of left hand also form a fist below the right hand.

Gyan Mudra

Grounding Gyan. photo © Joe Desy

The Gyan mudra represents the starting place or home. It takes you back to your roots, or a simpler time. Clears the mental facilties.

How to form the Gyan mudra:Thumb and index fingers touch at tips. Middle, ring, and pinky fingers are relaxed, curved slightly.

Ushas Mudra

Stimulates Sacral Chakra Ushas. photo © Joe Desy

The Ushas mudra gesture helps to spark creativity and enliven sexuality. Good catalyst for new projects.

How to form the Kubera mudra:
Females: Interlaced fingers with palms facing upwards. Encircle right thumb between left thumb and index fingers.
Males: Interlaced fingers with palms facing upwards. Right thumb rests on top of left thumb with gentle pressure.

Garuda Mudra

Mystical Bird Garuda. photo © Joe Desy

The Garuda mudra is used to heighten intuition and enable communication with the spirit world.

How to form the Garuda mudra: Place right palm over the top of left hand, spreading fingers apart and crossing thumbs.

Vitarka Mudra

Reasoning Mudra Vitarka.

The Vitarka mudra, a symbol of wisdom, is a variation of the Dharmachakra mudra.

How to form the Vitarka mudra: Thumbs and index fingers of both hands join at tips forming circles. Left hand sits upon lap palm facing upwards. Right hand is held at shoulder height with palm facing downwards.

Prana Mudra

Symbolized Life Force Prana. photo © Joe Desy

The Prana mudra can be used whenever you feel drained or need an extra boost of energy. Good to use in the morning to awaken and fully embrace the new day.

How to form the Prana mudra: Thumb, ring, and pinky are touching. Index and middle finger are extended.

Buddha Mudra

Receptivity Buddha. photo © Joe Desy

The Buddha symbolizes being humble and learning to be grateful. Palms are open to receive gifts.

How to form the Buddha mudra:Both palms open. Rest one hand inside the other hand’s open palm. Thumb tips are touching (traditionally, right hand rests on left for men, left on right for women).

Shunya Mudra

Alternative Name: Heave Mudra Shunya. photo © Joe Desy

The Shunya mudra assists listening and speech. Primarily a remedy for ear afflictions.

How to form the Shunya mudra:Lower the middle finger and place finger pad on the fleshy mound area of your thumb, cover it with your thumb. Index, ring and pinky fingers are extended.

Kubera Mudra

Manifestating / Wish Mudra Kubera. photo © Joe Desy

The Kubera mudra is used for creating wealth and reaching your goals.

How to form the Kubera mudra: Tips of thumb, index, and middle fingers are joined. Ring finger and pinky are folded into the palm.

Uttarabodhi Mudra

Enlightenment Uttarabodhi. photo © Joe Desy

The Uttarabodhi mudra is a gesture that identifies with a supreme power. Symbolizes perfection.

How to form the Uttarabodhi mudra: Index fingers touch one another and are extended, pointing toward the skies. Remaining fingers are crossed and folded down. Thumbs are cross or held next to each other. Clasped hands are held over the head.

Dharmachakra Mudra

Teaching Dharmachakra. photo © Joe Desy

The Dharmachakra Mudra symbolizes the role of the teacher.

How to form the Dharmachakra mudra:Thumbs and index fingers are joined. Middle, ring, and pinky fingers are extended in a relaxed fashion. With left palm facing the body and right palm faced outward join thumbs and index fingers of both hands.

Bhutadamar Mudra

Protection – Wards Off Evil Bhutadamar. photo © Joe Desy

The Bhutadamar mudra serves as a shield keeping negative energies away.

How to form the Bhutadamar mudra: Palms are facing outwards away from the body. Wrists are crossed. Ring fingers are placed down toward the palms.

Ahamkara Mudra

Self Confidence Ahamkara. photo © Joe Desy

The Ahamkara mudra can be used when you are feeling “less-than” or fearful.

How to form the Ahamkara mudra: Index finger is bent slightly. Place thumb on the middle of bent index finger. Middle, ring and pink fingers are extended.

Dhyana Mudra

Meditation Pose Dhyana. photo © Joe Desy

The Dhyana mudra is universally used during meditation and relaxed states.

How to form the Dhyana mudra: Hands form a cup or bowl. Thumbs touch at the tips or comfortably overlapped.

Yoni Mudra

Femininity Yoni. photo © Joe Desy

Feminine Adi Shakti Primal Power Mudra – The Yoni Mudra represents getting in touch with female energies. Symbolizes a woman’s vulva.

How to form the Yoni mudra: Hands form an almond shape with joined thumbs extended upwards. Fingers are joined at tips extended downwards.

Prithivi Mudra

Alternate Name: Earth Mudra Prithivi. photo © Joe Desy

The Prithivi mudra recharges the root chakra aligning it with earth energies.

How to form the Prithivi mudra: Tips of thumb and ring finger are joined. Remaining fingers are extended.

Kapitthaka Mudra

Happiness Kapitthaka. photo © Joe Desy

Smiling Buddha Mudra

How to form the Kapitthaka mudra: Index and middle fingers are held beside each other while extended. Ring and pinky fingers are tucked inside the palm. Thumbs rest on tucked fingers.

Shankh Mudra

Alternate names: Conch or Shell Mudra Shankh. photo © Joe Desy

The Shankh mudra is commonly used during worship or prayer.

How to form the Shankh mudra: The left thumb is placed on the center of the right palm. The right hand forms a firm grip around the left thumb. The left hand rests against the right fist. Right thumb touching the left index finger.

Kalesvara Mudra

Calms Anxieties Kalesvara. photo © Joe Desy

The Kalesvara mudra calms anxious thoughts and agitated feelings.

How to form the Kalesvara mudra: Place both palms together pairing thumbs and all fingers at tips. Fold index, ring, and pinky fingers downward. Middle fingers are extended outward. Point thumbs toward your body.

Linga Mudra

Protective Mudra Linga. photo © Joe Desy

The Linga mudra is used as a remedy for the lungs, guarding against colds and cold weather. Strenghens immune system.

How to form the Linga mudra: Interlace fingers of both hands, extending one thumb upwards, encircle extended thumb with the index finger and thumb of your other hand.

Mukula Mudra

Closed Lotus Mukula. photo © Joe Desy

The Mukula Mudra’s appearance resembles the bud of a lotus flower. Represents new beginnings or start up a new enterprise.

How to form the Mukula mudra:All fingers and thumb are joined together, pointed upwards.

Surabhi Mudra

Alternate Name: Dhenu Mudra Surabhi. photo © Joe Desy

Balances the five elements: Air Fire Water Earth and Metal

How to form the Surabhi mudra: Fingers and thumbs are joined at tips. Thumbs touching each other. Left index finger joins right middle finger. Right index finger joins left middle finger. Left ring finger joins right pinky finger. Right ring finger joins left pinky finger.

Mida-no Jouin Mudra

Dual Worlds Meditation Pose Mida-no Jouin. photo © Joe Desy

The left hand mirrors the right hand representing two worlds: Enlightment and Illusion

How to form Mida-no Jouin mudra: Middle, ring, and pinky fingers create a flat or slightly curved bed resting upon the lap. Two circles are formed with index fingers held together while extended upwards meeting the tips of both thumbs.

Suchi Mudra

Releasing Suchi. photo © Joe Desy

Helpful for chronic constipation. Tames uncontrolled behaviors such as impatience, temper tantrums, clinging to others, etc.

How to form the Suchi mudra: Form a fist, extend index finger pointing up and out away from the body, preferrably arms are extended over the head.

Abhayaprada Mudra

No Fear Abhayaprada. photo © Joe Desy

Abhayaprada mudra is a protective hand gesture symbolizes strength or being fearless.

How to form the Abhayaprada mudra:Hand is held upward with palm facing away from your body.

Varada Mudra

Charity Mudra Varada. photo © Joe Desy

The Varada mudra pose is customarily used whenever a blessing is being offered.

How to form the Varada mudra: Fingers and thumb are downwards. Flattened palm facing outwards away from the body

Ganesha Mudra

Overcoming Obstacles Ganesha. photo © Joe Desy

The Ganesha mudra can be employed whenever you are struggling. Symbolizes strength when facing troubles. Eases tension.

How to form the Ganesha mudra: Palm of your right hands facing your chest. Left hand grasps the right hand forming a locking grasp, tugging firmly.

Mahasirs Mudra

Tension Reliever Mahasirs. photo © Joe Desy

The Mahasirs mudra is used to help give relief for head-related afflictions. Headaches, stress, tension, etc.

hHow to form the Mahasirs mudra: Thumb, index and middle fingers are joined at tips. Ring finger is folded into the palm and tucked into the fleshy part of the thumb. Pinky is extended.

Mushti Mudra

Releasing Mushti. photo © Joe Desy

The Mushti mudra is used as an outlet for “letting go” or releasing pent up emotions or energies.

How to form the Mushti mudra: Hold hand in a fist with thumb placed over the ring finger.

Bhudy Mudra

Intuition Bhudy. photo © Joe Desy

The Bhudy mudra helps you get in touch with your innermost feelings.

How to form the Bhudy mudra: Pinky and thumb tips are touching. Index, middle, and ring fingers are extended.

Mudras Poster: 36 Healing Hand Gestures– Download Free PDF format
Mudra: Gestures of Power DVD – Buy Direct

Reference

  • Desy, Phylameana lila. “Mudra Photo Gallery.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020, learnreligions.com/mudra-photo-gallery-4051990.

Gay History: Tall Ships, Tall Tales, And The Mysteries Of Eugenia Falleni

Eugenia Falleni in 1920. An Italian-born-woman-turned-Sydney-dwelling-man, Falleni was convicted of murder in 1920. Wikimedia

I’m an unlikely sailor of tall ships. Too clumsy, too prone to motion sickness, too white and nervous about symbols of colonisation. Nevertheless, in 2013 I found myself up the mast in the middle of the Tasman sea, surrounded by nothing but open ocean.

I was researching a novel about Eugenia Falleni, an Italian-born-woman-turned-Sydney-dwelling-man who was tried for the murder of his wife in 1920. As the commonly told version of the story would have it, Falleni “disguised herself” as a cabin boy and sailed from Wellington to Sydney on a Norwegian barque in the last years of the 19th century. According to some enthusiastic (but factually dubious) accounts, Falleni “roistered” around the Pacific, calling in at Honolulu, Papeetee, and Suva, drank with men, and passed as a man, but arrived in Sydney pregnant.

This “Norwegian barque” was a Schrodinger’s box, and Falleni was the cat. Falleni was man and woman in the same instant, and only tunnelling back through time, lifting a hatch on the deckhouse roof and peering in would decide the moment when Falleni, in the eyes of those watching at least, switched from one gender to the other. Many of Falleni’s biographers have tried to imagine the moment of the onlookers’ “discovery”. As a would-be novelist, I had to as well.

But where to start? Too under-confident in my concept to approach anyone from the transgender community, I started with the ship. If I could get the realist details of the external world right, I told myself, perhaps the interior, psychological uncertainties would resolve themselves in the process. Procrastination disguised as research, perhaps, but I did not know that then.

A Google image search of barques revealed that one was – bizarrely for the 21st century – sailing from Sydney to Auckland, almost exactly the reverse passage Falleni would have made in 1897. I lost a few hours clicking through links that led to sites, which led to my booking a berth as voyage crew on the STS Lord Nelson, set to leave Darling Harbour for Auckland on October 10 2013.

The Lord Nelson is not Norwegian, but wannabe time travellers can’t be too fussy. “Nellie”, as she’s affectionately known by those who sail her, is owned and worked by the South Hampton-based Jubilee Sailing Trust, an organisation established in the late 1970s to make off-shore sailing a possibility for those with special needs.

Stowing Sails of the Lord Nelson. JST

Despite Nellie’s mod-cons, my first night beyond the heads was a waking nightmare. The voyage crew slept below decks towards the bow of the ship in an area called the fo’c’sle. The fo’c’sle is far from the stabilising main mast, moves the most, and is the worst place to be if you are feeling queasy. It thrashed up and down, side to side, while we tried to sleep on shelves masquerading as bunks, our green faces nudging and retreating from the lee cloths that kept us in our beds.

We could hear the slurp and spray of the Tasman as it slammed against the porthole windows. Something aggressive barged at the hull repeatedly, and the aftershocks made the ship quiver like a dog in a thunderstorm. In my sleepless paranoid state I was convinced hammerhead sharks were head-butting the keel, trying to get at the tender voyage crew inside. (Later I would learn that the noise was made by the anchor rolling around in the anchor locker.)

Over the following nights, most of us gingerly made our way from our bunks to the stairs in the lower mess, then waited for the ship’s roll to help our weakened legs climb the stairs onto the deck. Once on deck we had to clip onto the safety wire that ran around the deckhouse and vomit into paper bags before flinging them into waves, which loomed five metres above us on the windward side of the ship, or dropped, suddenly, from beneath.

The ship would nuzzle into these waves, before rising on their peaks, tilting, then sliding down into a temporary gully. Why did I think this state of interminable queasiness would help me with a novel? I was literally, and figuratively, at sea.

All at sea

It was a feeling of motion-sickness that originally inspired me to write about Eugenia Falleni. In 2005, Sydney’s Justice and Police museum hosted City of Shadows, an exhibition of long-forgotten police photographs recovered from a flooded warehouse. I left the exhibition with the accompanying book, and later pored over the photographs for traces of the suburbs I thought I knew. One picture in particular captured my attention: a mugshot of a man in a cheap suit and tie, his short hair combed into a sideways part. 

What struck me most was the melancholy in the subject’s eye; how brow-beaten he looked. To me, he seemed composed, but so close to the verge of a nervous breakdown that I was physically jolted out of being a passive viewer. I flipped to the back of the book to read a brief footnote: 

Eugenie Falleni [sic], 1920, Central cells. When hotel cleaner “Harry Leon Crawford” was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife three years earlier, he was revealed to be in fact Eugenie Falleni – a woman and mother who had been passing as a male since 1899…

Turning back to the portrait of the sad man, his face — or my perception of his face — morphed into that of a woman’s. But in the moment that he, the sad man, morphed into she, the “cross-dressing murderer”, I have to admit that the thrill I felt was associated with my own jolt in perception; like the moment Escher’s black birds turn into white birds flying in the opposite direction. What would it be like to live your life oscillating between what others expected to see?

I had, up until this voyage at sea, written hundreds of thousands of words that did not ring true. Possibly this bad writing was due to a nervousness that what I was attempting was culturally insensitive. I am not transgender, I am not working class, I am not, and have never been, Italian. Should I even be attempting to write Falleni’s story? In the interests of forging the most respectful way forward (and appeasing my guilt), I did eventually meet with a trans man my supervisor knew. I was anxious going into the meeting, because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was asking from him. Did I want his permission? And if he gave it, what then? 

My fears, it turned out, were founded. While he generously gave me his morning, he seemed a little frustrated by the need to have to explain that his experience as a trans man was going to be very different to another trans experience, especially one lived a hundred years ago. I flushed with embarrassment. Of course I didn’t want him to suddenly be the spokesman of the entire trans community, no, not at all. 

Sitting across the table from him, my cold coffee growing skin as I babbled, I realised how condescending the categories of identity politics can be. While they are vital in giving the disenfranchised a collective voice, identity politics can also flatten the myriad possible expressions of how people might live between genders into one “type” — where one person’s experience can stand in for another’s.

Deviants to dysmorphia

Falleni told detectives that they dressed as a man for the economic opportunities. According to the local Sydney tabloid press, Truth, Falleni told detectives they “thought it better to give up life as a woman, because they worked for long hours for a small wage”. But Falleni also married two women and owned a dildo (also held in the Justice and Police Museum’s collection) — and presumably engaged in sexual relationships with women. Living at a time that did not have a language for what would now be considered transgender experience, it’s not surprising Falleni avoided citing sexual or instinctual reasons for passing as a man. 

At the time of Falleni’s trial, the term used to describe anyone not living a hetero-normative existence was a “sexual invert”, a pathological condition of deviancy. Falleni’s barrister, Archibald McDonnell, vaguely suggested that Falleni was such an “invert” by arguing that Falleni had “the masculine angle of the arms”. The judge interrupted McDonell’s cross-examination of the government medical officer to ask if he was making an insanity plea, proving that, at the time, there was confusion about whether “sexual inversion” was a sexualityBut as historian Ruth Ford argues, it was not in the interest of the Crown to classify Falleni as an invert, because it would have “detracted from their case, which emphasised Falleni’s deceptive nature — her fraud and lies”. 

Since Falleni’s arrest, various attempts have been made to categorise Falleni’s gender-crossing. In 1939, Dr Herbert M. Moran wrote that Falleni was a “homosexualist” and suggested their “disorder” was congenital. He wrote: 

She was condemned even from her birth and her abnormality derived from the very nature of her being. The temperamental outbursts, the vulgar debauches, the filthy speech, were but minor manifestations of her interior disorder.

In his 2012 biography of Falleni, Mark Tedeschi diagnosed “gender dysmorphia”, reporting that 

her female bodily attributes were like having an unwanted, additional limb attached to her body that she overwhelmingly felt did not belong to her.

Eugenia Falleni in 1928, State Reformatory for Women. Justice and Police Museum, Sydney

Others have resisted classifying Falleni’s gender and sexuality. Alyson Campbell, director of Lachlan Philpott’s 2012 play about Falleni, The Trouble with Harry, admits to having initially wished to impose a lesbian subjectivity on Falleni’s story. However she conceded that neither lesbian or trans identities were “available to a person such as Falleni, navigating a way through the undocumented, secret world of being a female husband.”

I did not want to invade Falleni’s very private existential conundrum and claim their identities for my empire (read: my cv), and yet I couldn’t shake the story off. 

What kept drawing me back was not an urge to answer the questions of who Falleni was (which are not my questions to answer), but rather an urge to come to terms with how Sydney dealt with the uncertainties that Falleni’s various identities posed. The shock remains fresh: Falleni’s trial occurred almost 100 years ago, and although the terminology we use to discuss cases like this has changed, the tendency to categorise and scrutinise “abnormal” behaviour hasn’t. 

This was also a story about patriarchy, how its control is insidious and polices everyone — men and women and those who are neither or both — at every level of bureaucracy. Though my experience is by no means comparable to Falleni’s, this is something I have experienced first-hand. 

A stranger amongst men

When the seas died down around Nellie, we were well clear of land. Surrounded by nothing but open ocean, my life now depended on something as small as a house, as buoyant as a bath toy, something only as strong as its shipwrights knew how to make it.

Sexual innuendo was social currency on the ship, and your first voyage was a test, to see if you could take it. It was fun, at first, to be around authority figures who couldn’t give a shit about “minding their manners” and affecting professional decorum. It helped that the first mate Leslie — a woman — had stripes, and was just as crass as the men. 

I ended up staying on from Auckland to Wellington, this time as a trainee bosun’s mate, the volunteer crew responsible for maintaining the ship’s equipment. On this leg a watch leader presented me with a lock that had fallen off the ladies’ toilet door in the fo’c’sle, along with four very short screws. I found Leslie and the Captain in the chart room and asked Leslie what she thought I should do with it. 

She looked at me incredulously. “Fix it.”

“Right,” I said, “but where are the screws?”

“You’ll have to get them from Mr Chips,” she said.

“Ah, but Pip,” the Captain said, “I’d be careful how you ask Chips for a screw.”

I found the second engineer, Mr Chips, on the stern platform with the first engineer, Marco, sitting in a coil of rope and sipping his third cup of tea for the day.

“Chips,” — I was already on the defensive — “I know how this is going to go, but I need four long screws.”

Chips said nothing for a while.

“Right,” he eventually said, “well you’ll find them in the container in the middle of the workshop.”

Marco groaned at the wasted opportunity.

Negotiating sexual innuendo with the cook was more precarious. When a handful of us were asked to scour the hot galley, I volunteered to scour the lard that had accumulated under and behind the ovens. At one point I had my torso wedged under the ovens, and my arse had nowhere else to be but high in the air. Derek the cook stood behind, supervising. The next day he sat beside me while I was sitting on the deck.

“I think you visited me last night in my dreams,” he said softly. “But you weren’t wearing French knickers when you cleaned the ovens, were you?” The comment was meant to be funny, but it made me weary. Really? I thought. Is this how it’s going to be? The game was: they prodded, and you deflected. It was both exhausting and boring.

Later, in the bar, I told Derek he was a sleaze. I said it publicly, and jovially, knowing “preciousness” would not be tolerated. Mr Chips inhaled sharply and Derek’s face fell. An unspoken rule of the ship became clear to me: women should take a joke, but an accusation of sexual impropriety — even if made in good humour — would not be tolerated. 

Derek’s revenge came at dinner. My meal was loaded with so much chilli powder, I could barely swallow it. He didn’t talk to me for three days, but by the time we reached Napier he was cracking jokes about my “free passage” with a playful elbow in the ribs. I laughed along, to show him I could take it.

After we’d tied up in Wellington, Marco and I were taking a moment to recover from the wind over a cup of tea in the upper mess.

“So, what are you writing about?” he asked. 

I told him the spiel. By then, I’d learned it by rote.

“Falleni…” Marco said, trying out the name, “so she was Italian? Of course she was. I bet she was hairy, too,” he chuckled, and shot a knowing look at Mr Chips. 

As he did, I thought I saw a horse passing by on the dock outside. I did a double take. Yes, there was a horse out on the dock, being led by a woman in a shabby suit and bowler hat. She turned to look at the ship, and I saw her moustache, the whiskers growing out of her cheeks.

“Oh my God,” I said, and pointed out the window behind his back. He turned to look, and there were more women now, all in shabby suits and moustaches. 

Marco turned back, unfazed. “So the wife, she had to know.”

“Well, apparently not,” I said, on automatic pilot, transfixed by the scene out the window.

“But how did they fuck?”

“With a dildo,” I said. “It’s on exhibit at…”

The women began to chant. They were on strike. They were re-creating the Great Strike of 1913 for the museum over the road, but it was the world of my novel and it was real and it was right outside the window.

Female union actors dockside in Wellington. Pip Smith

During the month I spent in Wellington, I wrote the first part of my novel that stuck. It had nothing to do with sailing ships, nothing to do with being a spokesperson for a transgender experience that was not mine to share, and everything to do with being a fish out of water: a stranger amongst men.

Postscript

Eugenia Falleni was sentenced to death for the murder of Annie Birkett on October 6 1920, but shortly afterwards this sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Falleni was released from Long Bay Penitentiary in February 1931, after which they lived as Jean Ford, and built a successful business as a manager of “residentials”.

On June 9, 1938, Jean Ford sold her Glenmore Road “residential” business for £105, and on the same day was hit by a car on Oxford St. Ford was taken to Sydney Hospital, but died on June 10, aged 63. Throughout their lives, Falleni maintained their innocence. 

A year after my voyage on Nellie, Suzanne Falkiner re-released her 1988 biography of Falleni with revisions and new information. There were details that hadn’t jumped out at me before. The main one suddenly rendering redundant months and thousands of dollars worth of research: Falleni probably didn’t travel to Sydney by a “Norwegian barque” at all. The son of one of Falleni’s New Zealand friends recalled that 

the last time [Falleni] met my mother, [Falleni] told her that she was going to work her way as a stoker [someone who stoked a fire for a ship’s engine] on a ship to Australia, which she did. After she arrived in Australia, she [or someone who wrote for her] wrote to my mother saying she had arrived safe and that she hardly slept at all on board ship and kept an iron bar under her pillow for protection.

A stoker? On board a barque? Not likely. In becoming obsessed with the mysteries of Falleni’s identity, I had ignored details that were not convenient to my own myths. Or perhaps I wanted to go to sea, be at sea, a little while longer.


NB: in this article, I have chosen to refer to Falleni according to their surname, for its gender-neutrality, and have used the pronoun “they” when referring to Falleni’s collective self, and “he” or “she” for Falleni’s particular identities that presented as decidedly male or female.

Pip Smith’s novel, Half Wild, has just been published.

Reference

A World Of Pandemics: Part IV

How Humanity’s Response To Epidemic Disease Has Stayed The Same Throughout History

For millennia, societies have faced destructive epidemics that caused a major loss of life. Although the germs that cause epidemics change over time, and people may pretend humanity has too, responses to epidemics show startling similarities across centuries. During Justinian’s Plague, 40% of Constantinople’s population perished. When the plague of Athens struck, it took out up to 30% of the city. And when the Black Death swept Europe in the 14th century, it ended the lives of millions, with population losses of over 50% in some areas. Even epidemics with lower mortality rates cause major disruptions, like the Spanish flu of 1918. But regardless of era or disease, people have shown many of the same responses: flee from the source of the danger, look for a scapegoat, propagate pseudoscientific cures, and question scientific authority.  

In a time of crisis all bets are off; we fall into the most primal fears and patterns. And though people will do what they can to save themselves, not all behaviors are bad. Some may even better prepare humanity for future epidemics and crises.

People Try To Find A Scapegoat, Leading To Instances Of Extreme Prejudice And Racism

Photo: Michel Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When epidemics spread, communities often look for a scapegoat. During the Black Death, Europeans blamed Jewish communities for spreading the disease. One chronicle reported, “Death went from one end of the earth to the other, on that side and this side of the sea . . . In some lands everyone died so that no one was left.”

In Strasbourg, the plague took out thousands, and Christians blamed the city’s Jewish population. “On Saturday – that was St. Valentine’s Day – they burnt the Jews on a wooden platform,” the chronicle recorded. “There were about 2,000 people.” The same happened in other cities. “In some towns they burnt the Jews after a trial, in others, without a trial.”

Just as the Jews became scapegoats during the plague, racism against Chinese people increased during the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2020 coronavirus epidemic because they both originated in China. In New York City, during the 2020 epidemic, tourists have even avoided Chinese restaurants for fear of catching the virus despite there being no evidence to suggest people of East Asian origin are more likely to spread the disease.

These are not the only cases in modern history, however, and people of East Asian origin are not the only targets of prejudice. During the Ebola outbreak of 2015, people from West Africa were targets of xenophobia; while the LGBTQ+ community was stigamatized during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. 

People Peddle Pseudoscientific Cures And Spread Disinformation

Photo: Pluto Water Company/Wikimedia Commons/Public Doma

In 1900, the bubonic plague reached the shores of America. An outbreak in San Francisco threatened to spread the disease. Doctors warned that bacteria spread the plague, but government officials undermined their efforts by questioning the science.

In California, Governor Henry Gage was skeptical about germ theory. He couldn’t personally see the bacteria that caused plague, and thus denied its existence. As the plague swept through Chinatown, white San Franciscans claimed they were immune from the disease, blaming its spread on poor hygiene. But they, too, soon faced a plague epidemic, regardless of their scientific skepticism and denial. 

Similarly, during Justinian’s Plague in the sixth century, people turned to cures with no basis in science. Some claimed taking cold baths protected people from plague, while others sold magic amulets. 

Similar pseudoscientific claims continue into the 21st. During the 2015 Zika virus epidemic a rash of conspiracy theories made their way through social media platforms. One such claim blamed one of the viruses symptoms, microcephaly, a condition which causes babies’ heads and brains to develop abnormally, on MMR and DTAP vaccines in an effort for pharmaceutical companies to profit off of Zika vaccines. 

Psedoscientific claims can cause adverse effects to individual and societal health. In the case of the Zika virus, doctors and scholars looking to limit the disease’s reach claimed the disinformation threatened the legitimacy of healthcare institutions, potentially exposing more people to the disease as people refused to trust healthcare professionals. In other cases, the pseudoscientific claims and cures, like drinking bleach, have caused more direct health issues.

Due To Extreme Population Loss, Affected States Experience A Loss In Military And Political Strength

Photo: Edward A. “Doc” Rogers/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In the sixth century, the Byzantine Empire experienced a horrific plague that caused a massive drop in population. Under the Emperor Justinian, the Byzantines had expanded their borders and fought to regain parts of the western Roman Empire. But Justinian’s Plague threatened to destroy the empire.

Thanks to population loss, the Byzantines could no longer defend their overseas territories. In addition to the military losses, the Byzantines also endured economic and administrative problems that decreased the empire’s political power. Though the empire survived the plague, it never again achieved the reach it had under Justinian.

Justinian’s Plague was not the only Ancient historical case. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta faced each other through a nearly 30-year war. During the second year of the war, however, while Sparta had laid siege on the Athens, the defending city was swept by an unknown epidemic disease, which ended a third of its entire population including the states leader, Pericles. 

Some historians and scholars have attributed this unexpected loss of life to Athens’s ultimate defeat and the eventual decline of Ancient Greece’s cultural output. Others would not go that far, citing Athens’s eventual regrowth and victories throughout the battles, but they do agree the city state did lose prestige and power due to the political aftermath of the disease.

Similarly, historians have attributed Germany’s loss at the end of WWI to the emergence of the Spanish Flu epidemic in the summer of 1918. Beginning the year with a military advantage against the Triple Entente and looking to end the war before American soldiers could be deployed, the Germans launched an offensive in hopes of breaking through enemy lines and reaching Paris. They, however, lost about half a million men due to the virus, making it impossible for the army to make that final charge.

Because They Feel A Personal Responsibility To Help, Healthcare Personnel Experience The Worst Of The Disease

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers often experience high mortality rates during epidemics. The famous plague doctor costume, developed in the 17th century as the bubonic plague continued to ravage Europe, attempted to protect doctors from miasmas, or disease-transmitting clouds. In modern epidemics, doctors wear personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves. 

Due to the close proximity and extended time healthcare personnel spend among epidemic diseases, the high mortality rate among healthcare workers is still the norm despite technological advances.

In the fifth century BCE, Athens experienced a horrific plague that took out one in three Athenians in a single summer. As the Peloponnesian War raged, Athenians battled against an unknown enemy riskier than combat. Doctors experienced an even higher mortality rate during the plague of Athens. That year, according to Thucydides, “Neither were the physicians at first of any service, ignorant as they were of the proper way to treat it, but they died themselves the most thickly, as they visited the sick most often.”

But during the 2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, doctors and nurses also perished at a much greater percentage the rest of the population. The World Health Organization attributed the high mortality to fairly regular problems within epidemics, including shortages of both medical supplies and staff, improper use of equipment, and longer than recommended exposure to the disease most often due to a sense of duty to help.

Societies Affected By Major Epidemics Have Resorted To Mass Burial

Photo: S. Tzortzis/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When the Black Death swept across Europe, millions perished in its wake. And the disease’s mortality rate left societies with a troubling logistical problem: How should they dispose of the bodies piling up in the streets?

In Lincolnshire, England, Black Death victims were buried in a mass grave. Discovered in 2013, the grave contains the bodies of nearly 50 people. The community apparently left the grave open and filled it as people perished. According to a journal article in Antiquity, the grave was “filled over the course of several days or weeks.”

Large cities experienced an even more critical problem. According to a 14th century Florentine chronicle, bodies were thrown into deep trenches every night. “The next morning, if there were many [bodies] in the trench, they covered them over with dirt. And then more bodies were put on top of them, with a little more dirt over those; they put layer on layer just like one puts layers of cheese in a lasagna.”

Similar action was taken during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. In 2015, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation contractor looking to widen the 61 Freeway dug into a 2.25 acre field in Schuylkill County, 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Many of the regions residents who perished from the Spanish Flu were found to be buried without caskets. Historians and archaeologists believe there was such a high mortality rate the grave diggers and casket makers could not keep up with the demand, forcing them to unsystematically bury the victims in a large pit.

A Certain Contingent Of People Resort To Hedonism When Death Seems Inevitable

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In an era before people understood bacteria and viruses, epidemics brought even more confusion. And when succumbing to the disease seemed inevitable, some people cast off social restrictions and turned to hedonism.

Boccaccio described the response to the Black Death in Florence. Some shunned the sick and avoided any contact with them. “There were those who thought that to live temperately and avoid all excess would count for much,” Boccaccio related. These people secluded themselves from society while “eating and drinking moderately.” 

Others took the opposite tactic. They believed “that to drink freely, frequent places of public resort, and take their pleasure with song and revel, sparing to satisfy no appetite, and to laugh and mock at no event, was the sovereign remedy for so great an evil.”

These hedonists traveled from tavern to tavern, “drinking with an entire disregard of rule or measure.” 

Boccaccio reported that many of the hedonists perished – but so did those who chose to live moderately.

Similar behavior transpired during the Plague of Athens in the 430 BCE. According to Thucydides:

Men now coolly ventured on what they had formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and those who before had nothing succeeding to their property.

So they resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their lives and riches as alike things of a day. Perseverance in what men called honor was popular with none, it was so uncertain whether they would be spared to attain the object; but it was settled that present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honorable and useful. Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them.

In The Wake Of Epidemics, Artists Focus On Macabre Themes

Photo: Schedel’s Chronicarum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Dom

Throughout history, epidemics shape culture as well as society. After living through an epidemic, artists in many eras turn to macabre themes. 

During the Black Death, artists emphasized the end of life itself. Historian Frank M. Snowden says that the plague “had a transformative effect on the iconography of European art.”

Artists drew the “dance of death,” showing skeletons reveling, and also emphasized perishing through including hourglasses in their art. Art reminded viewers that there was no escape from the inevitable.

People Change Their Personal Religious Beliefs And Practices

Photo: Elihu Vedder/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domai

A dangerous epidemic can either shake people’s faith or reinforce it. During the Black Death, Europeans worried the disease had been sent by God as a punishment for their sins. Although many flocked to church for protection, faith didn’t protect Europeans from the plague. 

In the 14th century, the plague swept through religious communities, wiping out entire monasteries and convents. The pope himself withdrew from society instead of stepping up as a religious leader. Zealots like the flagellants swept across the continent, atoning for sin by publicly whipping themselves.

During modern epidemics, backed by knowledge of germ theory, religious communities modify traditions to stop the spread of disease. Others simply stop attending church to avoid exposure to large crowds.

Societies Isolate And Quarantine Those Infected

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

For centuries, people separated the sick from the healthy. The Old Testament even lists rules for isolating lepers. 

But quarantines in the modern sense began in the 14th century during the bubonic plague. Venice, a trade hub in the Mediterranean, established the first quarantine by banning ships from the city for 40 days after arriving. Our word for “quarantine” comes from the Italian word “quaranta” which means 40. 

The idea quickly spread. In the second major plague outbreak in 1374, Milan adopted a quasi-quarantine by sending plague victims to a field outside the city, where they remained until they recovered or perished. The coastal town of Ragusa on the Dalmatian coast created its own quarantine station, an idea that quickly caught on. Several islands in the Venetian lagoon were used as quarantine stations for centuries.

Quarantines continued into the 20th century. During the Spanish flu, one city protected itself from influenza by shutting down the roads and quarantining anyone who arrived by trains. In that city, Gunnison, Colorado, no one perished from influenza.

People Practice Healthier Behaviors

Photo: Rensselaer County (New York) Tuberculosis Association/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domai

Educating the public about the spread of disease has been an important tool in fighting epidemics. In the early 20th century, public health campaigns warned people not to carelessly spit, cough, or sneeze, since these helped spread infectious diseases like influenza.

In the 1980s, public education was an important tool in fighting the AIDs epidemic. To slow the spread of the disease, these campaigns focused on changing at-risk behavior. These efforts warned against sharing needles or having unprotected sex. After peaking in the early 1990s, the number of HIV cases in the US dropped in large part thanks to public education.

People Migrate En Masse To Escape The Disease

Photo: Wellcome Images/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

During epidemics, large groups of people often migrate to avoid disease. Boccaccio’s Decameron tells the story of Italians who fled Florence during the plague. 

In 14th century Egypt, the bubonic plague destroyed villages and forced many from rural areas to migrate into Cairo. In one district in Upper Egypt, a survey counted 6,000 workers in the fields before the plague. Thanks to those perishing and migrating, only 116 laborers remained after the plague. 

Similarly, in January 2020, about 5 million people left the city of Wuhan, China, before the lockdown. According to Mayor Zhou Xianwang, millions fled days before the quarantine went into place. However, migrants fleeing an epidemic potentially spread the disease, undoing the impact of quarantines.

While Bad For The Economy In The Short Term, Epidemics Tend To Bring Positive Long-Term Economic Changes 

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In the short term, epidemics bring massive economic disruptions. During Justinian’s Plague, trade nearly came to a halt and agricultural prices soared thanks to fewer farmers. In Constantinople, where up to 40% of the population perished, the Byzantine Empire faced an economic crisis when tax revenues collapsed. 

During the Black Death, the high mortality rate meant fewer laborers in the fields. In the short term, that meant higher prices. The bubonic plague, however, brought some unexpected long-term improvements to Europe’s economy. Thanks to a labor shortage, wages rose in the decades after the plague. In England, wages roughly doubled. In Suffolk, laborers made 67% more for reaping after the Black Death. 

Increased wages for the laboring classes meant higher spending and a greater standard of living. Agricultural workers could suddenly afford “luxury” items like butter. In cities, people benefited from more disposable income. In effect, the Black Death redistributed wealth from the aristocrats to the peasants and urban workers, helping drive Europe’s economic engine for centuries.

Reference

How the ‘McMillions’ Scammers Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole $24 Million: The Scam That 9/11 Helped to Cover-up.

A Monopoly Peel to Play game sticker is seen on a McDonald’s Corp. Big Mac hamburger arranged for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, April 15, 2016.Daniel Acker | Bloomberg via Getty Images

A lot of people cheat at board games. But few fraudsters can compare to Jerome P. Jacobson’s Monopoly scam that netted over $24 million — and that’s in real money.

The details of how Jacobson, a former police officer, pulled off a multimillion-dollar scam include a national McDonald’s Monopoly game promotion and a stealthy heist that found Jacobson sneaking into an airport bathroom stall to swap out handfuls of winning McDonald’s Monopoly stickers. It ends with an FBI sting and a fake TV commercial that bring the whole massive fraud collapsing around Jacobson like a house of cards

It’s a story so full of twists that a heist movie about his fraud is already in the works, with Ben Affleck set to direct and Matt Damon attached to star. The scheme is also the subject of a new HBO documentary series, “McMillions.”

How the scam worked

Jacobson, also known as “Uncle Jerry,” was once director of security for Simon Marketing. In the 1990s, Simon made the game pieces used in McDonald’s promotional contests, including the Monopoly and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire games, where customers could win up to $1 million in prizes just by buying items like french fries or a soda.

It was Jacobson’s job to look after game pieces for McDonald’s promotional events, making sure no employees pocketed any of the prizes themselves. But in the mid-90s, Jacobson figured out a way to rig the popular game so that the most lucrative winning game pieces would almost always find their way to people he knew — people who then shared millions of dollars in winnings with him, according to federal officials who announced the arrests of Jacobson and seven of his associates in 2001.

Securing the game pieces often meant Jacobson had to personally carry them in a case shut with a tamper-proof seal. He would take the stickers to packaging centers around the country where he would apply them himself to french fry cartons and soda cups bound for McDonald’s locations previously selected by a random computer drawing, according to The Daily Beast, which viewed sealed court documents from Jacobson’s case.

Even though he was the head of security, Jacobson was also under constant surveillance by an independent auditor, The Daily Beast noted. She followed Jacobson wherever he carried the game pieces, double-checking that the winning McDonald’s game pieces never left their tamper-proof case.

McDonald’s ran multiple Monopoly game promotions in the late-1980s and early-1990s, but in 1995 the fast-food giant ramped up the stakes and prizes ballooned from thousands of dollars to a grand prize of $1 million. For Jacobson, who reportedly earned about $70,000 a year, the temptation to siphon off the winning pieces seemingly became too strong. It was then that Jacobson’s multimillion-dollar scheme kicked off in earnest, federal officials say.

It was also around that time that a foreign supplier in charge of sending Simon Marketing the tamper-proof seals mistakenly sent a whole package of seals to Jacobson directly, according to The Daily Beast. Suddenly, Jacobson had a way of opening and re-sealing the packages of winning McDonald’s game pieces.

In order to open those packages without the auditor catching on, Jacobson had to sneak off to the one place the woman auditor couldn’t follow him: the men’s bathroom. In airport bathroom stalls on his way to McDonald’s packaging centers, Jacobson would open sealed packets of winning game pieces, dump them into his hand and replace them with regular, non-winning stickers before re-sealing the packet with his supply of seals.

Once he had a supply of winning game pieces, though, Jacobson needed to find some “winners.” Since Jacobson couldn’t claim any prizes himself without instantly exposing his scheme, he used friends and family to recruit people who would pay tens of thousands of dollars upfront to Jacobson and his network of recruiters to secure winning game pieces worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, all the way up to the $1 million grand prize.

That year, Jacobson gave one game piece worth $200,000 to his butcher in exchange for $45,000 in cash. In 1998, Jacobson would pull his nephew into the scheme with the same offer (a $200,000 game piece for $45,000 upfront), according to The Daily Beast.

At one point, Jacobson even anonymously mailed a $1 million game piece to the donations clerk at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee. The mysterious donation made national news at the time, though a source close to Jacobson later told CNN he’d sent the winning game piece in the hopes that the good deed might secure him a more lenient sentence should he ever be caught.

Jacobson replicated the scam throughout the 1990s. He sold game pieces to members of his classic-car club, a man he met in the Atlanta airport, and a gambler and ex-con in Florida named Andrew Glomb who passed out winning game pieces to a network of friends.

Aside from the upfront cash payments, the one sticking point for any of these transactions was that Jacobson insisted his associates not claim the winnings themselves, but pass along the winning game pieces to people in other states, so as not to arouse suspicion with a string of winners who lived in the same area and had connections to Jacobson. Much like Jacobson, the recruiters would typically also demand cash payments upfront from the eventual “winners.”

Getting caught

Despite Jacobson’s attempts to distance himself from the people who eventually claimed the winning game pieces, federal authorities eventually noticed a preponderance of McDonald’s winners whose permanent residences were clustered in Georgia (where Jacobson lived) and Florida (where he had previously worked as a police officer for four years).

In March 2000, the FBI received a tip about William Fisher, a $1 million winner in 1996. Fisher was the father-in-law of the man Jacobson had met in the Atlanta airport. Even though Fisher drove to New Hampshire to claim his prize, federal authorities working with McDonald’s easily found that he lived in Jacksonville, Florida. That was near a cluster of other big winners, including one family that claimed three separate $1 million prizes plus a Dodge Viper sports car, according to The Daily Beast. (Fisher would eventually be sentenced to roughly three years of probation and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution, according to court documents.)

When McDonald’s launched yet another promotional game in 2001, the FBI was ready with wiretaps on recent suspicious winners as well as on Jacobson, who was a natural suspect as the head of security living near one of the clusters of winners.

The FBI arrested Jacobson and seven accomplices in August 2001, charging them all with felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud as part of the sprawling scheme that had netted a total of more than $24 million worth of cash and prizes.

“This fraud scheme denied McDonald’s customers a fair and equal chance of winning,” then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said at the time at a press conference announcing the arrests.

The FBI continued to piece together Jacobson’s huge network of accomplices and, eventually, more than 50 people in total were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy.

Jacobson, who was 58 years old at the time of his arrest, was later sentenced in 2003 to serve 37 months in prison and pay more than $12.5 million in restitution. Glomb and three of Jacobson’s other most prolific recruiters, including his nephew Mark Schwartz, were each sentenced to just over a year in prison.

While the government never revealed exactly how much money Jacobson reaped from the scheme, he reportedly said during his trial that he stole up to 60 winning game pieces and typically charged roughly $45,000 to $50,000 per sticker. At that rate, he easily could have netted upwards of $3 million.

The arrests caused something of a public backlash against the McDonald’s promotional games once the restaurant’s millions of customers realized that Jacobson’s scheme had ensured that the games had produced hardly any legitimate winners for the better part of a decade. To make up for the previous stretch of tainted games, McDonald’s announced a special $10 million instant cash giveaway, with that total split among 55 different winners who were chosen at random.

McDonald’s also immediately cut ties with Simon Marketing and the two companies sued one another for breach of contract (with McDonald’s eventually settling the matter out of court by paying Simon Marketing $16.6 million). Unable to recover from the fallout of the scandal, Simon Marketing announced plans to close shop and liquidate in 2002.

“McDonald’s is committed to giving our customers a chance to win every dollar that has been stolen by this criminal ring,” McDonald’s then-CEO, Jack Greenberg, said in a statement at the time.

Reference

A World of Pandemics: Part III

The Bubonic Plague Ravaged San Francisco In The 1900s—And The Government Tried A Massive Cover Up 

The San Francisco bubonic plague outbreak was one of the biggest health crises — and controversies — of the 20th-century United States. The plague was a disease most thought had disappeared with the medieval period, but when it resurfaced, it became one of the worst epidemics in US history. The state of California was forced to contend with an illness not yet entirely understood, as government officials and the press actively covered it up. Not only did they have to pioneer treatments for the bubonic plague, but the entire problem was also wrapped up in anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Chinese racism. Some people even referred to it as the San Francisco Chinatown plague, implying a problem specific to the Chinese residents of the city. 

But that wasn’t the case. Blaming a select group of people meant that the cause itself — flea-infested rats carrying the same strain of plague causing deaths in China — went unaddressed. The San Francisco plague death toll rose, taking the lives of many of the city’s underprivileged residents. It wasn’t until a second plague swept the city, this time primarily affecting San Francisco’s white population and spreading to further areas of the US, that the root cause was identified and put to rest. While modern-day humanity still deals with tragedy incurred by the flu, the plague of the early 1900s incited racist tension and social horror simply because of the ignorance of its causes and the inexplicable death it left in its wake.

The San Francisco Plague Was The First Major Plague Outbreak In The Continental US

Photo: Arnold Böcklin/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Though the San Francisco plague was hardly the first major illness that residents of the continental US had to address, it was the first major outbreak of the plague. The illness — named the Black Plague or the Black Death when it ravaged Europe in the 1300s and caused some 50 million deaths — made a comeback in the 1800s, seriously affecting China and much of east Asia.

Because of global trade and increasing numbers of people emigrating and immigrating worldwide, it was only a matter of time before epidemics began to spread. However, people did not yet understand exactly how the disease was transmitted — many believed it spread through open wounds, food, or the “miasma” theory, which claimed that diseases like the plague spread through “bad air.” Because of these conflicting, erroneous theories, the world wasn’t prepared to respond to a wide-scale epidemic. 

The First San Francisco Plague Victim Was A Chinese Immigrant

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The first person to die in the San Francisco plague was Wong Chut King, a lumber salesman and Chinese immigrant who was found unconscious in the flophouse where he lived after suffering an intense fever. In a morbidly preemptive move, he was brought to a nearby coffin shop where he died.

Examination of his body revealed swollen lymph nodes — called buboes, hence the disease’s name — consistent with a plague infection, as well as an insect bite. Flea transmission was not yet a popular theory to explain plague infection, so while it was noted, the report did nothing to quell the subsequently rampant xenophobic explanations for the disease. When microscopic investigation revealed plague bacteria in Wong Chut King’s blood, Chinatown was quarantined to stop the spread, though the fleas and rats that carried the disease were not hindered by arbitrary barriers.

The Outbreak Centered On San Francisco’s Chinatown District

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

San Francisco’s plague outbreak was concentrated in the Chinatown district, just a few blocks from what is now the Port of San Francisco. Because Chinatown was particularly overpopulated, had poor sanitation, and had many people living in poor conditions, those features were blamed for the outbreak rather than the actual cause: flea-ridden rats brought from plague-stricken China on the ships that came to the harbor. Instead of treating the cause, the city quarantined its Chinese residents.

But quarantines don’t stop rats, and the disease continued to spread outside of the quarantined zones. Because conditions were poor, and racism was rampant, the quarantined residents didn’t get proper medical treatment. Thus, the concentration of infected people, fleas, and rats could grow, leading to even more infections. 

Rats From China Probably Carried The Plague To America On Ships

Photo: Arnold Genthe/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, scientists and medical professionals weren’t yet sure what caused the plague. The miasma theory, which suggested the disease was spread through “bad air,” was popular, as were suggestions that the plague might travel through contaminated food or open wounds. The bubonic plague is actually transmitted via flea bite, with the carrier fleas often living on rats.

China was dealing with a plague outbreak of its own in the mid-late 1850s, which soon made its way to Hong Kong. Since Chinese immigrants and imports commonly made the journey to San Francisco, it was only a matter of time before the plague reached American soil.

Racism Was Undoubtedly A Factor In The Plague’s Outbreak

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The plague itself was a problem, but anti-immigrant sentiment and racism against Chinese people exacerbated the issue. Around this same time, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented Chinese people who were not merchants from immigrating to the US, was extended. Rampant, unfounded anti-Chinese sentiment promoted racist policy, which in turn validated racist viewpoints because of state-sanctioned rules.

In the initial quarantine, white people in Chinatown were told to leave while Chinese residents were forced to stay. Miasma theory, which posited the disease was spread via contact with contaminated air, was blamed for the plague in Chinatown. 

Rather than the poor sanitation being a symptom of the area’s poverty, it was instead said to be evidence that the Chinese people themselves were the problem. Some went so far as to claim that a rice-based diet made them susceptible to the plague.

San Francisco’s Governor Denied The Outbreak Out Of Fear It Would Hurt The City’s Reputation

Photo: Bain News Service, publisher/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to stopping the plague’s initial four-year hold on San Francisco was the city government. The governor, Henry Gage, actively denied the city had a problem, fearing it would hurt tourism and trade. Worse, he didn’t just deny the problem — he actively thwarted efforts to stop it. Gage claimed funds were being diverted to stop a plague that didn’t exist. He also suggested Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun, who led the quarantine effort, had fabricated or caused the plague himself by injecting Chinese residents with the disease.

Though there was little help available for victims, Gage’s denial — as well as his active attempts to stoke tension between Kinyoun’s efforts and the Chinese people whose civil rights were being violated — ensured the plague continued to ravage the city’s ostracized citizens.

The City Ran A Defamation Campaign Against The Officer Who Discovered The Outbreak

Photo: NIAID/Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Dr. Joseph James Kinyoun was the leader of the plague eradication movement, but, due to both concentrated misinformation efforts and lack of scientific information, his plans to stop the plague were thwarted. Kinyoun was unsure how to curtail the plague’s spread, and he ineffectively quarantined Chinatown in the hopes that it would keep the infection isolated. When animals were infected with the disease and didn’t immediately die, the quarantine was lifted, and the city government, particularly Governor Henry Gage, seized on it as proof that Kinyoun had no idea what he was doing. He warned that shipments of goods could spread the illness out of San Francisco and around the country, leading to other states refusing to accept goods from California. 

Gage responded to the lost profits by claiming Kinyoun himself had created the plague by injecting Chinese corpses. Furthermore, he stoked the flames of the poor treatment Chinese people were receiving by encouraging them to fight back. Combined with Kinyoun’s reportedly uptight demeanor, which did not mesh well with the Chinese population he was meant to be helping, his efforts were undercut, and he was eventually transferred. The plague raged on until Dr. Rupert Blue replaced Kinyoun and shifted the treatment from quarantine to pest eradication.

Governor Gage’s Denial Helped Seal His Loss In The Elections

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Governor Gage’s actions were not without consequences. Anti-Chinese sentiment, along with the tensions that arose from the quarantine and Gage’s efforts to create a divide between health officials and Chinese residents most threatened by the outbreak, meant that people hid the deceased bodies of plague victims, furthering the infectious spread. People continued to get sick and die, and not just in Chinatown.

Though the disease was concentrated in the slums, it wasn’t thwarted by barbed-wire quarantines. As it became increasingly clear that the illness was real, the citizens of San Francisco realized Gage’s denial and shifting of the blame to Dr. Joseph Kinyoun were actively hurting people. The state’s conservative party refused his nomination, and Gage left office in 1903. He continued to blame Kinyoun for the barring of California goods in other states and the subsequent economic hardship.

The next governor, George Pardee, shared Gage’s concerns regarding public address of the situation but immediately took ownership of the situation. He removed health officials from the case and worked privately to provide medical attention, research, and eradication of the plague.

Some Of The City’s Treatments Actually Spread The Disease Further

Because the plague was not well understood, many of the treatments San Francisco health officials initially used to combat the illness actually made things worse. The quarantine, the first line of defense when the plague’s initial victim was found, concentrated the Chinese-American population in an area with poor sanitation and did nothing for the actual cause of the plague — the rats that were drawn there precisely because of the poor sanitation. The city also used carbolic acid in an attempt to rid the air of the alleged miasma, which drove rats out of sewers and into the streets carrying their plague-riddle fleas with them.

In addition, because relations between the Chinese people of San Francisco and the health officials were so poor, people in Chinatown started hiding the bodies of the deceased. Without proper disposal, the health crisis worsened. Nobody knew that the disease was mostly transmitted through flea bites, thus, nobody was doing anything to stop the spread. All of these factors combined to make the plague even worse.

Another Outbreak Occurred After The 1906 Earthquake

Photo: NPS/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The first plague outbreak occurred from 1900 to 1904, but it wasn’t the last to affect San Francisco in the early 1900s. A second outbreak occurred in 1906 following the enormous San Francisco earthquake, which killed some 3,000 people and displaced 250,000 more. But people weren’t the only ones displaced.

As humans fled their damaged homes, so did infected rats. As they spread, the chaos of the post-earthquake city and the concentration of people in refugee camps meant that the illness was allowed to spread once again. This outbreak was even stronger than the first, but it was more quickly contained thanks to scientific advancements between 1904 and 1906. 

The Second Outbreak Was Dealt With Far More Efficiently

Photo: Unknown/National Library Of Medicine, History Of Medicine Images Collection/Public Domain

While the second outbreak of plague hit San Francisco just two short years after the first one, it was handled much more quickly. Scientific advancements meant people better understood the plague’s transmission, and instead of quarantining infected people, Dr. Joseph Kinyoun’s replacement, Dr. Rupert Blue, targeted the rats. They were rounded up in great rat-catching efforts thanks to financial bounties, which ultimately prevented some of the spread and allowed scientists to test and kill infected rats. 

Not only was the threat identified before the plague’s second time around, but the city government also could no longer scapegoat the Chinese residents of the city: all the victims of the second plague were white. Though anti-Chinese sentiment was still prominent, the blame couldn’t be shifted — it wasn’t miasma, diet, or any xenophobic cause, which meant it had to be dealt with scientifically and medically.

119 People Died In The First Outbreak

Photo: ralph repo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

119 people died during the San Francisco plague outbreak, many of them in the concentrated, quarantined region of Chinatown. Without access to health professionals and pest control, infected victims spread the plague inadvertently but rapidly. Although it’s certainly a deadly disease, the city’s failure to isolate the actual cause and treat infected people ensured its spread and ability to affect more people.

Though it’s not the absolute deadliest outbreak in US history — the introduction of smallpox by European settlers killed almost all indigenous people in what is now North America, for example — the San Francisco plague is one that could have been prevented or had its harm minimized if those in authority had taken action.

Instead, it was allowed to fester in the city’s most impoverished communities, sowing further anti-Chinese sentiment. 

Honolulu’s Chinatown Burned To The Ground When Authorities Attempted To Eradicate The Plague

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey /Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The plague resurfaced in China on the backs of rats in the 1850s and wound up in Hong Kong. Chinese immigrants and imports often passed this way en route to San Franciso via port stopovers in Hawaii. Following one ship’s stop in Hawaii in 1899, a case of the plague broke out in the Honolulu Chinatown, spreading quickly to four more people. In an attempt to contain the plague and eradicate the conditions fostering its rapid spread, The Hawaii Board of Health isolated the victims and quarantined 14 blocks of the area complete with military guards. According to historical record, “To clear contaminated areas, the Board set 41 controlled fires, cleaned and disinfected buildings, burned garbage, filled old cesspools and dug new ones.”

However, when this failed to quell the problem and new cases of the plague arose, the Board set another fire which quickly spun out of control and resulted in all of Honolulu’s Chinatown burning to the ground. The problematic ships nonetheless continued to San Francisco where, because people on the ships did not show plague symptoms, they were allowed to dock. Along with humans also disembarked infected rats, carrying the disease straight into the port city.

Reference

A World of Pandemics: Part II

The Mysterious ‘Sleeping Sickness’ That Plagued New York In The 1920s

Medical science has come a long way in the last hundred years, but that doesn’t mean every medical mystery has been solved. The cause of the mysterious sleeping sickness that struck New York in the 1920s, Encephalitis lethargica, remains unsolved to this day.

Originally called “the sleeping sickness” because the first few cases involved active people spontaneously falling asleep, it had a wide variety of symptoms and presentations. Some neurologists and pathologists believed it was an unusual manifestation of a concurrent flu epidemic, while others believed it was completely unrelated. It was also theorized that the mysterious illness was related to the polio virus, but nothing conclusive has been proven. This is despite the fact that the disease still pops up in isolated cases around the world.

From its first reported cases in 1915 to its abatement in the 1930s, Encephalitis lethargica is estimated to have infected half a million people in Europe alone. Those who survived often had crippling side effects, with some remaining borderline catatonic for the rest of their lives.

The sleeping sickness of the 1920s was never solved, but it has drawn the attention of scientists for years, including Oliver Sacks, whose work on the disease was adapted into the film Awakenings starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. 

During The 1920s And ’30s, The ‘Sleeping Sickness’ Perplexed Doctors Around The World

Photo:  Otis Historical Archives/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.

In 1917, as WWI brought mass destruction like the world had never seen, two epidemics began tearing through the shell-shocked world. The first, which would become known as the Spanish Flu of 1918, remains one of the worst pandemics in human history, wiping out an estimated 50 million people and affecting up to half a billion. While this crisis understandably took precedence, it was accompanied by a lesser-known but far more perplexing virus: the sleeping sickness.

The sleeping sickness is believed to have originated in Romania in 1915, but WWI disguised its true impact in Europe. It became more noticeable in New York, and doctors across Europe scrambled to identify the disease. There was plenty of confusion, but no clear answers.

It Was First Described By The Prolific Austrian Neurologist Constantin von Economo

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domai

Due to the varied presentations of the disease, the overwhelming demands of WWI, and the appearance of other epidemics around the same time, many doctors treated individual cases of Encephalitis lethargica without realizing they were dealing with a wholly new illness. It took the work of Austrian neurologist Constantin von Economo to fully isolate and categorize the disease. 

Economo was a wealthy aristocrat and a Renaissance man. He was the first Austrian man to hold the equivalent of a pilot’s license, and he was trained as an engineer before he moved on to psychiatry. 

Economo gave the disease its name, based on what he determined to be its principal manifestation: lethargy and catatonia. In a series of monographs that are studied to this day, he argued his case on the nature of the disease from its categorization as encephalitis (an illness resulting from inflammation of the brain) to its varied pathologies.

Some Of The Afflicted Reported Feeling No Discomfort In Their Sleep

Photo: Harris & Ewing/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The sleeping sickness prompted, among other things, an examination of the nature of sleep and the difference between sleep and catatonia. However, there was a wide array of experiences reported, some of which were quite pleasant. Take this account, written by Eleanore Carey, who suffered from the illness in 1923:

After two months of illness I was in little pain, in fact… It was so heavenly just to be allowed to sleep, but these people around me seemed determined to prevent my being comfortable! When the idea finally crept through my sleeping brain that I must waken, it seemed to be a physical impossibility. I wanted to be obliging, but I just could not. 

Other victims reported dreams and vivid hallucinations. Often, it was possible to wake the patient, but only for a few moments before they succumbed to sleep again.

Some Victims Perished Within Days, While Others Slowly Recovered

During the course of the epidemic, most doctors kept and compared rigorous notes. This allows us to examine a wide variety of case histories, although it is difficult to derive clarity from them because of the wide range of symptoms. However, one thing that does emerge is the unpredictable nature of the sleeping sickness.

One case study details a woman who suffered the sleeping sickness in 1917. She came to the clinic exhausted, and then slid further into somnolence. These symptoms were accompanied by a fever and the paralysis of her right arm. This woman seemed lucky, as her condition slowly improved, and two months later, she was discharged from the hospital with no signs of fever or paralysis. Unfortunately, she passed a month afterward due to pneumonia.

However, not everyone was lucky enough to stage a partial recovery. One young boy was brought to a clinic on April 20 already in a comatose state. He passed on April 28. Both of these cases were common, and there was no known indicator of who might survive and who might not.

Many Who ‘Recovered’ Developed Disabilities Later In Life

During its acute phase, the disease caused somnolence, lethargy, paralysis, fever, and sometimes ended the patient altogether. Some patients, however, made a full recovery, often without any treatment. While this must have come as a relief, the disease was not quite finished with them.

After recovery, many of these patients developed some form of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous disorder that often causes the loss of various forms of muscular control. Parkinson’s can include wide variety of symptoms, and one of the most extreme forms was often seen in survivors of the sleeping sickness: akinesia.

Essentially, this means total body paralysis. Some of these patients remained in a paralytic coma for many years. Robert De Niro’s character in Awakenings, Leonard Lowe, is exactly this sort of patient.

Some Survivors Remained In A Sleep-Like State For Years

At various points during a case of Encephalitis lethargica, it is possible for the patient to fall into a deep, akinetic coma. Chiefly, this was experienced by people who thought they had completely survived the disease, only to develop a worsening case of Parkinson’s years later that culminated in the coma.

Because the cause of the disease was unknown, these comas were thought to be irreversible, and those who suffered them were largely forgotten, as long-term coma patients often are. However, when Oliver Sacks began treating them with L-DOPA, some of them were able to interact with the world for the first time in 40 or more years.

Awakenings’ Showed What Happened To Those Who Temporarily Recovered

Photo: Awakenings/Columbia Pictures

Overshadowed as it was by the Spanish Flu and WWI, the sleeping sickness didn’t really come to the public eye until the renowned British neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote his groundbreaking Awakenings, a book that movingly detailed his interactions with patients who suffered from the disease. Sacks was responsible for the proliferation of L-Dopa, the medication that awakened many of these patients. In the book, he describes the challenges of bringing people from the 1920s into the 1960s.

The book was a massive success, and is still considered one of the best pieces of medical nonfiction ever written. It should come as little surprise, then, that it was adapted into a major Hollywood motion picture, starring Robin Williams as a fictionalized version of Sacks, and Robert De Niro as the man who wakes up in a new decade. After it was released, Roger Ebert wrote:

What both the movie and the book convey is the immense courage of the patients and the profound experience of their doctors, as in a small way they reexperienced what it means to be born, to open your eyes and discover to your astonishment that “you” are alive.

Nobody Knows What Caused It

Despite Oliver Sacks’s groundbreaking work with the treatment L-DOPA, there remains no complete cure for Encephalitis lethargica, as the medication often only provides temporary relief. It is perhaps unsurprising that there is no cure, because scientists don’t really understand what causes the sleeping sickness in the first place.

During the outbreak, there were many different theories as to the cause. When the disease first appeared in England, doctors believed that it was a form of botulism. However, botulism is the result of detectable bacteria, and the bacteria simply was not present. Many other theories were proposed regarding the mystifying disease.

At the end of the day, the truth is simply unknown. Papers are still written advancing various theories, but none have been proven or widely accepted.

Cases Continue To Pop Up Today

Because of the mysteries surrounding the illness, it is difficult to truly define when it began and ended. It is also difficult to identify whether there have been any new cases, although conventional wisdom says that at least a few more cases have popped up.

In 2015, a paper was published about a young boy who had contracted HIV. However, when he came to the hospital, he quickly developed symptoms similar to Encephalitis lethargica: lethargy, mutism, and muscular weakness of the optical nerves. There are numerous examples of similar cases, but cautious doctors are reluctant to label them as sleeping sickness.

Some Believe Adolf Hitler’s Parkinson’s Disease Was An Aftereffect Of The Sleeping Sickness

Photo: Heinrich Hoffman/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Adolf Hitler may be one of the most over-diagnosed individuals in human history. Due to his morphine addiction, his illness-plagued youth, and his high profile, modern doctors love to retroactively diagnose him with everything from borderline personality disorder to irritable bowel syndrome. While many of these assumptions are sensationalist and based on wild assumptions, there has emerged something of a consensus that the German dictator could well have suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

If that’s true, it is likely that he also suffered from the sleeping sickness in his youth. Due to the relatively late onset of his Parkinson’s disease and his age at the time of the epidemic, the sleeping sickness makes a great deal of sense as the source of his Parkinson’s. A medical paper also makes the case based on his symptoms:

Hitler had oculogyric crises [deviation of the eyes], phenomena only associated with post-encephalitic parkinsonism. In addition, he had dystonic facial spasms, palilalia and a sleep disorder, phenomena more likely to be associated with post-encephalitic than idiopathic parkinsonism.

President Wilson May Have Contracted It In 1919

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It is always dicey to retroactively diagnose historical figures, due to both the lack of contemporaneous material and our own modern biases. This is made doubly difficult in the case of someone like Woodrow Wilson, who had a battalion of health issues independent of whatever we may diagnose him with today.

However, that hasn’t stopped a number of modern doctors and pathologists from using historical sources and medical records to diagnose Wilson as a sufferer of Encephalitis lethargica. Edwin Weinstein, one of Wilson’s most prominent biographers, believes that a complicated series of medical disasters accounted for Wilson’s famously altered behavior during the peace negotiations at the end of WWI.

Weinstein believes that after a number of strokes throughout his life, Wilson contracted the flu, which left him vulnerable to the sleeping sickness. Regardless, Wilson didn’t have long to live after the 1919 Peace Conference; he passed five years later in 1924.

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